CHICAGO — Dusty Baker was missing when the Cincinnati Reds became the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot. The main man in the dugout was sidelined Thursday for a second straight game after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.
“Obviously we won the last two games for him. We have him in our thoughts, but we got good news on his update,” reliever Sean Marshall said after a 5-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
“Hopefully he’ll be back with us tomorrow and when it really matters, when we clinch (the division). Hopefully we get to celebrate this weekend with him,” he said.
Ace Johnny Cueto and the NL Central leaders ensured themselves of at least a wild-card spot. Cincinnati cut its magic number to two for winning the division for the second time in three years.
The Reds said Baker would remain in a Chicago hospital for an additional day so doctors could monitor his progress. The manager left Wrigley Field before Wednesday night’s game and underwent another test Thursday.
Baker is expected to return to Cincinnati on Friday. Bench coach Chris Speier ran the team for a second straight game.
“He looked good. Very good. He’ll be there tomorrow,” said general manager Walt Jocketty, who visited Baker on Thursday morning. Jocketty said he didn’t know if Baker would be able to manage when the Reds open a series at home against the Dodgers.
“”Chris Speier did an excellent job, but I think he’s (Dusty) missed and we’re looking forward to having him back, and more importantly, we’re hoping for the best with his health,” star first baseman Joey Votto said.
“I know he’s excited and happy, just wish that he was here to partake in it, but he’ll be back soon,” Speier said.
Cueto (18-9) pitched six shutout innings as the Red completed a three-game sweep.
The Reds broke a scoreless tie by getting five straight singles off reliever Manuel Corpas (0-2) in the seventh during a five-run rally capped by Henry Rodriguez’s two-run double.
Chicago starter Jason Berken allowed just two hits in six innings against a lineup missing most of the Reds’ regulars.
“I was able to get a couple of jams, great defense behind me, stayed on the same page the whole game,” Berken said.
Cueto gave up five hits with four walks and broke a three-game losing streak.
“I don’t think that was the best stuff he’s ever had. You can tell he might be getting a little tired at the end of the year or whatever, but I’ve seen him with a lot better stuff,” Chicago manager Dale Sveum said.
The Cubs scored in the seventh on Anthony Rizzo’s RBI single and in the eighth on Welington Castillo’s fifth homer again. Rizzo had an RBI grounder in the ninth against Alfredo Simon, who pitched the final 1 1-3 innings for his first save in as many chances.
The Reds secured their second playoff appearance in three years despite having the back of their bullpen wiped out by injuries during spring training and losing their best hitter — 2010 National League MVP Votto — for nearly two months.
Baker did some of his best managing to pull them through.
His first challenge was cobbling together a bullpen after closer Ryan Madson tore an elbow ligament in spring training, ending his season. Setup men Nick Masset and Bill Bray also got hurt before the season opened.
Baker eased Aroldis Chapman into the closer’s role, and the hard-throwing left-hander set a franchise record with 27 consecutive saves.
Baker also had to juggle his batting order and lineup after Votto tore knee cartilage and was sidelined on July 16. The Reds went on their best tear of the season without their top hitter, going 32-16 and taking control of the NL Central.
There was some good fortune, too. All five starters have made it through the season without injury, a franchise record. The Reds had to use a sixth starter only because of a doubleheader.
By the time September started, the Reds were firmly in control and counting down the days until they’d clinch.
“This is the first step,” Jocketty said.
“”We’ve played very successful baseball this year, and we’ve competed with the best teams at a very high level,” Votto added.
“We’ve done a lot of winning this year, but I think anything but setting the World Series as our standard, I think anything less would be selling ourselves short. … That’s our goal.”
PHILLIES 16, METS 1
NEW YORK — Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley sparked an eight-run first inning, Ryan Howard added a late grand slam and the Phillies routed the inept Mets before a few hundred fans at quiet Citi Field.
Rookie right-hander Tyler Cloyd (2-1) pitched eight innings of three-hit ball and the Phillies stayed four games behind St. Louis for the second NL wild card, with two other teams in their path.
Juan Pierre matched a career high with five hits, Utley added four and Philadelphia set season highs for runs and hits (21) — including 19 singles. The Phillies finished a three-game sweep and won for the 11th time in 14 games.
New York rookie starter Jeremy Hefner (2-7) did not record an out in the makeup game for Tuesday night’s rainout. With the Mets setting marks for futility at home, it appeared fewer than 1,000 fans were in the stands for the first pitch.
CARDINALS 5, ASTROS 4
ST. LOUIS — Pinch-hitter Carlos Beltran snapped a sixth-inning tie with a two-run double and Allen Craig hit a three-run homer, powering the Cardinals to a season sweep at home against the Astros.
Beltran’s double put St. Louis up 5-3, rewarding Jaime Garcia (5-7) for keeping it close and leaving the Cardinals 2½ games up for the second NL wild card with 12 games remaining. They took care of business against the lowly Astros, who absorbed their 102nd loss while leading for a single inning in the three-game series.
The Cardinals were 6-0 at home against Houston, their first season series sweep in St. Louis since 1996.
Bud Norris (5-13) allowed five runs in 5 1-3 innings for Houston after getting sent back to the team hotel Wednesday night suffering from flu-like symptoms.
Jason Motte finished for his 38th save in 45 chances.
