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Yanks clinch WC berth on walk-off win in 11th

Hicks knocks game-winning double; bullpen goes six scoreless innings
MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- One year after their run ended a victory shy of advancing to the World Series, the Yankees are officially getting another crack at the title, popping corks in celebration after punching their ticket into the American League Wild Card Game.

Momentarily hobbled after smashing a foul ball off his left ankle, Aaron Hicks squinted through the pain and returned to the batter's box, lashing a line-drive double that chased home Didi Gregorius with the winning run in New York's 3-2, 11-inning victory over the Orioles on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

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NEW YORK -- One year after their run ended a victory shy of advancing to the World Series, the Yankees are officially getting another crack at the title, popping corks in celebration after punching their ticket into the American League Wild Card Game.

Momentarily hobbled after smashing a foul ball off his left ankle, Aaron Hicks squinted through the pain and returned to the batter's box, lashing a line-drive double that chased home Didi Gregorius with the winning run in New York's 3-2, 11-inning victory over the Orioles on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

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Shop for Yankees Wild Card gear | 10 games that defined 2018 season

"It's awesome," said Hicks, who also hit a second-inning homer in the contest. "That's the whole point of Spring Training, is to get to this point in the year where you're fighting for something and you get yourself in the postseason. That's what we're here for."

Video: BAL@NYY: Hicks rips walk-off hit to clinch wild card

Scoring from first base on Hicks' knock down the left-field line off southpaw Paul Fry, Gregorius slid home headfirst ahead of a relay throw from shortstop Jonathan Villar, prompting the Yanks to spill from the dugout. New York's magic number entering the afternoon stood at two, and combined with the Rays' 5-2 loss at Toronto, the Yankees can now use their final regular-season games to prepare for an Oct. 3 showdown that they hope will be played in the Bronx if they can hold off the A's, who currently hold the second Wild Card spot.

"Any time you get a chance to play in the postseason, it's a blessing," Aaron Judge said. "It's a lot of hard work all around, from top to bottom in this organization. But we're not done yet. We've still got a lot of work to do. This is just the first step. We've got to keep working and keep playing through October."

Video: BAL@NYY: Hicks belts a solo home run to right field

Having steered the Yankees to 95 wins so far in his rookie season, manager Aaron Boone said that he will not ease off the gas pedal since home-field advantage is still up for grabs.

"It's a privilege to get an opportunity to play postseason baseball and have an opportunity to chase the ultimate prize. We have that opportunity now," Boone said. "There's going to be [20] other teams going home, so I think it's really important that we appreciate it and never take it for granted."

Video: BAL@NYY: Boone on walk-off win, clinching Wild Card

The Yankees continued to slug closer to the single-season record for team home runs, with Hicks and Luke Voit launching second-inning solo shots off David Hess. Hicks' 26th home run reached the right-field seats and, two batters later, Voit visited the right-center-field bullpen for his 11th since joining the Yankees.

"This lineup is so, so good," Voit said. "We can compete with anyone in baseball with this lineup, and that goes for our pitching as well, too. I'm just going to do my job, try to stay within myself and keep it rolling."

Video: BAL@NYY: Voit drives a solo homer to right-center

Lance Lynn limited the Orioles to two runs (one earned) and seven hits over five innings, assisted by his defense as two runners were tagged out at home plate. Breyvic Valera scored a third-inning run when Gary Sanchez threw errantly down the right-field line, but Gleyber Torres retrieved the ball and fired home, where Lynn tagged Steve Wilkerson out.

"High throw," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "At that moment, I thought I was closer to home plate. When I saw Gleyber throw the ball, I heard Lynn call me off and say, 'I got it. I got it.' He made a great play there; amazing catch, amazing tag."

Video: BAL@NYY: Torres cuts down Wilkerson at home plate

In the fifth, Wilkerson raised his hands in frustration after being nabbed again, this time on a strong throw by Judge from shallow right field on a Caleb Joseph single. Statcast™ clocked Judge's throw at 96.9 mph, his first assist since returning from the disabled list. Baltimore tied the game in that inning when DJ Stewart's single to center field chased home Joseph.

Video: BAL@NYY: Judge throws out Wilkerson at the dish

The Yanks' bats went quiet after Torres' seventh-inning double, creating opportunities for the Orioles to avoid their 110th loss. But New York's bullpen did stellar work, combining for six scoreless innings.

Baltimore threatened by loading the bases with one out in the 10th, but the O's were turned aside by Jonathan HolderTommy Kahnle picked up the victory after hurling a scoreless 11th.

"I'm just really proud to be associated with these guys -- the ups and downs we've been through this year," Boone said. "Obviously, we have a long way to go, but I'm proud of those guys and what they were able to finish off and accomplish today. Hopefully it starts a special journey now."

Video: BAL@NYY: Holder induces popout to escape jam

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED ,
Voit helped keep the O's off the board in the 10th when he stabbed a low Chris Davis liner to save at least one run. Holder got out of the inning unscatched when Valera popped out to second.

Video: BAL@NYY: Voit makes a great diving snag in the 10th

SOUND SMART
This is the 54th postseason berth in franchise history (116 seasons, 45.7 percent). The Yankees have qualified for the postseason in 20 of the last 24 seasons since 1995, and they are going to consecutive postseasons for the first time since 2009-12. It is the Yankees' seventh Wild Card berth and their third appearance in the AL Wild Card Game.

Video: BAL@NYY: Yankees on clinching a Wild Card berth

HE SAID IT
"We end the season in Boston. I don't think any of us want to make that West Coast trip all the way back. That's why we want to keep winning. Playing in front of our fans, there's nothing like it. Getting a chance to play here at Yankee Stadium, it's pretty electric. You saw how it was last year." -- Judge

Video: BAL@NYY: Judge discusses clinching Wild Card spot

UP NEXT
The Yankees conclude their final homestand of the regular season on Sunday, hosting the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. ET. Left-hander J.A. Happ (16-6, 3.62) has been tabbed to start for New York in what could be viewed as preparation for the AL Wild Card Game. Happ has pitched to an 0.50 ERA over his last three starts, allowing one earned run in 18 innings, and is 6-0 with a 2.39 ERA since joining the Yankees on July 26. Right-hander Alex Cobb (5-15, 4.90) will start for Baltimore.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Lance Lynn, Luke Voit

Braves capture first NL East title since 2013

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman knew this year would be different than any of the previous four, but he certainly didn't have a feel for the tremendous satisfaction he and his Braves teammates would actually feel six months after he exited Spring Training wondering, "Why not us?"

Nearly 30 years after creating the improbable worst-to-first 1991 season, the Braves staged yet another unexpected celebration after clinching the National League East with Saturday afternoon's 5-3 win over the Phillies at SunTrust Park. The champagne shower proved to be extra sweet for Freeman, Nick Markakis and manager Brian Snitker, who all experienced the painful portion of the massive rebuild that began four years ago.

