And now the pennant race.

Such a rich and tangled skein as that in the American League East falls to baseball's hand only about once a decade. For those adamant about the game, these days are the old girl's best.

Three crisply deliniated and vastly different teams - entiwined now for six months, none falling from the fast pace - finally reach a few climactic games that may be savored for years.

The next fortnight could hardly promise more. The scenario is exquisite.

After 11 weeks of eyeing each other from afar, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox meet again.

The ancient enemies last played a home-and-home series in June - Boston sweeping three games on 16 homers in Fenway Park, the New Yorkers desperately retaliating a week later with a sweep in Yankee Stadium.

Now the venues are reversed. The wealthy, conflicted and almost-too-talanted Yanks get to play host first for three night games today, Wednesday and Thursday against the fearsome but often neurotic Red Sox.

Next Monday and Tuesday, the moveable slugging feast moves to Boston for two games. In between, the Red Sox come to Baltimore, while New York heads to Detroit - each for three weekend games.

If the Yankees and the Bosox, who trail them by just 1 1/2 games, dominate the nation's baseball spotlight, the Orioles are the team that must seize opportunity like a dagger.

For the next 11 days, Baltimore has an almost dream schedule. While the two teams ahead of them meet in New York, Baltimore visits the worst team at baseball - Toronto (.340) - for four games.

The following week the good Oriole fortune repeats itself. While the Yanks and Red Sox meet twice in Fenway, then each has two off days, the Orioles have four more games at home against the same woeful Canadian pickup team.

If Baltimore has not made up its three-game deficit by midnight of Sept. 22 after its eighth game against the Blue Jays in 11 days, it probably never will.

While Baltimore hearts beat fast with anticipation - pluck those Blue Jays, then lie in the weeds to catch the Red Sox between their Yankee crises - Boston hardly knows how to feel.

These Eight Days in September, starting Tuesday, should either make or destroy the Red Sox season.

Boston has spent the season fluctuating between elation and perdition. The Over The Wall Gang has 198 homers, super reliever Bill Campbell, good defense, no speed and incredibly erratic starting pitching.

The result is either a string of two-hit shutouts backed by a half-dozen home runs a night, or a seven-game losing streak that makes manager Don Zimmer show up at the park six hours early "to make sure nobody's in my uniform."

Both New York and Boston have murderer's row hitting and hold-your-breath pitching. Their encounters are a cardiologist's dream, a purist's nightmare.

A quick "fer instance" sums the Yanks-and-Six. In tonight's starting lineups, nine of the 18 hitters have a good chance to drive in 100 runs for the season. None of the nine now has fewer than 87 RBI, and as a group they average 26 home runs.

On the other hand, off two pitching staffs with glamor names like Hunter, Gullett, Jenkins and Tiant, the opening pitchers for th first game are New York's Ron Guidry and Boston's Mike Paxton.

The Yankees will follow with Ed Figueroa and Mike Torrez, while Boston answers with Reggie Cleveland and Question Mark.

Catfish Hunter anf Fergie Jenkins, the supposed aces of the two staffs before the season - the fellows with a dozen 20-victory seasons between them - are both going so erratically that neighter manager dares expose them to the other team's animals.

For those dispolsed toward irony both New York and Boston are still simmering with controvesies, while the Oriole locker room has a Woodstock atmosphere.

Suffice it to say that no conspicuous Yankee difficulty has gone away, merely submerged for the duration of a just-ended month of victories.

In an effort perhaps to direct their spleen outward, the Yanks have been denigrating Boston for the last two days. "They can't catch us," said Reggie Jackson, summing up the race in four words and discounting Baltimore entirely.

"We'll beat 'em Tuesday 'cause we're not playing in their telephone booth (Fenway)," said crotchety Thurman Munson, breaking radio silence after six weeks of vowing he would not make another public statement for the rest of the season.

The Yanks are nettled by the thought of 19-3 and 6-4 loses to miserable Toronto over the weekend. "We sure made this a special series, didn't we?" said jackson. "I wish we'd concentrate for Toronto the way we do fr the Red Sox."

Boston, however, has a triple burden of memory. First, the Bosox blew a chance to leave the Yanks for dead back in June when they lost three straight in Yankee Stadium. Second, the Beantowners have been choking to the Yankees in September as long as their oldest fan can remember.

Finally, tha Sox, thanks to George Scott, have managed to discover the joys of internal bickering a la Billy Martin's Cukoo's Nest.The Boomber, miffed at being demoted to seventh in the order, took a two-game vacation ("not mentally ready to play") last week, then verified that the entire reason for his refusal to play was the bruise to his slugger's pride.

"George has tripped over his ego and fallen on his face," wrote on Boston columnist.

The Red Sox have a legion of moral supporters behind them as they head to New York - from lifelong Yankee haters to Oriole manager Earl Weaver to generations of frustrated New Englanders. But if the Sox are "mentally prepared" for the Yankees this September, it will be the first time in move than half a century.