We're well into October, and the drama that we've come to expect on a nightly basis has returned.
Remember the first few games of this year's postseason, several of which were over after the first few innings?
Well, one of Sunday's two games showed us once again, after Saturday night's thriller in Oakland, that things are tightening up on the Road to the World Series.
Teams are catching up to each other. The games are being won and lost by the timeliest of hits, the most perfectly placed pitches and crucial decision-making as the playoffs roll on.
Heading into Pittsburgh with the National League Division Series tied at 1-1, the St. Louis Cardinals ran into the unbelievable October setting that is PNC Park, ratcheted up even more, if possible, than it was for last week's NL Wild Card Game.
It was one to remember, too. The Pirates were up, 3-2, when postseason hero Carlos Beltran hit a game-tying solo home run in the eighth inning. It was Beltran's 16th career October homer, putting him ahead of Babe Ruth.
But the Pirates came right back and scored two runs in the bottom of the inning on a clutch base hit by Pedro Alvarez, and now the Bucs can clinch the series Tuesday for a trip to the NL Championship Series against the winner of the Dodgers-Braves set.
As Pirates outfielder and NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen tweeted, expect it to be a bit rowdy in the ballpark on Monday, too.
Turn down for what!!! Keep this city rockin! U already know what I'm going to say... #PNCBLACKOUT tomorrow! Lets win it at home!- andrew mccutchen (@TheCUTCH22) October 7, 2013
As for Pittsburgh, it seems 21 years away from the playoffs has been well worth the wait. The team is feeding off the energy in the stadium. The Cardinals need to overcome it to force a Game 5 back in St. Louis.
"It's been great," Alvarez said. "It's been a lot of fun. The atmosphere, the energy has been outstanding. And that's what you dream of -- to be able to play these type of caliber games at this time of year. And to do it here, you know, it's just been a lot of fun."
The Dodgers had a lot of fun on Sunday as well. On an evening in which Los Angeles and Atlanta both came out swinging the bats, the Dodgers pulled away to make it a 13-6 laugher and also have a chance to sew up the Division Series on Monday at home.
Hanley Ramirez continued his assault on Braves pitching, going 3-for-4 Sunday with an early double and an RBI triple that helped the Dodgers put up a four-run fourth inning that effectively put the game away.
Juan Uribe and Carl Crawford added homers, and the shaky start by rookie left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu was long forgotten by the time the last out was made. If the Dodgers can wrap it up Monday, they'll have four days to kick back in Hollywood and wait for the winner of the Pirates-Cardinals series to head out West.
"It was a total team effort today," Crawford said. "Guys were swinging the bats well, and that's what it's going to take -- 25 guys doing the job and coming together and playing well."
The Road to the World Series -- and the 2013 season -- gets its last four-game day on Monday, and it should be unforgettable.
Aside from both NL Division Series possibly ending, the Red Sox can wrap up an American League Division Series sweep if they take care of the Rays in St. Petersburg as the series shifts to Florida (6 p.m. ET on TBS).
For Tampa Bay, the good news is Alex Cobb will take the ball. He's been their best starter for the last two months of the season and in October, having already won an elimination game by beating the Indians in Cleveland in the AL Wild Card Game.
"You don't have time to think about the negativity or the what ifs that could come with a loss," Cobb said. "So once you're out in between the lines and the game starts going, it's all about then and now and working to get better and executing pitches."
As for Boston, manager John Farrell is too smart to allow his team to get overconfident, although starter Clay Buchholz went 12-1 this season and inspires plenty of positive feelings about how the game might go.
"I know our guys are eager to get on the field and look forward to the first pitch [Monday]," Farrell said. "And I think that's been a consistent approach that we've taken throughout the course of the year. We haven't gotten ahead of ourselves. We haven't carried on a thought or a feeling of what has taken place the night or the series before."
That feeling will go a long way for the Pirates and Dodgers, both of whom try to wrap things up Monday. The Pirates will start Charlie Morton against St. Louis rookie Michael Wacha (3 p.m. ET on TBS), and Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle was taking a similar mental approach to that of Farrell.
"Where it takes us, it will take us," Hurdle said. "We're focused on playing clean baseball. We're trying to play smart. We will always play hard. We try and play smart as well. We've worked extremely hard all season, so we're earning our way.
"You have to continue to earn your way here especially late in the postseason. Not much is given to you. We'll have an opportunity obviously ... to go out at home and win a ballgame. Obviously, if that happens, we'll be in a much better place moving forward."