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ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman knew this year would be different than any of the previous four, but he certainly didn't have a feel for the tremendous satisfaction he and his Braves teammates would actually feel six months after he exited Spring Training wondering, "Why not us?"

Nearly 30 years after creating the improbable worst-to-first 1991 season, the Braves staged yet another unexpected celebration after clinching the National League East with Saturday afternoon's 5-3 win over the Phillies at SunTrust Park. The champagne shower proved to be extra sweet for Freeman, Nick Markakis and manager Brian Snitker, who all experienced the painful portion of the massive rebuild that began four years ago.

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Get new Braves postseason gear

"This group of guys [has] been relentless throughout the whole year," Markakis said. "It showed, and it paid off. I couldn't be more proud of these guys. It's an honor to be a part of this team and go out there and grind every day with these guys."

Video: PHI@ATL: Freeman plates a pair with single to center

Coming off four consecutive losing seasons, the Braves are division champs for the first time since 2013 and the second time since '05. They sat at the top of the division standings for much of the season's first half, stumbled in July and then regained sole possession of first place for good on Aug. 13. They had lost 14 of their past 18 home games before delivering the dagger by winning each of the first three games of this four-game set against the second-place Phillies.

"You sit back sometimes and wonder what this is going to feel like," Snitker said. "When I was here as a third-base coach and we won the division or the Wild Card, it was great. You wonder as a manager how it would feel, and it's even better than I had anticipated."

10 defining moments of the Braves' 2018 season

When Snitker replaced Fredi Gonzalez as Atlanta's manager a little more than a month into the 2016 season, he was viewed as the loyal organizational coach who would likely be re-assigned by the end of the season. A little more than two years later, he's a National League Manager of the Year candidate thanks to the ascension of players like Mike Foltynewicz, who is heading toward the playoffs looking like a legit front-line starter.

Video: Must C Clinch: Braves capture NL East division crown

Standing as the most significant acquisition made within the first year of the rebuild, Foltynewicz fittingly took control during this clinching game and provided a performance that conjured memories of former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, the Hall of Famer who served as FOX Sports' analyst during Saturday's game.

"It was very different knowing what's at stake, but at the same time you can't get overhyped, like I tended to do in the past with bigger games," Foltynewicz said. "To be able to do it in front of our home crowd was pretty special."

Video: PHI@ATL: Folty takes no-no into 7th in East clincher

Foltynewicz held the Phillies hitless until Odubel Herrera singled to begin the seventh inning and did not allow a baserunner to advance to second base until Maikel Franco singled and Pedro Florimon walked with one out in the eighth. Jesse Biddle entered and promptly walked Jose Bautista before allowing Cesar Hernandez's two-run single.

"I thought [Foltynewicz] was going to go all the way," Snitker said. "His pitch count was so low. It was unbelievable how efficient and how good he was in arguably our biggest game of the year."

Video: PHI@ATL: Foltynewicz discusses making the postseason

After Rhys Hoskins cut the Braves' lead to one run with a single against Brad Brach, the Braves responded much like they did two weeks ago, when they blew a six-run eighth-inning lead in a loss to the Red Sox and then proceeded to win seven of their next eight games.

Jonny Venters prevented further damage as he retired the only two batters he faced in the eighth and extended the splendor of a season he never expected to experience. His season debut for the Rays marked the first time he had pitched in a Major League game since coming out of the Braves' bullpen during the 2012 Wild Card Game -- the final game of Chipper Jones' career.

Video: How They Got There: Atlanta Braves

A late-July trade brought him back to Atlanta and provided him this chance to be a key figure for this group of overachieving underdogs.

"It's pretty special to do it with these guys," Venters said. "We knew we had something special since day one. But to be able to do it and pull it out, it's pretty special."

As he has so often done since giving the Braves no choice but to keep him as their starting third baseman, Johan Camargo made some key contributions in this clincher. He made an incredible diving grab in the fifth inning and provided a two-run, first-inning single against Jake Arrieta, who walked three in the first and allowed Freeman's two-run single before exiting after just two innings.

Video: PHI@ATL: Camargo plates 2 to give Braves early lead

"When I walked in the clubhouse after the first few days of Spring Training, you could tell we had the talent," Freeman said. "We still had to wait for a few guys to get here. They got here and they made a huge impact. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. They're 20 and 21 years old. They get to walk into winning. That's awesome. Hopefully, we can continue it for a long time."

Video: PHI@ATL: Freeman on going back to the postseason

RARE COMPANY
Acuna made his presence felt when he ran down Aaron Altherr's long drive against Venters in the eighth. But the 20-year-old phenom truly provided a spark when he walked and stole second base in the first inning. He joined Alex Rodriguez, Orlando Cepeda and Mike Trout as the only players in Major League history to record at least 25 homers and 15 stolen bases in their age-20 season or younger.

Video: PHI@ATL: Acuna Jr. swipes his 15th base of the season

WOW!
Camargo preserved Foltynewicz's no-hit bid and produced one of the finest catches you'll see from a third baseman when he dove to grab Maikel Franco's 105.7-mph liner in the fifth inning. The play conjured memories of one Martin Prado made for the Braves near the end of the 2010 season. Unfortunately for Prado, that proved to be a season-ending play, as he tore his oblique muscle and suffered a hip pointer.

"That's what this group did all year," Braves bench coach Walt Weiss said. "Guys made plays. Camargo, in particular, I'm so proud of him because I'm sure he heard the whispers about third base all year, and all he did at third base all year was get better and better and better. Now, he's a helluva player. I think it's great he ends up making a huge play to help us clinch."

Video: PHI@ATL: Camargo robs Franco with superb leaping grab

HE SAID IT
"I probably haven't even felt half the emotions I have until I sit down and reflect. It's really true. We really did it." -- Snitker

"I love these guys. I love this place. I love this team, and I love this city. It's amazing. It's such a blessing to be here." -- Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, an Atlanta native

UP NEXT
Anibal Sanchez will take the mound when the Braves and Phillies conclude their four-game series Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET at SunTrust Park. Sanchez will be starting on regular rest and looking to build on the strong outing he produced when he struck out nine Cardinals batters on Tuesday. The veteran has a 3.02 ERA over his past nine starts. Philadelphia will counter with National League Cy Young Award candidate Aaron Nola.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Mike Foltynewicz, Ronald Acuna Jr.

Wild walk-off cuts A's magic number to 1

MLB.com @JaneMLB

OAKLAND -- The A's magic number is down to one.

They practiced celebrating ahead of time following yet another walk-off victory over the Twins on Saturday evening, a 3-2 affair that ended when a bases-loaded wild pitch skipped past Matt Chapman with two outs in the ninth inning, allowing Stephen Piscotty to score under the watch of right-hander Trevor Hildenberger.

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OAKLAND -- The A's magic number is down to one.

