Yankees 7, Devil Rays 3
NEW YORK (AP)—After clinching another postseason trip, there were no high-fives or celebratory handshakes in the New York Yankees’ clubhouse. It was business as usual—except for all the rookies dressed in Elvis outfits.
Derek Jeter hit a leadoff home run, Jon Lieber pitched into the eighth inning and the Yankees clinched their 10th consecutive playoff berth with a 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Thursday.
“It’s nice, but we expect that coming in,” Alex Rodriguez said.
John Flaherty also homered for the Yankees (96-57), who are assured of no worse than a wild-card spot. They’re guaranteed of finishing among the top two in the AL East, and no team can finish second in the AL Central or AL West with more than 95 wins.
“We don’t come in here saying, `Let’s get to the postseason,”’ Jeter said. “We’ve made the postseason before. We want to win the division.”
New York increased its AL East lead to 4 1/2 games over the second-place Red Sox, who lost to Baltimore 9-7. The Yankees go to Fenway Park for a three-game series this weekend.
While most of the Yankees were putting on suits for the trip to Boston, rookies such as Andy Phillips, Scott Proctor, Brad Halsey and Bubba Crosby were slipping into sparkly different-colored Elvis outfits—complete with wigs and sunglasses—while classic tunes from The King played over the loudspeaker as part of a team hazing ritual.
“I’m just glad I have all of my body parts covered,” Proctor said with a laugh.
New York, given a standing ovation by fans following the final out, has the second-longest streak of consecutive trips to the playoffs, trailing only Atlanta, which was in position to clinch its 13th straight division title later Thursday.
The Yankees took a low-key approach instead of celebrating clinching a playoff spot.
“We just don’t do that,” manager Joe Torre said. “If you’re sitting in first place and celebrate just getting into the playoffs, you’ve already taken a psychological dip.”
Thursday’s game was a makeup of an April 13 rainout, which at first was supposed to be played as part of a Labor Day doubleheader but got pushed back again because Tampa Bay was delayed traveling due to a hurricane.
“I don’t think anybody was looking forward to this trip today,” outfielder Carl Crawford said. “But you can make all kinds of excuses. We just played a bad game.”
Tickets for the 3 p.m. game were $5, with hot dogs and sodas half-price. The paid attendance was 29,501, but that didn’t include the tens of thousands of season-ticket holders who received free tickets.
Aubrey Huff went 4-for-4 with an RBI for Tampa Bay, which has lost five of six. The Yankees finished the season 15-4 against the Devil Rays, including 10-0 at home.
Jeter, hitting a season-high .293 after going 3-for-4 with a walk, put New York ahead in the first. He hit his second leadoff homer of the season and 13th of his career, a drive into the Yankees’ bullpen in left-center field off Todd Ritchie (0-2). Jeter’s 23rd homer was the Yankees’ major league-leading 231st of the season, the second-highest total in franchise history.
“Jeter has been doing that for years,” Torre said. “Whether he hits first or ninth, he gives us a lift.”
Flaherty gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead in the second with a leadoff homer off Ritchie.
Miguel Cairo and Jeter followed with singles before Rodriguez hit into a double play, putting Cairo at third. Sheffield hit a looper into center that fell just out of reach of a diving Rocco Baldelli for an RBI triple. That was all for Ritchie, who was replaced by Franklin Nunez.
It appeared the Devil Rays would get out of the inning when Matsui grounded to second, but the ball went under Jorge Cantu’s glove for a run-scoring error.
Ritchie allowed five runs—four earned—and six hits in 1 2-3 innings.
“It was an embarrassing performance there,” Ritchie said. “It’s a starter’s job to set the tone. I never came close to getting into a rhythm. I take full responsibility.”
Tampa Bay made it 5-1 in the fourth on Midre Cummings’ RBI double.
Williams saved a run in the sixth when he caught Baldelli’s fly to center and threw a one-hopper to Flaherty, who blocked the plate and tagged out Huff trying to score from third.
Brook Fordyce had an RBI double in the seventh, and Huff hit an RBI double in the eighth to make it 7-3.
Yankees RHP Kevin Brown had the pins removed from his broken left hand, and will throw a bullpen session Friday. Manager Joe Torre hasn’t announced who will start Sunday’s game against Boston, and didn’t completely rule out Brown. … The Yankees’ franchise record for homers in a season is 240, set in 1961.