Yankees 7, White Sox 0
CHICAGO (AP)—The bottles of champagne were almost empty, and the giddy New York Yankees were dousing each other in beer and shaving cream.
The clubhouse was buzzing with the sound of laughter, interrupted only by the occasional shout when someone got surprised with a shower of champagne.
Then, in the midst of the celebration, Derek Jeter’s voice rose above the din:
“Enjoy it for a couple of days. But we’ve got three more steps to go, fellas.”
Yes, the Yankees were thrilled to win their sixth straight AL East title Tuesday night. But three years removed from their last World Series championship, they have their eyes on the ultimate prize.
“This is just step one,” manager Joe Torre said. “This is just a minor celebration, hopefully.”
Minor or not, the Yankees sure know how to throw a party.
Jose Contreras got the Yankees going with a gem of a game, striking out a career-high nine on three days’ rest. Jason Giambi then kicked the festivities into high gear, hitting a grand slam in the ninth to cap a 7-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
When Mariano Rivera struck out Jose Valentin for the final out, the Yankees ran out of their dugout, exchanging hugs and high-fives. T-shirts with “Six in a Row Eastern Division Champions” were waiting for them in the clubhouse, as were bottles of champagne.
“No, it doesn’t get old,” Jeter said. “We’ve been playing from the middle of February to be in this position right here, to win the division. It’s worth celebrating.”
Especially after the kind of season they’ve had. Jeter missed 36 games early in the season with a separated shoulder, while Bernie Williams was out for 42 games. Nick Johnson missed 61 games with a broken bone in his right hand, and Rivera missed the first 25 games of the season with a strained groin.
“The guys in this room understand how hard it is to get here, especially when everybody in the league guns for you every year because they know that you’re going to have a good team,” Giambi said. “By no means was anybody feeling sorry for us when Jeter went down and Bernie went down and Nick Johnson.
“That’s what’s gratifying. We still all came together as a ballclub and ended up winning the division with all those guys going down.”
Even though the Yankees (98-59) and Red Sox (93-64) could finish with the same record, the second-place team would be assured of the wild card and New York would win the division because it beat Boston 10-9 in the season series.
“Congratulations to Joe Torre and the Yankees,” owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. “I know that Joe will be ready to take on the next challenge. I believe this is really for New York.”
The loss was doubly disappointing for the White Sox, who were eliminated from postseason play. Minnesota beat Cleveland 4-1 earlier Tuesday and lead the White Sox by six games with five to play.
The White Sox had a two-game lead in the AL Central just two weeks ago. Since then, they’ve lost nine of 13.
Already disgusted with their team’s late-season collapse, White Sox fans were more interested in doing “The Wave” than watching another loss Tuesday night. When Frank Thomas struck out for the third out in the eighth, fans booed and then headed for the exits.
“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.”
Already guaranteed no worse than the AL wild-card berth, the Yankees arrived in Chicago needing just one victory to clinch the East title through the tiebreaker with Boston.
Though Torre initially said he wanted to wait to celebrate until the team ensured it would have the most wins in the division, he changed his mind after talking with general manager Brian Cashman.
“He said, `We’re going to be outright winners with the one,”’ Torre said before Tuesday’s game. “Doing that, with the day off coming up Thursday, we might as well look to win a game and have some fun.”
And have fun they did.
Johnson, the second batter, worked Mark Buehrle (14-14) to a full count before hitting a solo homer to left. It was Johnson’s 14th homer of the year, and it would be all the offense Contreras (7-2) would need.
Alfonso Soriano followed with a single and, after Kelly Wunsch relieved, Johnson doubled off the wall. Wunsch intentionally walked Jeter to get to Giambi, who’d been just 6-for-28 in his last eight games.
But the move failed miserably. Giambi hammered a 2-2 pitch, sending it deep in the right-field stands for a grand slam homer, his first of the year.
The homer was Giambi’s 40th, and he joined Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees with multiple 40-homer seasons.
“I hit my 40th tonight, a grand slam,” Giambi said, a big grin on his face. “The night doesn’t get much better than that.”
Contreras was pitching on short rest so Torre could set his playoff rotation. Torre didn’t want Mike Mussina pitching in the playoffs after a week’s layoff, so he moved the right-hander to Wednesday and pushed Contreras up a day.
The quick turnaround didn’t seem to hurt Contreras. He scattered four hits and walked just one in eight innings, his longest outing this year.
“He was nasty today,” catcher Jorge Posada said.
Fun for the Yankees, maybe. Not so much for the White Sox.
Chicago had runners in scoring position only twice against Contreras, but couldn’t get them off second base.
“Our guys came back and some were saying that’s some of the best stuff they have seen all year,” Manuel said.
It was Contreras’ third straight win, and the fourth time this year that he’s won after a Yankees loss.
Buehrle gave up two runs and eight hits in seven innings.
“Even though our goals are so much higher than the division, it’s so important to be able to let off some steam,” Torre said as he watched hisplayers celebrate. “There’s a lot of pressure that goes on during the year.”
Contreras’ previous high for strikeouts was eight, against Tampa Bay on Sept. 14. … Jeter has reached base safely in 25 games. … Buehrle is on 0-2with a 3.92 ERA against the Yankees.