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The Road to October: Sept. 27, 2011

The Road to October: Sept. 27, 2011

The Road to October: Sept. 27, 2011
It's come down to this.

This is exactly what the Rays wanted. The Red Sox nation probably can't believe this is happening.

The Rays, who defeated the Yankees, 5-2, on Monday, and the Red Sox, who were defeated by the Orioles, 6-3, have identical 89-71 records and now the race for the final spot in the postseason in the American League is a dead heat.

Welcome to Game No. 161 of the regular season. The American League Wild Card is living up to its name.


"Our fate's in our own hands now," said James Shields, who started for the Rays on Monday and earned his 16th win of the season with 8 2/3 innings against the Yankees. "We don't have to worry about the Red Sox losing now."

Shields allowed two Yankees runs on six hits, missing his 12th complete game of the season by one out. Johnny Damon and B.J. Upton provided most of the offense, driving in two runs each.

"This is what we wanted," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "This is the situation we've been looking forward to being in the whole season. For it to come down to two games for us to play in the postseason, this is what it's all about."

The Yankees used six pitchers and a lineup that did not include Nick Swisher or Mark Teixeira. Rays manager Joe Maddon still complimented his opponent for the effort.

"I've got to give them a lot of credit," Maddon said. "I watched them a little bit over the weekend and I watched them tonight. These guys are not mailing anything in at this point. They're playing. They're playing their typical game. They're tough. They're very, very tough. They deserved to have won 97 games this year. They're a very good ballclub. And even their J.V. team is pretty good, too."

It's already been a memorable month for the Rays. It's been a month to forget for the Red Sox. Back on Aug. 17, Boston had a lead of 10 games in the AL Wild Card. Now the Sox have two games -- and perhaps a one-game playoff tiebreaker on Thursday -- to avoid being the first team to blow a double-digit Wild Card lead since that format started in 1994.

"There's not much to say," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We need to find a win [Tuesday]. We've backed ourselves about as far as we can go. Hopefully we can come out and play a nice crisp game."

On Tuesday, the Red Sox will turn to lefty Erik Bedard, who is 1-2 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts since being acquired from Seattle. The Orioles will counter with Zach Britton.

"We still control our destiny," Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "If we win two games and have to play a third, if we win, we're in the playoffs. We all have to be confident. Other people can doubt us, but we have to be confident. We're very confident we can accomplish that."

The race for the National League Wild Card also came this close to becoming a tie in the standings. The Braves, who lead the Cardinals by one game, were defeated by the Phillies, 4-2, but still managed to stay on top because of Houston's 5-4 extra-inning victory over the Cardinals at Minute Maid Park.

Atlanta's magic number dropped to two with two games left. Any combination of Braves wins and Cardinals losses equaling two will eliminate St. Louis from postseason contention. With its next win or St. Louis loss, Atlanta will guarantee no worse than a one-game playoff tiebreaker at Busch Stadium on Thursday.

The Cardinals are not panicking.

"We've played every game like it's the last game for so long now, guys enjoy it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "It's a great way to go about it. Wish we could do it for 162, but you can't. There will be absolutely nothing different about [Tuesday]. We've been playing as hard as we can, as good as we can. It's been fun."

The race for the second seed between the Brewers and the D-backs continues to sizzle. Milwaukee and Arizona were both defeated Monday, but the Brewers still lead the D-backs by one game.

In the American League, the Rangers defeated the Angels, 4-3, to maintain their one-game lead over the Tigers, who topped the Indians, 14-0, in the battle for the second seed in the Junior Circuit. The Rangers' victory also eliminated the Angels from playoff contention.

"The great thing about this team is that even though we're focused on the postseason, we're still coming out and bearing down on the games," Texas infielder Michael Young said. "We came out tonight to win. These games mean a lot."

If the postseason started today

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Tigers (3) at Yankees (1)
Red Sox/Rays (Wild Card) at Rangers (2)

NATIONAL LEAGUE
D-backs (3) at Phillies (1)
Braves (Wild Card) at Brewers (2)

Today's key games to watch

Red Sox (Erik Bedard, 5-9) at Orioles (Zach Britton, 11-10), 7:05 p.m. ET Preview
The Red Sox and the Rays are tied for the AL Wild Card with two games to play.

