Behind Gerrit Cole's strong right arm, the torrid hitting of Starling Marte and a high-wire act by closer Mark Melancon, the Pirates kept the heat on the Cardinals in the National League Central race on Thursday night, holding off the Red Sox. St. Louis, at home, needed 13 innings to subdue the Brewers and retain a 2 ½-game lead over the Bucs while the Brewers fell six off the pace. In Chicago, the Dodgers beat the Cubs to push their NL West lead to 2 ½ games over the idle Giants.
The Pulse of the Postseason remained alive in the Bronx, where Derek Jeter homered and the Yankees took a 3-2 decision from the Blue Jays in the bottom of the ninth on an error. The Yanks advanced within five games of the second AL Wild Card held by the Athletics, who fell a half-game behind the idle Royals after the Rangers completed a three-game sweep in Oakland. The Indians outlasted the Astros in 13 innings to move within four games of the second Wild Card.
IF THE POSTSEASON STARTED TODAY ...
Wild Card: A's at Royals
Division Series: Wild Card at Angels | Tigers at Orioles
Wild Card: Pirates at Giants
Division Series: Wild Card at Nationals | Cardinals at Dodgers
• Postseason picture
The NL East champion Nationals turned away the Marlins, 6-2, behind Gio Gonzalez to retain their 1 ½-game edge over the Dodgers for best record in the league.
After clinching the AL West title in a wild sequence of events Wednesday night, the Angels played their junior varsity against the Mariners. It was no match for Felix Hernandez, who struck out 11 in seven scoreless innings, but Seattle couldn't score against Wade LeBlanc and the Angels bullpen until the ninth.
The Mariners claimed a 3-1 win on Logan Morrison's three-run homer to climb within a game of the A's for the second AL Wild Card. The Angels lead the Orioles by 2 ½ games in their duel for best record in the AL.
Oakland's baffling freefall continued in a 7-2 loss to the Rangers. On the heels of their devastating defeat on Wednesday night, the A's were rocked for four first-inning runs against Sonny Gray and never made it a contest. After enjoying the Majors' best record for most of the season's first four months, the A's are 11-25 since Aug. 10 and 5-15 since Aug. 28.
"The good thing is we're still in a position to make the playoffs," said shortstop Jed Lowrie. "We just need to forget what's happened and try to hit the reset button, take a deep breath and move forward."
The Indians needed a run in the ninth to force extra innings in Houston and won it in the 13th on Jose Ramirez's double and Mike Aviles' sacrifice fly. The Tribe used seven relievers after Danny Salazar struck out nine in 7 1/3 innings.
Jose Bautista's two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning brought the Jays even with the Yankees, but New York prevailed when first baseman Adam Lind couldn't handle Chase Headley's grounder, cashing in pinch-runner Antoan Richardson. The Jays fell six behind the A's for the second Wild Card.
"This is not an easy game to play," said Jeter, who homered at home for the first time this season after entering the game in a 1-for-30 funk. "Obviously, this year up to this point hasn't turned out how I would have liked it to, but you've got to keep fighting, you've got to keep battling. I'm going to play hard until we're out of games."
A mental lapse by Brewers first baseman Mark Reynolds, forgetting the number of outs on a potential double-play grounder in the eighth inning, led to the Cards tying the game with a pair of runs after Kyle Lohse had shut them out into the eighth. The Redbirds won it on Tony Cruz's walk-off single in the 13th, leaving the Brewers 3 ½ games behind the Pirates for the second NL Wild Card. The Giants have a two game advantage over the Bucs.
"It was an easy double play ball, and I thought there were two outs," Reynolds said. "I just messed up. ... Big spot, just magnified."
In Pittsburgh, Melancon escaped a first-and-third, none-out jam after Will Middlebrooks slow grounder hit pinch-runner Jemile Weeks in fair territory as he scrambled back to the bag at third.
"Sometimes you're just meant to win the game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
"I didn't anticipate it going foul," Weeks said. "It was coming pretty much right in front of me at first, so I'm guessing the way he hit it, it kind of spun and came at me a little bit. I tried to get back as fast as I could, and I didn't think it was going to come right on top of me like that."
TODAY'S KEY GAMES TO WATCH (all times ET)
Dodgers (Kershaw, 19-3) at Cubs (Jackson, 6-14), 2:20 p.m. Preview
Once again, the Dodgers look to Clayton Kershaw to show his dominance in pursuit of his 20th win -- remarkable in view of the fact he missed five or six starts early in the season with an upper back muscle strain. The Dodgers can clinch a postseason berth with a victory and a Brewers loss.
Brewers (Gallardo, 8-10) at Pirates (Locke, 7-5), 7:05 p.m. Preview
Yovani Gallardo (7.36 ERA past three starts) needs to get back in his ace form as the Brew Crew tries to remain relevant in two races (Central, Wild Card) in this huge series.
Jays (Buehrle, 12-9) at Yankees (Kuroda, 10-9), 7:05 p.m. Preview
The Yankees will try to build on the momentum of Thursday night's walk-off win behind Hiroki Kuroda as they try to make a big move in the Wild Card chase.
Tigers (Verlander, 13-12) at Royals (Vargas, 11-9), 8:10 p.m. Preview
In this showdown series for AL Central supremacy, a pair of veterans lock up in an effort to give their clubs momentum and an early edge. Justin Verlander and Jason Vargas both have struggled lately.
Mariners (Walker, 1-2) at Astros (Peacock, 4-8), 8:10 p.m. Preview
Taijuan Walker is a big part of the Mariners' impressive youth brigade, but it's the Seattle offense that needs to show it can deliver as the Mariners try to make a late move in the Wild Card race.
Reds (Holmberg, 1-1) at Cardinals (Lackey, 13-9), 8:15 p.m. Preview
The Pirates are keeping the heat on the NL Central-leading Redbirds, who are looking to John Lackey to give them the pressure performance they anticipated when they dealt for him.
Phillies (Buchanan, 6-7) at Athletics (Lester, 15-10), 9:35 p.m. Preview
The A's have to regroup to regain a hold on a Wild Card berth, and it's up to Jon Lester to contain the Phillies as the offense looks to get the offense rolling.
Giants (Hudson, 9-11) at Padres (Despaigne, 3-7), 10:10 p.m. Preview
Tim Hudson's recent struggles with command are a concern, but he's in the right park to find his groove with the Giants breathing down the Dodgers' necks in the NL West race.
• Watch the races on MLB.TV
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
AL East: Orioles clinched
AL Central: Tigers 11 over Royals
AL West: Angels clinched
AL Wild Card 1: Royals 10 over A's
AL Wild Card 2: A's 10 over Mariners
NL East: Nationals clinched
NL Central: Cardinals 8 over Pirates
NL West: Dodgers 8 over Giants
NL Wild Card 1: Giants 9 over Pirates
NL Wild Card 2: Pirates 7 over Brewers
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
• Tiebreaker rules
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com.