Yankees clinch AL East crown
NEW YORK—Yankees’ fans broke out in in a raucous roar in the seventh inning, momentarily startling Alex Rodriguez.
The slugger stepped out of the batter’s box and saw the news on the centre-field scoreboard: Baltimore had lost, New York was the AL East champion.
“This year we had to fight, scratch, and claw,” Nick Swisher said.
Covered in bubbly and wearing his new AL East champions hat, Derek Jeter sounded almost relieved.
“This was difficult,” he admitted. “Come into the last day of the season, nobody knows what’s going on.
“We’ve been taking it one day at a time for quite some time,” Jeter added.
“It feels good.”
With the new playoff format, the Yankees’ next move is to wait.
Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson each hit a pair of homers. Cano went 4-for-4 and tied a career high with six RBIs as New York (95-67) finished two games ahead of Baltimore.
The Yankees will open on the road Sunday against the winner of tomorrow’s wild-card game between Baltimore and Texas.
“To have the best record and not know where you’re going is strange,” said manager Joe Girardi.
In front of fans poised to party from the first pitch on the final night of the regular season, the Yankees completed a three-game sweep of the last-place Red Sox to win their second-consecutive division crown.
When Freddy Garcia struck out Ivan De Jesus looking to end it, third-string catcher Francisco Cervelli pumped his fist and his teammates hugged and slapped fives on the field.
They put on their newly-printed champion shirts and hats while fans feted them with a standing ovation as “New York, New York” blared over the loudspeakers.
The team walked off the field to chants of “Let’s go Yankees!”
“Now the real season starts,” Jeter said.
Getting to the post-season, though, wasn’t easy.
New York led the division by 10 games on July 18 but the Orioles caught up on Sept. 4 and were tied with the Yankees after 10 different days in September.
Many players credit Girardi with keeping the clubhouse calm during that stretch.
“He’s very even-keeled,” Granderson said. “You never see him get too excited or down.”
The Yankees rode the long ball all season, and the four homers in the finale set a franchise record at 245.
Hiroki Koroda (16-11) shut Boston down with an encouraging performance after struggling through much of September. He allowed two runs and seven hits over seven innings.
With New York heading into the playoffs without career saves leader Mariano Rivera (he tore a knee ligament shagging flies in May), yesterday’s rout gave the Yankees a chance to rest Rafael Soriano, who threw 43 pitches over two innings of the 12-inning, 4-3 comeback win Tuesday night.
It is the first time since 1981 that the Yankees have been in the post-season without Rivera on the roster.
Bobby Valentine brought the lineup card out to the umpires for what might have been his final time as manager of the Red Sox, who finished last in the AL East at 69-93 in his first season leading the club.
Boston—in the cellar for the first time in two decades—ended the year with eight-straight losses, their longest skid since losing nine in a row in 2001.
The Red Sox lost 26 off their last 33 games.
“Very disappointing season. Extremely disappointing,” Valentine said.