The New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics won division titles on the final day of Major League Baseball’s regular season. While the Yankees’ was no surprise, even A’s executives and players were shocked at their crown.
The Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers were relegated to an American League wild-card playoff as the pairings for MLB’s postseason, which begins tomorrow night, were finalized.
The Yankees, with an MLB-high opening-day payroll of $198 million, won the AL East title for the 13th time in 17 years. The A’s, who rank next-to-last in payroll among the 30 MLB teams, weren’t expected to have a winning record this year.
“I’m pretty choked up,” A’s owner Lew Wolff said in a clubhouse interview while getting sprayed with champagne. “I thought we’d be competitive this year, but not super competitive. Did I predict this? No.”
The AL postseason begins tomorrow with Baltimore at Texas in a one-game playoff to determine the Yankees’ opponent in an AL Division Series. Oakland is at the Detroit Tigers to start the other division series the following day.
In the National League, the Atlanta Braves host the defending-champion St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card playoff tomorrow. The winner goes on to meet the Washington Nationals. The other division series has the Cincinnati Reds against the San Francisco Giants, winners of the World Series in 2010.
The Yankees and Nationals are 5-1 co-favorites to win the World Series, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book, followed by the Reds at 11-2, the Tigers at 6-1, and the Giants and Athletics at 7-1.
Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers completed baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years. Cabrera, 29, ended the regular season with 44 home runs, 139 runs batted in and a .330 batting average, leading the AL in all three categories and the first to do so in either league since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
The Yankees clinched the AL East when the Orioles lost 4-1 at the Tampa Bay Rays, who got three solo home runs from Evan Longoria. New York later won 14-2 at home against the Boston Red Sox to finish with a two-game margin over the Orioles.
The Yankees have home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano hit two home runs each for the Yankees and combined to drive in 10 runs.
“It’s not easy to do what these guys did,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “Sometimes we take it for granted because there’s been so much success here over the last 20 years, but this is a grind.”
The Athletics completed a 13-game comeback by winning the AL West title with yet another rally. Trailing the Rangers 5-1, the A’s scored six runs in the fourth inning -- the last two runs coming when center fielder Josh Hamilton dropped a routine fly ball -- and went on to win 12-5 to take the division title from Texas by one game.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin doused cigar-smoking players with champagne as General Manager Billy Beane answered reporters’ questions while holding his 4-year-old son, Brayden.
“It’s a surprise, but I don’t think that recognizes the talent of the players,” Beane said. “Listen, 162 games you’re not a Cinderella. Surprises are in May.”
The A’s began the season 29th in the major leagues with a $55 million payroll, according to USA Today’s annual survey. The Oakland roster was assembled by Beane, whose philosophy of evaluating players was the topic of the book “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis.
Oakland’s all-rookie starting pitching rotation has made a combined 111 major league starts -- 422 fewer than the Yankees’ 40-year-old Andy Pettitte, who leads current pitchers with 491 regular-season and 42 postseason starts.
The Rangers began the season with a $121 million payroll that ranked sixth in MLB. Until yesterday, Texas hadn’t been out of first place since April.
The A’s, who trailed the Rangers by 13 games on June 30, won their sixth straight. They swept a three-game series from Texas at the Oakland Coliseum, which yesterday hosted a giddy sellout crowd of 36,067 that included 1,000 standees. The A’s were fourth lowest in MLB this season with an average home attendance of 20,536 entering yesterday’s game.
At the All-Star break in early July, the A’s were given 100-to-1 odds of winning their division, according to Pregame.com’s RJ Bell, meaning a bettor who put down $100 on Oakland would have made $10,000 plus the original investment.
“There was never any pressure on us, we were supposed to lose 100 games,” Oakland’s Brandon Moss said in a televised interview. “We just came to the park every day and played the best baseball we could.”
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