1. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers: The Rangers’ third baseman has started to swing a hot bat of late, but on Monday night he inked himself into the history books as the first player since before World War II to hit for the cycle three times in his career:
And while that makes him the answer to the trivia question, the more important thing is that he powered a 12-9 win over the Astros that brought the Rangers back up to a game south of .500 and just 2.5 games back in the American League wild-card race. With a rotation that has both Cole Hamels and Martin Perez to round out a solid five, Rougned Odor having a strong second season at second base and Josh Hamilton back in action to help fill out the lineup, could the Rangers be for real?
Considering that three of the teams ahead of them in that race for the play-in game are all in the AL East and likely to beat up on one another down the stretch, you better believe it. After the Rangers finish up their latest tilt with the Astros, their immediate schedule features the Mariners twice, the Twins, the Rays and the Tigers in their next 16 -- no patsies there, but a good place to make a run if things are going to take a Texas turn.
The other nice note about Beltre’s third cycle is that his four hits get him up to 2,697 on his career, which means he should pass 2,700 sometime later this week. Before the season, Baseball Info Solutions estimated his shot at reaching 3,000 as 94 percent likely. He has come that far despite just one campaign with at least 200 hits, which is unusual but not unheard of among the guys who did reach 3,000: Rickey Henderson never had a 200-hit season, nor did Eddie Murray, and former Ranger Rafael Palmeiro did it only once.
Speaking of which, there are only four players who have reached 3,000 career hits who aren’t in the Hall of Fame: The formally ineligible Pete Rose, the informally black-balled Palmeiro, the not-yet-eligible Derek Jeter and the still-active Alex Rodriguez. Nights like this suggest that there’s enough life left in Beltre’s bat that, even as he tries to rebound within his worst season since 2009, his last year with the Mariners, he may yet get to 3,000 while beating a path to Cooperstown as one of the all-time greats at third base.
2. Your first-place New York Mets: Credit Michael Conforto hitting his first home run, or Yoenis Cespedes busting out with three doubles or even big man Bartolo Colon rebounding from an ugly turn against the Padres to put away the Marlins to even his record in a 12-1 Mets win.
3. David Price, Toronto Blue Jays: The big lefty gave the Blue Jays the kind of start they expected from him as their instant ace acquired at the trade deadline, whiffing 11 Twins to deliver a 5-1 Toronto win in his Jays debut. The Jays’ collective ERA from their starting pitchers (4.24) ranks 20th in the majors, which sounds grim but keep in mind the Orioles, Royals, Yankees and Rangers are behind them while making their own bids for the postseason. You knew Price was going to improve matters immediately; now the question is whether the rest of the rotation jells well enough behind him to give the Jays enough to win with in the time left.
4. Atlanta Braves rally, tie and walk off in extras: It looked grim after the Giants ripped four homers and plated six runs in the first six innings against starter Mike Foltynewicz to lead 6-0. But a journeyman Jace Peterson jacked a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to get the Braves back in the ballgame. And then ageless A.J. Pierzynski tied it in the bottom of the ninth with his two-out, two-run blast off Giants closer Santiago Casilla. And then, down again by a run in the 12th, the Braves got a two-run, game-winning walk-off shot from rookie third baseman Adonis Garcia to win it, helping amp up a quickly-earned rep for being a guy with a great sense of timing:
Losing this game would have been easy and forgettable in what has become an easily forgettable Braves season. Peterson, Pierzynski and Garcia, three totally different players at totally different points in their careers, made it otherwise.
5. Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels have been struggling lately, having lost six games in a row before Richards took the hill. If he’s going to be the ace this team needed -- even before C.J. Wilson broke down and regardless of what Jered Weaver does when he comes back from the DL -- and on Monday night he gave them enough to at least break the losing streak, striking out 11 Indians in a 5-4 win in a game in which Albert Pujols sat and Mike Trout didn’t go crazy at the plate. It’s the sort of win the Angels will need, because Pujols and Trout can carry them only so far.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.