And the Cardinals would be going home until 2014. Although St. Louis manager Mike Matheny remained optimistic after getting into the Game 3 hole.
"I've been very impressed how our club has bounced back whenever something hasn't gone exactly how we planned," Matheny said Sunday night. "They have a short memory. Right now, it hurts. They're going to sit on it for a little while. Tomorrow morning they'll be ready to go."
The Dodgers were ready to go Sunday and have to like their chances Monday night (9:30 ET/6:30 PT on TBS) with Ricky Nolasco on the mound. The Braves will try to get something magical from veteran Freddy Garcia to stay alive.
"You know what? It's one of those games and you forget about it," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Game 3. "I think if you look at the positive, I don't know what it was, a nine-run game in the ninth inning, they had to bring the closer in.
"So you always think that that's a good thing. We didn't roll over. We went out there and scored some runs, and they had to bring in [Kenley] Jansen. ... We'll build on that."
And that brings us to the A's and Tigers, who are embroiled in the tightest series so far. They're tied, 1-1, both games have been one-run nail-biters, and the series shifts to Detroit for two games, with Oakland right-hander Jarrod Parker set to take on Detroit righty Anibal Sanchez, who had the lowest ERA of any starter in the AL during the regular season.
Sanchez might have to be better than he has been all year, however, if the Tigers' offense doesn't improve Monday (1 p.m. ET on MLB Network). Detroit hasn't scored a run in the past 17 innings, although Parker isn't taking that for granted.
"I think you always expect that offense to be good," Parker said. "There's a reason that they've been good all year. You don't go into the game expecting them not to be who they are. So you just try to pitch to your strength and stay within yourself and pitch your game, and they're going to handle their stuff. And it's just baseball."
Detroit manager Jim Leyland, meanwhile, said he feels just as good with Sanchez as he did with his Nos. 1 and 2 aces, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, but he needs to see the bats get involved.
"Both teams are putting really good pitchers there all day," Leyland said Sunday. "And we just came back from playing two playoff games, and we're pitching a guy that lead the league in earned run average tomorrow, so that's pretty good.
"But at the same time ... we've got to get on the boards some. And I do want to emphasize how much I credit the pitching, but still, when you get to the postseason, you've got to be able to get some hits and put up a few runs any way against good pitching."
Today's Division Series games
A's (Parker) at Tigers (Sanchez), 1 p.m. ET Preview >
Cardinals (Wacha) at Pirates (Morton), 3 p.m. ET Preview >
Red Sox (Buchholz) at Rays (Cobb), 6 p.m. ET Preview >
Braves (Garcia) at Dodgers (Nolasco), 9:30 p.m. ET Preview >
2013 MLB POSTSEASON MATCHUPS
Division Series: Rays at Red Sox | Tigers at A's
Division Series: Pirates at Cardinals | Dodgers at Braves
2013 postseason schedule
NL Division Series
Game 1: Cardinals 9, Pirates 1
Game 2: Pirates 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Pirates 5, Cardinals 3, Pirates lead series, 2-1
Game 4: Cardinals at Pirates, Monday, 3 p.m. ET
Game 5*: Pirates at Cardinals, Wednesday, 5 p.m. ET
* - if necessary
Game 1: Dodgers 6, Braves 1
Game 2: Braves 4, Dodgers 3
Game 3: Dodgers 13, Braves 6, Dodgers lead series, 2-1
Game 4: Braves at Dodgers, Monday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Game 5*: Dodgers at Braves, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET
* - if necessary
AL Division Series
Game 1: Red Sox 12, Rays 2
Game 2: Red Sox 7, Rays 4, Red Sox lead series, 2-0
Game 3: Red Sox at Rays, Monday, 6 p.m. ET
Game 4*: Red Sox at Rays, Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 5*: Rays at Red Sox, Thursday, 5:30 p.m. ET
* - if necessary
Game 1: Tigers 3, A's 2
Game 2: A's 1, Tigers 0, Series tied, 1-1
Game 3: A's at Tigers, Monday, 1 p.m. ET
Game 4: A's at Tigers, Tuesday, 5 p.m. ET
Game 5*: Tigers at A's, Thursday, 9 p.m. ET
* - if necessary
NL Championship Series begins: Friday
AL Championship Series begins: Saturday
World Series begins: Oct. 23