BOSTON -- Tim Wakefield has been in Boston long enough to compare celebrations, a two-time World Series champion who is returning to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
For Jason Bay, it's all new.
"I feel like a kid, jumping around spraying champagne with all these guys," said Bay, a midseason acquisition whose go-ahead single helped the Red Sox beat Cleveland 5-4 on Tuesday night and clinch at least a wild-card berth. "It's been a different journey for me."
Wakefield outpitched Cliff Lee (22-3) and Jonathan Papelbon needed just one pitch to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth as Boston took a six-game lead over the New York Yankees with five games left. The Red Sox still have a chance to win the AL East, where Tampa Bay holds a three-game lead after sweeping the Orioles in a doubleheader.
"We still have a chance to win the division and win it all," center fielder Coco Crisp said. "I think we have a better shot this year than we did last year."
Once the much-maligned owners of an 86-year championship drought, the Red Sox have won two titles in the last four seasons and missed the playoffs once since 2003. They have not won back-to-back World Series since 1915 and '16, but they'll have a chance to repeat when the playoffs start next week.
"We're dangerous in the playoffs," said designated hitter David Ortiz, who wore goggles to protect his eyes from the champagne. "Everybody knows that."
Cleveland loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth before Papelbon came on and, with his first pitch, got Jamey Carroll to ground out. Papelbon, who was on the mound when Boston closed out Colorado to sweep the Series last fall, retired the Indians in order in the ninth to earn his 41st save, getting Victor Martinez to pop up to shortstop Alex Cora to end the game.
The Red Sox poured out of their dugout and bullpen, hugging and slapping hands in the infield before retreating to the plasticized clubhouse for the traditional spraying of champagne.
"It's different, but it doesn't get any less exciting or less satisfying," manager Terry Francona said. "We know we have more baseball to play."
Wakefield (10-11) allowed four runs and six hits in six innings, striking out six. It's his 10th season in Boston with 10 or more wins, tying Roger Clemens for the most in franchise history.
Lee, the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award, had won 11 straight decisions in 13 starts since picking up his second loss on July 6. He allowed five runs and nine hits with three walks in seven innings, striking out eight; it was his third consecutive start allowing four or more total runs.
The Indians lost to Boston in last year's playoffs after leading 3-1 in the best-of-7 AL championship series, but they stumbled into third place in the AL Central this season and have long-since been eliminated from playoff contention. They beat Boston on Monday night to keep the Red Sox from clinching, but they could delay the celebration no longer.
"A lot of guys went down and we found a way to get into the playoffs to defend our title," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said in an on-field interview that was broadcast on the scoreboard to chants of "M-V-P!" "We have a chance to do what we did last year, and that's all we were looking for - an opportunity."
Injured third baseman Mike Lowell, last year's Series MVP, joined his teammates on the field, spraying champagne into the crowd. Papelbon lifted the bases out of the infield and handed them into the stands. Jason Varitek made the rounds along the fence, shaking hands with fans recording the moment on their cellphones.
Bay, who was a desperation pickup from Pittsburgh when the Red Sox needed to unload Manny Ramirez at the trading deadline, spent much of the celebration off to the side in the clubhouse, quietly reflecting on the journey.
"I'm a first timer, but I definitely can get used to it," he said. "When I got called into the office the day I was traded, I remember them saying to me, 'Thanks for all you did for us. Now go win a ring.' It finally paid off."
Both Lee and Wakefield were working on shutouts until Ortiz doubled high off the center-field wall to lead off the fourth inning and Kevin Youkilis followed with a home run over the Green Monster. The Indians took a 4-2 lead in the top of the fifth when Grady Sizemore singled in a run, Carroll followed with an RBI groundout and Shin-Soo Choo and Jhonny Peralta hit back-to-back RBI doubles.
Cleveland's lead didn't last long.
The Red Sox took a 5-4 lead when Pedroia hit a two-run double and Bay singled.
- Cleveland 3B Andy Marte left the game in the third inning with a left calf strain.
- Pedroia's 53rd double of the year tied Tris Speaker (1912) for third-most in Boston history.
- Lee's unbeaten streak is the longest since Chris Carpenter won 13 straight decisions for the Cardinals in 2005. It's the longest for an Indians pitcher since Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry won 15 straight in 1974.