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It may take a long time for Jonathan Papelbon and his Boston Red Sox teammates to wipe away the memory of their September collapse.
It may take a long time for Jonathan Papelbon and his Boston Red Sox teammates to wipe away the memory of their September collapse.

Drama pays off to Major League Baseball's play-offs

Nice how things have wrapped up for Major League Baseball as it took several teams all 162 of their regular season games to reach the play-offs.

Pretty neat way to warm up for the play-offs, huh?

A bench warmer, with a .108 batting average on the season, saves Tampa Bay. A US$142 million (Dh521.5m) star lets it slip away for Boston.

A rookie closer falters in Atlanta.

An ace delivers for St Louis.

The play-offs start Friday in North America, and a mouth-watering match-up is already set for Yankee Stadium.

Justin Verlander, having won the pitchers' Triple Crown by leading the AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts, starts for Detroit against New York's CC Sabathia at 8.37pm local time.

A few hours earlier, the best-of-five match-up between the wild card Rays and Rangers opens in Texas.

Jeff Niemann pitches for Tampa Bay against CJ Wilson.

The NL brackets begin Saturday.

Roy Halladay is lined up to start for the Phillies when they host the wild card Cardinals, and Arizona and ace Ian Kennedy visit Yovani Gallardo and Milwaukee.

"It's good to finally know who we're playing," Kirk Gibson, the Diamondbacks manager, said.

Nice how things have wrapped up, too, under the current post-season format - next year, it is expected that each league will produce a pair of wild card teams. Going into the last day of this regular season, no one was quite sure who they would be facing, and Wild Card Wednesday lived up to its billing, and then some.

Fans needed three televisions to see how it all turned out, and minute by minute, inning by inning, the races took shape.

One out to go, one strike to go.

Then, it all fell apart.

When Evan Longoria hit his second home run of the game, connecting after midnight at Tropicana Field in the 12th inning to lift the Rays over the Yankees 8-7, everything was all set.

It is not even October yet.

"We talk about playing meaningful games in September so you can get to October," said Ron Roenicke, the Brewers manager.

"Once you get into October, it's really fun to see who is going to be that guy who steps up and lights that moment where it's on him. You see it every year - somebody steps up big you don't think is going to. Those are special times."

Certainly, Dan Johnson was not on anyone's hit list to make a huge impact. But after the Rays rallied from a seven-run deficit and made it 7-6, it was his turn.

With two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, he launched a pinch-hit homer to tie it, and the Rays went on to win, leaving the Red Sox all winter to lament how they lost.

Boston held a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay on the morning of September 4, but lost 20 of their last 27 games to become the first team to miss the post-season after holding that large of an edge entering September.

Jonathan Papelbon, the closer, took a 3-2 lead into the ninth at Camden Yards and struck out the first two batters. Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold followed with doubles that tied it, and Robert Andino hit a single that the sliding left fielder Carl Crawford - signed to that $142m deal in the off-season - could not quite snag. The Baltimore Orioles won 4-3.

The ball that escaped Crawford was much harder to field than the one that rolled under Bill Buckner's glove against the Mets in the 1986 World Series so many years ago, but no doubt Red Sox fans will cringe at the memory of both.

The Cardinals made it easy on themselves as Chris Carpenter pitched them to an 8-0 win at Houston. An hour or so later, St Louis were in the play-offs when the Braves blew it. Philadelphia nicked closer Craig Kimbrel for a tying run in the ninth and won 4-3 in the 13th at Turner Field.

"This is tough," said Brian McCann, the Braves catcher. "This is one of the worst feelings I've ever had coming off a baseball field."

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