Day at the Races: Sept. 29

Day at the Races: Sept. 29

On Thursday morning, baseball was abuzz with talk of potential four- and five-way ties in the National League playoff chase, and while the American League's four postseason participants had been determined, the Division Series matchups were not.

By Friday night, the buzz was about a thrilling 17-minute span during which both playoff pictures cleared up quite nicely.

At about 10:42 p.m. (ET), the Mets' eighth consecutive loss at home came to a close with actor Matt Dillon, among the long-faced fans at Shea Stadium, looking like someone stole his career.

That opened the door for the Diamondbacks to clinch an NL playoff berth, and at 10:53, Arizona closer Jose Valderde slammed the door on the Rockies' 11-game winning streak.

Five minutes later, the AL matchups were cemented when Baltimore's Melvin Mora beat the Yankees with a bunt in the bottom of the 10th inning. That allowed the Red Sox, who had already beaten the Twins, to lay claim to the AL East title, breaking New York's nine-year stranglehold on the division.

Thus, the Wild Card-winning Yankees will open one ALDS at Cleveland, and the Angels will open the other at Boston.

And finally, just before the clock struck 11, the Padres' road victory over the Brewers went into the books. That not only gave the Cubs -- they'd already beaten the Reds -- the NL Central title while extinguishing Milwaukee's playoff hopes, but it also clinched for the Padres, at worst, a tie for the NL Wild Card.

Exciting stuff, befitting the best stretch drive in recent history, and that wasn't all. Less than an hour before the 17 Minutes of Clarity, the Phillies won for the 12th time in 15 games, moving into sole possession of first place in the NL East for the first time this year -- in Game 160.

All part of yet another sensational Day At The Races.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY:
Yankees at Indians

Angels at Red Sox

Padres at Phillies

Cubs at Diamondbacks

AL WILD CARD
New York Yankees (92-68), clinched Wild Card
Friday, lost 10-9 in 10 innings at Baltimore: Alex Rodriguez hit his MLB-leading 54th home run and drove in four runs, but Mariano Rivera blew a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, and Mora's bunt ended New York's reign in the East. It also handed the Yankees only their second setback in 87 games this season in which they've led after eight innings.

Saturday, at Baltimore: Lefty Andy Pettitte is looking for his 15th victory in this one, and that would be his highest win total as a Yankees since 2001. Pettitte beat the Orioles on Sept. 19, recording his 200th career victory with 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball. O's righty Daniel Cabrera left his last start tied for the Major League lead in losses, and he also left with more earned runs allowed (120) and walks issued (107) than anyone else in baseball.

Remaining games (2):Sept. 29-30 at Baltimore

AL EAST
Boston Red Sox (95-65), clinched division title
Friday, won 5-2 vs. Twins: Daisuke Matsuzaka set up the celebration with eight strong innings, and after the Red Sox watched Mora's bunt on television in their Fenway Park clubhouse, champagne corks popped in honor of Boston's first division title in 12 years. "I pulled my hamstring jumping off the couch," said Sox manager Terry Francona.

Saturday, vs. Twins: Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will take his fifth and final crack at win No. 17 opposite Twins righty Carlos Silva as the Red Sox continue their quest for the best record in the AL. Wakefield in September is 0-2 with a 10.70 ERA in four starts, but he's 12-4 in his career against the Twins. Silva is 2-2 with a 1.67 ERA in five career appearances (four starts) against the Red Sox.

Remaining games (2): Sept. 29-30 vs. Minnesota

AL CENTRAL
Cleveland Indians (95-65), clinched division title
Friday, won 5-3 at Royals: C.C. Sabathia picked up his 19th win of the year and the 100th win of his career as the Tribe, still battling the Red Sox and Angels for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, clinched home-field advantage in the first round. Travis Hafner hit his 24th homer of the year, and Joe Borowski worked the ninth for his AL-leading 44th save in 52 opportunities.

Saturday, at Royals: Righty Jake Westbrook came up huge for the Indians on Sunday, helping clinch the division title with a strong effort against the A's. For Westbrook, who is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in one start against the Royals this season, this is his last chance to win the No. 3 spot in the postseason rotation over Paul Byrd. The Royals are going with righty Gil Meche, who threw 124 pitches in a loss to Baltimore his last time out.

Remaining games (2): Sept. 29-30 at Kansas City

AL WEST
Los Angeles Angels (93-67), clinched division title
Friday, won 2-0 at Oakland: John Lackey lowered his ERA to 3.01 with his 19th win of the year, holding the A's to two hits over seven innings, and Vladimir Guerrero launched his 27th homer of the year off Oakland ace Dan Haren, who lost for the fifth time in six decisions. Seven of Guerrero's home runs this year have come at the expense of the A's.

Saturday, at Oakland: Righty Kelvim Escobar, the Halos' No. 2 starter, will be working on 11 days of rest as the result of some shoulder inflammation. Escobar figures he'll throw about 80 pitches against the A's, a team that's 3-0 against despite Escobar's 2.70 ERA in those games. The A's counter with rookie lefty Dallas Braden, who hasn't thrown a quality start since his big league debut on April 24. Since then, he has allowed 57 runs in 63 1/3 innings.

Remaining games (2):Sept. 29-30 at Oakland

NL WILD CARD
San Diego Padres (89-71), lead by two games
Friday, won 6-3 at Brewers: The Padres broke a 3-3 tie on Khalil Greene's double in the sixth inning, and Greene added a two-run homer in the eighth to give Greg Maddux his 347th career victory. San Diego's Wild Card lead doubled with the losses by Colorado and New York, and Milwaukee was left resigned to a 25th consecutive season without postseason play.

