BOSTON – The New York Yankees (search) are going to the playoffs. And the Boston Red Sox (search) still have a couple of chances to join them there. New York won its eighth consecutive AL East title on Saturday, scorching Tim Wakefield for three homers and riding Randy Johnson to an 8-4 victory over Boston.
Alex Rodriguez (search), Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui homered, and Rodriguez had four hits to help Johnson settle down and win his sixth consecutive decision.
When Johnny Damon hit a high chopper back to the mound, Mariano Rivera grabbed it and first baseman Tino Martinez pumped his fist as he caught the final out. The Yankees streamed out of the dugout with purpose — but not quite joy — a celebration befitting a 26-time World Series champion that survived its most difficult regular season in a decade.
Players gathered on the mound for just a few minutes, hugging and high-fiving, before returning to the visitors' clubhouse.
"I can't take my glasses off. I'm crying like a baby," Yankees manager Joe Torre said after the final out.
The Yankees' victory, their 16th in 20 games, clinched a playoff berth, and they took the division because Cleveland lost 4-3 to the Chicago White Sox a few minutes earlier. The Red Sox finished second in the division for the eighth straight year, but it's not all bad news for them.
Because of the Indians' loss, the defending World Series champions can do no worse than a tie for the AL wild card — news that got a medium-sized cheer when it was announced on the Fenway scoreboard.
If Boston loses on Sunday and Cleveland wins, they will meet at Fenway Park on Monday to decide the AL's last playoff berth. If Cleveland loses on Sunday, the Red Sox get the wild-card berth no matter what they do.
Curt Schilling (7-8) is scheduled to go against Mike Mussina (13-8) on Sunday at Fenway, though Mussina might get a rest instead now that the game doesn't matter for the Yankees. If the Red Sox have a one-game playoff against Cleveland, Matt Clement (13-6) would pitch on three days' rest.
Johnson (17-8) allowed three runs, five hits and three walks, striking out eight in 7 1-3 innings. He walked leadoff batter Damon in the first before Manny Ramirez homered — his first of two homers on the day. The 6-foot-10 left-hander walked a pair in the second, glaring at plate umpire Gary Darling when the calls didn't go his way.
But Johnson retired 16 of his last 18 batters after David Ortiz doubled to start the third. Only Tony Graffanino, who had three hits including a homer, seemed to solve the five-time Cy Young Award winner, acquired during the offseason to anchor their $67 million rotation.
Wakefield (16-12) started on three days' rest for the first time this year and gave up seven runs on seven hits, striking out one in five innings. He had won eight of his last 10 decisions while avoiding the clunker of an outing that the knuckleball seems to produce, only allowing three homers in September.
But he quickly matched that on the first day of October.
Sheffield hit a two-run shot as New York took a 3-0 lead in the first.
"I took responsibility for all the guys," he said. "I just told them ride me all the way."
Ramirez's two-run homer in the bottom half cut the deficit to one run. The Yankees scored on a pair of sacrifice flies in the second inning and then made it 5-2 on Matsui's homer in the third.
Rodriguez added a solo shot in the fifth — his 48th of the year, moving him ahead of Ortiz for the AL lead. Wakefield also allowed one of the more painful homers in Red Sox history when he gave up Aaron Boone's shot that ended Game 7 of the 2003 AL championship series.
The Red Sox recovered the next year and won their first World Series title since 1918. But they'll have to wait at least one more day to find out if they've got a chance to defend their title.
Under baseball rules, the Yankees (95-66) clinched the division over Boston (94-67) because of Cleveland's loss to Chicago in the AL Central. The loss by the Indians (93-68) eliminated the possibility of a three-way tie — and an unprecedented two-game, three-team tiebreaker — and gave New York the East because the Yankees clinched the season series against Boston, 10-8.
New York began the year 11-19, its worst start since 1966, and dropped nine games off the division lead. The Yankees trailed Boston by 5 1/2 games on the morning of Aug. 11, but the Yankees went 35-12 the rest of the way. Johnson was a big reason why, going 6-0 in eight starts since Aug. 21.
Notes:@ Derek Jeter reached the 200-hit milestone for the fourth time. Only Lou Gehrig, who had 200 hits eight times, has more as a Yankee. ... When Boston manager Terry Francona heard that the Yankees had brought in a knuckleball pitcher to pitch batting practice to them Saturday to prepare for Wakefield, he quipped, "we imported a 6-foot-11 guy."... Torre said facing a knuckleballer in batting practice is more to get the Yankee hitters adjusted to the speed of the pitch rather than the movement. "So much today is based on timing to a certain speed of pitch," he said. ... Torre moved Robinson Cano up to sixth in the batting order and Martinez up to seventh largely because of the success they've had against Wakefield in the past.