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Tie goes to the Rays

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  September 18, 2008 12:05 AM

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The schedule will tell you the Red Sox left Tampa Bay last night with 10 games remaining, so anything can happen. The reality is that the Sox, who dropped a 10-3 decision to the Rays, received a significant blow in their attempt to repeat as American League East champions.

Here's why:

According to major league procedures, any tie between two playoff teams is broken by assessing head-to-head play during the regular season. (There is no point in having a one-game playoff if both the Sox and Rays will continue into October.) Prior to last night, Tampa held a 9-8 advantage over the Sox this season, which meant the game was worth two games in the standings instead of one.

For example: With Tuesday's 2-1 win, the Rays improved to 89-60, one game ahead of the Sox (89-62). With the victory last night, the Rays extended the lead to two games in the standings with a week and a half to play. Because the Rays now hold the tiebreaking advantage over the Sox, the only way Boston could win the AL East would be to make up three games in the standings and finish a full game ahead of Tampa in the division.

Understand? The tie goes to the Rays here. Before last night's win, Tampa already held a two-game advantage in the loss column. (This means Tampa would have to lose four more games than the Red Sox before season's end - not likely.)

Three years ago, for what it's worth, the Sox had a similar scenario with the Yankees and came out on the short end. When the Indians faded down the stretch, both the Sox and Yankees were assured of playoff positions. Because the Yankees held tiebreaking advantages over the Sox, New York was crowned the division winner even though both clubs finished 95-67.

Boston has six divisional games left (three in Toronto this weekend and three against the Yankees at Fenway Park to finish the regular season next weekend), while Tampa Bay has four (at Baltimore next week).

If the Red Sox end up overtaking the Rays, they would open the playoffs at home against the AL Central champion while the Rays would go to Anaheim to face the West champion Angels.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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