By Ernie Palladino
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There are no games left now for those annoying Orioles to threaten the Yankees’ hold on the division title. No more nail-biting over whether the Yanks are going to have to boil their entire season down to one game.
They’re division champs, with the best record in the league. That 14-2 win over a nightmarishly bad Red Sox club Wednesday was simply the topper. Tampa Bay’s 4-1 win over Baltimore, finishing just a bit before the Yankee Stadium affair, actually put Yanks in the driver’s seat.
The important thing is, the Yanks go straight to the three-of-five ALDS, where they sit, appropriately, at No. 1.
They earned that spot by entering the top spot in the AL East since mid-June and never letting go, despite pitching problems and power hitting that turned as inconsistent as cheap prime rib in the second half. But now, thanks to that power’s resurgence — not to mention the fact that Valentine sent a self-demoralized team into Yankee Stadium for the final three games — the Yanks will spend Friday watching Baltimore and Texas put their seasons on the line in the wild card play-in game.
Wednesday night, it was Robbie Cano doing the damage with two homers, the clincher a two-run job coming in the fifth against Clayton Mortensen. But then again, Cano’s been doing everyone a lot of damage lately, and that bodes well for the Yankees’ postseason.
That easy swing and easier trot, some say too easy at times, put him at 24 for 39 after he banged that second homer. That’s .615 to us common folk. Of course, he won’t be facing the Toronto pitchers, or that sad bunch that passes for a staff in Valentine’s world in the ALDS.
But he won’t be facing a Cy Young winner, either. Not that the Texas and Baltimore pitchers can’t get outs, but better them than, say, Justin Verlander.
The Yanks themselves will be dealing with either a mightily ticked off Texas squad that just finished an epic collapse after taking a 13-game lead over Oakland, or an Orioles team that came oh-so-close to knocking the Yanks off their divisional perch after liquidating the Yanks’ 10-game lead.
It’s good that Hiroki Kuroda came up with a nice performance in the season finale, showing that he, too, is ready for the postseason. After giving up a first-inning run, he held Boston to just one more run before calling it a night after the seventh.
Cano’s power and six RBI, combined with that of Curtis Granderson’s earlier homer, overshadowed Kuroda’s performance. But the pitcher’s work was no less important going forward.
Now they set up nicely for the ALDS with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Kuroda all available on ample rest starting Sunday.
The future didn’t look as bright a couple of days ago after the Yanks struggled with the Blue Jays. But it’s amazing how a little clutch hitting in a close game like Tuesday’s and a nice, easy runaway like Wednesday’s contest changes an outlook.
The Yanks are a confident team now, a powerful team. They found their swagger, albeit against a team that has had all to do to crawl this year.
The regular season is over. 95-67 is the final count.
The postseason beckons.
And the Yanks are right where they want to be — top-seeded and on a roll.
As Derek Jeter said after the gray division championship T-shirts and caps were distributed, “Now the real season starts.”
What’s your prediction for New York in the “real season”? Be heard in the comments below…