The regular season isn't over, but the October drama at Yankee Stadium has already begun.
With another victory Wednesday (7:05 p.m. ET), the New York Yankees will enter the playoffs as American League East champions.
The Yankees can clinch their 12th division title in 15 years if they complete a three-game sweep of the Red Sox in the potential finale of the embattled Boston tenures for both manager Bobby Valentine and right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka.
In Tampa Bay, the Baltimore Orioles will try to knock off the Rays and hope to get favour, namely a victory, from Boston in New, to force an AL East tiebreaker on Thursday in Baltimore.
In that scenario, the loser would be put its season on the line on Friday in a wild-card playoff.
'If you win, you win the division. That's the bottom line.'— Yankees manager Joe Girardi
Hiroki Kuroda takes the ball opposite his Japanese countryman with New York (94-67) one game ahead of the Orioles through 161 contests.
New York would much prefer to go straight through to a division series with the AL's best record, which it would also secure with a victory.
"If you win, you win the division. That's the bottom line," manager Joe Girardi said. "And we have the chance to have the best record, and that's the bottom line and that's a good feeling that you can control that."
Raul Ibanez put the Yankees in position for those feats with a pair of timely hits Tuesday. He delivered a pinch-hit two-run homer in the ninth inning to tie the game, then gave New York a 4-3 win with an RBI single in the 12th.
"We stuck together. We stayed after them, and we were able to pull it out," Ibanez said. "It's crunch time for us, and we all know that."
The Yankees have won nine of 10 at home, and they've taken four straight against Boston to improve to 12-5 in the season series.
Boston (69-92) is already assured of a last-place finish and its worst record since 1965, with many expecting the struggles to cost Valentine his job after only one season.
Matsuzaka's six-year, $52-million US deal - signed after the Red Sox paid a $51.1 million posting fee to bring him over from Japan - is due to expire, and he almost certainly won't be back.
O’s gunning for AL East title
The Baltimore Orioles have done just about all they can to stay in contention for the AL East title.
Their efforts still may not be enough, but being home for the wild-card game isn't the worst consolation.
With a division title still a possibility, the Orioles hope to win their regular-season finale Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays (7:10 p.m. ET) and at least secure home-field advantage for the wild-card game.
'We're not supposed to be here. So just go out and have fun and see what happens.'— Orioles closer Jim Johnson
Baltimore continued its improbable season Tuesday with a 1-0 victory over the Rays to remain one game behind the East-leading Yankees. Although they managed only two hits and struck out 15 times against James Shields, the Orioles (93-68) got another homer from Chris Davis to win for the 12th time in 16 games.
Wins by both New York and Baltimore would send the Orioles home for the wild-card playoff Friday against the loser of Wednesday's Texas-Oakland AL West matchup.
"We're not supposed to be here. So just go out and have fun and see what happens," closer Jim Johnson said after recording his major league-best 51st save.
Baltimore hasn't done much offensively in this series, totalling four runs and eight hits while striking out 25 times. But it has hit three home runs, increasing its total to 17 in the last six games.
Wednesday’s scheduled starter Chris Tillman (9-2, 2.78 ERA) has played the role of ace over the past three months.
He was outstanding again Friday in a 9-1 win over Boston, yielding one hit — a bunt single to the game's first batter — and one unearned run over eight innings.
Tuesday's loss was only the Rays' second in 13 games overall but their sixth in the last seven meetings with the Orioles. Tampa Bay has scored 11 runs and batted .185 in those seven contests.
Jeremy Hellickson (9-11, 3.20) will try to help the Rays reach 90 wins for the third consecutive season when he faces Baltimore for the sixth time this year.
The right-hander is 1-2 in those matchups despite posting a 2.83 ERA. He tossed five scoreless innings at Camden Yards on Sept. 13 before Tampa Bay lost in 14 innings.