Saturday, at Brewers: The Padres turn to All-Star righty Chris Young, who hasn't won a game since July 14; he's still trying to regain his first-half command after working through an oblique strain and tightness in his lower back. Young's counterpart, Milwaukee righty David Bush, lost his only start this season against the Padres, and it was an ugly one. He surrendered seven runs on nine hits at San Diego on May 25.

Remaining games (2): Sept. 29-30 at Milwaukee

Colorado Rockies (87-73)
Friday, lost 4-2 vs. Diamondbacks: The end of the franchise's longest winning streak dropped the Rockies out of contention for the NL West title, but color Arizona ace Brandon Webb impressed. "They've been hot all year," Webb said. "They have great bats. I think they have one of the best lineups in the National League, if not the best. The roll they've been on, 10-12 straight, I knew it was going to be tough." The Rockies had two on with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but pinch-hitter Joe Koshansky and Kaz Matsui struck out to end the game. "It's been a crazy year so far," Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said. "Maybe the craziness isn't over."

Saturday, vs. Diamondbacks: Recently acquired lefty Mark Redman will be pitching on three days of rest in his second start with the Rockies; Hurdle isn't concerned about the short rest because Redman threw only five innings against the Dodgers his last time out. Arizona righty Edgar Gonzalez has been used in a variety of roles this year, serving as a reliever and spot starter, and he wasn't particularly sharp in his last outing against the Dodgers, in part because of a blood blister.

Remaining games (2): Sept. 29-30 vs. Arizona

NL EAST
Philadelphia Phillies (88-72), lead by one game
Friday, won 6-0 vs. Nationals: Ryan Howard hit his 45th homer of the year and Cole Hamels struck out 13 over eight innings of dominance to pick up his 15th win as the Phils put themselves in prime position to end their 14-year playoff drought. If they win Saturday and the Mets lose, the NL East is theirs. "You don't have nothing until you have it," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Do we smell it? Of course we smell it, and we want it."

Saturday, vs. Nationals: Phils righty Adam Eaton is 1-1 with a 6.97 ERA in four starts this month, but the win came against the Nationals on Sept. 21, when Eaton gave up three runs on five hits over five innings. Washington lefty Matt Chico, who'll square off with Eaton, endeared himself to Phils fans his last time out when he beating the Mets for his first win since July 31.

Remaining games (2): Sept. 29-30 vs. Washington

New York Mets (87-73)
Friday, lost 7-4 vs. Marlins: Odalis Perez hit two batters with the bases loaded, David Wright was unable to find third base with his foot on what should have been an easy force play, and the Mets lost control of their playoff destiny by losing for the 11th time in 15 games to fall out of first place for the first time since May 15. "I think it's embarrassing," Wright said. "It's pretty pathetic that we have this division within our grasp with seven home games and we can't find a way to win one of them. It's a bad feeling." New York also trails the Padres by two games in the NL Wild Card race.

Saturday, vs. Marlins: Righty John Maine showed some signs of his early-season form last week in Miami; he allowed three runs in five innings, but he struck out nine. He hasn't won a game in September, but he has this going for him: The Marlins are batting .197 against him this year. The Fish are likely to go with lefty Chris Seddon, who limited the Mets to two runs on three hits in five innings on Sept. 23 at Dolphin Stadium.

Remaining games (2): Sept. 29-30 vs. Florida

NL CENTRAL
Chicago Cubs (84-76), clinched division title
Friday, won 6-0 at Reds: Alfonso Soriano opened the game with a home run to set a happy tone, and Carlos Zambrano took it from there, providing seven strong innings to cap the Cubs' comeback from 8 1/2 games behind the division leading Brewers on June 23. Since returning from a strained thigh that sidelined him for most of August, Soriano, one of Chicago's many high-priced offseason acquisitions, has been on a tear. His 13th homer of September matched Ernie Banks' record of 50 years ago. "I'm very proud of myself," Soriano said. "I've never had a good September. This time, my team needed it."

Saturday, at Reds: Cubs lefty Rich Hill, who'll battle Cincy righty Aaron Harang, was pulled after five solid innings in his last start against the Pirates because Cubs manager Lou Piniella decided to turn the game over to the bullpen to keep the lefty fresh. Harang, looking for his career-high 17th win, is among National League leaders in victories, strikeouts (205) and innings (223 2/3).

Remaining games (2): Sept. 29-30 at Cincinnati

NL WEST
Arizona Diamondbacks (89-70), first place, 1 game ahead
Friday, won 4-2 at Rockies: Webb allowed two runs on eight hits over seven innings for his 18th game of the year, but the D-Backs didn't know they'd clinched their first playoff berth since 2002 until after Valverde nailed down his MLB-high 47th save by wiggling out of a two-on, one-out jam on his own making. When they finally got work, they celebrated with 10 cases of bubbly. "This is the best feeling I've had in baseball so far," Webb said. "This is tops on my list."

Saturday, at Rockies: Arizona righty Edgar Gonzalez has been used in a variety of roles this year, serving as a reliever and spot starter, and he wasn't particularly sharp in his last outing against the Dodgers, in part because of a blood blister. Redman, in his second start of the season for the Rockies, will be pitching on three days of rest.

Remaining games (2): Sept. 29-30 at Colorado

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.