NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Yankees can achieve two milestones with one more victory: clinching their seventh straight AL East title and reaching 100 wins in three straight seasons for the first
Behind a pair of saves by Mariano Rivera, Jon Lieber's 100th
career win and the hitting of Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, the
Yankees swept a doubleheader from the Minnesota Twins 5-3 and 5-4 Wednesday night.
New York (99-59) opened a four-game lead over second-place Boston (95-63), and would clinch the division with one more win or one Red Sox loss. Both teams are both assured of no worse than the AL wild-card berth.
"We said all along if Boston wins 110, 115 games, they deserve the division," Rodriguez said. "We took care of our business on this side, and we have one more to go."
Rodriguez hit a tiebreaking, two-run triple in the seventh
inning of the opener, then had an opposite-field homer to right in
the second game, his 36th homer of the season. Matsui hit a solo
homer in the opener, then added an opposite-field, three-run homer
in the nightcap, his 30th.
New York can clinch at home Thursday against the Twins before heading to Toronto for a three-game series that closes the regular season.
"We definitely want to do it tomorrow," said Rivera, who
raised his career-high saves total to 53.
Minnesota (90-68) has lost six of eight since clinching its
third straight AL Central title. The Twins are vying with the
eventual AL West winner -- Anaheim (90-68) or Oakland (89-69) -- for homefield advantage in the first round.
"We had two bad innings, we lost two ballgames," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
"We knew that if you clinch your division early enough, you can set yourself up," the manager said.
New York's Mike Mussina faced Minnesota's Johan Santana in the first game, a possible preview of a playoff opener. Yankees manager Joe Torre made it all but official that Mussina will start Game 1 Tuesday against the Twins or the AL West winner. The way his staff is lining up, it appears Lieber will start the second game in the best-of-five series, Orlando Hernandez the third and Javier Vazquez the fourth, if it's needed.
"When you get to the postseason, you have to be at your best
and hope that when you step out there, all your stuff is available
to you," Mussina said. "I don't have any problems, and I think
all my stuff is available to me. I'll just be prepared for the
first game, wherever that is."
On the Yankees' shaky starting rotation, Mussina is the closest
thing to an ace they have, especially now that Hernandez's status
is uncertain because of right shoulder stiffness. Mussina, coming
off consecutive starts against Boston's Pedro Martinez, fell behind
3-0 in the first on Hunter's homer and Corey Koskie's two-run
double but followed with five scoreless innings.
Torre would only hint that Mussina will start the opener,
saying: "I think you can guess without my help."
Santana, seeking to match Boston's Curt Schilling at a major
league-leading 21 wins, dominated New York for five innings and
left with a 3-1 lead. But the Yankees extended their major league
record for come-from-behind wins with their 60th, stopping his
streak of consecutive winning starts at 12.
Santana, 13-0 in 15 appearances since the All-Star break, was
limited to five innings by Gardenhire. Santana, who struck out five
and gave up three hits, is looking ahead to the playoffs, not
thinking about whether the no-decision hurt his Cy Young Award
"I think we have proven we can play these games," Santana
said. "We have a better pitching staff than a couple of years ago.
I definitely like our chances."
Juan Rincon relieved to face Derek Jeter, whose bouncer to the third-base side of the mound tipped off the pitcher's glove for an
infield hit that scored the tying run. Rodriguez followed with a
triple high off the right-field wall.
Paul Quantrill (7-3) pitched one inning for the win. In the
second game, Lieber (14-8) allowed four runs -- two earned -- and 10
hits in 5 2-3 innings. Kyle Lohse (8-12) gave up five runs, one of
them unearned, in six innings.
"I know that I'm much better than what I showed," Lieber said.
"I was very lucky."
Torre thinks Hernandez should be able to start Friday at Toronto. Hernandez was scratched from his scheduled start Tuesday before it was rained out and threw on flat ground without pain Wednesday. Torre also plans to use RHP Kevin Brown in relief this week, a possibly a prelude to his postseason role. He warmed up in the second game but didn't enter. ... Jeter threw out Michael Cuddyer at first base from the outfield grass in the second game. ... New York's 238 homers are two shy of the club record, set in 1961.