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Yankees win seventh straight East title

NEW YORK (AP) -- Bernie Williams sent a drive soaring to
left-center field, raised his right arm in triumph and circled the
bases.

Pretty soon, he was home -- and so were the New York Yankees.

Williams hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning and the Yankees
clinched their seventh straight AL East title, beating the
playoff-bound Minnesota Twins 6-4 Thursday night for their 100th
victory of the season.

"This time of year seems to bring out the best in him,"
Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

With the crowd already standing and hollering, Williams
connected with one out to set off an enthusiastic celebration.

"I've been through it so many times. I was picturing it in the
on-deck circle, taking it all in, thinking it would be nice for me
to end it," Williams said.

Williams missed much of spring training following an
appendectomy. He struggled at times during the season, and even was
benched late in the year for a big game against Boston.

But he was in the lineup for this one, right where his teammates
wanted him.

Captain Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were the first players to
greet Williams at home. The Yankees enjoyed the moment, gathering
for a group hug near the plate.

"It was fitting. Bernie's been here the longest," Jeter said
in the champagne-filled Yankees clubhouse. "He's been through a
lot this year."

Williams' homer was the Yankees' major league-leading 241st of
the season, breaking the franchise record set in 1961.

Hideki Matsui and John Olerud also homered for New York, which
won the division by overcoming an 8-11 start that included six
losses in seven games against Boston.

"The things that happened early in the year when we were
roughed up by the Red Sox I think galvanized this ballclub," Torre
said.

New York became just the fourth team to post three straight
100-win seasons, joining Atlanta (1997-99), Baltimore (1969-71) and
the Philadelphia Athletics (1929-31).

"I am very proud of the team. They're real warriors," Yankees
owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "I am very happy
with the outcome. Now, let's get ready for the playoffs."

The Yankees swept the three-game series from the AL Central
champs and very possibly will face the Twins in the first round
starting Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. For New York to meet the AL
West winner -- Anaheim or Oakland -- Minnesota would have to sweep
Cleveland in its final three games and the weekend series between
the Angels and Athletics would have to wind up 2-1 instead of a
sweep.

"They're all good teams," Torre said. "I'm not sure I could
pick out one I'd want to start with."

Torre had said he hoped to clinch the crown in New York's final
home game, rather than wait to party in Toronto during the weekend.
He got his wish in front of a crowd of 48,454 that boosted the
Yankees' home season attendance to a team-record 3,775,292.

"That team over there was on a mission tonight," Twins manager
Ron Gardenhire said. "You could see it. Every time they needed a
run, they hit a home run. They've been struggling all year, and
they win 100 games -- that's a joke. We win 90 games, and we think
we're doing great."

The Yankees won this one as they did so many others, featuring
the recurring themes of home runs, strong bullpen work and
comebacks. The victory, the 61st in which New York overcame a
deficit, relegated Boston to its seventh straight second-place
finish, although the Red Sox again captured the wild-card spot.

Tom Gordon (9-4) pitched one inning for the win. Aaron Fultz
(3-3) took the loss in a game the Twins led on three separate
occasions.

Brad Radke tuned up for his playoff start by going five innings
for the Twins. Expected to pitch Game 2 behind ace Johan Santana,
Radke gave up two runs and six hits.

The Yankees wanted to see a good outing for Javier Vazquez, who
began the night with a 7.06 ERA since the All-Star break. He did
OK, allowing four runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings.

Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau hit solo home runs for
Minnesota. Hunter hit his 23rd for an early 2-0 lead, and Morneau
connected in the sixth for a 3-2 edge.

After Olerud homered in the sixth, the Twins retook the lead in
the seventh on an RBI double by Henry Blanco that landed on the
chalk line, barely beyond third base.

Matsui hit his 31st home run, a solo drive in the seventh that
made it 4-all.

Matsui drew a leadoff walk from Radke in the fourth. Williams,
Jorge Posada and Olerud all followed with ground singles through
the right side, producing two runs.

Augie Ojeda, subbing for shortstop Cristian Guzman, hit an RBI
single that put the Twins ahead 1-0 in the second. Guzman was a
late scratch because of a stiff neck.

Game notes
New York finished 57-24 at home. ... Twins reliever Juan
Rincon struck out five in two perfect innings. He left after
fanning Gary Sheffield to start the ninth. The crowd chanted "MVP!
MVP!" throughout Sheffield's at-bat.