LEADING OFF: Yanks’ Cole faces Jays with wild card in sight

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Gerrit Cole

New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) throws to a Boston Red Sox batter during the first inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

A look at what’s happening around the majors today:

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WILD, WILD EAST

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole makes what might be his final start of the regular season in a critical showdown against Toronto.

New York took the opener of a three-game series Tuesday night to move three games ahead of the Blue Jays for the top AL wild card. Cole (16-8, 3.08) will try to strengthen the Yanks’ grip on a postseason spot while also solidifying his Cy Young Award candidacy. The four-time All-Star has never won the prize for baseball’s top pitchers.

Cole could wind up pitching again Sunday against the AL East-champion Rays on short rest if it’s critical to the Yankees’ postseason chances. If not, he’d be available on regular rest for a potential Game 163 on Monday or for the AL wild-card game Tuesday.

First, he’ll oppose Toronto’s Jose Berrios, who struck out eight and pitched two-run ball over 6 2/3 innings against the Yankees on Sept. 9.

Boston lost to Baltimore Tuesday night to fall two games behind the Yankees and will continue a three-game set against the last-place Orioles.

ON THE CUSP

The Braves can get within striking distance of clinching the NL East with a win over Philadelphia. Atlanta took the opener of their three-game set Tuesday night to pull 3 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Phillies, trimming their magic number to secure a fourth straight division title to three.

Atlanta left-hander Max Fried (13-7, 3.12) is set to face righty Aaron Nola (9-8, 4.64) for the Phillies, who were knocked out of the NL wild-card race Tuesday when St. Louis beat Milwaukee and can only make the postseason by winning the division.

TURNED TIDES

The Mariners have won 10 of 12 to charge into the thick of the AL wild-card race and enter their series finale against Oakland trailing the Red Sox by half a game for the final postseason spot.

Right-hander Logan Gilbert (6-5, 4.83) is set to face A’s righty Frankie Montas (13-9, 3.48), with Seattle seeking a critical sweep. The Mariners are also still in the AL West chase, but Houston can clinch with either a victory over Tampa Bay or a loss by Seattle.

THUMBS DOWN

The Giants will close out their pursuit of an NL West title without slugger Brandon Belt, who went on the injured list Tuesday with a broken left thumb.

Belt exited a 6-2 win at Colorado on Sunday in the seventh inning after getting hit on the left hand with a pitch while squaring to bunt. X-rays on Monday revealed the fracture.

The injury is a big blow for the NL West leaders, who began a home series with the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night still seeking to close out their first division title since 2012. It’s unclear if Belt would be able to return before the end of the postseason.

The 33-year-old Belt is batting .274 with a career-high 29 homers and 59 RBIs.

San Francisco and the Dodgers both won Tuesday, keeping the Giants two games ahead of the eight-time defending NL West champs with five games left for each team.

MAX EFFORT

NL Cy Young contender Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.28) tries to recover from his first tough start since a midseason trade to the Dodgers in a showdown with San Diego.

Scherzer allowed five runs in five innings to the Rockies at Coors Field last Thursday, letting his ERA rise to 1.43 in 10 starts after being acquired from Washington. The Dodgers rallied and won that game in Colorado, preserving Scherzer’s perfect 7-0 record with Los Angeles.

The Dodgers also plan to re-evaluate slugger Albert Pujols a day after he went on the COVID-19 injured list. The 41-year-old got his second vaccine dose and felt ill Tuesday.

ON THE CALL

Melanie Newman and Jessica Mendoza will team up for an all-female broadcast when ESPN airs a game between the Padres and Dodgers.

Newman is in her second year doing play-by-play on radio and television for the Baltimore Orioles and became the second woman to do play-by-play for a nationally broadcast game on June 22 when the Oakland Athletics faced the Texas Rangers on YouTube’s MLB Game of the Week. Longtime New York Yankees announcer Suzyn Waldman was the first during games on The Baseball Network in 1994-95.

On July 20, Newman joined Sarah Langs, Alanna Rizzo, Heidi Watney and Lauren Gardner for the first national all-female broadcast.

ESPN tried to look for opportunities to have Newman call some games earlier in the season but wasn’t able to make it work until now. Newman also did the Sept. 22 matchup between San Diego and San Francisco on ESPN with Doug Glanville. Mendoza is in her seventh season as an MLB analyst on ESPN.

STILL GOT HIS WINGS

Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon says Shohei Ohtani’s comments last weekend about wanting to win don’t mean the two-way star wants to leave the organization when he becomes a free agent after the 2023 season.

Ohtani, an AL MVP front-runner with 45 home runs and a 3.18 ERA entering Tuesday, said Sunday that although he likes the team, the fans and the atmosphere, his top priority is winning.

“We all feel the same way, we all want to win,” Maddon said before the Angels’ game at Texas on Tuesday night. “If anybody misconstrues that as though he wants to leave, that’s trying to connect some dots that weren’t necessarily what he, not at all what he said.

“He also mentioned how much he loves it here. The inner sanctum of the clubhouse, the guys, the coaching staff, everything about it. The area. The fans. He loves them all. We all want to get to the next level, and we see it as an absolute possibility it’s going to happen here in the very near future.”

The Angels have had a losing record in six straight seasons and missed the playoffs in seven consecutive years, the last four with Ohtani, who is under contract for two more seasons after this one.

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More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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