Pulse: Sox party, as Rays, Indians hold Wild Card spots
Tampa Bay needs 18 innings, Tribe just a soggy seven, yet both earn pivotal victories
After a Friday that went from the afternoon into a restless night and then seemingly without end into the next morning, the postseason races got a little clearer in some areas but a lot muddier in others.
While the Red Sox got their party started and the Braves took a step closer to theirs, it was some new blood in the postseason chase that really shook things up -- the Indians taking a soggy first step into a postseason spot thanks to the Royals stepping up in an American League Wild Card jumble.
Oh, and that jumble was left unsettled until about 2 a.m. Eastern time, when the Rays finally won an 18-inning game with the Orioles to maintain the Wild Card lead, leaving both sides a little frazzled.
This is what happens when your game ends after 2 a.m.: pic.twitter.com/1a3EbG7YNt- Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) September 21, 2013
As the second-to-last weekend in September begins, the Pulse of the Postseason is pounding like mad, telling a new and thrilling tale as time ticks away, day by day and game by game.
The AL East is settled with the Red Sox champs, the NL East is one Braves win from being settled, and the A's have a magic number of two in the AL West. But the AL Wild Card and the NL Central look like they'll keep things interesting right down to the end.
For the Red Sox on Friday night, it was all about wrapping up what was their first goal all along. After clinching a postseason berth the night before, the Red Sox celebrated their first AL East title since 2007 in grand style at Fenway Park, following a 6-3 victory over the Orioles -- a celebration perhaps pent up a little bit from their super-cool demeanor after a postseason spot was in hand the day before.
First they hopped around on the field -- David Ortiz already donning goggles for the champagne -- then they hugged, then they high-fived around the field. (No, it did not include a dip in a swimming pool at Fenway Park, just goggles.)
With Koji Uehara, a surprise star in the ninth inning for the restructured Red Sox, contributing a five-out save, Boston players who have been through it all like Dustin Pedroia took a moment to appreciate the huge turnaround in culture and success from last year's rough road.
"It's not just me, David [Ortiz] or [Jon] Lester or the guys that have been there," Pedroia said. "It's the new guys we brought in here and everybody believing in playing the game the right way, and it's been a blast."
The Braves, meanwhile, did their part on Friday, but the Nationals were not eager to help out their NL East rivals. Both teams won, which means the Braves' magic number to clinch the NL East is down to one -- although technically they've assured themselves of at least a tiebreaker game.
Atlanta took its series opener at Wrigley Field, 9-5, and then waited to see what the Nationals would do. Jordan Zimmermann made quick work of the Marlins for his 19th win in an 8-0 Nats win, continuing what is the hottest streak of any team in the hunt -- 12 wins in 14 games, enough to extend the NL East race at least another day and keep the Nats still within five games in the Wild Card.
During the evening, Max Scherzer finally picked up his 20th win in a 12-5 rout of the White Sox, and the A's took a step closer to a title with a 11-0 beating of the Twins.
In Pittsburgh, it was the home team holding a three-run lead in the top of the ninth when the game got really tight.
The Reds rallied, scoring the first run with two outs on a Jordy Mercer error, bringing in Billy Hamilton for his 10th steal in six Major League games and then using a remarkable at-bat to complete the comeback. A grounder by Devin Mesoraco after a grinding nine-pitch at-bat bounced off Pedro Alvarez's glove and stayed in the infield -- but with Hamilton chugging around third to home, there was no chance to stop the tying run.
"I really just went up there and just started battling my [butt] off, that's it," Mesoraco said. "That was my only goal -- to go up there and battle, battle, and hopefully he'd leave one over the plate I could put a half-decent swing on and hopefully find a hole."
Joey Votto's solo homer in the 10th sealed the deal, as uplifting a game for the Reds as it had to be devastating for the Pirates.
Right about the time the Reds rallied to tie up the NL Wild Card, the Cardinals tied their game in Milwaukee in the seventh inning, 4-4. After more see-saw action, it took a Carlos Beltran sac fly in 10th to win it, 7-6, pushing the Cardinals' lead to two over both division foes.
The AL Wild Card race developed into the night as a tight race all the way around, all four games tied or within a run for much of the night.
