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Yankees Still Part of In Crowd

New York clinches another AL East title with an 8-4 victory over the Red Sox, who still have a chance.

October 02, 2005|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — The answer to the great American baseball question of 2005: Yes, $203 million will buy you an eighth consecutive American League East title.

The New York Yankees, often dismissed as George Steinbrenner's overpaid and overrated flops, gathered on the Fenway Park mound late Saturday afternoon, raised their arms and took their place in baseball's postseason.

Their 8-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox, along with another loss by the fading Cleveland Indians, clinched it.

Overrun by the pitching of Yankee ace Randy Johnson and home runs by Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez, the Red Sox still are minimally assured of a wild-card playoff game here Monday.

If they beat the Yankees today or the Indians lose again to the AL Central champion Chicago White Sox, the Red Sox will enter the playoffs as the wild card for the third consecutive season.

It is what is left of a regular season the Yankees began with 19 losses in 30 games. They threaded in injuries to their pitching staff, Jason Giambi's recovery from all that ailed him and regular reminders from Steinbrenner that he hadn't intended on buying a loser.

They cobbled together a rotation, righted Giambi, did their best to ignore the Boss and since May 7 have the best record in baseball, at 84-47. In the final three weeks, they won 16 of 20 games and today will spend only their 18th day in first place.

It wasn't exactly the Yankee way, and not at all what they expected, but as October dawned on their season, they wobbled around the visitors' clubhouse, high on champagne and satisfaction.

"It's definitely incredible," Giambi said, "especially to be a guy who made a difference down the stretch. It's exciting to be back to where I was before."

Their manager, Joe Torre, all but wept when Johnny Damon's comebacker was snatched by Mariano Rivera for the last of 27 outs, the out that never came in the last American League championship series.

Torre and Derek Jeter, among those who have gone end to end in a Yankee era of near-constant division titles and four World Series championships, both called this their most difficult season.

So it was that the likeable Torre dabbed his eyes and hugged his players, while the Red Sox lowered their caps and prepared to play another game, with Curt Schilling starting today. The Yankees will not pitch Mike Mussina, as scheduled, but Jaret Wright, and save Mussina for Game 1 of the division series.

"Once they got to the point of knowing the need to win," Torre said, "the urgency of it, I've never seen a more dedicated and determined group of guys.... The hill we had to climb was pretty enormous."

Asked then if he'd call Steinbrenner to tell him there was never anything to worry about, Torre grinned and said, "It certainly wasn't one of those nothing-to-worry-about things. There was a lot to worry about, and the players took care of me."

It was a day for baseball's pedigreed franchise, and its grandest rivalry, and a day for following the scoreboard at the base of the Green Monster. Perspective for the crowd that made up Fenway's 225th consecutive sellout arrived in the sixth inning, its team behind by five runs, when it cheered the White Sox's four-run rally, denoted by the "4" that slid beside the "CWS."

Manny Ramirez's two home runs -- Nos. 43 and 44 -- would not save the Red Sox against the Yankees, nor would a start by Tim Wakefield on short rest that brought seven runs over five innings. By then, they had only the White Sox, and Cliff Politte mowing down Ronnie Belliard and Ben Broussard with the bases loaded in the eighth inning in Cleveland. Meantime, Johnson, acquired last off-season for just this kind of moment, threw 85 pitches through four innings and still pitched into the eighth inning for his 17th win. He gave up three runs, two on Ramirez's first-inning homer, one on Tony Graffanino's in the seventh.

"We are very blessed that Cleveland lost and there is still life in the clubhouse," Wakefield said.

So, the Yankees win and find fulfillment. The Red Sox lose and find hope. Just another day at the ballpark.

"The Yankees are out there celebrating and we have a day where we have our whole season in front of us," Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said. "It's the most unique situation you will see. What are the odds of us watching the Yankees celebrate and we're coming into the clubhouse as excited as you can be about playing the game tomorrow?"

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