NEW YORK — When the New York Yankees came back to win in dramatic fashion over the Boston Red Sox Sunday night, they did more than just shave their magic number for a playoff berth down to one.
They also made the job of mathematicians and scenario-creators much easier.
Long story short, if Jonathan Papelbon was anything like his former lights-out self, the Red Sox would have a fighting chance to make this week feel very circa-2004.
Alas, the Yankees avoided the sweep and likely erased any miracle on 161st street talk.
However, that’s not to say the final week of the 2010 regular season will be void of any drama in the confines of the American League East.
With a division title and the home-field advantage that accompanies it up for grabs, the Toronto Blue Jays have been given a lead role by the MLB schedule makers.
Well, perhaps a supporting role, as the other team standing in the way of a postseason hosted in the Bronx is the Tampa Bay Rays who hold a minuscule half game lead over New York.
Either way, both teams have all but reserved a seat at the playoff table.
The Yankees can make that RSVP official with one more win or a Red Sox loss.
Beginning Monday night, the Jays host the Yankees for a crucial three-game set with the hopes of dashing any aspirations the Bombers might have for an 18th AL East pennant and their 12th in the last 15 years.
Although the Yankees are known for priding themselves on World Series titles more than anything else, don’t think for a minute being crowned East champs isn’t at the forefront of their minds.
“We’re still trying to win our division,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News prior to Sunday night’s game. “We’re still trying to get into the playoffs. We’re still trying to get home field advantage.”
But in order to help make their goals a reality, the Yankees will have to beat a streaking Jays club with nothing to play for but pride. Toronto has won four in a row and seven of its past 10, including three-straight series wins.
Furthermore, the Yankees will have to do so in the Rogers Centre where the Jays have played their best baseball this season.
With former Blue Bird A.J. Burnett (10-14, 5.05 ERA) scheduled to open the series against lefty Marc Rzepczynski (2-4, 5.75 ERA), expect Jays’ hitters — who are just three homers shy of matching their single-season record of 244 set in 2000 — to be in pounce-mode against the inconsistent righty.
Led by Jose Bautista and his MLB-best 52 homers, Toronto will look to beat up on a pitcher, in Burnett, who is 0-2 with a 7.27 ERA in three starts against his former club this season.
Despite the Yankees’ dominance over the rest of the league this year, the Jays have played them tough, winning eight of the 15 meetings between the two teams.
That said, general manager Brian Cashman is confident where his team is right now heading into a pivotal series north of the border.
“We’re making the playoffs,” Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com. “We plan to do a lot of damage, and we’re going to try to run the table.”
Just don’t expect the Jays to set it for them.