Yankees punch playoff ticket, but East up for grabs
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ONTO -- The Yankees have arrived at the first checkpoint of their march toward October's top spot, now guaranteed of entry into baseball's postseason with at least an American League Wild Card spot.
New York secured its playoff berth late on Sunday by virtue of the Angels' 8-7 loss to the Rangers in Arlington, which concluded long after the Yankees had already returned to New York following their 9-6 victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
But as the Yankees packed their bags and bolted for the international customs line, buzzing over what could be a season-defining comeback win over Toronto, they left the impression that no one would be turning cartwheels over news of an AL Wild Card berth.
"It means we're in the playoffs, but you celebrate for winning the division," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "That's what you're trying to do. Our goal going into the season isn't to clinch a Wild Card, it's to win a division, and we still haven't done that."
The Yankees have no room to relax, still embroiled in what has shaped up as a fight to the finish with the Orioles for the AL East title.
"I'm not even thinking about the Wild Card, man," Nick Swisher said. "That's not my thought process. My thought process is the division, get ourselves another banner, get ourselves another ring."
New York and Baltimore head into the final three games of the regular season deadlocked atop the division, with the Yankees hosting the Red Sox and the Orioles visiting the Rays.
New York and Baltimore are still also in play for the best record in the AL, an achievement that potentially offers home-field advantage for the first two rounds of the postseason.
The Rangers improved to 93-66 with their win over the Angels on Sunday night, while the Yankees and O's head into their final series of the year holding identical 92-67 records.
"We get to go home now and play at our ballpark," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We had an outstanding homestand the last time, and that's what we need to do again and see where we fall."
In head-to-head meetings, New York and Baltimore completed the season 9-9, so in the event both clubs complete the regular season still deadlocked atop the division, there would be a one-game tiebreaker held at Camden Yards on Thursday.
Camden Yards would be the site for that potential game because of a second tiebreaker, clubs' records against the AL East this season. Baltimore's 42-27 mark against the division bests New York's 38-31 record.
The Yankees have Andy Pettitte lined up to pitch that contest, if necessary, but they would much rather focus on a postseason picture that doesn't include any type of one-game playoff.
Only winning the division can assure that, making it the most important goal over the next 72 or so hours.
"It's exciting," Swisher said. "I'm juiced up to go back home. I know the Bronx is going to be going crazy, and we're excited to get there."