It took nearly a full season of starts and stops from the Tampa Bay Rays and a September collapse for the ages by the Boston Red Sox for the impossible to become possible.
The Rays and Red Sox are tied atop the American League wild-card standings.
"We knew in this clubhouse that we had enough faith in coming back," Rays pitcher James Shields said. "And I know there's not a lot of people out there who had faith in us, but here we are."
The Rays caught the Red Sox with a 5-2 victory Monday against the Yankees in front of 18,772 at Tropicana Field, while the Red Sox continued to make a mess of their season with a 6-3 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore.
The Rays were nine games back of the Red Sox in the wild-card standings on Sept. 2. They can become the first team in major-league history to reach the postseason after trailing by nine games in September if they win one more game than the Red Sox during the final two games of the regular season.
If the teams remain tied after Wednesday night's regular-season finale, they will meet Thursday afternoon at the Trop for a one-game playoff to decide the last playoff spot in the American League.
"It does mean something to be this far back this month and we're tied with a couple of games to go," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's an accomplishment. But when you get to this point you really got to finish things off."
Shields struggled with his mechanics and his control early but settled down and came within one out of pitching his 12th complete game of the season. Maddon called for Kyle Farnsworth after Shields issued a two-out walk to Eric Chavez in the ninth inning.
Farnsworth got the final out as those inside the Trop — both Rays and Yankees fans — erupted. The cheers became a roar five minutes later when the two sets of fans united in their delight as the last out of the Red Sox loss was played on the video board in right field.
By then the Rays were gathered around the TV sets in the clubhouse.
"We went nuts," Shields said.
Maddon sat in his office and listed to the reaction.
"I just sat here waiting for David's (Price) voice. He's the first one to scream," Maddon said. "It was kind of fun to sit here and listen to that out there."
Shields put the Rays in a 2-0 hole when he allowed a first-inning home run and a third-inning RBI single to Robinson Cano.
Catcher Kelly Shoppach said someone spilled coffee on Shields in the dugout in the third inning, and Shields was a different pitcher when he returned with a new jersey.
"After that, he seemed to really get control of himself, and that was right around the same time we scored a couple of runs," Shoppach said.
A two-run double by B.J. Upton in the bottom of the inning tied the score, and the Rays went ahead 3-2 on an RBI single by Johnny Damon.
Shoppach homered in the fourth to give Shields a two-run lead.
Derek Jeter opened to the top of the fifth with a drive deep into the left-center field gap that Desmond Jennings caught with a diving catch after a long run.
"The play of the game," Shields called it.
"It was a big moment in the game," he said. "I had to lay out for it and squeeze it and it didn't bounce out (of his glove)."
Now the Rays control their playoff fate. There is no way the Red Sox can pass them as long as they continue to beat the Yankees, who have already wrapped up the East Division title and home field throughout the American League playoffs. The Los Angeles Angels were eliminated from the wild-card scenario late Monday when they lost to Texas.
"It's on us now," Evan Longoria said. "We've been chasing forever and now we're tied. We control our own destiny. But you don't think more deeply than that. We've got work to do."