It's amazing how a couple of days can change things so quickly.
The Boston Red Sox had entered the All-Star break red hot, winning five of six games and took over top spot in the AL East on the last day before the end of the first half.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who had lost seven straight, fell to second. The New York Yankees, who hadn't missed the postseason since 1995, weren't even on the radar, lost three of four games to Pittsburgh and Toronto.
Oh my, how things have changed in a hurry.
The Red Sox, who took on the L.A. Angels immediately after the break, looked to stay on track.
Yes, the Angels lead the AL West, but AL Wests is a weak division. You have a team that has basically given up on this season by dealing its ace and another starter (Oakland), and one that can't pitch (Texas), and another that can't hit or pitch and could become the first member of the 100-100 club (Seattle, $100 million payroll, 100 losses). So, no surprise Los Angeles leads the West.
In fact, the Angels had also won the West in 2004 and 2007, seasons which saw the Red Sox sweep them on the way to two World Series championships.
Boston ace Josh Beckett, 3-0 in his career against the Angels, surely would duplicate his success during this weekend series.
Meanwhile, the Rays looked to be in real danger, as their long losing streak to end the first half probably signaled midnight for the Cinderella team. And Tampa Bay had to deal with the suddenly rejuvenated A.J. Burnett and staff ace Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays to open the second half.
But we were on Saturday afternoon, with Beckett throwing shutout ball and carrying a 2-0 lead into the seventh, before the roof fell in. Erick Aybar's bases-loaded triple down the first-base line proved to be the difference as Los Angeles came back for a 4-2 victory.
In St. Petersburg, Florida, the Rays were shut out for five innings themselves, before rallying against Halladay. Rookie Evan Longoria continued his clutch hitting, bashing a grand slam off the Toronto ace to cap a five-run sixth, and even old-timer Cliff Floyd got into the act with a solo blast.
The Blue Jays teased the Red Sox and Boston fans by making a late rally against the Rays bullpen in the ninth, but ultimately fell short, losing 6-4.
Meanwhile, in the Bronx, the Yankees were down to their last strike, before yet another rally occured.
In fact, New York star closer Mariano Rivera had uncharacteristically given up the tie-breaking run in the top of the ninth, and could only watch as Wilson Betemit batted with two outs in the bottom of the inning.
Betemit, however, hit an opposite-field single off Huston Street and the Yankees tied it.
New York then won it in the 12th by playing "Homer Simpson" baseball. Yup, that's right, the winning run crossed home plate on a bases-loaded hit batsman.
And my, isn't that former Mariner Richie Sexson in the middle of all the action? That's two straight games now, in which he'd made an impact (the weak-hitting first sacker got an RBI single in his first Yankees at-bat the day before, and walked on Saturday to load the bases in the 12th).
So, two games after the All-Star break, the Red Sox have gone 0-2. The Rays and Yanks, 2-0 each.
The Rays and Yanks look for the sweep Sunday against the Jays and A's in their respective series, while Boston tries to avoid the brooms on Sunday Night Baseball versus L.A.
Tampa Bay now finds itself leading the East by 1 1/2 games over Boston, with New York only 4 back of the Red Sox for the wild card lead.
It should be noted the Yankees are ahead of last year's pace, when they entered the second half with a .500 record before rallying to win the AL wild card. This year, New York was 50-45 entering the break.
This should set up an pretty interesting series next weekend at Fenway, when the Bombers and Bosox hook up again. Naturally, FOX (which carries Saturday's game) and ESPN SNB (Sunday) will do a lot to hype up the match-up.
It should make for great baseball theatre the rest of the way, should there be a three-team race in the East.
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