And then there were eight ...

As the autumn moon rises over the Major League Baseball season, we finally have some answers in our quest to determine who will win the World Series to put a resounding exclamation point on a spectacular 2005 season.

Sunday's events brought clarity and closure to the regular season, and now we have definites. For one, after weeks of permutations, possibilities and potentials, we don't need any tiebreakers.

It's pretty simple, really.

It's the New York Yankees opening in Anaheim against the Angels in one American League Division Series and the Chicago White Sox hosting the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in the other.

In the NL, the 2004 league champion St. Louis Cardinals will host the San Diego Padres on Tuesday in the best-of-five Division Series, with the Atlanta Braves entertaining the Houston Astros on Wednesday in the other.

The only potentially confusing situation ended up happening in the AL. The Yankees won the East after a thrilling stretch battle with the Red Sox, who took the AL Wild Card when the Cleveland Indians lost to Chicago on Sunday.

But with a win over the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon, the Angels won their fourth straight game to tie the Yankees with 95 wins. Since the Angels beat the Yankees six times in 10 games this season, the Angels get home-field advantage for the first round.

The Angels had clinched a playoff berth five days earlier when they beat the A's in Oakland, but they rallied to win four of their last five and find themselves back in Angel Stadium.

"We accomplished what we needed to: get guys rested," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Things had to fall into place perfectly. It was more important to get our guys rested than it was to get home field. We were fortunate that things fell into place."

Home field overall goes to Chicago, which finished with the best record in the AL (99-63) after a wire-to-wire job in the AL Central and a gut-wrenching late-season stand to stave off the surging Indians.

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Manager Ozzie Guillen kept the South Siders motivated all season and now looks to gather his rejuvenated gang for a playoff run. Not surprisingly, he's confident. And even less surprisingly, he's going to try to take advantage of the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox will get most of the publicity.

"Good for them," said Guillen. "I like that, when the people don't expect us to do anything and they expect the big boys to do something. Hopefully, we sneak up and bite them. But we haven't done anything yet. We haven't earned that spotlight like everybody else."

There is some intrigue regarding the Yankees and Red Sox, of course. After all, how couldn't there be when the teams entered a season-ending three-game set at Fenway Park within a game of each other in the division?

The Yankees took care of business by winning one game to seal their eighth straight AL East crown, but Boston got the Wild Card, which they rode to the world title last year. Both teams finished with identical records, and the Yankees got the division crown because of a 10-9 advantage in regular-season matchups.

"We know how evenly matched we are," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We're sitting here as division champs because we were 10-9 against them; you can't get much more balanced than that.

"There's a chance we'll meet each other again, and if that happens, it will be another shootout."

It would be an ALCS shootout the Red Sox welcome, especially after their 2004 rally from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS stunned the Yankees and made history. For now, though, the Red Sox seemed happy to be playing more games.

"We get to defend our title," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "We have a good enough team to win it again. We just need to be on."

The final four from the National League are undoubtedly sifting through similar emotions after a scintillating Sunday.

The Cardinals, for example, had more closure than any team in baseball on this October day.

Not only did they wrap up the best regular-season in baseball with their 100th win, a tidy 7-5 decision to polish off a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, but they also said a regular-season goodbye to their longtime ballpark, Busch Stadium, in a poignant two-hour ceremony attended by Cardinals greats of years past.

Now it's time for them to focus on winning another pennant and faring better than they did in a four-game sweep to Boston in last year's Fall Classic.

"Hopefully we get a few more celebrations," Cardinals righty Matt Morris said. "Three more, to top it all off, and then Busch Stadium can rest."

The Cardinals will face an interesting challenge in the form of the San Diego Padres, who made sure they finished the regular season with a winning record by beating the Dodgers on Sunday. At 82-80, the Padres will be dismissed by some as the champion of an uncharacteristically weak NL West, especially when they have to beat the powerful Cardinals.

"That's fine," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "We've been in that situation many times before. [The Cardinals] are the class of the National League. But we've played well against them."

And the Braves and Astros have played well enough overall to punch their tickets to the postseason party, too.

Atlanta, which recently took its 14th straight division crown, features veteran pitchers John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, 50-homer man Andruw Jones, rookie phenom Jeff Francoeur and mastermind manager Bobby Cox.

The Astros, meanwhile, found themselves after a sluggish early season and are once again riding The Rocket. Roger Clemens might be 43, but his 1.87 ERA was the best in the big leagues for a starter and Andy Pettitte's been lights-out when the lights have been turned on.

"I'm really proud of this team," Clemens said. "We've come back from so much, far more than last year, we've had so much to overcome and we kept on doing what we had to do. These guys go about their business in the right way, I'm talking about the young guys as well as the veterans."

That's what playoff baseball is about, and we're going to find out how the 2005 postseason plays out starting Tuesday.

Eight teams, four division series and one World Series trophy on the horizon.

It must be October again.

Source: MLB.com