As days go by, AL races get hotter
Whether it's the East, Central or West, divisions tightening up
BOSTON -- The American League's top guns buried another day on Sunday, and Julian Tavarez and Orlando Cabrera may have even buried the hatchet.The days may be dwindling, but plenty remain, full of drama and head-butting contenders. One day, it's Los Angeles-Boston and Detroit-New York. The next, it's Los Angeles-New York and Detroit-Cleveland. One set of eyes on each other, another on the scoreboard. It's that time. The hundreds of fans milling on Yawkey Way, in the habitual game day street fair adjacent to Fenway Park, had their attention seriously divided between what was transpiring inside the park and across the bank of video screens in a souvenir shop window. "Hey, hey, the Tigers just tied up the Yankees!" went up the cry, closely followed by, "The Tigers took the lead!" Oddly, these neo-town criers quieted down as the Yankees pulled away to a 9-3 win in the Bronx. Meanwhile, the Angels won, 3-1, over the Red Sox to keep both races tight. And the tightest of them all is the Central. Under such circumstances, the expiration of one day certainly didn't seem very significant. Indeed, the managers of the two teams here didn't want to hear about having survived a day closer to their goals. Apparently, when it comes to raging division races, there really is no time like the present. "Oh, I have a lot of trouble with that," Boston's Terry Francona said of the suggestion that his East-leading Red Sox had crossed another week off the schedule with a 4-3 homestand. "What is it? August whatever? Maybe time is running out if you're in Pony League somewhere ... because you have to go back to school. "But our best way is to just show up tomorrow in Tampa Bay and play the game. If we start looking ahead to Chicago or New York, we'd be in trouble. We keep playing that day's game, and when the schedule runs out, we stop." A few hundred feet of buckling Fenway Park concrete away, the Angels' Mike Scioscia was wearing the same blinders. "We've got, what, 40 games left? And every one of them is going to be a tough day, so you have to be ready for it," Scioscia said. "We only look at today's game. We don't look back." At least, they won't look back two days. Scioscia wasn't interested in rehashing a four-game series split that did not feel like a split. The Angels had absorbed two blowout losses, but each time rebounded for a couple of two-run wins. Looking back two weeks, well, that's different. Remembering a leveled threat -- that's OK. Which will explain why Cabrera overreacted so demonstratively to Tavarez grazing his uniform jersey with a third-inning pitch. While pitching in relief in Angel Stadium on Aug. 8, Tavarez accused Cabrera of stealing his catcher's signs, and punctuated that charge with a promise to drill him the next time they met. Tavarez's opening pitch to Cabrera in the third hardly constituted a "drilling." But it was enough to rile Cabrera, and his manager. Cabrera left the batter's box more in the direction of the mound than first base, while jawing and pointing at the pitcher. "He said some stuff in Spanish that I didn't understand," reported Boston catcher Kevin Cash, who, along with plate umpire Mike Winters and first baseman Kevin Youkilis took turns trying to placate Cabrera. Meanwhile, Tavarez was urging him to just take his base. "I just told him to walk to first base so that we can finish this," Tavarez explained. "I don't know what he is trying to say to me. I know he made a step. I told him to walk to first base." Scioscia, out on the field to argue with Winters for the right of his own pitcher, left-hander Joe Saunders, to the inside of the plate, told Tavarez something. "That's not how we play the game," Scioscia said, calmly. "And if we are stealing signs -- change your signs." A couple of hours later, Cabrera and Tavarez met and talked briefly outside of the Boston clubhouse. They didn't hug and kiss, but did seem to make peace. At least, Julian wasn't pointing for Orlando to go take his seat on the bus. Scioscia, on the other hand, still seemed wound up by the incident, and the accusation that had preceded it. In his office after the game, he appeared to purse his lips every time the subject came up. "He said he was going to hit Orlando -- and he did," Scioscia said. "We'll let the league take care of it." Likewise, the Red Sox now hope the Angels will take care of the Yankees, who at four games behind have not been closer to the top since May 1. The Sox's expectation is not unrealistic, since Scioscia's crew has had legendary success against the Bombers, in contrast to its troubles with the Red Sox. "In the past, we've had a difficult time winning here," conceded Francisco Rodriguez, shortly after having nailed down save No. 31. "But if we keep playing our game, that's bound to turn around." Their game is tight, low-scoring. The two wins here gave the Angels a record of 27-20 in one and two-run decisions. And they now are 17-10 when the total of runs between both teams is five or less. "Our first trip in here, we weren't playing well," said Scioscia, recalling a rain-abbreviated three-game sweep in which the Angels were out-scored 25-3. "We're playing better now, and we have to keep it going. When we play our game, we can play with anybody." But, not necessarily anywhere. Following their lose-win-lose 3-4 trek through Toronto and Boston, the Angels remained without consecutive road wins since June 16-17, in Dodger Stadium. That's a lot of buried days ago.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.