They practiced celebrating ahead of time following yet another walk-off victory over the Twins on Saturday evening, a 3-2 affair that ended when a bases-loaded wild pitch skipped past Matt Chapman with two outs in the ninth inning, allowing Stephen Piscotty to score under the watch of right-hander Trevor Hildenberger.

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Credit Mark Canha with an assist: Stepping to the plate with one out in the inning, after Piscotty doubled and Marcus Semien reached on an error ahead of an intentional walk to pinch-hitter Matt Joyce, Canha worked an 11-pitch at-bat, ultimately striking out but only after fouling off six pitches.

"Obviously made a good pitch with the breaking ball to strike him out," A's manager Bob Melvin said, "but he had to work hard and the first pitch [to Chapman] gets away from him, so Mark probably had a little something to do with that."

Now, an Oakland win or a Rays loss Sunday would ensure the A's a trip to the American League Wild Card Game for their first postseason berth since 2014.

Video: MIN@OAK: Piscotty discusses walk-off win, fan support

The A's, a remarkable 60-25 since June 16, have strung together four consecutive victories but remain 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees for the top AL Wild Card spot. New York also holds the tiebreaker for home-field advantage in the winner-takes-all game -- something the A's, who played in front of 36,731, want badly for themselves.

"It was really loud," Semien said. "That at-bat with Canha up there was really loud. The place when it's packed, it can be one of the loudest. Puts pressure on the other team and gets us going. That's why it would be great to host. If we make the playoffs, that's the kind of atmosphere that can get us a win."

Semien, who has endured three consecutive last-place finishes with this team, supported the postseason cause with a go-ahead, two-run homer opposite Twins right-hander Chase De Jong in the fifth.

Video: MIN@OAK: Semien slugs a 2-run homer to left field

One of the newest members, meanwhile, did his part on the mound: Mike Fiers, who latched on in August through a trade with Detroit, held the Twins to one run and four hits over six innings. The right-hander has unequivocally been one of their most vital pieces down the stretch, pitching to a 2.90 ERA in nine starts.

"I'm going out there every start giving it everything I got just like every other guy in this clubhouse," Fiers said. "Everyone leans on each other every night, and I feel like it's always someone different to get it done, big hit, big pitch.

"We played team baseball today, and in a tight game like this where it's tough. These are the type of games that are going to happen in the playoffs, so it's good to see that we can play in these one-run ballgames and close things out and put pressure on 'em."

Video: MIN@OAK: Fiers K's 5 over 6 strong innings vs. Twins

After Fiers delivered a shutdown sixth inning, capping a strong 79-pitch showing with his fifth strikeout, the A's watched a member of their bullpen lose grip of a lead for the second straight night. Right-hander Jeurys Familia surrendered a one-out double to Ehire Adrianza and a run-scoring single to Willians Astudillo to even the score -- temporarily.

Video: MIN@OAK: Astudillo rips an RBI single to tie the game

Closer Blake Treinen picked up his second win in as many days with a scoreless ninth, setting the stage for the first walk-off wild pitch in franchise history since April 26, 1997, against Kansas City.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Semien also starred on defense, ranging back and to his right for a remarkable catch in shallow left field for the second out of the seventh to hold Astudillo at second base -- a critical juncture in the inning. That's when lefty Ryan Buchter entered and got Joe Mauer to fly out to center to keep the game tied.

"Off the bat, it didn't look like he was going to get to it, and he got a great read on it, a great jump and ended up getting to it fairly easily for a huge play," Melvin said.

Video: MIN@OAK: Semien ranges into outfield for running grab

SOUND SMART
Buchter has not allowed an inherited runner to score since July 21, leaving 19 of them out to dry in that span.

HE SAID IT
"We're going to go after it. I'm sure we'll have that game on in the morning just like we always have baseball on. Maybe one TV for NFL. Tampa will be on one of these TVs, and we'll be getting ready." -- Semien, on watching the Rays' 10 a.m. PT matchup with Toronto on Sunday

UP NEXT
Right-hander Trevor Cahill, who has been sidelined for two weeks with an upper back issue, is set to return to the mound in a potential clinching game against the Twins on Sunday. He's 6-3 with a 3.77 ERA, including a 1.49 ERA in 10 home starts. Minnesota, hoping to play the role of spoiler, will counter with right-hander Kyle Gibson (8-13, 3.78 ERA) in the 1:05 p.m. PT tilt.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

Oakland Athletics, Mike Fiers, Stephen Piscotty, Marcus Semien

Postseason Picture: Where we are right now

A closer look at the divisions, Wild Cards and tiebreakers
MLB.com

The Braves clinched the National League East for the first time in five years with a victory over the Phillies at SunTrust Park. Meanwhile, things remained tight in the NL West, with both the Dodgers and Rockies winning to keep the gap between them at 1 1/2 games. The Cardinals also won, beating the Giants on a Tyler O'Neill walk-off homer to preserve a 1 1/2-game lead over Colorado for the second NL Wild Card spot. With the Brewers losing to the Pirates, St. Louis is within 2 games of Milwaukee for the top Wild Card spot.

Postseason bracket

The Braves clinched the National League East for the first time in five years with a victory over the Phillies at SunTrust Park. Meanwhile, things remained tight in the NL West, with both the Dodgers and Rockies winning to keep the gap between them at 1 1/2 games. The Cardinals also won, beating the Giants on a Tyler O'Neill walk-off homer to preserve a 1 1/2-game lead over Colorado for the second NL Wild Card spot. With the Brewers losing to the Pirates, St. Louis is within 2 games of Milwaukee for the top Wild Card spot.

Postseason bracket

In the American League, the Yankees punched their ticket to the postseason with a walk-off victory against the Orioles on Saturday, securing at least one of the two AL Wild Card spots. New York continues to lead the A's by 1 1/2 games for the top Wild Card spot, as Oakland enjoyed a walk-off victory of its own for the second consecutive night over the Twins. The Astros rallied for nine runs in a single inning to top the Angels, maintaining their 3 1/2-game lead over the A's in the AL West.

Here is a division-by-division breakdown of the playoff picture, recapping Saturday's action and taking a look at where each contender stands heading into today. Within each division, clubs are listed in order of current standing.

Explaining tiebreaker scenarios for '18 postseason

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

RED SOX (105-50, .677)

Status: Clinched AL East; lead HOU by 7 1/2 games for best record in MLB.

Yesterday's result: Lost to CLE, 5-4 (11 innings). Recap >

Key tiebreaker: Boston currently sits in front of AL West-leading Houston, but in the event the Astros catch the Sox, the season series would determine home field in a potential postseason matchup. The Astros won the season series, 4-3.

Today's schedule: at CLE (7:05 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sunday at CLE, Sept. 28-30 vs. NYY

Video: BOS@CLE: Benintendi knocks a 2-run single to tie game
YANKEES (95-59, .617)

Status: Clinched AL Wild Card spot; lead OAK by 1 1/2 games for first AL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Beat BAL, 3-2 (11 innings). Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the Yankees and A's tie for the two AL Wild Card spots, home field in the Wild Card Game would go to the winner of the season series, but with each club having won three games, the tiebreaker would go to the club with the better intradivision record. The Yankees (39-29 vs. AL East) hold a lead over the A's (35-35 vs. AL West) in that regard.

