Approximately seven hours after earning their 2011 postseason berth, the Yankees clinched their 17th American League East title, beating the Rays 4-2, sweeping the doubleheader, securing the series victory and ensuring a stress-free final week of the season as the team prepares to kick off the American League Division Series next Friday, September 30.
CC Sabathia and Jeremy Hellickson were locked in a pitchers’ duel in this one, with the former going 7 1/3 and giving up two runs — both on solo home runs, to Kelly Shoppach and Sean Rodriguez, natch — and the latter going seven and also giving up two runs and limiting the Yankees to only two hits.
Sabathia threw 127 pitches but couldn’t get through the 8th, and after loading the bases Joe Girardi summoned David Robertson to do what he’s done all season — get out of a bases-loaded jam, this time on only one pitch. Why Ben Zobrist swung at the first pitch he saw we’ll never know, but thank you, Zorilla.
An inning after the Rays tied things up at two apiece on Rodriguez’s homer, the Yankees took care of business. Nick Swisher pinch-hit an RBI double to left field, while walks to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano brought Jesus Montero to the plate with two outs and the righty Brandon Gomes on the mound. Girardi elected to pinch-hit for Montero with Jorge Posada — a move I admittedly wasn’t in love with — but in hindsight it was probably the right call, given Jorge’s success against righties, not to mention the fact that be blasted a grand slam off Gomes last month. Posada made Girardi look great (and several of us on Twitter look foolish) two pitches later, ripping the go-ahead two-run single to right field, and putting the Yankees ahead 4-2. Rafael Soriano closed things out without incident in the ninth, and with Boston losing yet again to the Orioles about an hour earlier, the Yankees were able to clinch the division.
On a personal note, this is one of the Yankees’ more memorable division crowns. Between the fact that, as I noted in the recap of the first game of the doubleheader, almost no one thought this year’s Yankee team could do this, as well as this being their first AL East title in the (admittedly brief) two-plus years I’ve spent voluntarily writing about the team every day, it feels pretty great. While they did win the AL East in 2009 shortly after I launched Yankeeist, that feeling doesn’t quite compare to having chronicled and obsessed over nearly every single game of the last two years, and watching what has truly been a remarkably resilient team putting together an improbably successful season.
Yankee fans are often ripped on for being spoiled, and while no one can deny the success the team has experienced, when you really take a step back and look at everything they dealt with this year — the injuries, the questions about the rotation (although for what it’s worth, in spite of all the hand-wringing regarding the Yankee rotation, this quick-and-dirty analysis I did just before the first game of the season actually wound up being somewhat prescient) — it really reminds you just how hard it is to actually do what the franchise has managed to accomplish on such a consistent basis over the better part of the last two decades.