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Pearce, Harrison among baseball's biggest surprises; both have impacted playoff races

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Steve Pearce may be the perfect embodiment of Baltimore's surprising year.

The 31-year-old first baseman had never played more than 61 games in a season until 2014, but his 17 home runs — 13 more than his previous career high — have helped put the Orioles on the verge of an AL East title.

"It always had a good feel to it, Steve being on the club," manager Buck Showalter said. "A good fit, a guy that you could count on — 'What does the team need? I'll be ready, appreciate the opportunity, it's an honor to be in the big leagues.'"

Pearce made his major league debut in 2007 with Pittsburgh, and he's also played for Houston and the New York Yankees, but he's never hit like this. On Sunday night, Pearce drove in the tying run and scored the winning run in the ninth inning of a 3-2 victory over the Yankees.

"He's looking for good things," Showalter said. "He expects his next at-bat to be a good one. He doesn't wallow around in self-pity."

Pearce has helped the Orioles withstand injuries to more celebrated teammates Matt Wieters and Manny Machado — but he's just one of several unexpected contributors to baseball's postseason races.

Where would the Pirates be without Josh Harrison? The 27-year-old second baseman leads the National League with a .317 average, and his on-base percentage is 61 points higher than his previous best.

Detroit signed J.D. Martinez to a minor league deal in March, after he was released by Houston. Martinez is now hitting .305 with 22 home runs and 71 RBIs.

PHOTO: Baltimore Orioles' Steve Pearce, right, doubles in front of New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann and home plate umpire Ed Hickox in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Baltimore. Quintin Berry scored on the play to tie the game. Baltimore won 3-2. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Baltimore Orioles' Steve Pearce, right, doubles in front of New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann and home plate umpire Ed Hickox in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Baltimore. Quintin Berry scored on the play to tie the game. Baltimore won 3-2. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Chris Young was an All-Star in 2007, but when Washington released him before this season, he hadn't pitched in the majors since 2012. Seattle picked up the 6-foot-10 right-hander, and he's managed to stay healthy, going 12-8 with a 3.33. ERA.

These players represent the unpredictable side of baseball. Here are a few more things to watch for as the regular season begins to wind down:

KC HERE THEY COME: It might be the biggest series in Kansas City since 1985, when the Royals won the World Series. They haven't made the playoffs since, but they trail first-place Detroit by only 1 1/2 games in the AL Central. The Tigers start a three-game series at Kansas City on Friday night.

STABILIZED?: Oakland, which looked like baseball's best team for a while this year, is now having to scramble for one of the American League's two wild cards. But the A's took two of three at Seattle, and now the schedule softens a bit, with six games this week against Texas and Philadelphia.

STILL IN IT: Speaking of stabilizing, Milwaukee has won four of five following a 1-13 stretch that threatened to end the team's postseason hopes. The Brewers trail Pittsburgh by 1 1/2 games for the NL's second wild card. The Pirates host a three-game series against Milwaukee starting Friday night.

MAGIC NUMBERS: Baltimore (AL East), Washington (NL East) and the Los Angeles Angels (AL West) all have double-digit leads and are poised to clinch their divisions. The Orioles have a magic number of three, while the Nationals and Angels are at four.

FINAL STRETCH: Derek Jeter begins his last scheduled homestand Thursday when the Yankees open a four-game series against Toronto. New York is five games behind Kansas City for the AL's second wild card, so it looks increasingly unlikely that Jeter's career will extend into the postseason.

STAT OF THE WEEK: The Angels were a half-game ahead of Oakland atop the AL West on the morning of Aug. 20, which was the day Los Angeles right-hander Garrett Richards went down with a season-ending knee injury. The Angels are 19-6 since then, and they now lead the division by 10 games.


AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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