As Jay laid out in the preview, with a single victory this afternoon, the Yankees had an opportunity to accomplish a great number of things: reaching the 100 victory mark for the first tie since 2004, sweeping the Sox and evening the season series, clinching the AL East for the first time since 2006, and clinching homefield advantage for the duration of their stay in the post-season. Mother Nature delayed things by about an hour, but neither the rain nor the commentary of Joe Morgan and Steve Phillips were enough to put a damper on today.
Andy Pettitte made his second post shoulder fatigue start. Despite allowing ten baserunners in six innings and staking the Sox to an early 2-0 lead, Pettitte's start was an encouraging one. Once again he showed no signs of trouble stemming from the issues that hampered him earlier in the month, and in classic Pettitte fashion, he found a way to work himself out of the trouble he worked into. The Sox extracted some retribution for Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka by getting Pettite with a Mike Lowell comebacker in the first, but Pettitte survived unscathed.
His offense got him out of the early hole he dug. Melky Cabrera cut the deficit in half with a solo shot to right field in the third inning, and Hideki Matsui delivered a big two out two RBI base hit in the sixth to give the Yankees the lead. Mark Teixeira capped the scoring with a towering solo shot in the eighth, leaving him one short of Carlos Pena for the AL lead.
How good were things for the Yanks this afternoon? With Phil Hughes and David Robertson unavailable, Brian Bruney relieved Andy Pettitte and retired all five batters he faced while throwing two thirds of his pitches for strikes. Phil Coke finished the eighth by striking out David Ortiz. Mariano Rivera came on for the third day in a row, and just as he did Saturday, he brough the tying run to the plate. He worked out of the jam though, and closed out the game to clinch the division, just like old times.
A post-game clubhouse champagne celebration ensued; with any luck it will be the first of four this fall. While the youngsters and new-comers like Teixeira, Nick Swisher, A.J. Burnett, and CC Sabathia enjoyed the moment, the guys that had been there a bit longer were somewhat more subdued. Regardless of seniority, to a man, all recognized that this was just the first step. The team now has the season's final week to get prepared for step two.