The American League East race between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles took all 162 games to decide.
Perhaps it's only fitting then that this division series between these rivals will also go the distance.
The Yankees and visiting Orioles have split thrilling extra-inning games the last two nights heading into Game 5 on Friday (5:07 p.m. ET).
New York led the East by as many as 10 games before Baltimore forged a tie during a pulsating final month, with the Yankees finally clinching the division title on the final day of the regular season.
"Well, it's kind of what we've been used to the whole year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's been a grind. It's been a fight to stay ahead of this club the whole year. So it's pretty fitting."
These teams have alternated wins in this series, with New York taking the odd-numbered games. Now the Orioles have one final chance to move ahead of the Yankees for good.
"It's an honour to be in Game 5 with them," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "You knew all along that the road to where we want to try to get is going to have to pass through there and here."
Both managers said "all hands on deck" applies to this decider.
If the last two nights at Yankee Stadium are any indication, Friday's game could stretch from the early evening well into the Bronx night.
New York took a 2-1 series lead Wednesday with a 3-2, 12-inning victory. Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for a struggling Alex Rodriguez and came through with a dramatic tying homer off Jim Johnson in the ninth inning before going deep again to win it in the 12th.
That ended Baltimore's streak of 16 straight extra-inning victories, but the plucky Orioles recovered by outlasting the Yankees 2-1 in 13 innings Thursday in Game 4.
It's been an eventful two days for Girardi, who earned plaudits for his decision to remove Rodriguez on Wednesday. One day later, the manager disclosed that his 81-year-old father died last Saturday - the day before this series began.
Girardi again pinch-hit for Rodriguez on Thursday, with Eric Chavez making the final out. Rodriguez was dropped to No. 5 in the order after batting third in the first three games.
Rodriguez is 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts in this series. He notably failed again Thursday when he struck out against Darren O'Day with the score tied and runners on second and third with one out in the eighth inning. The Yankees never got a runner into scoring position again after that frame.
With the Orioles starting right-hander Jason Hammel (0-0, 3.18 earned-run average), Girardi would not commit to any Friday lineup changes.
"I always tell you I look at - go home and study the pitcher, and I know our guys and I'll make the decisions tomorrow," Girardi said.
He's unsure if Derek Jeter will be able to play shortstop after the majors' hits leader was forced to serve as the designated hitter on Thursday. Jeter has been limping since he fouled a ball off his left foot Wednesday.
In addition, reliever Joba Chamberlain's status is uncertain after he left with a bruised right elbow, which was struck by a piece of Matt Wieters's broken bat in the 12th.
One factor in Girardi's favour is that he will turn to ace CC Sabathia (1-0, 2.08), who came one out short of a complete game in his 7-2 victory in Game 1. Sabathia is 6-1 with a 3.29 ERA in 11 playoff starts with New York.
"It's time to go," said Sabathia, who has limited opponents to a .199 average at home this year. "You know, this is what you play for. That's a good team over there we've been battling all year, so hopefully I can go out and have a good performance, and keep us in the game and give us a chance to win."
Showalter may again use Lew Ford as Friday's DH. Ford had two hits in that role in Game 1 to make him 4 for 7 against Sabathia this year.
J.J. Hardy, who delivered a 13th-inning RBI double Thursday, is 7-for-14 with four extra-base hits against Sabathia in 2012.
"Tomorrow's going to be a lot of fun," Hardy said. "We have a tough matchup with CC so it's going to be fun."
Baltimore continues to get little out of Wieters (2-for-21) and Adam Jones (2-for-22) in the post-season. Curtis Granderson (1-for-16), Robinson Cano (2 for 18) and Nick Swisher (2 for 15) have been similarly invisible for New York.
"There's guys on the other side that are struggling, too," Girardi said. "You're seeing some really good pitching in these four games."
Hammel will again oppose Sabathia after allowing two runs over 5 2/3 innings in Game 1. If Girardi wants to replace Rodriguez with one of his lefty hitters, neither Ibanez (0-for-9) nor Chavez (1-for-6) has enjoyed much success against Hammel this year.
This will be the Orioles right-hander's fifth overall start against New York this year.
"It seems like we've played these guys to a one-run game every time out," Hammel said. "It's really nothing new. It's going to be a test for both sides, and honestly, it's just going to be a good ball game."
The winner must deal with a quick turnaround to face Detroit in the AL Championship Series, which begins Saturday.