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It all comes down to this: No, the Texas Rangers haven't known any place but first since taking sole possession of the AL West on April 9, the fourth day of the season.
And yes, the Oakland A's were a season-high 13 games behind those same first-place Rangers on June 30.
None of that, however, matters anymore as we head into Wednesday's Game 162 with both teams holding identical records for the first time all year. Oakland's 3-1 triumph over Texas on Tuesday night vaulted the A's into a first-place tie with the Rangers at 93-68 and set the stage for a dramatic final game of the regular season at 3:30 ET on Wednesday afternoon. Winner gets the AL West flag, a chance to rest and the relative postseason insurance of a multi-game ALDS. Loser gets forced into a Friday play-in game and the possibility they could be starting their offseason by Saturday morning.
It's hard to believe the Rangers' season has come to this, especially when it often seemed like they were the last division leader we had to worry about. But the A's barreled their way back into contention with a 56-26 record since July 1 and the Rangers just haven't been able to put them away. One win in Oakland will do the trick, but Texas is down to just one more chance after failing to solve Travis Blackley and the A's bullpen on Tuesday. About the best thing you can say for them is that they still control their own destiny, though it might be an uphill battle for the Rangers if destiny has runners in scoring position.
Raúl to the rescue: The New York Yankees would have also controlled their own destiny on Wednesday no matter Tuesday's result against Boston. But thanks to Raúl Ibañez, they now control it with a margin for error. Not only did the veteran outfielder crush a pinch-hit two-run homer off Andrew Bailey to tie the game in the ninth inning, but he also did this in the 12th to send the Yankees home with a 4-3 win:
The victory preserved the Yankees' one-game lead in the AL East, cut the team's magic number to one and guaranteed at least a chance to play for the division in a Thursday tiebreaker if they happen to lose on Wednesday while Baltimore wins.
Speaking of Baltimore ...
Angry Birds: ... if the Orioles were so upset at the Red Sox for failing to fill out a respectable lineup card before Monday, you have to assume they were downright livid at the way they blew a win in the Bronx on Tuesday night. And they were, reports our own Eric Adelson, who was in the clubhouse after the Orioles grinded out a 1-0 white-knuckle win over the Tampa Bay Rays only to see that it was the standings equivalent of walking on a treadmill.
Though Chris Davis produced the sole run of the game with a monster homer and Baltimore's bullpen was near flawless after a strong start from Miguel Gonzalez, the star of the game undoubtedly goes to Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields. Heck, he deserves it as a consolation prize after taking his place among the most hard-luck losers in baseball history. Shields thew a complete-game two-hitter with 15 strikeouts and Baseball-References shows that only two other pitchers have hit or bettered those numbers and still lost. Montreal's Floyd Youmans was the last to do it, earning his hard luck loss in 1986.
Backing-In Birds: Dave Brown will have more on this later, but the St. Louis Cardinals earned their second straight trip to the postseason after the Dodgers fell to the Giants 4-3 and eliminated themselves from the race for the second wild card. The Cardinals, who fell to Cincinnati 3-1 to prevent the fans at Busch Stadium from seeing any sort of clinching celebration, will travel to Atlanta for Friday's National League play-in game.
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Quote of the Day
''It was good to get (reserves) at-bats to keep them sharp. We're going to have a lot more position players on the roster for Friday's game than the other rounds so I feel it's important that we get them at bats.''
— Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, who started several reserves in Tuesday's meaningless 5-1 loss to the Pirates. Winning wild-card teams will get to reset their 25-man roster before the LDS round so the Braves will only need to carry one starting pitcher into Friday's play-in game.
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Photo of the Day: It's a (one-day) deal!
Adam Greenberg signed a one-day deal with the Miami Marlins in the afternoon, then struck out on three pitches against R.A. Dickey at night. A dream come true.
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Three facts for the water cooler
• Tuesday's meeting of the Astros and Cubs was the first matchup of 100-loss teams since the Mets and Cubs tangoed at the end of the 1962 season. Houston walked away as 3-0 winners and could end their National League tenure with a sweep if they win on Wednesday.
• Miguel Cabrera had two hits before retiring early in the fifth inning of Detroit's 4-2 loss to Kansas City. He'll enter the final day of the season with a .331 average, 44 homers, 139 RBI and a fantastic chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
• Adam Dunn struck out twice in Chicago's 4-3 loss to Cleveland to bring his season total to 222. That leaves him one shy of the major-league record of 223 set by Mark Reynolds in 2009.
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