Three days in September

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
3:31
PM ET
BALTIMORE -- It’s the final three rounds of this heavyweight fight for the Boston Red Sox and they’ll either leave here with a chance to play October baseball or they’ll be down for the count.

Boston really does control its own destiny.

With only three games to play in the regular season against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the Sox’s lead in the AL wild card stands at one game over the Tampa Bay Rays. The AL East cellar dwelling Orioles would like nothing more than to play spoiler in an attempt to end the Sox’s postseason chances, while the Rays host the Yankees.

At first glance, the matchups would seem to favor the Red Sox over the Rays, but a closer look might make you question that assumption. The Orioles are 9-4 in their last 13 games, which includes taking three of four from the Red Sox at Fenway last week. The Sox will pitch Josh Beckett tonight, Erik Bedard on Tuesday and Jon Lester (5.96 ERA in September) on Wednesday (unless, of course, they’ve already clinched the wild card before then).

The Rays, meanwhile, face a Yankees team that will be getting its rest and lining up its rotation for the start of the playoffs. New York will pitch 24-year-old Hector Noesi, making his second major league start, tonight in Tampa Bay and will start Bartolo Colon (6.64 ERA in September) on Tuesday night. Wednesday’s starter is still TBA. Meanwhile, the Rays have their top pitchers lined up to face New York: James Shields (tonight), Jeremy Hellickson (Tuesday) and David Price (Wednesday).

Boston’s magic number to clinch is three, meaning any combination of wins or Rays losses totaling three will earn them a spot in October. If they take two of three against the Orioles, the Rays would need to sweep to force a one-game playoff on Thursday in St. Pete.

If the Sox take just one of three from the Orioles or worse? Look out ...

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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