- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

Just when it looked as though the playoff picture might remain muddled for days, everything was settled on the final afternoon of the regular season.

The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros wrapped up the wild cards yesterday, clinching the final two major league playoff spots. All the matchups were set for the 2005 postseason, starting tomorrow with the NL West champion San Diego Padres playing in St. Louis at 1:09p.m.

Houston will open Wednesday in Atlanta against the NL East champion Braves, coming off their 14th consecutive division title. It’s a rematch of their first-round series last year, won by Roger Clemens and the Astros in five games.

“I’m very thankful. It was some rocky roads, roller-coaster rides throughout the season,” pitcher Andy Pettitte said after a 6-4 victory over the Cubs allowed Houston to finish one game ahead of Philadelphia.

The Phillies did all they could to force a tiebreaker playoff, beating Washington 9-3 for a weekend sweep, but still fell short.

Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez and the Red Sox earned the American League wild-card berth for the third consecutive season, the same spot that started them toward their first World Series championship in 86 years. In fact, a wild-card team has won the past three titles.

The defending champs clinched when Cleveland, the only other team that had a shot at the wild card, lost 3-1 at home to the White Sox, who swept the three-game series. The defeat concluded a crushing final week for the young Indians (93-69), who dropped six of their last seven games.

“We ended like we started,” closer Bob Wickman said in a somber Cleveland clubhouse. “We came up one [day] short. But the guys should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

Boston’s first-round series against the AL Central champion White Sox starts tomorrow at 4:09p.m. in Chicago. The White Sox finished with the best record in the league at 99-63 and will be trying to win their first postseason series since the 1917 World Series.

The New York Yankees, who clinched their eighth straight AL East title Saturday at Fenway Park, travel to Anaheim to play the AL West champion Los Angeles Angels beginning tomorrow at 8:19p.m. The Angels beat the Yankees in the 2002 division series en route to their only World Series championship.

The Angels earned home-field advantage in the series by virtue of a 7-4 victory in Texas yesterday and New York’s 10-1 loss in Boston. Los Angeles and New York both finished 95-67, and the Angels won the season series between the teams.

“I think we accomplished what we wanted to by getting guys rested and getting home field,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Everything had to fall in place perfectly, and it looks like it did.”

All first-round series are a best-of-five.

After Boston’s win over the Yankees at Fenway, the outfield scoreboards posted matching messages, one congratulating the Yankees and one congratulating the Red Sox.

Turned out, there was no need for a tiebreaker — or two, for that matter.

Just a day before, the AL pennant race was so jumbled that it looked as though the first double tiebreaker playoff in major league history might be necessary.

“I think it’s what a lot of people expected at the beginning of the season, us and Boston back in the playoffs,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said.

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