Yanks top Red Sox, pop corks

New York celebrates 8th straight East title

R. Johnson earns win

Yankees 8 Red Sox 4



Boston -- Dripping with sweat and champagne, New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter found a relatively dry Reggie Jackson in the cramped visitors' clubhouse at Fenway Park.

Jeter approached Jackson, the Hall of Famer and current club special adviser, while he was dispensing handshakes after New York beat the Boston Red Sox, 8-4, yesterday to clinch its 11th straight postseason berth and eighth straight American League East crown.

The Yankees' current Mr. Everything received permission from Mr. October, then he uncorked a new bottle and poured its contents over Jackson's head.

They hugged, Jackson kissed Jeter on the cheek and said, "You deserve this."

That's what Jeter and his teammates have been thinking for several weeks now.

"We've been through a lot, and a lot of people counted us out," Jeter said. "But everyone in here thought we could win the division. This is just the first step, but everyone here should be real proud."

In baseball annals, this will look like just another ho-hum Yankees' division title. It was anything but.

"This was one of the most difficult without question," Jeter said. "I don't know if you can rate how gratifying each one is, because every one is a little bit different, but this is probably the most difficult one we have had."

The once-invincible Bronx Bombers found themselves nine games behind the first-place Orioles on May 7 and four games in back of the Red Sox as late as Sept. 10. They have won 16 of their past 20, including yesterday against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in hostile territory, to complete their improbable - but not truly unexpected - comeback.

And the feeling persists that the Yankees (95-66) and the Red Sox (94-67) will have a definite impact on who represents the AL in the World Series.

"I think this year was the year for us to win the division and not go through the situation we are going through right now," Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said. "There were a couple of games if we had executed early in the season, we might be up at least three, five games.

"But nobody knows how this is going to finish."

With a win today in their regular-season finale, the defending World Series champion Red Sox will earn their third consecutive AL wild-card berth - and technically a share of the division crown. But because the Yankees won the season series between the teams, they get the automatic spot in the postseason.

Even if the Red Sox lose today, they can back into the wild card if the Chicago White Sox beat the Cleveland Indians (93-68). If Boston loses and the Indians win, the two will have a one-game playoff to decide the wild card tomorrow in Boston.

The path could have been much more difficult for the Red Sox if Chicago hadn't mounted a comeback and beaten the Indians, 4-3, in Cleveland yesterday. That final was posted on Fenway's out-of-town scoreboard in the ninth inning, and the 34,556 at the park - Red Sox and Yankees fans - cheered in unison.

"It's the most unique situation you will see," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "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."

By the time Chicago's win was official, the Yankees' victory was, for practical purposes anyway, sealed - thanks to an uneven but effective performance by 42-year-old Randy Johnson.

After allowing a two-run homer to Manny Ramirez in the first and escaping a bases-loaded jam in the second, Johnson (17-8) retired 13 of 15 batters before giving up a bases-empty homer to Tony Graffanino in the seventh.

Johnson earned his fifth win in six starts against the Red Sox and his sixth straight victory overall.

"He's pitched well for us for a while now. He's pitched well every time we have faced Boston," Jeter said. "Every game out seems like a bigger game for him and he does better."

The Yankees staked Johnson to a 3-0 lead in the first on a Jason Giambi groundout and a two-run homer by Gary Sheffield. Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui also homered against Wakefield (16-12).

Now the Red Sox, with ace Curt Schilling on the mound today, must win to guarantee a trip to the playoffs. And, a possible opportunity to play the Yankees in the American League Championship Series - with the winner heading to the World Series.

"You know what? There's a good chance we'll see them again," Boston center fielder Johnny Damon said. "I know that's what everybody wants."


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