Saturday, September 30, 2006

Yanks Clinch Home Field Advantage

The Yankees won their 50th home game of 2006 on Friday night, and if their performance against the Blue Jays is any indication of things to come, they could be giving the home fans a lot to cheer about in October.
New York's 7-2 victory, combined with losses by both Detroit and Minnesota, wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs for the Yankees. The AL's All-Star Game win secured home field for the league in the World Series, so the Bombers know that as long as they're playing in October, they will own the home-field edge the whole way.

"It's a great feeling," Johnny Damon said. "You have to give all of the guys on our team credit, because we've really been plugging away. We really wanted to be here at home for most of our games. It shows you how well we've stuck together and played as a team."

With the postseason set to begin on Tuesday, the Yankees (97-63) got a superb performance from Game 2 starter Mike Mussina, who tossed six innings of one-run ball.

Gary Sheffield also gave the Yankees something to get excited about with a three-run homer -- his first since April 26 -- that accounted for the winning runs.

"It was a good night for him and for all of us," manager Joe Torre said. "That three-run homer was big for him, just to get it out of the way."

With two games remaining, New York established a franchise record for home attendance, drawing 4,138,605 fans to the Bronx. The Yankees will kick off postseason play against the AL Wild Card team -- either the Twins or Tigers -- at Yankee Stadium.

"We've got our 10th man," Sheffield said of the home fans. "The crowd is big in the playoffs, and as loud as these guys get, they can pull us all the way through."

Sheffield wasn't the only Yankees hitter to contribute on Friday, as Jorge Posada hit a two-run homer and Alex Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.

Derek Jeter (.341) had two hits, and Robinson Cano (.342) extended his hit streak to 11 games, keeping both players in the thick of the AL batting race. Minnesota's Joe Mauer leads the league with a .346 average.

When asked if he had ever seen a lineup as potent as the one the Yankees fielded on Friday, Toronto manager John Gibbons replied, "Maybe the '27 Yankees."

Troy Glaus led off the second inning with a solo homer off Mussina, giving Toronto a 1-0 lead with his 38th long ball of the season.

New York tied the game in the third when Cano scored on a double play. Sheffield's homer in the fourth snapped the 1-1 tie, as he drilled a 1-1 pitch from Gustavo Chacin into the left-field seats.

"I was looking for that one," Sheffield admitted. "I was swinging as hard as I could, trying to impress Joe and show him that I could swing as hard as I used to. I've been cutting back on my swing, but today I let it go."

"He's been coming," Torre said. "He's been having more aggressive at-bats. Right now it looks like his timing is right on."

With the homer, Sheffield also became the 46th player in history to drive in 1,500 runs.

"I've been playing a long time," he said. "It's a lot of RBIs. It shows you I can be consistent, and I've always prided myself on being consistent."

Mussina cruised after Glaus' home run, retiring the next 15 batters he faced. He left the game after six innings and 88 pitches, charged with one run on two hits. He struck out four and didn't walk a batter.

"It was pretty smooth," Mussina said. "I just want to be able to carry that over and keep throwing the ball like that. You don't expect to do that in very many games all year. It just happened to be the last 15 guys of the season."

Mussina finished the season 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA, missing out once again on that elusive 20-win season. After going 13-3 over the season's first four months, he closed out the year just 2-4 over his final nine starts, missing two weeks in August and September with a groin injury.

"I feel good about the way I threw the ball all year -- it's been much better than the last two years," he said. "I got out hot, and the first two or three months were really consistent for me. I fought through some stuff in July, August and the first part of September, but you have to deal with those things. Fifteen wins is a satisfying year."

More satisfying is the Yankees' record, which is good enough to earn them home field throughout October. Of course, they have to take advantage of that in order for it to mean something.

"That only counts if you get through the first round," Torre said. "You can have home-field advantage, but if you're sitting at home watching that son-of-a-gun, it doesn't do you any good."

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BallHype: hype it up! Posted by Steve Kenul at 1:11 AM


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