Today's schedule: vs. BAL (1:05 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sept. 28-30 at BOS

Video: Must C Clinch: Yankees clinch Wild Card on walk-off

RAYS (86-68, .558)

Status: Trail OAK by 7 1/2 games for second AL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Lost to TOR, 5-2. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the Rays were to tie the A's for the AL's second Wild Card spot, they would host a tiebreaker play-in game because they won the season series over the A's, 5-2.

Today's schedule: at TOR (1:07 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Monday-Thursday vs. NYY

Video: TB@TOR: Pham belts his 20th home run of the season

AL CENTRAL

INDIANS (86-68, .558)

Status: Clinched AL Central.

Yesterday's result: Beat BOS, 5-4 (11 innings). Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If Cleveland were to pull even with Houston, it still would not host Game 1 of the ALDS, since the Astros took the season series, 4-3.

Today's schedule: vs. BOS (7:05 p.m. ET) 

Key series remaining: Sunday vs. BOS

Video: BOS@CLE: Brantley walks it off with a single to left

AL WEST

ASTROS (97-57, .630)

Status: Clinched postseason berth. Lead OAK by 3 1/2 games in AL West; trail BOS by 7 1/2 games for the AL's best record.

Yesterday's result: Beat LAA, 10-5. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If Cleveland pulls even with Houston, the Astros still would host Game 1 of the ALDS, since they took the season series, 4-3. In the event of a tie with Oakland atop the AL West, the Astros would host a one-game tiebreaker by virtue of taking the season series, 12-7.

Today's schedule: vs. LAA (2:10 p.m. ET)

Video: LAA@HOU: Verlander earns career-high 270th K of 2018

ATHLETICS (94-61, .606)

Status: Trail HOU by 3 1/2 games in AL West and NYY by 1 1/2 games for first AL Wild Card; lead TB by 7 1/2 games for second AL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Beat MIN, 3-2. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the A's and Yankees tie for the two AL Wild Card spots, home field in the Wild Card Game would go to the winner of the season series, but with both teams having won three games, the tiebreaker would go to the club with the better intradivision record. The Yankees (38-29 vs. AL East) hold a lead over the A's (35-35 vs. AL West) in that regard. If the A's tie the Astros for the AL West crown, Houston would host a one-game tiebreaker by virtue of taking the season series, 12-7.

Today's schedule: vs. MIN (4:05 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Monday-Wednesday at SEA

Video: MIN@OAK: Piscotty scores winning run on wild pitch

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

BRAVES (87-68, .561)

Status: Clinched NL East. Trail CHC by 3 1/2 games for No. 1 seed in NL; lead LAD by 1 game for No. 2 seed in NL.

Yesterday's result: Beat PHI, 5-3. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: In the event of a tie for the best record in the NL, the higher seed would be determined by intradivision record, since the Braves and Cubs each won three games apiece in the season series. Atlanta (46-23) is assured of finishing with a better intradivision record than Chicago (37-32). In the event of a tie for the second seed in the NL, the Dodgers would be awarded the second seed by virtue of winning the season series with the Braves, 5-2.

Today's schedule: vs. PHI (1:35 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sunday vs. PHI, Sept. 28-30 at PHI

Video: Must C Clinch: Braves capture NL East division crown

PHILLIES (78-76, .506)

Status: Trail STL by 7 1/2 games for second NL Wild Card spot.

Yesterday's result: Lost to ATL, 5-3. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: A Cardinals win or Phillies loss would eliminate Philadelphia from postseason contention. If the Phillies and Cardinals end the season tied for the second NL Wild Card spot, the Phillies would have home field in a tiebreaker to determine the winner of the second Wild Card position, by virtue of their 4-3 record against the Cardinals in the season series.

Today's schedule: at ATL (1:35 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sunday at ATL, Monday-Wednesday at COL, Sept. 28-30 vs. ATL

Video: PHI@ATL: Hernandez cuts deficit to 2 with a single

NL CENTRAL

CUBS (90-64, .584)

Status: Lead MIL by 2 1/2 games and STL by 4 1/2 games in NL Central; lead ATL by 3 1/2 games for No. 1 seed in NL.

Yesterday's result: Beat CWS, 8-3. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: In the event of a tiebreaker game for the division title, the Cubs would have home-field advantage over the Brewers, by virtue of their 11-8 record vs. Milwaukee in the season series. In the event of a tie for the best record in the NL, the higher seed would be determined by intradivision record, since the Cubs and Braves each won three games apiece in the season series. Atlanta (46-23) would be awarded the higher seed over Chicago (37-32).

Today's schedule: at CWS (2:10 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sept. 28-30 vs. STL

Video: CHC@CWS: Baez lines a 2-run homer to left field

BREWERS (88-67, .568)

Status: Trail CHC by 2 1/2 games in NL Central; lead STL by 2 games for first NL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Lost to PIT, 3-0. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: The Brewers' final three-game series against the Cardinals from Monday through Wednesday will determine the winner of the season series -- currently tied at 8-8 -- and who would have home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game if the two clubs finished tied for both Wild Card spots.

Today's schedule: at PIT (1:35 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Monday-Wednesday at STL

Video: Hader sets MLB record with 16 straight outs via the K

CARDINALS (86-69, .555)

Status: Trail CHC by 4 1/2 games in NL Central; lead COL by 1 1/2 games for second NL Wild Card spot, trail MIL by 2 games for top NL Wild Card spot.

Yesterday's result: Beat SF, 5-4 (10 innings). Recap >

Key tiebreaker: The Cardinals' final three-game series against the Brewers from Monday through Wednesday will determine the winner of the season series -- currently tied at 8-8 -- and thereby who would have home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game if the two clubs finished tied for both Wild Card spots. Should St. Louis finish tied with Colorado for the second NL Wild Card spot, the Cardinals would host a tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series, 5-2.

Today's schedule: vs. SF (2:15 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Monday-Wednesday vs. MIL, Sept. 28-30 at CHC

Video: SF@StL: O'Neill hammers walk-off home run in 10th

PIRATES (78-75, .510)

Status: Trail Cardinals by 7 games for second NL Wild Card spot.

Yesterday's result: Beat MIL, 3-0. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: Two St. Louis victories, a St. Louis victory and Pittsburgh loss, or two Pittsburgh losses would eliminate the Pirates from postseason contention. If the Pirates were to finish the season tied with the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot, the tiebreaker would be held at Busch Stadium since St. Louis won the season series, 11-8. If the Pirates ended the season tied with the Rockies for the second NL Wild Card spot, intradivision records would determine home field advantage in the tiebreaker, since the two clubs split the season series, 3-3. The Rockies (39-35) currently lead the Pirates (28-29) in that department.

