Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees and, for a short time, held sole possession of the American League Wild Card. Several minutes later, though, the Boston Red Sox wrapped up an 8-7 road win over the Baltimore Orioles, leaving the Rays and Red Sox tied atop the standings headed into the season's final day.
The Red Sox beat the Orioles with their bats. Which was good for them, because the pitching wasn't very good. Making the most important start of his life, July trade acquisition Erik Bedard lasted only 3⅓ innings, striking out six but walking three and allowing three runs. He threw just 48 of his 84 pitches for strikes, forcing Terry Francona to go to his bullpen ahead of schedule for the one-zillionth time this month.
But even though Bedard was mediocre, he departed with a lead. In the top of the third, Jacoby Ellsbury erased an early deficit by clubbing a two-run homer off Zach Britton, putting the Sox on top 2-1. Britton grooved a changeup that Ellsbury blasted to right-center for his 32nd home run of the year.
In the next inning, it was rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway's turn to play hero. Lavarnway was in the lineup only because Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek were both hurt, but Lavarnway came up against Britton with two on and pounded a full-count fastball out to left for his first career homer.
At that point, Boston was up 5-1. In the bottom half, Baltimore got two back on a dinger by Matt Wieters, and they chased Bedard later in the inning with two on and one out, but reliever Alfredo Aceves worked out of the jam.
The scoreboard settled down in the fifth, but in the sixth the Red Sox added a pair of insurance runs when Marco Scutaro pulled a wall-scraping two-run homer to left off Jason Berken. The Orioles got one of those back when Adam Jones led off the bottom of the sixth with a home run, but the Red Sox got that back when Lavarnway knocked his second homer of the game in the top of the eighth. Boston was up 8-4, and with six outs to go, it looked like smooth sailing.
In the ninth, Jonathan Papelbon encountered trouble as he tried to slam the door. Having already allowed a run, Papelbon faced Adam Jones with two outs and the tying run on second, and Jones worked a ten-pitch at bat before grounding out to third to end the game.
Boston exhaled, and the Red Sox remained in a tie with the Rays with the win. It wasn't pretty, and Aceves, Bard and Papelbon were all taxed, but a win is a win and nobody feels fatigue on the final day of the year.
Wednesday, the Red Sox will send Jon Lester to the mound on short rest, opposite Alfredo Simon. It's all down to one day. Sit back and enjoy, unless you're a fan of the Red Sox or Rays, in which case, rock back and forth nervously and bite your nails.