From Underdogs To AL East Winners: Home-Field Advantage Next Stop On Yankees’ Wild Ride
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NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Two games. Two wins. Two clinches.
All is well with the Yankees. But their work isn’t done.
“We still need to win some games,” said manager Joe Girardi, “because we want to have home-field advantage.”
It shouldn’t be too hard for the Bombers. They hold a 5-game lead in the loss column over the Tigers and Rangers.
“It’s real important,” Girardi said. “I really believe that we’re built around this ballpark.”
Meanwhile, bubbly was spilling on the dark blue clubhouse carpet, some players wearing goggles to protect themselves from the spray. Jorge Posada’s pinch single had driven in two runs in the eighth inning for a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, completing a memorable doubleheader sweep Wednesday and clinching the AL East.
“We got something special going on here. Hopefully, we can continue this ride,” Posada said.
About 6½ hours earlier, Robinson Cano’s two-run double in the eighth led the Yankees to a 4-2 win in the opener, a victory that clinched New York’s 16th playoff berth in 17 years.
But players merely exchanged handshakes after that one — Yankees blase at its best. They vowed to let loose when they secured the division crown, their 12th in 16 seasons.
And when it was time to celebrate, they broke out only the domestic — Mumm Napa Brut Prestige — and Lunetta Prosecco from Italy. Having won 27 World Series titles, the Yankees save the good French champagne for only the biggest of championships.
Hard to remember back to March, when many picked Boston as the division favorite after the Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee and lost Andy Pettitte to retirement. At the same time, the Red Sox added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.
“It’s not often that we’re considered the underdogs,” Girardi said. “But I understood with the moves that they had made.”
“Nobody gave us a shot when we were in spring training, and here we are,” said Mariano Rivera. “We trust in ourselves, and we trust in what we have.”
Piecing together their rotation with overlooked veterans such as Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, the Yankees managed to never fall more than three games out of first. They didn’t take over the lead for good until Sept. 2.
Now they’re preparing to open the playoffs at home a week from Friday.
“This group has been through a lot,” Girardi said. “I think people had kind of maybe written those guys off and forgot those guys were really successful, and these guys know how to pitch. They’re a big reason why we’re here. This is a group that knows how to win and knows how to bounce back. And when things are tough, they don’t panic.”
A month past his 40th birthday, Posada drove in his first runs this year as a pinch hitter when he batted for rookie Jesus Montero. He was so filled with emotion that he was sure the game was over when his bases-loaded hit bounced into right field as pinch-runner Greg Golson came home from third. Posada pumped a fist running up the line.
“I thought it was the bottom of the ninth, to tell the truth,” Posada said. “Then I saw Tex (Mark Teixeira) scoring from second base, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?'”
In the dugout, Derek Jeter raised both arms as his friend triumphed. Posada created his moment, as Jeter did with his 3,000th hit in July and Rivera did with his record 602nd save on Monday.
“He deserves it. It’s been a difficult year for him,” Jeter said.
That Posada got the hit made the clincher all the more memorable.
“Everybody was pulling for Posada,” Rivera said. “The whole stadium was pulling.”
Posada lost his catcher’s job during the offseason, and his role as a designated hitter diminished during the spring and summer.
Back in May, Posada had asked to be taken out of the lineup after he learned Girardi had dropped him to No. 9 in the batting order for a game against Boston. He returned the next day and apologized, and seemed to accept his role as a part-time designated hitter.
“It’s been a tough year, but I don’t look at the past, I look at the future. I look at the day by day. I keep looking forward,” Posada said.
Girardi also had Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the bench, but he decided Posada was more used to pinch hitting at this stage. Posada faced Brandon Gomes, who allowed a grand slam to him last month.
“This is a guy who has been a great Yankee, has had a wonderful career and has had a lot of big hits in his time,” Girardi said. “He’s found a way to enjoy this season, which I think was really important. The thing about this game, we all want to believe we can play it forever.”
While New York (95-60) opened a comfortable lead over Central champion Detroit (90-65) for homefield throughout the AL playoffs, it was a damaging day for the Rays (85-70) as they missed a chance to move up on Boston (88-68) in the wild-card race. The Red Sox lost to Baltimore 6-4, but still extended their lead over Tampa Bay to 2½ games. The Los Angeles Angels (85-70) also are 2½ games behind.
“We feel lucky,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re very fortunate that Baltimore has played as well as they have.”
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