Today's schedule: vs. MIL (1:35 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sunday vs. MIL, Monday-Thursday at CHC, Sept. 28-30 at CIN

Video: MIL@PIT: Williams K's 7, blanks Brewers over 6 frames

NL WEST

DODGERS (86-69, .555)

Status: Lead COL by 1 1/2 games in NL West; trail ATL by 1 game for No. 2 seed in NL.

Yesterday's result: Beat SD, 7-2. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: Should there be a tiebreaker game for the division title or the final NL Wild Card berth, Los Angeles is currently in position to host the Rockies (won the season series, 12-7) or play at Arizona (9-7 deficit), with more games left against Arizona. The Dodgers lost the season series to the Cardinals, 4-3, so in the event of a tie for a Wild Card spot, Los Angeles would play at St. Louis. In the event of a tie for the second seed in the NL, the Dodgers would be awarded the second seed by virtue of winning the season series with the Braves, 5-2.

Today's schedule: vs. SD (4:10 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Monday-Wednesday at ARI

Video: SD@LAD: Machado, Turner spark Dodgers' 5-run 3rd

ROCKIES (84-70, .545)

Status: Trail LAD by 1 1/2 games in NL West; trail STL by 1 1/2 games for second NL Wild Card spot. 

Yesterday's result: Beat ARI, 5-1. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: In the event of a tie for first place in the division, there would be a tiebreaker game to determine the NL West champion. As things stand now, the Rockies would be on the road for such a game against the Dodgers due to the results of their season series against Los Angeles (7-12), while Colorado's win Saturday night assured them a season series victory over Arizona.

Today's schedule: at ARI (4:10 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sunday at ARI

Video: COL@ARI: Rockies open the scoring with a 4-run 3rd

D-BACKS (79-76, .510)

Status: Trail LAD by 7 games in NL West; trail STL by 7 games for second NL Wild Card. 

Yesterday's result:  Lost to COL, 5-1. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: A Dodgers win or D-backs loss would eliminate Arizona from NL West contention, and a Cardinals win or D-backs loss would eliminate Arizona from Wild Card contention. If the D-backs finish tied for the division title or final NL Wild Card berth, season series would determine home-field advantage in an extra game for the right to advance to the NL Wild Card Game. Arizona leads its season series against Los Angeles (9-7) and has lost the series to Colorado (8-10), while splitting the season series with St. Louis (3-3). Home field between Arizona and St. Louis would come down to intradivision record, with the Cardinals (40-30) currently leading the D-backs (36-33) in that race.

Today's schedule: vs. COL (4:10 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sunday vs. COL, Monday-Wednesday vs. LAD

Video: COL@ARI: Pollock breaks up perfecto with solo homer

POSTSEASON PICTURE

If the playoffs began today, here's how they would look:

Postseason schedule

NL Wild Card Game (Tues., Oct. 2)
Cardinals at Brewers

AL Wild Card Game (Wed., Oct. 3)
Athletics at Yankees

NL Division Series (begins Thurs., Oct. 4)
NL Wild Card Game winner at Cubs
Dodgers at Braves

AL Division Series (begins Fri., Oct. 5)
AL Wild Card Game winner at Red Sox
Indians at Astros

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Do-Hyoung Park is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros

Tribe sets K's record; Brantley hits walk-off 1B

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The Progressive Field crowd rose to its feet and Mike Clevinger paused for a moment behind the mound, collecting himself amidst a standing ovation in the second inning on Saturday night. With a strikeout of the Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr., Clevinger put the 2018 Indians into the record books.

Clevinger's called strikeout of Bradley in the Indians' 5-4, 11-inning win marked the 200th punchout of the season for the Indians' starter, making Cleveland the only team in Major League history to have four pitchers reach that milestone in the same campaign. Michael Brantley then capped off the historic day with a bases-loaded walk-off single that set off an on-field mob scene.

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CLEVELAND -- The Progressive Field crowd rose to its feet and Mike Clevinger paused for a moment behind the mound, collecting himself amidst a standing ovation in the second inning on Saturday night. With a strikeout of the Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr., Clevinger put the 2018 Indians into the record books.

Clevinger's called strikeout of Bradley in the Indians' 5-4, 11-inning win marked the 200th punchout of the season for the Indians' starter, making Cleveland the only team in Major League history to have four pitchers reach that milestone in the same campaign. Michael Brantley then capped off the historic day with a bases-loaded walk-off single that set off an on-field mob scene.

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Video: BOS@CLE: Brantley walks it off with a single to left

"It's an outstanding accomplishment," Brantley said of the rotation's record. "Those guys have been out there all year. They've been our horses, staying healthy for the most part, and going out there and giving us solid innings day in and day out. We're very appreciative of what they did. It's a team effort from top to bottom."

Video: BOS@CLE: Brantley on his walk-off single vs. Red Sox

Clevinger joined ace Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer in the 200-K club for the American League Central champions.

Video: Bauer, Carrasco, Kluber, Clevinger each reach 200 K's

The 2013 Tigers (Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander), 1969 Astros (Larry Dierker, Tom Griffin and Don Wilson) and the '67 Twins (Dave Boswell, Dean Chance and Jim Kaat) were the only previous teams to have three pitchers reach 200 strikeouts in the same season. The 2017 Indians came close, but Bauer (196 strikeouts) fell just short of joining Kluber (265) and Carrasco (226).

"I think that speaks to their work ethic, too," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "They prepare so well and they stay out there -- and it was kind of a cool thing to see. It kind of snuck up on me tonight when it happened, but those guys ought to be proud of themselves."

Video: BOS@CLE: Francona on walk-off win, strong pitching

The Astros currently have two pitchers (Gerrit Cole and Verlander) in the 200-K club, with Charlie Morton (195) on the cusp of reaching the benchmark, too. Morton is slated to start against the Angels on Sunday.

This is the second season in a row that Cleveland's pitchers have made history. Last year, the Indians' staff as a whole set a single-season record for WAR (31.9 per Fangraphs) and became the only team in MLB history to average more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. This year's Astros (10.5 K/9) are on pace to surpass the 2017 Tribe (10.1) in that category.

Tweet from @Indians: Corey Kluber. Trevor Bauer. Carlos Carrasco. Mike Clevinger.We are the 1st team in Major League history to have 4 starting pitchers record 200 or more strikeouts in a single season.#RallyTogether pic.twitter.com/1yLh8j1les

"It's the year after they set the record for WAR, among other things," said Indians reliever Cody Allen. "That's impressive. The writing's been on the wall for years. Any rotation that's headed up by a guy named Corey Kluber, who's got a couple Cy Youngs, guys just follow his lead. Then you have elite talents like Clev and Bauer, Cookie."

