The American League East has suddenly tightened up again. With Thursday night's loss at Baltimore coupled with the Yankees win at Seattle, the Jays lead atop the division is down to three-and-a-half games on the O's and the Yanks.
It's way too early to get a read on how this thing might shake down by the end of September, but it would only seem fitting if on the 25th anniversary of Rogers Center the Blue Jays and Orioles would be fighting it out for first. They meet in the final three games of the regular season at the Dome on September 26-28.
The Blue Jays and Orioles have a bit of history in these kinds of things. In 1983, the Blue Jays had their first ever winning season in their seventh year of existence. With Bobby Cox at the helm, they were actually in first place in the American League East at the All-Star game by one game on Baltimore. The Jays record was 43-33 when they were rained out on July 4, the day before the All-Star break. Baltimore was 42-34 through the 4th of July.
Baltimore took off in the second half, though, and won the division with a 98-64 record and with Cal Ripken Jr. being named the Most Valuable Player. The Orioles felt 1983 was destined to be their year, since they had finished just one game back of division leading Milwaukee the year before. As for the Jays, they won their first division title two years later in 1985.
Flash forward to 1989, the year Rogers Centre opened. The Blue Jays chalked up a couple of firsts that season. On April 16, Kelly Gruber became the first Blue Jays player to hit for the cycle, when he turned the trick against Kansas City in a 15-8 Jays victory. On June 9 at Fenway, the Jays put together the most incredible comeback in franchise history. Down 10-0 to the Red Sox, they battled all the way back, thanks in large part to an Ernie Whitt grand slam and sent the game into extra innings. Then, Junior Felix slugged the game winning homer in a 13-11 victory in the 12th inning.
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Jays held a one-game lead on the Orioles heading into a three game series at Rogers Center. On Friday night, it was a classic pitcher's duel. Lefty Jeff Ballard started for the Orioles and Todd Stottlemyer for the Jays. But the real hero on this night for the Jays was reliever Jim Acker, who took over in the 6th inning and pitched four shutout frames giving up only two hits. The Jays ultimately pulled out a 2-1 victory in 11 innings to clinch at least a tie for the division crown.
On Saturday, it appeared for the better part of the game that the Orioles were going to force a meaningful game on Sunday. They got Jimmy Key out of the game in four innings and took a 3-1 lead to the bottom of the 8th. The Jays, who only had four hits on the day, bunched a couple in the bottom of the 8th and scored three runs to ultimately win it 4-3 to wrap up their second division title.
For the second day in a row, the bullpen saved the day. 30-year-old right hander Frank Wills pitched four innings of one-hit relief, and then Tom Henke, who got his eigth win in relief on Friday, picked up his 20th save in this one. So the Jays, who started the season at Exhibition Stadium and got off to a 12-24 start under Jimy Williams, finished the season winning the East under Cito Gaston. The Jays finished the 1989 season with 89 victories -- the same number as they did in 1983 when they wound up fourth -- nine games behind the division-winning Orioles.
So, if the Jays and Orioles meet on the final weekend of this season, it will be a sort of historical rubber match or completion of the trilogy 25 years after Rogers Center opened.
Just when you think the Yankees might be slipping out of contention, they turn around and win three straight at Seattle. Not only that, Derek Jeter is finally starting to hit; banging out seven hits in the series. What's even more impressive is the Yankees may have uncovered a diamond in the rough in 24-year-old right hander Chase Whitley. A 15th round draft pick in 2010, he's 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA with the "big club." He has not walked a batter in the last 114 men he has faced.
What are the odds that the hottest rookie pitcher in the National League would also be named Chase? 26-year-old right hander Chase Anderson has won all five of his starts for Arizona and has a 3.14 ERA. He doesn't walk too many either; just seven, in fact, to 22 strike outs. He was a 9th round pick in 2009.
The Tigers' Max Scherzer won his eigth game Thursday night in an 8-2 victory at Chicago over the White Sox. But the thing that blew me away was that it was the first complete game of Scherzer's career. We used to take CG's for granted, but it took Scherzer, who already has a Cy Young Award to his credit, until his 179th career start to get it done. That was the longest stretch any starter had gone without a complete game since 1900. The two active pitchers who had gone the longest now without a complete game, according to ESPN, are Scherzer's teammate Rick Porcello (146 starts) and the Orioles Bud Norris (139 starts).
There could be some history made Friday night at Philadelphia. Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins needs only two more hits to break Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt's franchise record of 2,234 hits. Jake Arrieta will be on the mound for the Cubs.