Sports

Yankees Clinch, Rays Flinch

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New York Yankees' Jorge Posada, left celebrates with Mariano Rivera, right, after the Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 in the second game of a baseball doubleheader Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, in New York. The Yankees clinched the AL East title. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada, left celebrates with Mariano Rivera, right, after the Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 in the second game of a baseball doubleheader Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, in New York. The Yankees clinched the AL East title. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

By RONALD BLUM   AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ Jorge Posada came off the bench and helped the
Yankees to yet another first-place finish with a go-ahead single in
the eighth inning, and New York swept the Tampa Bay Rays by
identical 4-2 scores in a day-night doubleheader Wednesday to win
the AL East.

Accomplishing most of their regular-season goals with a week to
spare, the Yankees earned their 16th playoff berth in 17 seasons by
winning the day game behind Robinson Cano’s tiebreaking, two-run
double in the eighth.

They didn’t bother celebrating after that one _ Yankees blase at
its best _ but vowed to let loose when they ensured the division
crown. They made good on that promise, donning goggles and spraying
the bubbly in the clubhouse.
“To clinch the American League East, it feels good,” Posada
said.

For the Rays, it was a damaging day as they missed a chance to
move up on Boston in the AL wild-card race. The Red Sox lost to
Baltimore 6-4, but still extended their lead over Tampa Bay to 21/2
games. The Los Angeles Angels also are 21/2 games behind.

The Yankees’ clincher fell into place after a 62-minute rain
delay. A month past his 40th birthday and his role reduced, Posada
pinch-hit with the bases loaded and two outs with the score 2-all.
He hit a hard, two-run single to right off Brandon Gomes and pumped
a fist as he ran up the first-base line.

Posada admitted he lost track of the situation when he came up
to the plate, saying, “I really thought it was the bottom of the
ninth.”

In the moment, the score also eluded the veteran All-Star,
especially as pinch-runner Greg Golson and Mark Teixeira crossed
the plate.
“When I saw Teixeira keep running, I thought we needed two
runs,” Posada said.

Posada’s hit propelled New York to its 12th AL East title in 16
years and came about 50 minutes after the second-place Red Sox blew
a three-run lead and lost. When Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano
struck out Matt Joyce to end it, New York players _ in orderly
fashion, of course _ streamed to the mound to finally celebrate.

In the night game, a makeup for a rainout last month, CC
Sabathia failed in his bid to reach 20 wins for the second time in
his career. Wasting a 2-0 lead, he allowed solo homers to No. 9
hitter Kelly Shoppach in the fifth and Sean Rodriguez in the
seventh, the latter clanking high off the left-field foul pole.

Desmond Jennings singled with one out in the eighth, B.J. Upton
singled on a liner off Sabathia’s glove and Evan Longoria, down 0-2
in the count, worked out an eight-pitch walk.

David Robertson (4-0) relieved, and Ben Zobrist grounded into a
4-6-3 double play on his first pitch. After returning from the
birth of a child, Zobrist had struck out in his first four at-bats
of the twinbill.

Pinch-hitter Nick Swisher doubled off Jake McGee (3-2) with one
out in the bottom half, and Curtis Granderson flied out. Juan Cruz
came in and walked Teixeira on four pitches, and Cesar Ramos fell
behind Cano 3-1 before walking him intentionally to load the bases
for Posada.

Earlier, Cano sent a 76 mph curveball into the right-field seats
in the second against rookie Jeremy Hellickson, and Jesus Montero
hit a run-scoring, double-play grounder in the fourth. With Mariano
Rivera unavailable after pitching in the opener, Soriano worked the
ninth for the save.

In the opener, Eduardo Nunez hit a tying home run in the eighth
against All-Star James Shields, and Cano followed with a double off
J.P. Howell to clinch the Yankees’ playoff spot.

They waited for a bigger celebration _ five World Series titles
and seven American League pennants since 1996 for Derek Jeter,
Rivera and Posada had numbed the Yankees and their fans to
preliminary achievements.

Alex Rodriguez hit an RBI double in the first, but that was all
the Yankees got off Shields (15-12) until the eighth. Jennings put
the Rays ahead 2-1 with a two-run homer in the second inning off
emergency starter Hector Noesi.

Nunez then hooked an 82 mph changeup into the first row of the
left-field seats leading off the eighth. Brett Gardner singled with
one out, Jeter walked, and that was it for Shields.

Howell relieved and fell behind 3-1, and Cano lined an
opposite-field drive into the gap in left-center. In the dugout,
Shields briefly put a towel over his head, unable to watch.
“Right now, it’s crucial times, and we’ve got to win
ballgames,” Shields said. “I didn’t get the job done.”

Ominously, Yankees scheduled starter Phil Hughes was scratched
and had an injection of painkiller in his back. General manager
Brian Cashman anticipates Hughes will return to the mound next week
during the final series of the regular season.

Luis Ayala (2-2), the seventh of eight Yankees pitchers,
relieved with two on and two outs in the eighth and struck out his
only two batters. Two days after setting the career saves record,
Rivera was given a standing ovation when he entered. He closed it
out 1-2-3 for his 44th save this season and the 603rd of his
career, two more than Trevor Hoffman’s old mark.

Rivera appreciated this playoff berth as much as the first one.
He said players felt the Yankees were overlooked when predictions
were made during spring training, after New York failed to sign
Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retired.
“Nobody gave us a shot,” Rivera said. “Here we are.”

In the quiet clubhouse between games, there wasn’t even a sign
or a sound of a party going on in the inner sanctum back by the
showers, where only the team is allowed.

Jeter, as usual, found a practical reason for not getting too
worked up.
“We’re going to spray champagne and then play the second
game?” he said.

But a few hours later, it was time for the party to begin.

NOTES: No team had clinched a playoff berth in a doubleheader
opener since the 1999 Red Sox, who chose to wait until after the
nightcap to celebrate. … The Yankees have never failed to finish
first after opening a lead of at least 61/2 games. … Swisher let go
of the bat while swinging at strike three in the first inning, and
the bat hit the side of Posada, who was standing 20 feet toward
home plate from the on-deck circle. Posada, making his ninth
appearance this year at first base, stayed in the game. …
Granderson, Teixeira and Russell Martin were given the afternoon
off from New York’s starting lineup in the opener; Jeter, Rodriguez
and Swisher didn’t start the nightcap. … The Yankees are a big
league-best 42-12 in day games. … Rivera has converted 60 of 61
save chances against the Rays.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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