Heading into Saturday, the Indians' rotation led the Majors in WAR (21.6), with Bauer (tied for second at 6.0), Carrasco (fifth at 5.0), Kluber (sixth at 4.9) and Clevinger (seventh at 4.3) all in the top 10 in the American League. Bauer (12-6, 2.21 ERA and 217 strikeouts) and Kluber (19-7, 2.93 ERA and 205 strikeouts) are in the conversation for the AL Cy Young Award, with Carrasco (16-9, 3.35 ERA and 217 strikeouts) right behind them.

Video: BOS@CLE: Lindor makes a great diving stop

Overall on the night, Clevinger allowed two runs -- via solo homers by Rafael Devers and Blake Swihart -- but walked away with a no-decision after working five innings. The right-hander sidestepped the potential harm of five walks and ended with six strikeouts, giving him 202 on the season with one start remaining before the playoffs.

Clevinger appreciated the crowd's reaction to his achievement.

Video: BOS@CLE: Clevinger tosses five solid innings, K's 6

"It was a big moment in the game," Clevinger said. "I was fired up about [the situation]. Then I looked up and realized what happened, and I was like, 'Oh, gosh, that is the 200th,' and I had to step back and I wanted to get locked back in before I got back on the mound.

"It's special. A lot of people are going to say it's our division or whatever the case may be, but it's a lot of work, a lot of effort, and a lot of process that went into all of our stories and the way we got here. I'm just proud to be a part of this."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Running wild: Yan Gomes got the 11th inning started with a leadoff single and was replaced at first by the fleet-footed Rajai Davis. Greg Allen followed with a single to put two on for Francisco Lindor, who was looking to use a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners. Davis and Allen rendered that strategy moot by pulling off a double steal. The Red Sox intentionally walked Lindor, setting the table for Brantley's game-winning hit.

Video: BOS@CLE: Davis, Allen pull off a clutch double steal

"Raj really did a good job," Francona said. "You know, he's still, at this age, he's fast, but he's smart out there. He didn't feel comfortable at first. He knew Greg was bunting, but then [after Allen's single], he knew he could get third. And Frankie did a good job pulling back."

Miller time: Relief ace Andrew Miller took another step forward on Saturday night by logging a season-high 31 pitches over 1 2/3 innings, in which he had one walk, one strikeout and one hit allowed. It marked the most pitches for Miller since he threw 39 in Game 5 of the AL Division Series last year, and the most in a regular-season setting since throwing 31 on May 15 last season. Miller was charged with one run after Tribe lefty Brad Hand surrendered a two-run, game-tying single to Andrew Benintendi in the eighth.

"The good part was he got to 30 pitches," Francona said. "I thought he pitched better as he got into his outing, I didn't think it was his best stuff we've seen. But again, he's been in three out of four days and he was hot last night. So again, it's good. We're able to do some things you couldn't even think of a while back."

SOUND SMART
Jose Ramirez drew three walks in the victory, giving him 101 on the season for the Tribe. Ramirez joins Bobby Abreu (2001, '04), Jeff Bagwell (1997, '99) and Barry Bonds ('92, '95-97) as the only players in MLB history with at least 30 homers, 30 steals, 100 RBIs, 100 runs and 100 walks in a single season.

Video: BOS@CLE: Ramirez draws walk, joins impressive company

HE SAID IT
"I thought both teams, they played really good baseball and kept playing. A lot of things happened and a lot of things were going on and both teams used a lot of players. But they played the game the right way and tried. That was good for us. It was a good crowd, playing a great team, and you find a way to win." --Francona, on playing a competitive game when both the Indians and Red Sox have sewn up their playoff positioning

UP NEXT
Right-hander Adam Plutko (4-5, 4.32 ERA) will take the ball for the Indians for Sunday's regular-season home finale against the Red Sox at 7:05 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. Plutko previously faced Boston on Aug. 23, allowing five runs on five hits with four strikeouts and five walks in 4 1/3 innings at Fenway Park. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is expected to be in the lineup for the third consecutive game.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley, Mike Clevinger

You need to see Bartolo Colon's new tattoo

Even at the advanced age of 45, Bartolo Colon finds new ways to reinvent himself.

No, he didn't add a pitch to his repertoire of almost-entirely-fastballs-located-anywhere-in-and-around-the-zone, nor did he announce he'll come back as a position player next season (though could you even imagine?). 

Win puts Cubs' magic number for Central at 6

Baez belts 34th HR, increases NL-leading RBI total to 110
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Officially, the Cubs were on the road on Saturday night, but they felt right at home.

MVP candidate Javier Baez drove in three runs to raise his National League-leading RBI total to 110 and Daniel Murphy hit a tiebreaking RBI double to lead the Cubs to an 8-3 victory over the crosstown-rival White Sox in front of the first sellout crowd of the season at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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CHICAGO -- Officially, the Cubs were on the road on Saturday night, but they felt right at home.

MVP candidate Javier Baez drove in three runs to raise his National League-leading RBI total to 110 and Daniel Murphy hit a tiebreaking RBI double to lead the Cubs to an 8-3 victory over the crosstown-rival White Sox in front of the first sellout crowd of the season at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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The Cubs now have a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League Central over the Brewers, who lost Saturday in Pittsburgh. The Braves and Yankees secured playoff berths on Saturday. The Cubs are inching closer, trimming their magic number (6) to clinch the division.

"We know what we've got," Baez said. "We just have to stay away from every other team. They have to pay attention to us, not us to them. If we do that, we should be good. We're going to battle with what we've got."

Jon Lester wasn't as sharp as he has been but is now tied with the Nationals' Max Scherzer for the NL lead with 17 wins. Lester also is 10-1 on the road since mid-May, although he was pitching just eight miles from his home ballpark, Wrigley Field. The left-hander improved to 5-1 in his last seven starts, scattering eight hits over five innings and striking out four.

Video: CHC@CWS: Lester goes 5 strong innings vs. White Sox

"I couldn't get the weak contact that I was able to get, I couldn't get it at anybody," Lester said. "I tried to talk Joe [Maddon] into managing an American League game again and let me go back out for the sixth, but he wasn't having any of it."

The Cubs took a quick lead with one out in the first on Baez's two-run homer, his 34th, but the White Sox tied the game on an RBI single by Avisail Garcia in the first and Tim Anderson's 20th home run in the third.

Video: CHC@CWS: Baez lines a 2-run homer to left field

In the fifth, the Cubs rattled off four straight hits against starter Lucas Giolito, including Murphy's double and a two-run single by Ben Zobrist to go ahead, 5-2. Baez added an RBI single in the ninth.

Murphy's double was key.

"That was a seminal moment," Maddon said. "When it was hit, [left fielder Ryan LaMarre] was coming in on the ball and I thought it was hit better than that ... and of course it was. I thought it was the turning point. It gave us that offensive break we've been seeking. That one went our way."

Video: CHC@CWS: Murphy lines an RBI double to left field

Saturday was a more normal day for the Cubs. On Friday, the Cubs got the news that shortstop Addison Russell was placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball. Maddon couldn't tell if that affected his players, who lost, 10-4, in the series opener.

