BALTIMORE — It was the day Major League Baseball dreamed about when it instituted the two wild-card format two years ago.
It would come down to Game 162, and there still would be something that would need to be decided.
It would create an extra round of sudden death, even before the one-game wild-card game. And that’s what happened Sunday.
The Boston-Baltimore matchup witnessed by a sold-out crowd at Camden Yards didn’t mean much, although the Orioles showed some pride in beating the Red Sox, 7-6.
Otherwise it was the Red Sox, who finished tied for the best record in baseball despite two straight losses, wondering how the day would unfold in other venues and which team they might play at Fenway Park Friday.
The ideal scenario didn't unfold for the Red Sox.
The Indians, with their 10th straight win, didn’t have to be part of any three-way playoff because they beat the hapless Twins, 5-1.
They won the top wild-card spot and will host the wild-card round Wednesday in Cleveland.
Who will their opponent be?
Tampa Bay needed to win to survive, and it did, barely, beating Toronto, 7-6.
Texas needed to win to survive, and it did, with a 6-2 triumph over the Angels.
That forced a playoff game between the Rays and Rangers Monday night in Arlington, Texas.
The Rays, who already had beaten the Jays, had to hang out in their clubhouse in Toronto for the outcome of the Rangers-Angels game to see in which direction their flight was taking them. It was south.
As the Red Sox dressed and got ready for a return home to Boston, where they will host the first two games of the divisional series beginning Friday, they half-glanced at the Rangers-Angels game that was on every TV in the clubhouse. They seemed more interested in getting home than in who won or lost.
One player said, “That’s a good thing for us. Tampa Bay now has to go to Texas and use up more of their pitching.”
And Texas, too.
The Indians have a couple of days to prepare for the Tampa Bay-Texas winner.
Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s Indians are the hot team entering the playoffs. They became the first team to win its final 10 regular-season games since the 1971 Orioles finished with 11 straight wins.
But you have to throw in the caveat that they finished up with four games against the Triple A Twins and had the easiest schedule down the stretch. The Indians took full advantage, winning 15 of their last 17 games against the White Sox, Royals, Astros, and Twins.
They also used up their ace, Ubaldo Jimenez (in the absence of Justin Masterson, who is now their closer because he can’t be stretched out as a starter after missing three weeks with an oblique strain), who struck out a career-high-tying 13 Twins.
By pitching Sunday, Jimenez, who gave up one run and five hits in 6⅔ innings, now will be in line to work Friday’s Game 1 against Boston. The Indians were set to send out rookie righthander Danny Salazar for Wednesday’s game against Tampa Bay or Texas.
Jimenez went 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA and 51 strikeouts in six September starts.
If he does pitch Game 1 against the Red Sox it will be a tough matchup for Boston, even though the Sox roughed up Jimenez April 16, when he was nearly released after allowing seven runs and five walks in 1⅔ innings.
That was then; Jimenez is a completely different pitcher now.
Francona will get a lot of credit for turning around the Indians’ fortunes, increasing their win total by 24 games. He led them to a 21-6 record in September. The last time he managed in September he was 7-20 with the Red Sox in 2011 and got fired.
“I think I’m kind of speechless right now,” Cleveland’s Nick Swisher, who homered Sunday, said. “To make this happen . . . aw, man, this is so great. This is so awesome. This never gets old.”
The Rays had to survive another shaky closeout effort by Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney, which doesn’t bode well for them. They were fortunate to get six runs in the first inning and they held on for dear life.
The Rays did start the right guy in Matt Moore, who finished the regular season with a 17-4 record.
“You want to say it was fun, but it kinda wasn’t,” Rays first baseman James Loney said. “It feels good to get that win. It’s just a long, wild ride. We’re looking forward to a lot more games.”
The Rays, who were 3-4 against the Rangers this season, will go with lefty David Price (9-8, 3.39 ERA) Monday night against lefty Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55). Price has not faced the Rangers this season and the 22-year-old Perez has not faced the Rays.
If the Rays win, and then beat the Indians, they would have Moore set up for Game 1 against the Red Sox, and Price for Game 2 — unless they want to put Alex Cobb or Jeremy Hellickson in the No. 2 spot, which is doubtful.
The Rangers used Yu Darvish Sunday and he pitched well, giving up two runs in 5⅔ innings. Darvish would be ready to pitch against Boston Friday if the Rangers beat Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Adrian Beltre, who probably never should have gotten away from Boston, came up big Sunday for the Rangers. He hit his 30th homer of the season, in the eighth inning.
“We have something to prove,” said Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. “It’s sudden death and we have to show we can win the big games. Everyone here wants to move on to Boston. We take care of our business, we can do that.”
Who knows whether this high pressure makes a team better or wears it down?
It would appear the team that’s resting, taking care of injuries, and setting up its pitching staff would have the edge. But there’s also something to the adrenaline the Indians have been running on, although now they must sit for a couple of days.
The Rays and Rangers will continue to play on fumes after high-pressure wins and now have a high-pressure game to determine who gets into the playoffs.
However you analyze it, baseball has created sudden death. Fair or not fair, you can’t argue about the excitement that comes with not knowing the full postseason story after 162 games.