BREWERS 9, PIRATES 7
PITTSBURGH — Rickie Weeks hit a tying two-run triple and scored the go-ahead run on Aramis Ramirez’s single, helping surging Milwaukee rally for the victory.
The Brewers have won five straight, eight of nine and 15 of 19 to climb into the playoff race. They remained 2½ games back of St. Louis for the second NL wild-card slot.
Milwaukee trailed 7-4 before it rallied for four runs in the eighth inning.
Ramirez had three hits and three RBIs for the Brewers, who built an early 4-0 lead.
Pittsburgh star Andrew McCutchen hit a three-run drive for his 30th homer. Chris Resop (1-4) got the loss.
The Pirates (74-75) have dropped three straight and 11 of 13 to slip under .500 for the first time since late May. They are in danger of a 20th straight losing season, which would extend their major North American professional sports record.
Manny Parra (2-3) picked up the win and John Axford worked the ninth for his 31st save in 39 chances.
GIANTS 9, ROCKIES 2
SAN FRANCISCO — Pablo Sandoval homered from both sides of the plate and the NL West-leading Giants reduced their magic number to clinch the division to four.
Buster Posey also connected to back another strong start by Barry Zito (13-8) as San Francisco completed a four-game series sweep.
Zito won his fifth straight decision and has done everything he can to earn himself a spot in the postseason rotation after being left off all three rounds for the 2010 World Series champions.
The second-place Dodgers were set for a night game at Washington, trailing by 9½ games. San Francisco (87-63) moved a season-best 24 games above .500.
Colorado has lost six in a row. Jorge De La Rosa (0-1) was tagged for five earned runs, six in all, and seven hits in 3 2-3 innings.
PADRES 6, DIAMONDBACKS 5
PHOENIX — Jesus Guzman homered to help San Diego get the victory.
Clayton Richard (14-12) allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings to raise his career record against Arizona to 6-0 — including three wins in three starts at Chase Field over the past 10 weeks.
Anthony Bass, the last of five Padres pitchers in the ninth, struck out Aaron Hill on a checked swing for his first career save.
Adam Eaton hit his first career home run and Hill also went deep for the Diamondbacks, who had won three in a row. Justin Upton had three hits and scored twice.
Diamondbacks starter Tyler Skaggs (1-3) pitched in and out of trouble while allowing four runs and seven hits over five innings.
Athletics avoid sweep
DETROIT — Seth Smith homered, doubled and drove in four runs, and the Oakland Athletics avoided a three-game sweep by beating the Detroit Tigers 12-4 in a matchup of AL playoff contenders.
Oakland is tied with Baltimore for the wild-card lead. The Tigers are two games behind Central-leading Chicago.
Josh Donaldson hit a go-ahead single in a four-run sixth inning that made it 6-3, then had an RBI double to cap a six-run ninth that included Smith’s three-run double.
Pat Neshek (2-1) retired the only batter he faced and got the win.
Anibal Sanchez (3-6), who held Cleveland hitless for 6 2-3 innings in his last start, gave up six runs on six hits and two walks in 5 2-3 innings.
ROYALS 4, WHITE SOX 3
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Alex Rios was thrown out at the plate, Alexei Ramirez was picked off third base and the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox again failed to come up with a clutch hit in a 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night.
Eric Hosmer singled home the winning run with two outs in the ninth inning. The White Sox stayed two games ahead of Detroit, which lost in the afternoon to Oakland, with 13 games remaining.
The Royals beat the Chicago for the ninth time in their last 11 meetings.
Jesse Crain (2-3) took the loss. Greg Holland (7-4) worked a scoreless ninth for the victory.
YANKEES 10, BLUE JAYS 7
NEW YORK — Streaking Ichiro Suzuki hit a go-ahead, two-run double in a seven-run fourth inning capped by Nick Swisher’s grand slam, and the New York Yankees beat the Toronto to open a one-game AL East lead over idle Baltimore.
After struggling for much of the summer, the Yankees completed a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays and have won five in a row, their longest winning string since June 23-27.
Backed by an 8-2 lead, Phil Hughes (16-12) lasted just five innings. David Robertson got three outs for his second save this season and first since May 8.
Suzuki homered in the third, then doubled in the fourth. His ninth hit in 10 at-bats chased Aaron Laffey (3-6).
RAYS 7, RED SOX 4
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — B.J. Upton hit a game-ending, three-run homer off Vicente Padilla, capping Tampa Bay’s six-run ninth inning and lifting the Rays over Boston.
Tampa Bay salvaged a split of the four-game series and remained 5½ games behind Oakland and Baltimore for the second AL wild-card slot. The Rays have 12 games left on their schedule.
Andrew Bailey (1-1) gave up four hits and a walk before Padilla came in to face Upton, who drove a 2-1 pitch over the wall in center for his 24th homer.
Burke Badenhop (2-2) recorded one out to get the win.
INDIANS 4, TWINS 3
CLEVELAND — Casey Kotchman hit an RBI single with the bases loaded in the 10th inning and the Cleveland Indians topped Minnesota.
Pinch hitter Shin-Soo Choo doubled off the wall in left-center to start the inning against reliever Anthony Swarzak (3-5). Choo took third on Jason Kipnis’ groundout before Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley were intentionally walked to load the bases.
Kotchman fouled off the first pitch before bouncing a ground ball up the middle against the drawn-in infield for his third hit of the game.
Esmil Rogers (3-1) pitched a perfect inning for the win. Both teams used five pitchers.