As another day in the American League Wild Card hot seat ticked toward evening, the Rays waited for their Saturday meeting with the Mariners to begin on the West Coast, well aware that coveted spot isn't getting any more comfortable any time soon.
Before they even suited up in Seattle, the holders of the No. 2 Wild Card spot knew their two closest pursuers -- the Orioles and Indians -- already had won on another hectic Saturday at the office as the Pulse of the Postseason starts to pound toward October.
The Rays had begun this fateful road trip wearing their favorite college football jerseys on the plane ride to the West Coast. As Saturday's game approached, Rays manager Joe Maddon went back to the gridiron mode in dispensing his unique brand of wisdom, tweeting:
We're like a bad red zone offense right now, but there is still time to straighten it out.- Joe Maddon (@RaysJoeMaddon) September 7, 2013
By the time Saturday was over, the Rays were still unable to punch it into the end zone, dropping a 6-2 decision at Seattle to fall to 2-7 through the first nine games of the 10-game swing against the A's (0-3), Angels (2-2) and Mariners (0-2). The good news for the Rays: They're heading home after Sunday's game.
It's a game the Rays will have to win to ensure that they keep the coveted second Wild Card spot all to themselves, because now the Orioles and Indians have moved to within a solitary game of Tampa Bay in the chase for the postseason position.
As usual, Maddon remains philosophical, tweeting later:
This is one of those times when if you quit, it goes away. Keep fighting, you'll come of it on the other side.- Joe Maddon (@RaysJoeMaddon) September 8, 2013
Saturday was just another weekend day of work for baseball's contenders, one that included a lead change in the NL Central, a trio of walkoffs, and another day with a big number put up by the Red Sox in the Bronx.
For the team with the Majors' best record, the day began on a note of concern, with Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury's right foot not getting any better after he fouled a ball of it at the end of August.
On the field, the Red Sox kept banging the ball around the Bronx, scoring 13 the day after they scored 12, giving them a whopping 54 runs in their last four games. Mike Napoli went deep twice for the surging Sox, and Xander Bogaerts got in on the action with his first career homer.
Boston's lead is up to 8 1/2 games over the Rays, its magic number down to 12, while the Yankees were the only Wild Card pursuer to lose on Saturday -- and they might have sustained a tougher loss with Derek Jeter leaving the game with ankle issues again.
The other teams on the hunt to elevate into that precious AL postseason spot each had a much better day Saturday.
The Orioles went from having the air taken out of Camden Yards with a solo homer by Conor Gillaspie in the 10th to walking in the clouds minutes later when Matt Wieters delivered a walkoff single for a 4-3 victory over the White Sox. Wieters drove home pinch-runner Chris Dickerson, who followed Danny Valencia (3-for-4) and Henry Urrutia (1-for-1) in that tricky DH spot for the O's, and rewarded the O's fans who kept the faith.
Everyone that a stayed, that was awesome. I told u we grind. Not always pretty but we grind #StayHungry- Adam Jones (@SimplyAJ10) September 7, 2013
The Indians did some long-ball work of their own to post a 9-4 victory over the Mets in an Interleague matchup with a little extra to it with the Tribe scratching its way into the race. A five-run first and homers from Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera pushed the Indians to a victory that shows they're feeling quite comfortable in the contender role.
"We've got 21 games to go," Swisher said. "This is the grind. This is the push. It's been awhile since this team has had this opportunity, and we're going to do our best to take advantage of it."
The same could be said for another of the AL Central's postseason pursuers: the Royals. Salvador Perez delivered a two-run homer off Justin Verlander in the sixth inning that proved to be decisive, as Kansas City closed out a 4-3 victory over the division-leading Tigers, putting them just 3 1/2 games behind the Rays in the Wild Card race.
With that result in Kansas City and a 2-1 Oakland win over Houston, the A's and Tigers are tied for the second-best record in the American League -- the A's would win a tiebreaker for home-field advantage based on a 4-3 edge in the head-to-head series. The A's moved to 1 1/2 games ahead of the Rangers in the AL West race after Texas dropped an 8-3 game to the Angels, while the Rangers remain three games ahead of the Rays in the 1-2 spots for the Wild Card.
