Worcester----Beginning the day with identical (and league-leading) 78-53 records, the defending world champs (Frostbite Falls) and this year’s hottest team (Worcester) met for the first in a three-game set with the highest of stakes: the lead in the volatile Eastern Division. And it was a marquee matchup all the way, with the Squirrels offering their ace, LHP Johann Santana (14-8, 3.49), while the Elims countered with their 14-game winner, RHP Danny Haren. Who would prevail?

The game was as advertised, too, a real pitcher’s duel! Haren retired the first seven batters, allowed a couple of scratch singles, and then ran off another string of seven straight retired, taking a shutout into the seventh. Meanwhile, Santana was less spectacular, but always denied the Elims when it counted, three times pitching out of jams with the go-ahead run in scoring position. So the game entered the top of the seventh....SCORELESS (gulp!).

Haren (14-9, 3.59) fanned Brad Hawpe and Jason Bay to start the seventh, and then got ahead of Squirrels C Victor Martinez. Haren’s 2-2 fastball got too much of the plate, however, and Martinez LAUNCHED it, a line drive that was still rising as it reached the wall, and the first run of the game!

And that was pretty much the game. Haren recovered, but his club trailed 1-0 against a fresh Squirrels pen. Pat Neshek worked a scoreless eighth, and Joe Nathan allowed a two-out walk before getting pinch-hitter Garret Atkins to fly out to Hawpe. A 1-0 win for Santana (who improved to 15-8, 3.31), save #31 for Nathan, and a one-game lead in the East for Frostbite Falls. The Squirrels, who have spent much of the year trying to get out of the cellar in the ultra-competitive East, behaved as if they had just won a pennant by taking over first, pouring on to the field to congratulate Nathan.

But, as the saying goes, there’s still more ball to be played.

In other BARB action:

DARWIN 8, BROOKLYN 1 (1st game of DH)
WP: Scott Kazmir (13-9, 3.80)
LP: Fausto Carmon (3-1, 5.05)

DARWIN 5, BROOKLYN 3 (2nd game of DH)
WP: Tom Glavine (12-8, 4.19)
LP: Chien-Mien Wang (7-6, 3.68)
SV: Hoffman (28)

Lance Berkman had six hits and five RBI in the double dip, hitting his 38th homer and hitting a pair of RBI doubles to lead the Finches offensive attack, helping the home team to take a pair from visiting Brooklyn, who trailed 5-0 after one inning in the opener and never recovered. The only bright spot for the sagging Moabs was the return from a long absence of RHP Joel Zumaya, who worked three innings and fanned four while giving up a pair of earned runs—not exactly anything to write home about, but clearly ready to contribute.

WP: Ted Lilly (9-11, 4.14)
LP: Carlos Zambrano (10-9, 3.56)

Justin Morneau walked a team-record five times, twice intentionally, and it seemed like the Firebirds payed for this mistake every time! Morneau scored on a Tejada error in the first, on a sac fly in the third, an RBI single in the fifth and a double-play ball off the bat of Matsui in the seventh as the Anomalies played ‘Justin Time’ with the slumping Firebirds (75-58), whose lead in the West is now down to five games.

WP: Jake Westbrook (5-3, 4.30)
LP: Erwin Santana (4-9, 3.86)
SV: Rodney (3)

Alex Rodriguez homered for the seventh straight game, a BARB record (!), to run his season total to 36 round-trippers, which is (after a dismal first half) marks him as one of the league’s most desirable players. His 36 HR is third in the loop, and his 112 RBI is tied with Brooklyn’s Miguel Cabrera for second in the league. Oh, and, by the way, the Boom Sticks backed Jake Westbrook with plenty of offense, enough for the club to win for the seventh time in the last 10 games.

WP: Felix Hernandez (7-6, 4.28)
LP: Jarrod Washburn (6-14, 4.85)
SV: Street (9)

‘King Felix’ and recently-reactivated Huston Street combined on a three-hitter, and Ivan Rodriguez and Jose Reyes hit back-to-back doubles in the third for the game’s only run as the long-forgotten D-Backs, still hanging around, have somehow managed to get within five games of West-leading Yuma after publicly proclaiming their own elimination many weeks past. Repeat after me: "I have a plan....!"

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