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Clenched teeth as Yankees clinch
First Boston, now New York as the Rays watch another at the Trop clinch a postseason spot.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 27, 2007
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez gets drenched with champaigne in the Yankees locker room after clinching a playoff berth with a 12-4 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
[Dirk Shadd | Times]
Derek Jeter, right, hugs Yankees pitching coach Ron Guidry after the team clinched a playoff berth with a win over the Rays. "This was definitely the hardest. We scuffled there early on. Everyone in here knew we had a good team, we were just playing bad."
ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays see a lot of good things in their future.
But they've had to see a few things over the last few days that are stark reminders of how far they have to go.
Saturday, they watched the Red Sox congregate behind the Tropicana Field mound to celebrate their clinching of a playoff spot. Then Wednesday, after being blasted 12-4, they had to watch the Yankees similarly gather for extended hugs and high-fives - and then head inside the visiting clubhouse for a wild and crazed celebration - to celebrate their inclusion in the postseason field.
"I did not enjoy that at all," Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "It kinda stinks. Overall, we're just tired of seeing people clinch and celebrate on our field. I think it kind of gives us a motive, and something to work for."
Carlos Pena, who broke the Rays' RBI record with his 118th and notched his Rays record-extending 43rd homer, said he felt the same way walking down the dugout steps.
"Even though it's not fun to watch those guys come in here and clinch here - it was painful to see the Red Sox and painful to see them do it here because we thought we were going to sweep them - what crossed my mind was how soon are we going to be celebrating just like they are," Pena said. "And I think sooner than later."
The Yankees, with principal owner George Steinbrenner watching from a Trop suite, had a lot to celebrate, and did so in a loud and wet way with champagne flying.
Since being 14 1/2 games out and tied with the Rays for last place on May 29, they've gone a major-league-best 70-38 and - even though they likely can't make up the final three games on the first-place Red Sox - felt pretty good about making it to the playoffs for an AL-record 13th straight time.
"We're Lazarus back from the dead," general manager Brian Cashman said. "This is really a heck of an accomplishment for them to do what they did. And now, hopefully, we can keep it going. Our dream is still alive."
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez, between celebratory pours, said the Yankees had a lot to be proud of: "We came through a lot of adversity. A lot of people counted us out."
Captain Derek Jeter said the degree of difficulty made it more special: "This was definitely the hardest. We scuffled there early on. Everyone in here knew we had a good team, we were just playing bad."
Since that May 29 date, the Rays have gone 44-64 and are 65-93 overall, battling to overcome a two-game deficit behind Baltimore to escape a ninth last-place finish in their 10 seasons.
With J.P. Howell career-high nine runs in 42/3 innings an ineffective replacement for shut-down starter James Shields, they were staggered by a seven-run fifth. By night's end, the only things the Rays had to feel good about were Pena's record 118 RBIs - "It's been an unbelievable year for me" - Delmon Young's team rookie-record-tying 184 hits and Justin Ruggiano's first major-league hit.
They certainly didn't enjoy what they saw.
"In your park? Come on, I don't like that," Pena said. "They're drinking Tampa champagne. That's why we don't like it."