The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper was hitless in his return from back stiffness and Philadelpia manager Joe Girardi was ejected in the third inning of a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals on Monday night that dropped the Phillies back to .500 and hurt their playoff hopes.

A day after striking out with the bases loaded in the seventh off a loss to Toronto and coming out of the game, Harper went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts as the designated hitter, dropping his average to .254.

Third-place Philadelphia, trying for its first postseason appearance since 2011, fell to 27-27 and with six games left dropped behind Cincinnati (28-27) in the race among teams tor two playoff berths among teams that don’t finish first or second. San Francisco (26-26) and Milwaukee (26-27) also are in contention.

Girardi and center fielder Roman Quinn were ejected in the third inning for arguing a call by plate umpire Junior Valentine.

n Cubs 5, Pirates 0

PITTSBURGH — Kyle Schwarber found the quickest way to get back in his manager’s good graces: hit the ball hard and deliver in the clutch.

Done and done.

The Chicago left fielder responded to a very public benching by first-year manager David Ross by doubling twice and driving in two insurance runs with a shot to the gap in right-center field in the eighth inning to push the Cubs past reeling Pittsburgh.

Ross pulled Schwarber early in a loss to Minnesota on Sunday for misplaying a ball in the outfield. Schwarber insists he took the benching in stride. He certainly didn’t look bothered while helping his team inch closer to its first NL Central title since 2017. Neither did Ross, who gave Schwarber a hug at one point.

Jon Lester (3-2) struck out one and walked one in six efficient innings to pick up his first win since Aug. 11.

n Reds 6, Brewers 3

CINCINNATI — Eugenio Suárez hit a two-run homer, Luis Castillo won his fourth straight start, and streaking Cincinnati moved above .500 for the first time since opening day, beating Milwaukee.

The Reds (28-27) won for the eighth time in nine games, a season-best surge that’s put them back in playoff contention. They opened the day a game behind St. Louis for second place in the NL Central.

The Reds are coming off six losing seasons, and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2013. They spent $156 million in the offseason — one of the majors’ biggest splurges — to try to reverse course.

The Brewers (26-27) had their season-high four-game winning streak snapped, wasting a chance to move above .500 for the first time this season.

 

n Braves 5, Marlins 4

ATLANTA — Austin Riley’s two-run double capped a wild first inning, and the deep Atlanta bullpen took it from there, allowing just one run over the final six innings to push the Braves a step closer to a third-straight NL East title.

Tyler Matzek (4-3) pitched two hitless innings for the win, and Darren O’Day and Chris Martin each worked a scoreless frame. Will Smith escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, and Mark Melancon claimed his 11th save.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

n Blue Jays 11, Yankees 5

BUFFALO, N.Y.  — Rookie Alejandro Kirk became the first catcher 21 or younger since Johnny Bench with at least four hits that included two for extra bases, and Toronto beat to drop New York 1 1/2 games behind Minnesota for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Kirk, who played at Class A last season and made his debut Sept. 12, singled in the third off Michael King, double in the fourth against Jonathan Loaisiga, single in the fifth off Nick Nelson and hit an opposite-field homer to right in seventh off Chad Green for his first four-hit game. Bench accomplished the feat as part of a five-hit game at Philadelphia on Aug. 3, 1969, according to STATS.

Randal Grichuk hit is first homer since Aug. 28 and drove in two runs for the Blue Jays.

n Indians 7, White Sox 4

CLEVELAND — Carlos Santana’s two-run homer snapped a tie, and José Ramírez homered again as Cleveland moved closer to clinching a playoff berth — and delayed Chicago’s likely AL Central title.

Cleveland also improved to 5-2 this season against the White Sox, who are on the verge of winning their first division crown since 2008.

After the White Sox scored four times in the fifth inning against Aaron Civale (4-5), Santana came to the plate in the bottom half batting just .189 after striking out in his two previous at-bats.

n Angels 8, Rangers 5

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jared Walsh hit his first career grand slam during Los Angeles’ seven-run fourth inning.

Max Stassi had a two-run single in the final home game of the fifth consecutive losing season for the Angels (24-31), who have nevertheless won 12 of 18 overall after taking three of four from Texas.

 

INTERLEAGUE

n Rays 2, Mets 1

NEW YORK — Nate Lowe homered and scored both runs against NL Cy Young Award contender Jacob deGrom, and Tampa Bay overcame 16 strikeouts to move closer to an AL East title by beating New York.

The Rays can lock up their first division crown since 2010 with a win today or a loss by the Yankees against Toronto. Tampa Bay leads New York by 4 1/2 games with six days left in the regular season.

DeGrom (4-2) pitched seven innings of two-run ball, striking out 14 to match his career high for the second time this season.

n Cardinals 4, Royals 1

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Maikel Franco hit the go-ahead single with two outs in the sixth inning, Kansas City’s bullpen shut down St. Louis from the fourth inning on, and the Royals rallied for a victory.

Alex Gordon and Jorge Soler also drove in runs for the Royals, who returned for their final homestand after getting swept in Milwaukee.

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