The Baltimore Orioles would certainly prefer to go into the playoffs as division champions and not having to play a one-game playoff as a wild card team.
The Orioles enter Sunday tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East. Baltimore hosts the Boston Red Sox, who will try to avoid a 90th loss of the season in the conclusion of this three-game series.
The O's haven't made the playoffs since 1997, but are inching closer to the postseason. Their magic number to secure at least a wild card berth is two. They hold a one-game edge on Oakland for the AL's No. 1 wild card berth and are 3 1/2 games up on the Los Angeles Angels in the standings.
Last night, rookie Manny Machado smacked a tie-breaking solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning in a 4-3 victory.
"It's coming down to the end, it's what we play for," Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "We're here having fun, just going out, believing we can win every game. It definitely shows. You get a bunch of no-name guys here just having a good time."
Machado sent a 1-1 pitch from Red Sox starter Felix Doubront into the left- field seats to open Baltimore's half of the seventh to snap a 3-3 deadlock.
"They've done a great job with their young third baseman," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Machado. "He beat us tonight, just played excellent defense."
After relievers Brian Matusz and Darren O'Day combined to retire the side in order in the eighth, Jim Johnson tossed a 1-2-3 ninth to notch his MLB-best 49th save.
Machado added an RBI single earlier in the night as part of a 2-for-3 performance at the plate, while Chris Davis went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer.
The Orioles will be scoreboard watching today. New York dropped a 3-2 verdict to Toronto on Saturday and the teams conclude their series at Rogers Centre. After today, Baltimore finishes with three games against Tampa Bay on the road, while the Yankees host the Red Sox.
Joe Saunders, who is 0-2 over his last three starts, gets the mound assignment today for the Orioles. The left-hander holds a 4-2 mark with a 4.17 ERA in nine games against the Red Sox.
Boston, which hasn't lost at least 90 games since 1966, will send Zach Stewart to the mound. The righty, who turned 26 two days ago, will make his second start as a Red Sox. Stewart was traded from the Chicago White Sox on June 24 in the deal that sent Kevin Youkilis to the Windy City.
Stewart has been shelled in his last two appearances to the tune of 19 hits and 15 runs over 8 2/3 innings in losses to the Angels and Cubs.
Baltimore took two of three from the Red Sox last weekend and is 12-5 against them this season.