- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A startling triple play. A spirited comeback. Huge hits by a rookie _ a Yale philosophy major, at that _ and monumental collapses on the brink.

After six months, 161 games and more than a half-million pitches, the playoff picture was still a blur with one day to go. Boston, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and St. Louis, desperate to play a little longer.

In fact, they did.

The Rays made an amazing rally from a seven-run deficit Wednesday night, tying the New York Yankees on pinch-hitter Dan Johnson’s solo homer with two outs in the ninth inning. The Braves went to extras, too, when Philadelphia nicked closer Craig Kimbrel for a run in the ninth.

Talk about a fantastic, frenzied finish, more than anyone in the majors could’ve asked for. And it’s not even October yet.

“I think it’s really good for baseball,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “Not so good for my stomach.”

The regular season was supposed to wrap up Wednesday, but surely many fans were rooting for bonus baseball. In both leagues, the possibility loomed.

Boston and the Rays went into the final day even for the AL wild-card spot, the Braves and Cardinals were deadlocked for the NL wild-card berth. If they stayed that way, the slots would be decided with one-game tiebreakers Thursday in Tampa Bay at 4:07 p.m. EDT and in St. Louis at 8:07 p.m.

Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals struck first, winning 8-0 at Houston. The Red Sox, meanwhile, took a slim lead and waited out a rain delay at Baltimore.

Having fun, guys?

“It’s like living out a bad dream,” Braves star Chipper Jones said.

A few weeks ago, there didn’t seem to be a single race left.

The Red Sox held a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay on the morning of Sept. 4. The Braves were 10 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis before play on Aug. 26.

“It’s kind of fed us here the last few days, 120 years of baseball and this is one of those historic runs to tie,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

This is the third time in the wild-card era where a pair of playoff spots were open going into the last day, STATS LLC said. In 1995, the Angels, Yankees, Astros and Rockies were still competing; in 2005, the Indians, Red Sox, Phillies and Astros were in play.

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