Indians (Jeanmar Gomez , 5-2) at Tigers (Max Scherzer, 14-9), 7:05 p.m. Preview
The Tigers are one game behind the Rangers for the AL's second-best record and home-field advantage in the ALDS.

Phillies (Roy Oswalt, 8-10) at Braves (Derek Lowe, 9-16), 7:10 p.m. Preview
The Phillies have clinched the NL East and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Braves hold a one-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card standings; their magic number is two.

Yankees (Bartolo Colon, 8-10) at Rays (Jeremy Hellickson, 13-10), 7:10 p.m. Preview
The Yankees have clinched the AL East and home-field advantage through the first two rounds. The Rays are tied with the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card.

Cardinals (Jake Westbrook, 12-9) at Astros (Henry Sosa, 3-5), 8:05 p.m. Preview
The Cardinals trail the Braves by one game in the NL Wild Card.

Pirates (Ross Ohlendorf, 1-3) at Brewers (Randy Wolf, 13-10), 8:10 p.m. Preview
The Brewers clinched the NL Central on Friday night. Milwaukee is also one game ahead of Arizona for the NL's second seed and home-field advantage in the NLDS.

Dodgers (Hiroki Kuroda, 13-16) at D-backs (Jarrod Parker, 0-0), 9:40 p.m. Preview
The D-backs have clinched the NL West. Arizona is also one game behind the Brewers for the NL's second seed.

Rangers (Colby Lewis, 13-10) at Angels (Ervin Santana, 11-12), 10:05 p.m. Preview
The Rangers have clinched the AL West and are one game ahead of the Tigers for the AL's second seed. The Angels were eliminated from playoff contention with Monday's 4-3 loss to the Rangers.

Postseason 101

Magic numbers

To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining on the schedule and add one. Then subtract the difference in the loss column between the team and its closest pursuer.

Yankees: Clinched the AL East and home-field advantage for the ALDS and ALCS.

Tigers: Clinched the AL Central.

Rangers: Clinched the AL West.

Red Sox: tied with Rays for the AL Wild Card.

Rays: tied with Red Sox for the AL Wild Card.

Phillies: Clinched the NL East and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Brewers: Clinched the NL Central.

D-backs: Clinched the NL West.

Braves: 2 to clinch the NL Wild Card.

Tiebreaker scenarios

If two teams are tied atop the division and both are assured of making the postseason, head-to-head record would be used to determine which team is the division champ and which falls to the Wild Card.

If two teams are tied atop the division and share the Wild Card lead with another club, the ties will be broken in the following fashion:
• The teams tied atop the division will play, with the winner taking the division.
• The losing team will then play the remaining Wild Card contender, with the winner making the playoffs.

If three clubs are tied atop a division or Wild Card standings, each club would be designated in one of three slots, "A," "B," or "C." Clubs get to choose their designation based on head-to-head records. Tiebreaking games would then proceed like this:
• Club A hosts Club B on Thursday, Sept. 29
• The winner of the first game hosts Club C on Friday, Sept. 30, with the winner declared champion.

If two division winners are tied for the highest winning percentage, the following tie-breakers will be used to determine home-field advantage in the Division Series:
• head-to-head record

• highest winner percentage in intraleague games

• Highest winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games

• If the Clubs remain tied, then the tied Club with the higher winning percentage in the last half plus one of intraleague games during the championship season. This process will be followed game-by-game until the tie is broken.

Remaining schedules
Brewers
Vs. Pirates (Tuesday-Wednesday)

D-backs
Vs. Dodgers (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Braves
Vs. Phillies (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Cardinals
At Astros (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Tigers
Vs. Indians (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Rangers
At Angels (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Red Sox
At Orioles (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Rays
Vs. Yankees (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Angels
Vs. Rangers (Tuesday-Wednesday)

2011 Postseason schedule

American League Division Series: Sept. 30-Oct. 6
National League Division Series: Oct. 1-7
American League Championship Series: Oct. 8-16
National League Championship Series: Oct. 9-17
World Series: Oct. 19-27
Full postseason schedule

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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