Though their return to the postseason is now assured, the New York Yankees should have little trouble finding motivation to wrap up the AL East title. If they win the division, they’ll likely avoid facing Scott Kazmir(notes) in the first round.
Kazmir tries to continue his remarkable success against the Yankees and earn his second win since joining the Los Angeles Angels as the two division leaders meet for the final time this regular season Wednesday afternoon in Anaheim.
The Yankees (96-56) clinched their return to the postseason after a one-year absence - and their 14th playoff berth in 15 seasons - Tuesday night after Texas lost in Oakland, then avoided backing in to the playoffs with a 6-5 victory in the middle game of this series.
New York blew a five-run lead, but salvaged the win after Alex Rodriguez’s(notes) sacrifice fly scored Brett Gardner(notes) in the top of the ninth. It was the first victory in five tries in Anaheim this season for the Yankees, who have still dropped 18 of their last 24 road games against the Angels.
“I wish we could be a bit happier, but we’re still out there trying to win,” outfielder Johnny Damon(notes) said. “We didn’t want to back into the playoffs, though. It’s good that we sealed our own fate.”
New York also increased its division lead to six games over Boston. Winning the East would in all likelihood give the Yankees a first-round matchup with the Central winner, and allow them to avoid facing the Angels and Kazmir (9-8, 5.08 ERA) - no small consideration given their recent history against the left-hander.
“The division is very important to us,” said Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira(notes), who made the postseason with the Angels last year. “You don’t see any champagne tonight, but hopefully in a couple of days you will.”
Kazmir is 6-4 with a 2.53 ERA lifetime versus New York, including 5-1 with a 1.46 ERA in eight starts since April 24, 2007. He’s had the number of most of the Yankees’ top hitters. Derek Jeter(notes) is 4 for 33 with 10 strikeouts against Kazmir, while Rodriguez is 3 for 24 with seven strikeouts. Robinson Cano(notes) is 3 for 23 and has fanned eight times, while Yankee stalwarts Damon, Nick Swisher(notes) and Hideki Matsui(notes) also all have averages below .200.
The Angels’ acquisition of Kazmir from Tampa Bay on Aug. 28 is paying dividends. He owns a 1.42 ERA in four starts with his new club, and finally broke into the win column for Los Angeles (90-61) last Friday, scattering six hits over six innings of a 2-0 victory at Texas.
“Any time you’re with a new team, you want to show what you’re made of. This was the perfect example. There was something I wanted to prove,” Kazmir said. “It’s always exciting to get your first one with your new team, especially a team that’s trying to get a playoff spot.”
Despite Tuesday’s loss, that playoff spot appears a virtual certainty as the Angels (90-61) lead slumping Texas by 7 1/2 games and have a magic number of six to clinch the West. The Angels, winners of seven of their last nine in Anaheim, host the Rangers for four games next week.
Seeking their first series win in Anaheim since May 18-20, 2004, the Yankees will send A.J. Burnett(notes) (11-9, 4.22) to the mound. The right-hander is 1-5 with a 5.60 ERA in 10 outings since the start of August. He pitched effectively at Seattle last Friday, allowing one run over seven innings, but wound up without a decision as Mariano Rivera(notes) blew a rare save opportunity and New York lost 3-2.
Burnett is 1-2 with a 4.63 ERA in five starts against the Angels.