"It's hard to say," Maddon said. "You walk into the locker room and there's a different kind of buzz going on outside of the actual game. We did have to meet as a group to talk about things. We did still get in at 6 o'clock in the morning [on Thursday]. I have a lot of faith in our guys."

Lester didn't see Russell's situation as an issue.

"I would hope that didn't distract guys," Lester said. "We have plenty of other distractions in the clubhouse to take us away from baseball. I think our guys were prepared and ready. I think [Friday] was one of those days. … This clubhouse has been through enough adversity over the four years I've been here to move on from anything that goes on outside this clubhouse."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Baez at the plate: As soon as Baez stepped into the batter's box in the first inning, the "M-V-P" chants started. He responded by hitting the first pitch he saw from Giolito -- a changeup -- to left field, driving in Zobrist, who had singled, and giving the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

Baez is batting .322 with two doubles, one triple, six home runs and 13 RBIs in his last 15 road games. And he's got Lester's vote as MVP.

"For me, what puts him above everybody in that talk is his ability to play multiple positions," Lester said. "It's easy to show up every day and know what spot in the order you're going to hit and what position you're going to play. Javy's done it at second, short, third for us all year. I feel that puts a little added burden on him as far as showing up every day, not knowing where he's going to play. I think the offensive side speaks for itself. People want to nitpick that he doesn't walk but [he's batting] .300 with 34 [homers] and 110 [RBIs] -- I know the other guys are good but when you add multiple positions to a guy, that changes my vote for sure."

Video: CHC@CWS: Baez hits an RBI single to left

Baez on the field: With one out in the bottom of the first, Yolmer Sanchez singled to Baez, who made a great stop but overthrew first for an error. Sanchez reached second and scored on Garcia's single. Lester needed 25 pitches to get through that inning but got some help from Baez, who ended it with a nifty stop on Welington Castillo's grounder, making a smooth throw to first.

Baez called his throw on Sanchez's ball a "dumb error."

"I feel comfortable playing short," said Baez, who takes over as the full-time shortstop now that Russell is absent. "I just have to get my arm used to playing short every day again and we'll be good."

Video: CHC@CWS: Baez makes a smooth sliding play in the hole

Said Maddon: "The one throw [on Sanchez's ball] was a little bit high but he got to that ball. He's playing at the top of his game as a shortstop in the big leagues. It's pretty impressive to watch. He's involved in everything. He's really engaged in the game, and it's a lot of fun to watch."

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Anderson was ejected for the second time this season, after a replay review in the ninth inning of a Baez slide at second base on a fielder's choice. The White Sox challenged that Baez had attempted to interfere with a potential double play by reaching out to grab Anderson's legs, but the call was confirmed, allowing the Cubs to score an insurance run. Anderson said he asked second-base umpire Joe West for an explanation, and the conversation escalated to an ejection, which drew Renteria out of the dugout and led to his ejection.

Video: CHC@CWS: Zobrist scores on forceout after review

SOUND SMART
The Cubs improved to 12-7 in Interleague Play this season.

HE SAID IT
"Let's not get that far ahead of ourselves. We've got, what, [eight] more games? We're 2 1/2 [games ahead] -- and we've got a long ways to go. … That's two good teams chasing us. We just have to keep playing good baseball. We get to go home -- even though these last three days are kind of home -- but we get to go home for the last week of the season and enjoy that." -- Lester, on the tight division race

"Of course, you'd like to be clinched by now. Who knows? Sometimes when you get pressed a little bit like this, it can make you better. I just don't want us to get fatigued. There's not a manager or a team alive that will tell you they wouldn't prefer clinching well in advance. That's what we did in '16 and when we did, I talked about running a Spring Training method the rest of the season and I thought it played out pretty well." -- Maddon

UP NEXT
Kyle Hendricks (12-11, 3.58 ERA) will close the Crosstown Cup series on Sunday, facing White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon (6-6, 3.22). Hendricks is winless in five career starts against the White Sox, compiling a 4.10 ERA. That includes a loss on May 13 at Wrigley Field, when he gave up three earned runs over six innings, striking out six. Hendricks is coming off a win over the D-backs in which he went 8 2/3 innings, giving up three hits. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. CT from Guaranteed Rate Field.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez, Jon Lester, Daniel Murphy

Cards' WC hopes helped by O'Neill's HR in 10th

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- The sudden chill that swept over downtown St. Louis gave Saturday's matinee an October vibe. It also reminded Tyler O'Neill of home. Which is why the Canada native, already soaked after his walk-off home run sent the Cardinals to a 5-4, 10-inning win over the Giants, asked for more than the traditional water-cooler shower.

"I made sure they drenched some ice on me," O'Neill said. "I like the cold weather."

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ST. LOUIS -- The sudden chill that swept over downtown St. Louis gave Saturday's matinee an October vibe. It also reminded Tyler O'Neill of home. Which is why the Canada native, already soaked after his walk-off home run sent the Cardinals to a 5-4, 10-inning win over the Giants, asked for more than the traditional water-cooler shower.

"I made sure they drenched some ice on me," O'Neill said. "I like the cold weather."

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Bare-chested on the Busch Stadium grass, O'Neill struck a heroic pose. His theatrics capped a game his manager called a "vintage" day, salvaging what might have been Adam Wainwright's final start in St. Louis. And it got even better at night, after the Brewers lost to the Pirates, moving the Cardinals within two games of Milwaukee for the top National League Wild Card spot. They also remained 1 1/2 games up on the Rockies for the second Wild Card, after Colorado won a late game in Arizona. St. Louis has now won five of its last six games, and will go for a sweep Sunday ahead of two all-important series with the Brewers and Cubs.

Video: Must C Clutch: Molina's HR ties it, O'Neill walks off

"I've had some walk-offs in the Minors," O'Neill said. "But nothing compares to being in a pennant race."

On the opposite side of the Cardinals clubhouse, Wainwright grinned. He's one of the few in St. Louis' youth-infused locker room who's been here before. And now, after spending much of the season injured and inactive, he's re-emerged as a big reason, with seven games to play, the Cards once again have October squarely in their sights.

Video: SF@STL: Wainwright strikes out Longoria swinging

"To be in the moment here in September is really special," Wainwright said. "I'm glad some of our young guys are playing meaningful games. We haven't played in the postseason in a few years, it's about time we do that again."

Wainwright is so focused on the team's postseason fortunes that the idea of Saturday marking the 37-year-old's final start in St. Louis "barely weighed on me at all," he said. It remains a very real possibility, with his next start set for the season's final weekend in Chicago and Wainwright's contract up at the end of the year. But after Wainwright spent six more innings largely silencing an opponent -- he ended up allowing four earned runs after a barrage of bad luck soured his line -- those unknowns drifted even further from the periphery.

