Does anything illustrate "pennant fever" better than a game in early September between two of the best teams in baseball in which one club ties it up on a fielding error with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and then on a homer with two outs in the bottom of the 12th before the other club wins it in the 14th?
Didn't think so, and the Nationals' 8-5 victory over the Dodgers on Wednesday gave us plenty to look forward to in the coming days. Those five extra innings of drama managed to overshadow big wins by contenders St. Louis, Cleveland, Seattle and Kansas City as the Pulse of the Postseason pounds ever closer to October.
IF THE POSTSEASON STARTED TODAY ...
Wild Card: Tigers at A's
Division Series: Wild Card at Angels | Royals at Orioles
Wild Card: Brewers at Giants
Division Series: Wild Card at Nationals | Cardinals at Dodgers
The Dodgers fought hard by rallying twice with one out left to tie up the Nationals in Wednesday's unforgettable marathon of a September game, but Washington prevailed with three runs in the top of the 14th.
Since this portion of the season is usually pick-a-hero time for contending teams, it's no surprise that the Nationals had one Wednesday in Adam LaRoche, who didn't start the game but homered in the ninth to tie the game and then drove in the winning run in the top of the 14th to cap a five-RBI day.
The Nationals and Dodgers are leading their divisions and have the best records in the Senior Circuit, so a rematch in the National League Championship Series wouldn't be a stretch.
And then there are the Cardinals, who seem to turn it on as soon as the calendar reaches the sixth month of the regular season. As if on cue, St. Louis won again Wednesday, scratching out a run in the bottom of the ninth on a Peter Bourjos RBI single to break a scoreless tie, walk off with a crucial 1-0 win and a series sweep over the contending Pirates, and enter a big series against the second-place Brewers with a three-game lead.
"The last three games felt like the playoffs," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. "The next four, the next eight, they're going to feel like the playoffs, too. The whole month is going to be the playoffs for us."
And for a lot of teams. Take the Mariners, who are fighting to stay alive in the American League Wild Card race and got a big boost with a 2-1 win over the A's on Wednesday to secure two of three in a big AL West series in Oakland, helped, in part, by the inspired pitching of ace Felix Hernandez.
Felix says today's win vs A's was for his wife on her birthday. "It means a lot. We came here to win the series and that's what we did."- Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) September 3, 2014
Seattle's win and Detroit's loss to the Indians put the Mariners within a half-game of the Tigers in the AL Wild Card race. Elsewhere, the Royals won again to strengthen their grip on the AL Central and the Orioles continued to roll in the AL East.
A lighter Thursday schedule still packs some pennant-race punch. There's more Central intrigue on tap with another Tigers-Indians matchup while the reeling Brewers will try to snap their losing streak against the sizzling Cardinals.
TODAY'S KEY GAMES TO WATCH (all times ET)
Red Sox (Workman, 1-8) at Yankees (Capuano, 2-3), 7:05 p.m. Preview
Regardless of New York's postseason fate, this will be Derek Jeter's final game against the archrival Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
Reds (Leake, 10-11) at Orioles (Tillman, 11-5), 7:05 p.m. Preview
The Reds need to win games, but the problem is the Orioles don't seem to want to lose, especially now that Chris Davis is hitting again.
Tigers (Scherzer, 15-5) at Indians (Bauer, 5-7), 7:05 p.m. Preview
Young Bauer can make a big statement about his future and his team's present with a big effort here in the thick of the race.
Cardinals (Wacha, 5-5) at Brewers (Peralta, 15-9), 8:10 p.m. Preview
Wacha, last year's postseason sensation, makes it to the mound for the first time since June 17. The Brewers hope to rain on the kid's welcome-back parade.
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.
AL East: Orioles 16 over Yankees
AL Central: Royals 23 over Tigers
AL West: Angels 20 over A's
AL Wild Card 1: A's 21 over Tigers
AL Wild Card 2: Tigers 24 over Mariners
NL East: Nationals 17 over Braves
NL Central: Cardinals 21 over Brewers
NL West: Dodgers 21 over Giants
NL Wild Card 1: Giants 22 over Brewers
NL Wild Card 2: Brewers 23 over Braves
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.