A's loss assures Sox of AL's best record

BALTIMORE -- For the Red Sox, this amounted to a free game. Just as they were preparing to play the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday night, word came that Oakland had lost in Seattle to the Mariners, 7-5.

That loss assured the Red Sox of finishing with the league's best overall record regardless of the outcome of their last two games here against the Orioles. The Sox began the night with a 97-63 record. The Athletics, who have lost three of their last four games, are now 95-66.

The importance of finishing with the best record in the league? It assures the Red Sox of home-field advantage not only in the AL Division Series, which begins Friday, but also in the ALCS. The American League won the All-Star Game, so that assures the Sox of home-field advantage in the World Series should they advance.

It also means the Sox will play the winner of the wild-card play-in game Wednesday, in the first round, while the Athletics open at home against the Detroit Tigers, winner of the AL Central.

The Sox will play one of three teams in the first round: the Indians, Rays or Rangers. The Indians won their season-best ninth game in a row Saturday and lead the wild-card race, a game ahead of the Rays and Rangers, who are tied at 90-71. If the Indians win Sunday, they are assured of one spot in Wednesday's wild-card play-in game. But the possibility still exists that the wild-card contenders could finish in a two-way or three-way tie, necessitating either an additional game on Monday (in event of a two-way tie) or games on Monday and Tuesday (if a three-way tie) ahead of Wednesday's wild-card showdown.

The Sox won 6 of 7 from the Indians during the regular season. They were 12-7 vs. the Rays, and 2-4 vs. the Rangers.

Against the teams already qualified for the AL playoffs, the Sox were 3-4 vs. the Tigers, 3-3 vs. the Athletics.

Starting times for the first two games of the division series have yet to be announced.