Having clinched the AL East for the sixth straight year, the New York Yankees can now set their sites on securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Yankees lead Oakland by 3 1/2 games in the race for the best record in the AL with five to play.
Jose Contreras struck out a career-high nine Tuesday to help the Yankees clinch the AL East title with a 7-0 victory over the White Sox.
New York has captured the AL East title in seven of the last nine seasons, finishing second in 1995 and 1997.
“No, it doesn’t get old,” Derek Jeter said in the clubhouse following Tuesday’s win. “We’ve been playing from the middle of February to be in this position right here, to win the division. It’s worth celebrating.”
Hideki Matsui drove in his 106th run for the Yankees, who are five games ahead of second-place Boston with five games left. New York owns the tiebreaker because it beat Boston 10-9 in the season series.
Mussina has been a big part of the Yankees’ success. The veteran right-hander, who is 199-109 in his career, is 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA since the All-Star break.
Tuesday’s loss eliminated the White Sox from postseason play. Minnesota beat Cleveland 4-1 earlier Tuesday and leads Chicago by six games with five to play.
The White Sox had a two-game lead in the AL Central just two weeks ago, but have lost nine of 13 since.
“I always held out hope,” White Sox manager Jerry Manuel said. “Regardless of what the numbers were I always held out hope we could get it done. Baseball is a funny game, but we just didn’t get it done.”
Esteban Loaiza will be making his fourth attempt at his 20th win. The veteran right-hander has hurt his AL Cy Young chances by going 0-3 with a 7.05 ERA in his last three starts.
If he gets to 20 before the end of the season, Loaiza would become only the third Mexican-born pitcher to win 20 games. Teddy Higuera went 20-11 for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1986, the same season Fernando Valenzuela was 21-11 for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
STANDINGS: Yankees - 1st place, AL East. White Sox - 2nd place (tied), 6 GB, AL Central.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Mussina (17-7, 3.14 ERA). The right-hander gave up one run and five hits while striking out six in five innings of a 1-1 rain-shortened tie with Baltimore on Thursday.
WHITE SOX PROBABLE STARTER: Loaiza (19-9, 2.92 ERA). Loaiza gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings of a 7-1 loss to Kansas City on Saturday. Loaiza is 7-4 with a 4.15 ERA in 14 career appearances, including 12 starts, against the Yankees. He allowed one hit and struck out nine over seven scoreless innings in a 13-2 win at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 26.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Yankees - Jeter, .323 avg.; Jason Giambi, 40 HRs; Giambi and Matsui, 106 RBIs; Alfonso Soriano, 112 runs and 34 SBs. White Sox - Magglio Ordonez, .324 avg.; Frank Thomas, 41 HRs; Carlos Lee, 105 RBIs, 94 runs and 18 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: White Sox, 3-2.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Yankees - C Jorge Posada is batting .182 (6-for-33) with a home run and nine strikeouts against RHP Loaiza. … RHP Mussina has struggled against the White Sox, going 11-12 with 4.57 ERA in 27 career starts. … 2B Soriano is batting .383 with eight home runs in September. White Sox - OF Ordonez is batting an AL-high .366 since the All-Star break. … The White Sox rank fourth in the AL with a .984 fielding percentage, which would tie the club record set in 2002. … OF Carl Everett is batting .286 (8-for-28) with two home runs and 11 strikeouts lifetime against Mussina.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Yankees - 51-28 on the road; White Sox - 50-30 at home.