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We learned two very significant things this weekend.
The first is that a playoff series between the A's and Yankees would likely be one of the more exciting playoff series that we've seen in a good long time. Sunday's game was the seventh straight one-run game between the two sides.
Five of those games have gone against the Yankees, including Sunday's 5-4 loss fueled by a bad Hiroki Kuroda outing and an Eduardo Nunez error, but that's not particularly disheartening since the bounces that decide one-run games are usually the sort that embrace the randomness of baseball rather than the superiority of one side over the other. That's certainly how things felt in the wild and crazy Saturday afternoon affair between the teams.
If you didn't catch it, fret not because it is destined for classic status on the YES network in the years to come. Three massive Oakland homers break a 5-5 tie in the top of the 13th, the Yankees rally in the bottom of the frame with a monster Raul Ibanez shot of their own and then finally win in the 14th despite rookie Melky Mesa missing third on what looked like the winning hit by Alex Rodriguez.
That's not a game you want to see again and again, even if there's a chance that the A's might be the team celebrating on the field when it comes to an end? Or Friday's 2-1 gem by CC Sabathia ruined by Rafael Soriano and redeemed by Russell Martin in the bottom of the 10th inning?
This was October baseball in September. All of the necessary ingredients of great playoff baseball, from clutch performances to unexpected heroes to late fireworks, were on display in the Bronx this weekend which made sense since this weekend confirmed the Yankees are going to be a playoff team.
With a 4.5-game lead on the closest non-playoff team with 10 games to play, the Yankees have punched their ticket to the postseason. They still need to figure out whether they will be winning the division or subjecting themselves to the horror that will be the one-game playoff between Wild Cards, but they know their season will include one or the other.
With 10 games left against teams under .500 and the fact that the Yankees have never actually fallen out of first place through this lengthy close quarters fight with the Orioles, you've got to like their chances of nabbing that top spot when all is said and done. And, if they don't, then at least you'll be able to say that the ride was about as fun as anything the Yankees have done since winning the World Series in 2009.
It's been a month of playoff atmosphere and breathless scoreboard watching as the Orioles keep winning extra inning games against all real and imagined probabilities. The Yankees, meanwhile, have found their best baseball of the second half at exactly the right moment for those who think it's important to be peaking when October rolls around.
Yes, they lost on Sunday and cost themselves a chance to add a game to the lead on the Orioles. At this point, that doesn't feel like a disaster, though.
It feels like part of a narrative that's about to deliver us another twist that leaves us wondering if the regular season actually has to come to an end.