TORONTO – The New York Yankees staggered up to the finish line. Then, behind a dominant performance from CC Sabathia, they strode across it and into the playoffs.
After that, it was time to party.
The Yankees clinched their 15th postseason berth in the last 16 years and Sabathia got his 21st win of the season, beating the Toronto Blue Jays 6-1 on Tuesday night.
"Two words: Cy Young," outfielder Nick Swisher said of Sabathia. "No doubt, man. He's been a horse all year long. He's done a tremendous job."
Derek Jeter scored three runs and drove in another for the Yankees, who have reached the postseason every season but one since 1995. New York missed the playoffs in 2008, finishing behind Tampa Bay and Boston in the AL East.
The Rays, who hold a half-game lead over the Yankees in the division, clinched a playoff berth Tuesday, beating Baltimore 5-0.
Tampa Bay's magic number to clinch its second AL East crown in three years is any combination of four Rays wins and Yankees losses. Tampa Bay owns the tiebreaker after winning the season series between the clubs 10-8.
"We still have aspirations of winning our division and trying to get homefield advantage," manager Joe Girardi said. "I've got to pick my spots to rest guys."
"No one in here is satisfied with this season," Teixeira said. "Everyone knows it's World Series championship or bust."
Sabathia allowed one run and three hits in 8 1-3 innings to match Andy Pettitte's 21 wins in 1996 and 2003 for the most victories by a Yankee since Ron Guidry went 22-6 in 1985.
"He wins games, he gives you innings, he gives the bullpen a night off," manager Joe Girardi said of Sabathia. "He's tremendous."
The left-hander, who walked two and struck out eight, is 9-3 in 12 career starts against Toronto, including 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA in six starts at Rogers Centre.
"You can't say enough about CC," Alex Rodriguez said. "I'm speechless when it comes to him. The minute he put on the pinstripes he's been everything that we've expected and a lot more. He's been a dream for our franchise."
Mariano Rivera got the final two outs for the Yankees, who kept their on-field celebration muted before retiring to the clubhouse for a brief speech from manager Joe Girardi.
"I congratulated them and just told them this is the first step," Girardi said. "There's a lot of work to be done."
After that, it was time to celebrate, with players donning playoff hats and goggles and dousing one another with champagne and beer.
Rodriguez was one of the few players not soaked in alcohol, saying the bigger celebrations were reserved for "young guys." Nevertheless, he said he wanted to "honor" the achievement.
"You can't say you're too cool for this first step, you have to celebrate it and really celebrate the season," Rodriguez said. "But this team is very focused and has its eye on the prize."