"I don't think Waino or this team feels like that might have been his last start at Busch," manager Mike Shildt said. 'I'd love to see him in the playoffs, pitching at Busch."

And perhaps he will. That's certainly more likely now, after Wainwright, Yadier Molina and O'Neill dragged the Cardinals past a season-high four errors, and Carlos Martinez set the stage for their 11th walk-off win. Wainwright was dominant until two errors and three bloop singles gave the Giants a lead in the seventh, one Molina immediately nullified with a game-tying, two-run homer off Dereck Rodriguez in the bottom of the frame.

Video: SF@STL: Molina crushes a game-tying, 2-run HR in 7th

"Vintage is a good word for that," Shildt said of Molina and Wainwright, the longest-tenured teammates in Major League Baseball.

After Dakota Hudson (1 2/3 scoreless) pushed the Cardinals past regulation, two more miscues -- on one misplay by Matt Carpenter -- put Martinez in a bases-loaded jam in the 10th. But Martinez, pitching for the fourth time in six games, struck out Alen Hanson and Austin Slater to end the threat. That set up O'Neill, who sent a 2-2 curveball from Mark Melancon 410 feet over the left-field wall. The blast lifted St. Louis to its 11th walk-off win of the year and ignited the paid crowd of 45,878 at Busch.

"It's definitely leading up to a postseason atmosphere," O'Neill said. "Finishing it off for the guys was a great feeling."

Video: SF@STL: O'Neill on walk-off homer, losing shirt

SOUND SMART
• Molina's home run was the 145th of his career, passing his brother, Bengie, for the most in the Molina family.

• Of the eight hits Wainwright allowed, none of them exceeded the 95 mph exit velocity threshold Statcast™ deems "hard-hit." Said Wainwright, who has struck out 18 in 17 1/3 innings since returning from the DL: "That's probably the softest four runs I've ever given up. That was incredible."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Martinez would not have wiggled out of the ninth without help from Yairo Munoz, who, in place of injured Kolten Wong, made a Wong-like play at second base to take a hit away from Gregor Blanco. Munoz charged Blanco's soft grounder and threw from the ground to record the second out of the inning.

Video: Munoz's nice flip play

HE SAID IT
"I don't want to get into that. That's an HR [Human Resources] issue." -- Shildt, on O'Neill's teammates ripping his shirt off postgame

UP NEXT
Miles Mikolas (16-4, 3.01 ERA) has a chance to pitch himself into a tie for the National League lead in wins with a victory Sunday, when the right-hander takes the ball for the finale of St. Louis' three-game set with San Francisco. Doing so would only add to the list of accomplishments for Mikolas, who also leads the league in walk-rate in his first season back from Japan. Lefty Andrew Suarez (7-11, 4.24) opposes for the Giants, with first pitch slated for 1:15 p.m. CT from Busch Stadium.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals

9-run rally in 8th moves Astros closer to West title

Altuve's homer caps frame after Angels rally in top of the inning
Special to MLB.com

HOUSTON -- The Astros' biggest inning of the season, a nine-run uprising in the eighth, may have left the Minute Maid Park crowd in near disbelief. But it's just a testament to the caliber of their lineup

In erasing a four-run deficit, Houston struck quick and furiously to stun the Angels in a 10-5 victory on Saturday night. With the win, the first-place Astros trimmed their magic number for an American League West title to five, while the A's rallied for a 3-2 walk-off win over the Twins to stay 3 1/2 games back in the division race.

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HOUSTON -- The Astros' biggest inning of the season, a nine-run uprising in the eighth, may have left the Minute Maid Park crowd in near disbelief. But it's just a testament to the caliber of their lineup

In erasing a four-run deficit, Houston struck quick and furiously to stun the Angels in a 10-5 victory on Saturday night. With the win, the first-place Astros trimmed their magic number for an American League West title to five, while the A's rallied for a 3-2 walk-off win over the Twins to stay 3 1/2 games back in the division race.

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The Angels had spoiled Justin Verlander's superb 11-strikeout start -- he allowed just one hit over six scoreless innings -- by getting to the Houston bullpen, rallying for five runs in the top of the eighth.

Video: LAA@HOU: Verlander sets new career high with 280 K's

"Not a lot went right in the top of the eighth," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "That was as ugly an inning as we've had, and probably the bottom of the eighth was as good an inning as we've had. We had a lot of quality at-bats."

"I went from going to a low to a high," said Verlander, who leads the AL with a career-high 280 strikeouts.

Jose Altuve, who later hit a two-run homer to cap the nine-run outburst, led off the eighth with a walk to jumpstart the Astros' rally.

From there, Marwin Gonzalez walked and Yuli Gurriel, who had three hits, singled. Brian McCann and Evan Gattis hit RBI singles to pull the Astros within 5-4.

"The momentum just kept building with every baserunner," said Gattis, who drove in Houston's first run with a fourth-inning single. "Then, you've looked up and we've gone through the lineup. Everybody knows we're not ever out of games. It's just good to see it."

Video: LAA@HOU: Astros plate 2 on error to take lead in 8th

A throwing error by third baseman Taylor Ward off a ball hit by pinch-hitter Tyler White allowed Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker to score the tying and go-ahead runs.

"I was just trying to get to first base as fast as possible," White said. "I knew we needed a run. We got the job done and got the runs in. Everybody just tried to pass it on to the next guy. We got a lot of guys on base and ended up scoring a lot of runs."

George Springer added a two-run single and Altuve's 13th home run, which brought in Springer, was more than enough insurance runs for Roberto Osuna, who threw a clean ninth inning.

Gurriel, who had two home runs and a career-high seven RBIs on Friday, extended his hitting streak to eight games and is 14-for-32 on the homestand.

Video: LAA@HOU: Gurriel rips an RBI single into left field

The Angels have now allowed double-digit runs in each of the last four games. Mike Trout's 38th home run, a go-ahead three-run jack in the eighth, was his third in as many games.

SOUND SMART
With its 15 strikeouts on Saturday, the Astros' pitching staff set a Major League single-season record with 1,615 strikeouts, eclipsing the previous mark of 1,614 by the Indians in 2017. Earlier, Verlander helped Houston set an MLB record for most strikeouts in a season by a club's starters with 1,069 to eclipse the Tribe's mark of 1,066, also set in '17. More >

Video: LAA@HOU: Astros set single season K record with 1,615

The win pushed Houston (97-57) to 40 games above .500, a mark the Astros have reached in only one other season (1998).

HE SAID IT
"We all see the scoreboard, and every game is worth a ton right now." -- Hinch, on the AL West race

UP NEXT
Astros right-hander Charlie Morton (15-3, 3.15 ERA), who started the club's home opener in April, gets the ball for the final regular-season home game against the Angels at 1:10 p.m. CT on Sunday. Morton, who will be making his 29th start, is five strikeouts shy of 200 on the season. The Halos counter with lefty Tyler Skaggs (8-8, 3.69 ERA).

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander