It is too bad Yankee Stadium has a no-reentry policy. Because the fans who left after the Oakland Athletics clubbed three homers in the top of the 13th inning to take a 9-5 lead have to be kicking themselves.
In the process, the Yankees unknowingly tipped their cap to the Baltimore Orioles. The O’s also won their game in extra innings on Saturday, beating the Boston Red Sox 9-6 in 12 innings. With New York’s win over Oakland, the Orioles now hold a two-game lead for the top AL wild-card spot.
Now, the Yankees will never admit this publicly. After all, this is a proud group of veteran players who have been in many pennant races. But the Orioles are pushing the Yankees to reach greater heights.
The result has been an amazing September chess match between two stud teams wrestling for division supremacy.
Since September 3, the AL East perch has changed hands between the Yankees and Orioles eight times. Neither team has held more than a one-game lead in this stretch. Both teams have been tied atop the division eight times as well.
Adding to the charade, neither the Yankees (winners of seven games in a row) nor the Orioles (winners of six in a row) play each other again for the rest of this regular season. This makes the fight for the AL East division even more of an enigma.
As far as strength of schedule is concerned, the Yankees have the edge over the Orioles. After Sunday, the pinstripes have a seven-game road trip versus the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays. Following that, the Yankees come home for their three final games of the year against the Boston Red Sox.
The Orioles have a seven-game home stand against the Blue Jays and the Red Sox. But Baltimore finishes its regular season at Tropicana Field in a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
While the Rays have struggled a bit this season, the team has won four games in a row. Evan Longoria and Co. have proven in the past that this team has the ability to get hot at just the right moment. Even if it is still too late for the playoffs, the Rays have more than enough pitching to play spoiler.
It's interesting that the Rays play a four-game series against the White Sox (who have lost four games in a row) prior to coming home to play the Orioles.
This brings us back to the Athletics. While fighting for the AL East, it is critical that the Yankees and Orioles not forget about Oakland, as the team that does not win the division may be in a big fight with this team for a wild card.
The Athletics probably realize that neither the Yankees nor the Orioles would choose the Oakland Coliseum as the prime destination for a one-game playoff.
The Green and Gold swept the Bronx Bombers earlier this year in a four-game series, and the Orioles lost two of three games there earlier this month. A scary stat: Oakland is 27-18 versus the AL East, per MLB.com.
Fresh off their loss to the Yankees on Saturday, Oakland is going to get a serious gut-check in its last 11 games. After their series in New York on Sunday, Oakland plays seven of their last 10 games versus the Texas Rangers, who are leaders of the AL West division.
In the meantime, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are primed to make a big playoff push of their own, as well as the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. For the Athletics, there is no guarantee that a hot Tigers team and an equally hot White Sox team will not keep Oakland out of the postseason.
But Oakland is a proud bunch. If this team is able to outperform the Rangers and make things interesting in the AL West, we may be talking about entirely new scenarios.
It is for this reason that New York and Baltimore would be wise not to let off the accelerator.
Regardless, this is going to be one crazy finish.
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