Pitch by pitch, the playoffs are built

Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees won the AL East with an emphatic 14-2 victory over their hapless archrivals Wednesday on the final day of the regular season. From the Red Sox to the postseason, the Yankees will begin postseason play Sunday at either Baltimore or Texas. Enlarge photo

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees won the AL East with an emphatic 14-2 victory over their hapless archrivals Wednesday on the final day of the regular season. From the Red Sox to the postseason, the Yankees will begin postseason play Sunday at either Baltimore or Texas.

A dropped fly ball by Josh Hamilton, a home run from Ryan Zimmerman, and pitch by pitch the baseball playoff picture became completely clear on the final day of the regular season.

“Now the real season starts,” New York Yankees star Derek Jeter said Wednesday night.

The playoffs will begin Friday with a pair of winner-take-all wild-card matchups. The defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals will visit Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves in the NL, then Baltimore will play at Texas in the new expanded format.

On Saturday, the newly crowned AL West champion Oakland Athletics will face Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and the Tigers in Detroit to open the best-of-five division series.

That night, Johnny Cueto will start for Cincinnati against Matt Cain and host San Francisco in Game 1 of the NL division series.

The low-budget A’s clinched their unlikely title, trumping Texas 12-5 by taking advantage of Hamilton’s error. Trailing by 13 games a week before the All-Star break, the A’s overcame a four-run deficit Wednesday to relegate the Rangers to a wild-card spot.

“It shows how important Game 162 is,” Oakland designated hitter Jonny Gomes said. “I don’t think it took 162 games to check the character of this ballclub.”

The Yankees claimed the AL East a few hours later. They began celebrating in the dugout during the seventh inning when the scoreboard showed second-place Baltimore had lost 4-1 to Tampa Bay, thanks to three home runs by Evan Longoria.

Jeter, a five-time World Series champion, and the Yankees put an emphatic end on their finish, routing rival Boston 14-2.

The Yankees hold home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs and will open Sunday at either Baltimore or Texas.

Zimmerman and the Washington Nationals beat Philadelphia 5-1 to earn home-field advantage all the way through November, if necessary.

Atlanta’s Kris Medlen will throw the first pitch of this year’s playoffs, and Kyle Lohse will start for defending World Series champion St. Louis.

Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
The bubble burst on Adam Jones and the Baltimore Orioles’ bid to win the AL East on the final day of the regular season. They were relegated to the wild card after a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday. Enlarge photo

Chris O’Meara/Associated Press The bubble burst on Adam Jones and the Baltimore Orioles’ bid to win the AL East on the final day of the regular season. They were relegated to the wild card after a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.

Grant Balfour, Derek Norris and the Oakland Athletics completed an unlikely run to the AL West championship. They were 13 games down before the All-Star break, then swept the Texas Rangers in a three-game series to finish the regular season and their surprise comeback. Enlarge photo

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Grant Balfour, Derek Norris and the Oakland Athletics completed an unlikely run to the AL West championship. They were 13 games down before the All-Star break, then swept the Texas Rangers in a three-game series to finish the regular season and their surprise comeback.

Chris Lee/St. Louis Post Dispatch
In a whirlwind finish to the regular season, Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals became the final team to clinch a berth in the MLB postseason. Carpenter and the defending World Series champions lost Tuesday night, but so did the Dodgers, giving the Cardinals the second wild-card playoff position. Enlarge photo

Chris Lee/St. Louis Post Dispatch In a whirlwind finish to the regular season, Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals became the final team to clinch a berth in the MLB postseason. Carpenter and the defending World Series champions lost Tuesday night, but so did the Dodgers, giving the Cardinals the second wild-card playoff position.