Four Baseball Teams Battle For Playoff Spots

The Major League Baseball playoff teams are almost set, with the wild-card races coming down to the wire.

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

Now let's go to our nation's pastime. It's the last day of the Major League Baseball regular season - well, maybe it's the last day. Four teams, including the angst-ridden Boston Red Sox, are vying for two final playoff spots. They all still have a shot after playing last night, and if the teams don't resolve things today, there could be more drama on the diamond tomorrow. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman is on the line to talk about what appears to be a thrilling end to a long season. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, David.

GREENE: So give us an overview for what's happening. I guess for two teams, the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves, they didn't want it to be this exciting.

GOLDMAN: That's right. No team in baseball history has had a lead of eight games or more in September and not clinched a playoff spot. And now, as you mentioned, Boston or Atlanta may do it. Earlier this month, Atlanta had an eight-and-a-half-game lead in the race for the National League wildcard. The wildcard playoff spot, of course, goes to the team with the best record that didn't win a division. So Atlanta had this big lead, and today the Braves are tied with St. Louis. Now, we would have heard more about Atlanta's swoon if Boston hadn't done one better, or worse. In early September, the Red Sox led the race for the American League wildcard by nine games, then their pitching staff fell apart. Now they're tied with Tampa Bay. And Boston's collapse is getting a lot more attention, obviously. The Sox are a national team with a well-documented tortured past. And despite two titles in the last eight years, the angst meter in Red Sox nation has been well in the red zone for weeks.

GREENE: And we should say, baseball fans in other cities do love watching Boston in angst. There's some examples of how people are feeling in that city?

GOLDMAN: From a blog yesterday on the Boston Globe website, the writer says: The 2011 Red Sox are the biggest choke jobs the city has ever seen. And it will go down in history not only for its epic nature but for the contemptible way the team went down - with a whimper. Now, David, I'm just wondering how all the vitriol changes to love if the Sox pull out of the tailspin and get to the playoffs and keep winning.

GREENE: Well, and there seemed to be some reason for love last night. I mean, if Boston fans were looking for something to hang onto, there were some heroics in the game in Baltimore.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely, which the Red Sox won 8-7. It was in doubt until the final out. The star last night was a newcomer. It was a 24-year-old rookie catcher who was a philosophy major at Yale named Ryan Lavarnway. He hit his first two Major League home runs. He was in the lineup because the team's first two catchers were injured. Lavarnway hadn't played in a Major League game before August.

GREENE: Wow. A new hero coming in and maybe saving the day for the Red Sox. But Tampa Bay won also, beating the Yankees. And so how does that all set things up for today?

GOLDMAN: If one wins and the other loses, the winner's in. And it sets up a wonderful scenario where the Red Sox fans will be pulling for the hated Yankees to beat Tampa Bay. If both Boston and Tampa Bay win or both lose and they stay tied, there's a one-game playoff Thursday in Tampa Bay. Same with St. Louis and Atlanta - if they stay tied through today, a one-game playoff tomorrow in St. Louis.

GREENE: Well, I'm sure you'll enjoy following all the heroics and drama. It's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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