Yankees Take Division Lead With Four Home Runs as Orioles Lose

The New York Yankees took a one-game division lead over the Baltimore Orioles after routing the Boston Red Sox 10-2 and tying a franchise record with four home runs during a nine-run second inning.

The Orioles (92-68) had their four-game winning streak snapped with a 5-3 loss at the Tampa Bay Rays last night as the Yankees (93-67) regained sole possession of first place in the American League Eastern Division with two games left in Major League Baseball’s regular season.

“I’m glad we have a lead,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said at a news conference. “It sure beats the alternative. It’s important baseball this time of year and that’s good.”

The Washington Nationals captured the National League Eastern Division title last night, while the Detroit Tigers wrapped up the AL Central title and the Oakland Athletics assured themselves of a playoff berth for the first time since 2006 by beating the Texas Rangers 4-3.

The Athletics’ $55 million player payroll is the second-lowest in baseball this season, a fraction of the Yankees’ major league-leading $198 million roster.

“I love the fact that we’re underdogs,” Athletics relief pitcher Grant Balfour said as his teammates celebrated by spraying champagne in the Oakland locker room. “People write us off and it just keeps building up the fire under us.”

Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Mark Teixeira all hit second-inning homers last night in New York while pitcher CC Sabathia allowed two runs over eight innings.

Four Homers

The only other times the Yankees hit four homers in an inning were June 21, 2005, against the Rays and on June 30, 1977, against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“That was some kind of inning our guys put up,” Girardi said. “You love that type of lead where you can just let CC go to work and take care of it.”

The Rays broke open a 1-1 game against Baltimore with three runs in the seventh inning and another in the eighth before withstanding a ninth-inning rally by the Orioles.

The Yankees will host the Red Sox today and tomorrow, while the Orioles finish the regular season on the road with two more games against the Rays.

While both the Yankees and Orioles clinched postseason spots two days ago, the team that wins the AL East title advances to the best-of-five division series while the runner-up gets a wild-card berth and has to play a one-game playoff to advance to the next round. If the Yankees and Orioles were to finish the regular season with the same record, they’d play one extra game on Oct. 4 in Baltimore to determine the division winner and wild-card representative.

Wild Cards

The AL’s two wild-card teams will meet in a one-game playoff Oct. 5 to determine which club advances to face one of the three division winners in a best-of-five series.

The Athletics (92-68) are in position for the other wild-card spot and are now one game behind the AL West-leading Rangers (93-67) after last night’s win. The teams meet again tonight, with the Rangers needing a victory to clinch the division title. Oakland’s win last night eliminated the Los Angeles Angels from playoff contention.

The Tigers captured the AL Central title with a 6-3 victory against the Kansas City Royals, a result that ended any chance for the Chicago White Sox to make the postseason.

“In our mind right now, we’re ready for the playoffs,” said Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who went 4-for-5 with a home run. “Hopefully we can go all the way.”

The Nationals lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 2-0, yet won the NL East title when the Atlanta Braves lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1. It’s the first NL East crown for the Nationals (96-64) since the team moved to Washington in 2005.

Another Step

“This is just one more step,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “I’m glad we got this over with and now we can get ready for whoever we’re going to play.”

The Braves (93-67) will be one of the NL’s two wild-card representatives, while the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants already have clinched NL division titles.

The St. Louis Cardinals assured themselves of at least a tie for the NL’s second wild-card berth with a 4-2 win against the Reds. The defending World Series-champion Cardinals (87-73) have won 11 of their past 14 games and have a two-game lead in the wild-card race over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who kept their playoff hopes alive with a 3-2 win over the Giants.

The Rangers, losers in each of the past two World Series, are the favorites at 4-1 to win the championship this season, followed by the NL Central-champion Reds and the Yankees at 11-2, according to online sports book Bovada.lv. The Nationals are fourth at 6-1 and the Tigers are fifth at 7-to-1.

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