Elsewhere, the Braves were on the wrong end of a walk off win in Philadelphia that kept Atlanta's Magic Number at nine with Washington winning at Miami, and the D-backs kept their faint hopes ticking with a win at San Francisco.
The NL Wild Card race continued to be all about the NL Central, although the issue is even tighter now than it was the day before. The Cardinals took the division lead back with a decisive 5-0 victory over the Pirates behind an Adam Wainwright gem, and with the Reds claiming another victory over the Dodgers, Cincinnati is just one game behind the Pirates for the top Wild Card spot and 1 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the division.
The Reds closed out their second win over L.A. in as many days with Billy Hamilton stealing second base -- giving him a steal in each of his first four Major League games -- to get into scoring position, and Todd Frazier driving him home with a single to right for a 4-3 final.
Rookie sensations. Walkoffs. Watching the out-of-town scoreboard.
Yep, just another Saturday at the office for baseball's contenders.
Sunday's key games to watch (all times ET)
Red Sox (Lester, 13-8) at Yankees (Kuroda, 11-10), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
Boston clinched the season series with Saturday's win, and they have one more three-game set after Sunday.
Mets (Matsuzaka, 0-3) at Indians (Salazar, 1-2), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
After this Interleague finale, the Tribe will host the showdown of upstarts with the Royals coming to town.
Nationals (Strasburg, 6-9) at Marlins (Turner, 3-5), 1:10 p.m. Preview >
With 164 1/3 innings, Stephen Strasburg has surpassed his total from when he was shut down last year, but the Nationals are in a much different place this time around.
Braves (Maholm, 10-10) at Phillies (Hamels, 6-13), 1:35 p.m. Preview >
Another loss for the team with the best record in the National League would extend their losing streak to four games, a season high previously done in April and June.
White Sox (Rienzo, 1-1) at Orioles (Norris, 10-10), 1:35 p.m. Preview >
The O's got Bud Norris to give them a boost in important games in September. They're all important games now.
Tigers (Fister, 12-7) at Royals (Chen, 6-2), 2:10 p.m. Preview >
Taking a series victory against the AL Central leaders seems like a necessary next step for the Royals to keep this thing going.
Pirates (Morton, 7-3) at Cardinals (Wacha, 2-0), 2:15 p.m. Preview >
With this one deciding who's in charge in the NL Central heading into the final two weeks, there's a sense these two teams just might meet again in October.
Rangers (Tepesch, 4-6) at Angels (Vargas, 8-6), 3:35 p.m. Preview >
The Angels have won 12 of their last 15 games, and the Rangers have lost three in a row.
Astros (Clemens, 4-4) at Athletics (Colon, 14-6), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
The A's have won 46 home games, second only to the Red Sox (47), entering their last meeting with the Astros in their inaugural season in the AL West.
D-backs (Miley, 9-10) at Giants (Bumgarner, 11-9), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
The D-backs are eight games out in the Wild Card and 11 out in the NL West.
Rays (Moore, 15-3) at Mariners (Ramirez, 5-1), 4:10 p.m. Preview >
No matter the outcome, the Rays will be glad to take the longest plane trip of the year across the continent, home to Tampa Bay.
Dodgers (Kershaw, 14-8) at Reds (Bailey, 10-10), 8:05 p.m. Preview >
A statement series for the Reds concludes against the Dodgers. It's certainly possible these two will meet again, in October.
If the postseason started today ...
Wild Card: Rays at Rangers
Division Series: Wild Card at Red Sox | Tigers at A's
Wild Card: Reds at Pirates
Division Series: Wild Card at Braves | Cardinals at Dodgers
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
2013 postseason schedule
NL Wild Card Game: Oct. 1
AL Wild Card Game: Oct. 2
NL Division Series begin: Oct. 3
AL Division Series begin: Oct. 4
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less