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Big League Stew

The Juice: Yankees and O’s stay neck and neck in AL East, Oakland’s road trip hits early turbulence

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

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(AP)

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How bad do you want it?: One of the aims of the new playoff system was that it'd put a premium on winning your division in order to avoid the random nature of the do-or-die wild-card play-in game. Nowhere is that dynamic more evident in the AL East, where the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles are clawing at each other for the ALDS-guaranteeing safety of first place. Both teams have won four straight games with the Yankees again taking a slim half-game lead after sweeping a day-night doubleheader from the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday with 4-2 and 2-1 wins at Yankee Stadium.

The Orioles, meanwhile, kept their extra-inning magic alive on the West Coast, sweeping the Mariners as Adam Jones' 11th-inning home run gave Baltimore a 3-1 win.

The most impressive performance from either team came from Ichiro, who collected seven total hits. Three came while batting leadoff for Derek Jeter in the matinee and his total output — which included four stolen bases in the nightcap — impressed the Yankees shortstop.

''That's tough to do,'' (Derek) Jeter told reporters. ''Doubleheader. I don't think I've ever done that in a doubleheader. I've been on the other side of it maybe an 0 for 8.''

The Yankees have a game in hand on the Orioles with two weeks left to play and they received another encouraging sign during Wednesday's opener as Andy Pettite pitched well in his first start back from a broken fibula. The left-hander pitched five scoreless innings in his return.

Misery in Motown: Oakland is only two days into its brutal 10-game swing through Detroit, New York and Texas and yet the A's probably wish it were already over. One night after being blown out by the Tigers, Oakland was stymied by Justin Verlander in a 6-2 Detroit win at Comerica Park. Worse yet, starter Brett Anderson left the game in the third inning after straining his left oblique, an injury that could send the A's rotation scrambling as they try to protect a 3 1/2-game lead over Los Angeles in the wild-card race. (The day's lone bright spot came in the Rangers' 6-2  win over the Angels, preserving Oakland's lead in the standings.)

As for the Tigers, it was, as they say, a good day. Verlander threw six scoreless innings (though somehow needed 122 pitches to do so), Miguel Cabrera added a solo home run to his growing MVP campaign totals and Bruce Chen and the Royals mastered the White Sox in Kansas City (yet again) for a 3-0 win. The Tigers are now two games back in the AL Central.

Medlen's streak continues: The Atlanta Braves continue to remain unbeatable when Kris Medlen takes the mound. The right-hander pitched eight scoreless innings of four-hit ball as the Braves won 3-0 over Miami and cashed in their 21st straight win in a game that Medlen has started. One more victory and they'll tie the 22 straight wins the Yankees posted for Whitey Ford from 1950 to 1953, a streak that was interrupted by the Korean war.

Taking care of business: Milwaukee won on Wednesday night. So did Philadelphia and Arizona. Los Angeles added a win after salvaging a doubleheader split in Washington. None of it made an immediate impact, however, as St. Louis protected its lead in the second wild-card race with a simple 5-0 win over Houston. The Cardinals have won seven straight games against the Astros and have four contests against Houston remaining this season (plus three against the Cubs). With St. Louis taking care of gimmes like those, it might not matter how hard the teams behind them push.

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Quote of the day

''He was kind of due.  He needed a big hit like that, and he came through.''

— Phillies manager Charlie Manuel on Ryan Howard. The first baseman hit a two-run homer with two outs in the top of the ninth to steal a 3-2 win over the Mets. It was his 11th of the season and first since August 31.

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Photo of the day: Put this one behind you, David DeJesus

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(Getty Images)

Despite appearances, Cincinnati had to scratch out a 6-5 win over Chicago in 11 innings on Wednesday. The win reduced the Reds' magic number in the NL Central to three.

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Three facts for the water cooler

• Matt Cain won his 15th game in a 7-1 victory over Colorado, good enough for a career high. The Giants' magic number to clinch the NL West is now five.

Boston's 13-3 loss to Tampa Bay assured the Red Sox of their first losing season since 1997.

• Minnesota's Josh Willingham hit his 35th home run of the season in a 6-4 win over Cleveland. It's the highest number of homers for a Twin since Harmon Killebrew hit 41 in 1970.

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