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Despite wild finishes, AL Wild Card unchanged

With only one weekend left and only one race playing out under October-or-bust implications, the final innings of the 2013 regular season approach.

As always, there's a good dose of suspense with the 2,430-game marathon drawing to a close and an opportunity for a World Series title up for grabs as the Pulse of the Postseason ticks toward October.

The American League Wild Card, only days ago a thrilling match with six teams vying for two spots, is down to a three-team race -- and only two will earn the right to play in October. The National League Central title is one Cardinals win away from landing in St. Louis again, but the Pirates and Reds continue to jockey in a race that has been neck-and-neck-and-neck for months.

On Thursday, the Rays moved a step closer to a postseason spot, winning on a night one of the all-time great Yankees took an emotional bow, but their pursuers -- the Indians and Rangers -- both continued to stay just enough on their heels entering the final weekend.

Tampa Bay racked up a 4-0 victory over the Yankees, with Alex Cobb continuing a breakout season and Evan Longoria delivering three RBIs for a sweep and a well-timed seven-game winning streak. It knocked the Rays' magic number for a Wild Card spot to two, meaning their fate is in their hands as they head to Toronto for three games.

But, regardless of the standings, the spotlight was on Mariano Rivera, the all-time saves leader who made his last appearance in the Bronx for the Yankees. After Sandman entered one last time, decades-long teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte made his last exit uniquely poignant.

Oh, and that was win No. 90 for Tampa Bay, marking the fourth consecutive season the Rays have hit that threshold. That will be the longest such streak in the Major Leagues unless the Rangers win 90 as well.

"That's outstanding, it's a great tribute to the entire organization from top to bottom," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

That other 90-win team since 2010? The Rangers, who kept the race a race with a thriller at home against the Angels, Jurickson Profar providing the walk-off heroics in a 6-5 win that keeps the Rangers right in the AL Wild Card hunt. The win marked victory No. 88 on the year for Texas.

This Rangers club might be a bit different than the ones that went to the World Series two straight years before their 2012 one-and-done postseason appearance. But it's a club that has players that have been down this road before.

"We know what's at stake," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We're in the fight every night and we showed what we're made of tonight."

The status quo already had been sealed with the Indians holding on for dear life for a win at Minnesota, as Chris Perez struggled for the second straight outing. Joe Smith finished it off, and the Indians moved forward in the Wild Card race, still holding that precious second spot by one game over the Rangers.

The quest to settle the AL's top record remained the same with both the Red Sox and the A's idle, and the NL Central clubs all took a day of rest as well.

In the NL, the Braves brought themselves into a tie with the Cardinals for the best record and home-field advantage in the NLDS, beating the Phillies, 7-1. With the Dodgers losing, 3-2, at San Francisco, Los Angeles won't be grabbing that top seed.

* * *

Playoff positioning and one open American League spot is on the menu today as the Pulse of the Postseason heads into the final weekend of the season.

Nowhere will pulses be racing more than in Cincinnati, with the final head-to-head meeting between the Reds and the Pirates taking center stage as October becomes closer to reality.

The Pirates hold a one-game lead over the Reds as the National League Central rivals begin what will be a decisive series for the NL's postseason setup.

"We're still focused on the opportunity to win the division," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

But, then, all the Cardinals need to do is win just one of their games in a three-game set with the Cubs to clinch their first NL Central title since 2009, and they continue to show up ready for anything.

"A fight's a fight," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "It feels like we're in a fight. We show up here every day excited and anxious."

The Cardinals remain in the battle for the NL's best record, tied with the Braves as Atlanta continues a four-game series vs. Philadelphia at Turner Field. The Braves own the tiebreaker with St. Louis after winning the season series, 4-3.

In the AL, the Red Sox have a two-game lead over the A's in the race for that league's top seed, with Boston heading to Baltimore and Oakland finishing up at Seattle.

But it's the AL Wild Card race that remains up the air more than anything, with the Rays holding a one-game lead as they start up in Toronto, the Indians holding the second Wild Card spot as they continue their series at Minnesota, and the Rangers trying to make up a game in the second of a four-game home set with the Angels.

Friday's key games to watch (all times ET)

Red Sox (Buchholz, 11-1) at Orioles (Feldman, 12-11), 7:05 p.m. Preview >

Rays (Hellickson, 12-9) at Blue Jays (Dickey, 13-13), 7:07 p.m. Preview >

Tigers (Alvarez, 1-4) at Marlins (Koehler, 4-10), 7:10 p.m. Preview >

Pirates (Burnett, 9-11) at Reds (Bailey, 11-11), 7:10 p.m. Preview >

Phillies (Lee, 14-7) at Braves (Medlen, 14-12), 7:30 p.m. Preview >

Angels (Wilson, 17-7) at Rangers (Ogando, 7-4), 8:05 p.m. Preview >

Indians (Kluber, 10-5) at Twins (Hernandez, 3-2), 8:10 p.m. Preview >

Cubs (Wood, 9-11) at Cardinals (Lynn, 14-10), 8:15 p.m. Preview >

Rockies (McHugh, 0-3) at Dodgers (Kershaw, 15-9), 10:10 p.m. Preview >

A's (Colon, 17-6) at Mariners (Hernandez, 12-9), 10:10 p.m. Preview >

If the postseason started today ...

Wild Card: Indians at Rays
Division Series: Wild Card at Red Sox^ | Tigers^ at A's^

Wild Card: Reds* at Pirates*
Division Series: Wild Card at Braves^ | Dodgers^ at Cardinals*

* - clinched postseason spot

^ - clinched division

Postseason 101

Magic numbers
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.

Tiebreaker scenarios
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 division record is tied, then intraleague 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. If division record is tied, then intraleague record will be the next tiebreaker.

Tiebreaker rules »

2013 postseason schedule

NL Wild Card Game: Tuesday
AL Wild Card Game: Wednesday
NL Division Series begin: Oct. 3
AL Division Series begin: Oct. 4
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23

John Schlegel is a national reporter for