BOSTON -- If the baseball gods have any sense, the Yankees and Red Sox will be fighting for one playoff berth this weekend.
Any scenario that allows both teams into the post-season -- one with the division title, the other as the wild card -- only detracts from what is shaping up as the best final weekend in some time.
Rivalries in sport don't get much bigger than Yankees/Red Sox, and to have the entire season come down to a three-game series is, for many, just meant to be.
"We'd be kidding ourselves if this weekend wasn't going to dictate the outcome of the season," Sox outfielder Johnny Damon told reporters after Tuesday's day/night doubleheader with Toronto, which the Sox split winning the first and losing the evening affair.
"It's the master plan. God's way. Yankees-Red Sox."
And anyone who thinks last year's World Series win has given Red Sox Nation the ability to stand back and, with confidence, predict another win, isn't paying attention.
The worry warts are out in full force in Beantown, just as they have been every season.
This time their focus is on Curt Schilling, the man who, bloodied and hobbled, took this team to the promised land last year, and the man who very well could decide whether they get back there.
Schilling gets the ball Sunday in the final game of the regular season. With the Yankees and Sox tied for the division lead heading into the final five games, there is a good chance that one will decide everything.
The problem is the 2005 version of Schilling is nowhere close to the horse they rode to last year's World Series.
His outing here Tuesday night, a no-decision in an eventual 7-5 Toronto win, has the locals and the local media in near panic mode.
And Schilling did nothing to downplay the panic Tuesday, either on the mound or in the interview room afterward.
"I'm healthy," Schilling after giving up five earned in in 61/3 innings. "I can't point to anything other than I'm pitching like crap. I'm not pitching well.
"It has been a long time."
Schilling also chose this final week of the season to grant an exclusive interview with the Boston Globe, calling this season the longest and most difficult of his career.
Much of it was centred around his health issues, but that isn't all that is bothering last year's hero.
Schilling was particularly disappointed by an unnamed teammate who told the Boston Herald earlier in the week he felt Schilling and his now 7-8, 5.98 ERA season was getting a "free pass" from the fans, suggesting Pedro Martinez never was cut such slack by the Fenway faithful.
Just one more distraction this club has to endure.
The biggest cheers at Fenway Park these days seem reserved for the scoreboard operator, who was a focal point of attention Tuesday night as he helped the sellout crowd keep pace with the Yankee meltdown in Baltimore, a game New York would lose 17-9.
A New York collapse would take a lot of pressure off the Sox, a team that until last year has not handled such adversity with much success.
Chances are though, both teams will do just enough to put the spotlight squarely on the weekend series.
We just hope it's a case of winner goes on, loser goes home.
Anything else would take all the fun out of it.
THE DEAL WITH ... THE MATCHUPS
- Tomorrow: Yankees RHP Chien-Ming Wang (8-4, 4.02) at the Red Sox LHP David Wells (14-7, 4.47), 7:05 p.m.
- Saturday: Yankees LHP Randy Johnson (16-8, 3.79) at the Red Sox RHP Tim Wakefield (16-11, 3.96), 1:15 p.m.
- Sunday: Yanks RHP Mike Mussina (13-8, 4.41) at Red Sox RHP Curt Schilling (7-8, 5.98), 2 p.m.