There are 31 days between now and the postseason, and with each day of the regular season's final stretch comes the promise of something extraordinary, something that transforms a race or two, often in the blink of an eye.
On Thursday, that something happened on a sun-splashed field in Detroit.
The rafters at Comerica Park might still be ringing Friday night when the Indians arrive in Motown for their American League Central showdown with the Tigers, thanks to Torii Hunter's walk-off heroics Thursday. The defending AL champs are off the schneid and have a 6 1/2-game lead over the second-place Indians after erasing a six-run deficit against the A's on Thursday, the final blow Hunter's three-run blast off closer Grant Balfour.
"Baseball is a crazy game. Anything can happen," Hunter said. "As long as you have outs left, anything can happen, and we had some outs left, and we were able to capitalize on them."
Hunter's heroic homer was just part of a day that kept things moving and shaking in the final days of August. This weekend, the NL Central lead will be in the balance at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and the two AL Wild Card leaders will square off in Oakland, among other series with postseason implications.
The Pulse of the Postseason is beating loudly as we turn the corner toward September, and Thursday was only the latest chapter. The day in review:
For the Tigers, Thursday began with their starter, Max Scherzer, seeking his 20th win. But Scherzer's day would be over early after he allowed six runs (five earned) in five innings, and it looked like the Tigers were headed for a four-game sweep at the hands of the visiting A's for the first time since 2001.
But Prince Fielder went deep in the sixth, Victor Martinez knocked in a run in the ninth and Hunter did the rest. Cue the chaos.
As @tigers tweeted when the ball went flying ...
TORII HUNTER!!! #TIGERS WIN!!!- Detroit Tigers (@tigers) August 29, 2013
CAN YOU SAY WOW????- Detroit Tigers (@tigers) August 29, 2013
Although the Tigers got a bit of a scare with Miguel Cabrera coming out of the game with abdominal pain, Hunter continued to carve his key niche with the club as he seeks his first World Series ring.
"People say, 'Oh, he's 38 now and he's going to lose it,' " Hunter said in a postgame interview with MLB Network, then going into pro wrestler mode. "I'm a five-tool player. I'm an athlete. I won't lose it until I'm 40-plus. And when I lose it, I'm out of the game. I'll leave when I want to. How about that?"
While the A's were absorbing a tough defeat in Detroit, the Rays were unable to get anything going themselves, so the two Wild Card leaders remain separated by a half-game heading into a weekend meeting in Oakland.
The Angels and Jason Vargas claimed a 2-0 victory at Tropicana Field, handing the Rays their first home-series loss since June and fourth loss in their last five games as they headed west in seasonal attire.
Tweeted Joe Maddon @RaysJoeMaddon:
The whole day reeked of frustration. But we will put our college football jerseys on, board the plane and prepare for Oakland.- Joe Maddon (@RaysJoeMaddon) August 29, 2013
Also in the afternoon, the Royals finished off a sweep at Minnesota that moved them to within six games of the second Wild Card slot, taking a 3-1 victory.
When the night games arrived, the Indians knew they'd have to win to keep up with the Tigers heading into the weekend series. But they wound up on the wrong end of a 3-1 decision at Atlanta, the Braves wrapping up a three-game sweep. While the Nationals might be 13 games behind the Braves in the NL East, they managed to gain a half-game in the Wild Card race at 6 1/2 games with a 9-0 defeat of the Marlins, as the Reds were idle Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the Pirates were dealt a 4-0 home loss at the hands of the Brewers, putting them one full game behind the idle Cardinals as they head to town for a series that will decide the division lead heading into September. The Bucs are 2 1/2 ahead of the Reds in the Wild Card race, with another six games to the closest pursuer, the D-backs.
The final game of the night with postseason implications featured the Orioles staving off what would have been a rough déjà vu from the night before. This time, they had a 3-2 lead into the late innings and still had it when it was over, Jim Johnson retiring the side in the ninth to avert the sweep.
The win left the Orioles at 6 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, and closed their gap in the Wild Card race to 3 1/2 games. They're negotiating with a couple of clubs after winning claims on Minnesota's Josh Willingham and Seattle's Mike Morse, and they maintain there's a lot of time to make up ground.
As Orioles manager Buck Showalter is fond of saying, "September is an eternity."
Friday's key games to watch (all times ET)
Orioles (Gonzalez, 8-6) at Yankees (Sabathia, 11-11), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
The Yankees are coming off a 2-4 road trip, standing at eight games out in the AL East and five out in the Wild Card.
Mets (Gee, 9-9) at Nationals (Zimmermann, 15-7), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
The Nationals are lurking in the National League Wild Card race, but three of Gee's wins have come against Washington.
Cardinals (Miller, 12-8) at Pirates (Liriano, 14-6), 7:05 p.m. Preview >
A prime-time pitching matchoff kicks off the NL Central showdown. The Pirates lead the season series 8-5, including a 5-2 record in Pittsburgh.
Royals (Santana, 8-7) at Blue Jays (Buehrle, 10-7), 7:07 p.m. Preview >
The Royals have won five straight, and they're hoping to keep it going against another team that made big offseason noise but with lesser results.
Indians (McAllister, 7-7) at Tigers (Porcello, 10-7), 7:08 p.m. Preview >
Neither team has lit it up this week so far, but this is an opportunity for both -- the Tigers to bring the AL Central title a little closer, the Indians to make hay in two races.
White Sox (Santiago, 4-7) at Red Sox (Dempster, 6-9), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
The Red Sox remain 2 1/2 ahead of the Rays as the other Sox visit Fenway.
Marlins (Fernandez, 10-5) at Braves (Teheran, 10-7), 7:30 p.m. Preview >
The Braves are the best home team in the Majors at 47-18 and have won 16 of their last 19 at Turner Field.
Twins (Hendriks, 0-2) at Rangers (Darvish, 12-5), 8:10 p.m. Preview >
After an off-day Thursday, the Rangers begin a homestand that also includes a visit from the A's, currently three games behind them in the AL West.
Reds (Arroyo, 13-9) at Rockies (Manship, 0-4), 8:40 p.m. Preview >
Idle on Thursday, the Reds -- 3 1/2 back in the NL Central, six ahead as the second Wild Card -- turn to their cagey veteran Bronson Arroyo to set the tone at Coors Field.
Giants (Lincecum, 7-13) at D-backs (Delgado, 4-4), 9:40 p.m. Preview >
With the defending World Series champs relegated to a spoiler role, the D-backs have deficits of 9 1/2 in the NL West and six games in the Wild Card race.
Rays (Price, 8-5) at Athletics (Parker, 10-6), 10:05 p.m. Preview >
This series is good news for teams pursuing the 1-2 horses in the Wild Card race, because one of them has to lose at least twice this weekend.
Padres (Stults, 8-11) at Dodgers (Ryu, 12-5), 10:10 p.m. Preview >
As Hyun-Jin Ryu continues a stellar rookie campaign and Yasiel Puig intrigue continues, the Dodgers take a 21-6 August record into this one.
If the postseason started today ...
Wild Card: A's at Rays
Division Series: Wild Card at Rangers | Tigers at Red Sox
Wild Card: Reds at Pirates
Division Series: Wild Card at Braves | Cardinals at Dodgers
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then division record will be the next tiebreaker.
2013 postseason schedule
Wild Card playoff games: Oct. 1
World Series begins: Oct. 23
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.