Brandon Moss holds no ill will for Phils over '11 snub

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Brandon Moss holds no ill will for Phils over '11 snub

MINNEAPOLIS -- Most of the attention in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game went to Derek Jeter and Mike Trout.

And with good reason.

Jeter, the five-time World Series winner and longtime darling of the New York Yankees, played in his 14th and final All-Star Game. The 40-year-old shortstop delivered two hits and walked off with a gaudy .481 (13 for 27) career batting average in All-Star play.

Next stop for Jeter, Cooperstown -- well, after the remainder of this farewell season and the required five years in dry dock.

Trout, 18 years Jeter’s junior and possibly the most gifted player in the sport, captured MVP honors in the game with an RBI triple -- man, can he run -- and an RBI double.

Many good stories were swept over by the mania surrounding Jeter and Trout.

The man who replaced Trout in the American League’s lineup late in the game was one of them.

His name is Brandon Moss, and of course we’ve heard a lot of that name in these parts because he’s the latest coulda-woulda-shoulda-been-a-Phillie, capping a list that includes Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler, San Francisco pitcher Ryan Vogelsong and Angels reliever Jason Grilli. All have gone on to have big-league success after being released from the Phillies’ minor-league system.

Vogelsong and Grilli were both veterans trying to rebuild their careers in Triple A. They were both let go and went on to make the National League All-Star team with different clubs.

Ziegler, a 20th-round pick by the Phillies in the 2003 draft, was let go after just one season in the system. At the time, he was an over-hand thrower headed nowhere. He went to an independent league, re-invented himself as a submarine-style reliever and has pitched for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He led the NL in appearances last year and is doing so again this season.

And now, Moss.

Four springs ago, he was a non-roster player in the Phillies’ spring-training clubhouse looking for a job.

This week, he was an All-Star, representing the best team in baseball, the Oakland A’s.

Even Moss, two months shy of his 31st birthday, seemed a little surprised at his ascension.

“No one could have anticipated I would go from struggling at the beginning of my career to now I'm in an All-Star Game,” he said. “I was given an opportunity and made the most of it.”

Moss is the first to admit that he was given plenty of opportunities in the past and did not always seize them. He was Boston’s opening day rightfielder in 2008, Pittsburgh’s in 2009. He hit just .236 that season with a .668 OPS. Moss specifically mentioned that missed opportunity with the Pirates during a media availability at the All-Star Game.

Unable to seize opportunities for regular work in the majors, Moss bounced in and out of Triple A.

“I was labeled as more of a 4-A guy,” he said, referring to the murky world in which a player is too good for Triple A but not good enough for the majors.

Moss, a lefty hitter who can play both corner outfield spots and first base, signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies before the 2011 season and put up good numbers -- .275/23/80/.877 OPS -- under manager Ryne Sandberg at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies had a killer team in 2011. They won a club-record 102 games, the most in the majors that season. Even Moss admitted there was no way he was cracking that lineup.

Late in the season, however, Phillies management was looking to fine-tune its roster and add a lefty hitter to its bench. On the surface, Moss seemed to make sense. But the Phils traded for another lefty hitter who was having a good season in Triple A -- John Bowker, then with the Pirates’ Triple A affiliate. Bowker spent a month with the club and went hitless with seven strikeouts in 13 at-bats.

Moss finished the season with the Phillies as a September call-up. He went 0 for 6. He was around for the Phillies’ NL-East clinching celebration. That was about it.

Moss would love to have gotten a shot at the job Bowker got, but he said he holds no hard feelings toward the Phillies for their choice. Again, he pointed to the 4-A label.

“You get labeled something and it’s hard to break that label in the big leagues,” he said. “I had a good year in Triple A. At the same time, they were trying to win the East and go to the World Series they felt Bowker could help more than me.”

Why didn’t Moss get a chance?

Well, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said there were organizational concerns about whether Moss’ swing would hold up coming off the bench.

Moss understands the Phillies’ thinking.

“Not very well,” he said when asked about how his swing would fare if he were a bat off the bench. “There is so much timing involved in my swing because I have an open stance and I have a kick and movement with my hands. That's one of the reasons I didn't do well in Pittsburgh because I wasn't really an everyday player.

“Last year in the playoffs (when Moss was 2 for 18) we had four days off and you come in and face top-line pitchers, it's very hard to get that timing back. Once you do it stays, but once you lose it, it takes a little while to get it back. Timing-oriented hitters don't do well on the bench.”

Moss liked his experience in the Phillies’ organization. He actually considered signing back with the club for 2012, but took a similar minor-league deal with Oakland because he believed playing in the Pacific Coast League, where altitude and light air can inflate power numbers, would make him more attractive to a Japanese team and the big pay days they offer.

Moss opened the 2012 season in Triple A and was summoned to Oakland in June. He has been a stalwart for the A’s ever since, helping them make the playoffs in 2012 and 2013.

In 318 games with the A’s since coming up, Moss has hit 72 homers and has an .890 OPS. He has played first base and both corner outfield spots. This is where it begins to sting for Phillies fans. They have gotten little production from left field this season and had to sign free-agent Marlon Byrd to get production out of right field. At first base, Ryan Howard has not been close to the same player he was before he blew out his Achilles tendon on the final swing of the 2011 season. He has just 40 homers and a .724 OPS in 244 games since he got back on the field at mid-season 2012.

With the Phillies continually struggling to score runs, Moss would look pretty good in red pinstripes right now.

Instead, he wears the green and gold of the Oakland A’s.

He got an opportunity.

And he has seized it.

“You can't hold it against an organization when you're not the guy they’re looking for,” Moss said. “You just have to hope for another opportunity. I’m just happy I got one in Oakland.”

Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

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Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's time for the 2017 Cleveland Indians to be introduced to the one and only 1884 Providence Grays.

They share some unlikely history, the two teams, which played a mere 141 years apart, are the only two clubs to have ever won 27 out of 28 games.

The Indians joined the Grays on Thursday when Francisco Lindor's three-run homer led Cleveland to a 4-1 victory and three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Grays ended up winning 28 of 29, leaving the Indians one game shy of matching the record (see full recap).

Cubs rally in 9th, beat Brewers to open big series
MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez grounded a tying single with two outs in the ninth inning, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Chicago Cubs widened their NL Central lead over Milwaukee, beating the Brewers 5-3 Thursday night.

The Cubs now are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers after winning the opener of a four-game series.

Milwaukee was in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. But Wade Davis (4-1) struck out Domingo Santana and then, after falling behind 3-1 in the count to Orlando Arcia, came back to retire him on an easy comebacker on a full-count pitch.

The Cubs trailed 3-2 when Ian Happ led off the ninth by hitting a grounder that first baseman Neil Walker fielded wide of the bag. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress covered first and Happ was called safe in a close play, a ruling upheld on replay (see full recap).

Twins rout Tigers, lead AL wild card by 2½ games
DETROIT -- With a postseason berth tantalizingly close, the Minnesota Twins snapped out of their mini-slump in emphatic fashion.

Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each, and the Twins extended their lead for the American League's second wild card by beating the Detroit Tigers 12-1 on Thursday night. Minnesota is 2 games ahead of the Angels in the race for the AL's final postseason spot. Los Angeles lost earlier in the day to Cleveland .

The Twins had lost five of six coming into the night, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, but they routed a depleted Detroit team that is 4-17 in September after trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.

"As a whole in this season, it's been pretty impressive," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "Staying away from the long losing streaks, coming back from some tough losses and some tough stretches and getting back to playing winning baseball, for the most part,” (see full recap).

Fowler delivers again as Cardinals beat Reds
CINCINNATI -- The St. Louis Cardinals rinsed the bad taste of being swept by the Chicago Cubs the best way they could -- sweeping the Cincinnati Reds.

Dexter Fowler delivered again, hitting two doubles and a single as St. Louis overcame Scott Schebler's two home runs to beat the Reds 8-5 Thursday night.

The Cardinals began the day 2 games behind Colorado for the second NL wild-card spot and five games behind the Central-leading Cubs.

Fowler drove in two runs. He went 7 for 13 with two home runs and six RBIs in the three-game series (see full recap).

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

BOX SCORE

In the end, things reverted to form: The Dodgers won and the Phillies lost.

The Dodgers are headed to the playoffs, the Phillies to who-knows-where.

Los Angeles scored twice in the seventh inning Thursday afternoon to beat the Phils, 5-4, and salvage the finale of a four-game series (see observations).

The Dodgers, the majors’ best team at 97-56, lowered their magic number to one for clinching a fifth straight NL West championship. The Phils, baseball’s second-worst team at 61-92, were left with a lovely parting gift: hope.

“I think it’s a good lesson,” J.P. Crawford, the rookie shortstop-turned-third baseman, said of the series as a whole. “It showed us, or showed me, we can compete with the best teams in the league. Just can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Crawford, the 16th overall pick in 2013, drew three walks in four plate appearances and fielded eight chances flawlessly, at least four of which could be described as moderately difficult.

In addition, Mark Leiter Jr. pitched six strong innings, Rhys Hoskins did another Rhys Hoskins thing — i.e., hit a two-run double in the fifth — and Nick Williams launched a two-run homer.

So it was that the Phillies finished the homestand with a 7-3 record. They have won eight of their last 12, and are 32-34 since the All-Star break, after going 29-58 beforehand.

There are those who question how much it means for an also-ran to excel in September, when the pressure is off. It would appear that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not among those people. He mentioned in particular how valuable it is for his young relievers to face teams in the thick of the race.

“To get this kind of experience is worth a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of this year.”

One of those relievers, Ricardo Pinto, faltered Thursday, allowing those two seventh-inning runs to take the loss. But Leiter, who had pitched to a 9.39 ERA in three previous September starts, allowed just one earned run on five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three and walked one.

So it’s one for his résumé going forward. And he said a strong finish to the season — the Phils have nine games left — is “important for everybody.”

“I don't know if it's more important for us than other teams,” he said, “but you want to finish strong and start strong. Those are the goals. That's baseball. You're going to have some ups and downs, and to take a series is a good thing.”

Crawford, called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 5, hit .200 without a walk in his first six major-league games. In his last nine, he is slashing .296/.474/.481, with 10 walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

“Just a matter of getting my feet settled down,” he said, “and just being comfortable in the box.”

“It’s good to see,” Mackanin said. “He was advertised as someone who controls the strike zone and he’s proven that he can do that. Walk’s as good as a hit — the old saying. He keeps innings alive and he doesn’t expand the strike zone, he makes the pitcher get him out and he’ll take a walk, which is important.”

Speaking generally about such an approach (and not about Crawford in particular), Mackanin had only one small reservation.

“One of the problems with a guy who walks too often is you’d like him to be a little more aggressive at times,” he said, “but in general it’s good to see.”

Crawford made his eighth start at third base, and while he doesn’t possess the power bat normally required of someone who plays the position, he certainly looks like he can hold his own with the glove.

“There’s not really much transition,” he said. “I’m just going over there, reacting, catching the ball, throwing the ball.”

If nothing else, he gives the Phillies a possible alternative to Maikel Franco, who has struggled all year.

And if nothing else, the team as a whole has shown there is some reason for hope.