BOSTON -- It's all tied up in the AL East.
The defending World Series champions and the sport's most decorated franchise. Rivals from the playoffs for the past two years, and from the regular season for 100 years before that. Big Papi and his baggy pants against clean-cut A-Rod in pinstripes.
Boston and New York.
Two games to play.
Jason Varitek homered, David Ortiz drove in another big run and David Wells pitched seven strong innings on Friday night to give the Boston Red Sox a 5-3 victory and a first-place tie with the New York Yankees heading into the season's final two games.
"You never want to sigh too hard," Red Sox closer Mike Timlin said. "It's going to be a tough two games.
Boston's win left both teams at 94-66 and guaranteed that at least one team's playoff fate won't be decided until Sunday -- the last day on the regular-season schedule.
"It was inevitable," New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "You knew in spring training when you saw these three games it was going to come down to this."
The Red Sox and Yankees lead Cleveland by one game in the AL wild-card race after the Indians lost 3-2 in 13 innings to the Chicago White Sox.
If Boston and New York split the last two games and Cleveland beats Chicago twice, there would be a one-game playoff Monday at Yankee Stadium for the AL East title, with the loser playing the Indians on Tuesday for the wild-card berth.
If Boston and New York are tied and Cleveland can't match them, the Yankees would win the East and the Red Sox the wild card because New York will have won the season series against Boston.
"It's not like we can live it up and pound our chest," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "We've got to come back and beat maybe the best pitcher in the league."
Wells (15-7) won for the sixth time in seven decisions, the only loss coming on Sept. 9 at Yankee Stadium. But returning to Fenway Park -- a ballpark he once offered to blow up -- served the former Yankee well; he allowed three runs, six hits and two walks, striking out five and improved to 8-1 this year at home.
"I like the ball in a big game. I'm not afraid to take it," he said. "At age 23 or 42, I still have the same intensity. I just want to go out and pitch, and win."
Timlin got four outs for his 12th save in 19 chances. It was his 80th appearance of the season, a career-high that matched the franchise record.
Rookie Chien-Ming Wang (8-5) gave up five runs -- just three earned -- four hits and six walks. He struck out four in 6 2/3 innings.
"He had to have butterflies tonight. There's no question," manager Joe Torre said. "But I thought he dealt with it really well."
The voluble and voluminous Wells had demonstrated control this year -- with his pitching, not with the mouth that earned him a suspension and a dressing down from the commissioner's office. He allowed just 19 walks in his first 29 starts, but started off Friday night with two walks and a hit batter, loading the bases with one out in the first inning.
Still, the Yankees scored just once, when Hideki Matsui singled to score Rodriguez, the Yankee's MVP front-runner. Jorge Posada struck out with the bases loaded and stranded six runners in his first three at-bats.
Boston tied it when Johnny Damon walked to lead off the Boston first, stole second and scored on Ortiz's single -- his major league-leading 147th RBI. Varitek homered to lead off the second and give Boston the lead for good.
The Red Sox added three in the sixth to make it 5-1.
Damon singled and stole second and, one out later, Ortiz was intentionally walked -- giving some words of encouragement to Manny Ramirez on deck. Ramirez singled, but too sharply for Damon to score, and the bases were loaded when Wang forced in a run by walking Trot Nixon.
"Walk a guy who knocked in 150 runs versus a guy who knocked in 140 runs," Torre said. "You can make that decision."
Varitek hit a grounder to first baseman Jason Giambi, whose throw home was in the dirt and everyone was safe. John Olerud hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Ramirez, then Giambi made a nice unassisted play on Bill Mueller's hard grounder to end the inning.
Derek Jeter hit a two-run homer in the seventh, bringing the Yankees within two runs.
It's the closest race between the longtime rivals since 1978, when Bucky Dent's popup over the Green Monster won a one-game playoff and gave the division to the Yankees. They also faced each other in the AL Championship Series in 1999 and each of the past two years, with Boston finally breaking through in 2004 for its first World Series title since 1918.
As if the series didn't offer enough drama, Rodriguez and Ortiz entered as the AL's two leading MVP candidates. The hometown crowd gives the edge to Big Papi and his penchant for game-saving hits -- like the ones that tied and then won the game on Thursday night against Toronto.
For New York, Rodriguez's Gold Glove-caliber defense is the difference between two players with stellar but evenly matched hitting stats.
But Rodriguez let Damon's grounder go through his legs in the third, amusing the hometown crowd that wanted him so badly two winters ago. The buzz over A-Rod's blunder was still in the stands when Ortiz came to the plate and spawned a new set of "MVP!" chants.
But Wang stabbed Ortiz's one-hopper and threw to first, then Damon oddly tried to take third base and was out in a rundown, ending the inning. Boston had another runner thrown out on the bases in the fourth when Nixon was caught stealing in an apparently botched hit-and-run.
- Torre said a pitcher who throws knuckleballs or slow pitches, whose name he didn't know, will throw in batting practice before Wakefield, a knuckleballer, goes on Saturday.
- Yankees left-hander Alan Embree, signed July 30 after being released by the Red Sox, said he has no hard feelings toward his former team but doesn't know where he'll play next year. "This year I'm nothing more than a two-month rental and next year will take care of itself," he said.
- Varitek's solo homer in the second inning was his 22nd of the season, his first since Aug. 23.
- Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, who played for Boston and New York, was honored before the game. He wore a Red Sox jersey.
- Actor Robert Redford was in the crowd.