WASHINGTON - Major League Baseball's regular season wrapped up on Sunday with the league taking a scheduling page out of international soccer's playbook.
All of the games across the United States were scheduled at the same time to avoid having a situation in which a team in playoff contention competing in a later game might utilize different starters depending on how an earlier game ended.
Last season, on the final day when the St. Louis Cardinals learned they'd clinched their division title because of a loss by the team chasing them, they rested their best pitcher so he could start their first playoff game. That could not have happened on Sunday.
And indeed drama played out.
In the American League, the Texas Rangers clinched the West Division and ended the playoff hopes of the Los Angeles Angels by beating the Angels 9-2. That also assured the Houston Astros a wild card playoff berth, even though they lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3. Houston maintained its one-game edge over Los Angeles as both lost.
The other A.L. wild card team, the New York Yankees, will host Houston in a one-game playoff Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. The winner advances to a Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, who won the Central Division and finished with the best record in the American League (95-67). The Royals lost last year's World Series to the San Francisco Giants, who failed to make the playoffs this season.
The other best-of-five A.L. Division Series will feature Texas against the Toronto Blue Jays, who won the East Division and are making their first playoff appearance since 1993, when they also won the World Series.
While the division champions and five playoff berths in the National League already had been decided before the final regular season games, the all-important home field for the one-game wild card playoff contest had not.
The Chicago Cubs began the day trailing Pittsburgh by one game and beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 for their eighth straight win. But shortly afterward, Pittsburgh completed a 4-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds to maintain its advantage and earn the right to play Chicago at home Wednesday night. The winner of that game will take on the Central champion St. Louis Cardinals in a Division Series. The Cardinals finished with the best record in either league at 100-62.
The other N.L. Division Series starting later in the week will feature the East champion New York Mets against the West champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Division Series winners advance to the best-of-seven League Championship Series, with those winners reaching the best-of-seven World Series.
As for noteworthy individual achievements on the final day, Los Angeles Dodgers star pitcher Clayton Kershaw became the first player to strike out 300 or more batters in a season in 13 years. He's only the second Dodger to do that after the great Sandy Koufax did it three times in the 1960s.
A player who is a near-certain future Hall of Famer, Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki, finally got his wish of pitching in a Major League game Sunday. He threw one inning for the Miami Marlins and gave up one run on two doubles. His fastball reached as high as 87 miles per hour (140 kph).
The outfielder, who turns 42 later this month, had long lobbied his managers in both the Japanese League and Major League Baseball to give him a chance to throw from the mound in a regular season game. Although he was a successful pitcher for his high school in Japan, his only professional appearance previously as a pitcher was in the 1997 Japanese League All-Star game when he faced one batter and got him out.
Ichiro played nine seasons in Japan and just completed his 15th Major League season.