The Yankees took a 5-1 win over the Giants behind Alex Rodriguez's all-time Major League record 24th career grand slam. And in Cleveland, the rains came in the seventh inning and sent players into the clubhouse and Tribe fans under cover to watch the other games on the video board -- a split screen from Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
Cheers from the Cleveland diehards still on hand at the ballpark, waiting out the rain, as the Orioles tie things up against Tampa Bay- Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 21, 2013
While the Indians game was called after seven innings with a 2-1 score, the Rays would rally against the O's, leaving both Wild Card leaders tied late in their games -- the Rangers in the eighth and the Rays into the ninth. The Royals broke their tie with a bases-loaded walk on four pitches by Neftali Feliz to Alcides Escobar, and that was the difference in a 2-1 outcome.
But the Rays played another game's worth of baseball, the two teams using a Major League-record 21 pitchers over about seven hours, before David DeJesus finally broke the tie with a single to right for a 5-4 victory that kept the Rays atop the Wild Card ladder.
So it was that another day with October dreams lasted well into the night, leaving more work the rest of the weekend for teams all over the map.
As the Pulse of the Postseason picks up early for another Saturday of stretch-run excitement, the Braves and A's are on the cusp of the prize they're all playing for -- a ticket to October.
Atlanta enters its afternoon game at Wrigley Field needing to win or have the Nationals lose against Miami to clinch the NL East title for the first time since 2005, and the A's need a win at home against Minnesota plus a Rangers loss at Kansas City to claim a second consecutive AL West title.
Other teams closing in on the postseason include the Tigers, who have a magic number of three to clinch the AL Central, and the Cardinals, who have a magic number of two vs. the Nationals to clinch a postseason spot.
Recently, depending on the Nationals to drop a game to help your cause hasn't been a great strategy. The Nats have won 12 of their last 14, and they're hoping Stephen Strasburg is strong after his start was pushed back a couple of days, because they pretty much need to keep winning at the clip they have been -- or better -- to make it to the October party a second straight year.
The NL Central showdown in Pittsburgh will be back at PNC Park with the locals hoping to have shaken off their second ninth-inning stunner of the week. It'll be another marquee mound matchup in that one, with the Reds' Homer Bailey meeting the Pirates' A.J. Burnett in a battle of veteran right-handers. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will meet the Milwaukee club that took them to the limit Friday night.
The AL Wild Card will be played out in two showdowns -- the Rays and Orioles returning to Tropicana Field a matter of a few hours after Friday's marathon ended, and the Royals hosting the Rangers. But all eyes will be on Cleveland, too, where the Indians' rain-shortened win Friday put them in postseason position.
In other games involving contenders, the Yankees host the Giants as they try and hold on to their postseason hopes, the Tigers host the White Sox with the division almost in reach, the Red Sox host the Blue Jays aiming at the AL's best record and the Dodgers are at San Diego.
Saturday's key games to watch (all times ET)
Orioles (Gonzalez, 10-7) at Rays (Cobb, 9-3), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
Giants (Vogelsong, 3-5) at Yankees (Nova, 8-5), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
Braves (Medlen, 14-12) at Cubs (Wood, 9-11), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
Twins (Hernandez, 3-1) at A's (Parker, 11-7), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
Astros (Clemens, 4-5) at Indians (Kazmir, 8-9), 6:05 p.m. Preview >
Reds (Bailey, 11-10) at Pirates (Burnett, 8-11), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
Marlins (Koehler, 3-10) at Nationals (Strasburg, 7-9), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
White Sox (Sale, 11-13) at Tigers (Porcello, 13-8), 7:08 p.m. Preview >
Cardinals (Lynn, 13-10) at Brewers (Gallardo, 11-9), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Rangers (Garza, 9-6) at Royals (Guthrie, 14-11), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Blue Jays (Buehrle, 11-9) at Red Sox (Buchholz, 11-0), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Dodgers (Kershaw, 14-9) at Padres (Smith, 1-1), 8:40 p.m. Preview >
If the postseason started today ...
Wild Card: Indians at Rays
Division Series: Wild Card at Red Sox* | Tigers at A's
Wild Card: Reds at Pirates
Division Series: Wild Card at Braves | Dodgers* at Cardinals
* - clinched postseason spot
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.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.