Thursday, September 21, 2006
It's not very often that you will see the Yankees whooping it up in the clubhouse after a loss. In fact, it's not very often that you will see the Yankees whoop it up after a win.
On Wednesday night, about 30 minutes after losing to the Blue Jays, 3-2, the Yankees sat and watched the Twins finish off the Red Sox, 8-2, on the big-screen television in the visitor's clubhouse at the Rogers Centre.
That's when the party started.
Corks were popping, champagne and beer was flying through the air and tears were flowing as the Yankees clinched their ninth straight American League East title.
"When the Twins got three runs in the top of the ninth, everybody grabbed a shirt and hat," said Mike Mussina, sporting a soaking-wet AL East championship T-shirt and backwards hat. "[Manager] Joe [Torre] gave his little toast to congratulate us on our accomplishment -- then we had a little fun."
"I just congratulated them, toasted them and told them how proud I was of them," Torre said. "It was simple."
The celebration scene looked like any other division-winning clubhouse in baseball, which is a little strange considering the regularity with which it has happened for the Yankees.
But with each new year comes new faces, as Bobby Abreu, Melky Cabrera and a host of other newcomers got their first taste of victory champagne in New York.
"This team always goes to the playoffs, so you always want to be part of this," Abreu said. "This is what it's all about: winning and celebrating."
"We have a lot of guys that haven't been here before, they're actually experiencing what we have over the years," Bernie Williams said. "As an old guy being here, year after year it never gets old. It's a great feeling of accomplishment."
Not that the celebrating was limited to the neophytes. Jorge Posada sprayed a group of people with champagne, Jason Giambi was smothered by teammates who covered him with beer, and even Derek Jeter, who has now been to the postseason in each of his 11 years in the Majors, was bombarded by Alex Rodriguez and a few other teammates pouring all sorts of things on him -- while he did a live TV interview.
"Every year is different because you have a different group of guys," Jeter said. "This is as special as any other year."
"It's fun that we were able to put something together that so many people didn't think you could do," Rodriguez said. "It's been a tough year -- a grinding type of year. I'm just proud of this bunch."
Nearly every player in the clubhouse singled out the contributions of the team's youth, from Cabrera to Chien-Ming Wang to Scott Proctor, each of whom played major roles in the Yankees' success this season.
"The injuries to Hideki [Matsui] and Sheff [Gary Sheffield] and the way the young kids stepped up into those roles, and the way Scott Proctor has emerged as a dominating force in the 'pen," Giambi said. "This has been the most gratifying division title I've ever been part of."
"Melky Cabrera came up and he was a big part in what we accomplished; we had key injuries, but he stepped up," Damon said. "Wang stepped up. Proctor stepped up. A bunch of these unsung guys that we know they're as important in this clubhouse. That's what makes championship teams."
Even Proctor himself admitted that this champagne celebration felt a lot more real to him than last year's at Fenway Park, when he was pitching at the back end of the bullpen.
"This was definitely more rewarding, because I actually felt like I did something this year," said Proctor. "I got some big outs, got to pitch in some big situations that helped get us where we are. It was very rewarding."
New York is now 92-60, holding on to a slim lead over Detroit for the best record in the AL. The Yankees will likely take on the AL Wild Card in the Division Series, with the Twins and Tigers looking like the potential opponents.
During the final two innings of the Red Sox-Twins game, Damon was watching more than the final score.
"We were also scouting the Twins now, too, so we were seeing what their pitchers were doing," Damon said. "They're on fire right now; they could be the hottest team going into the postseason."
Regardless of who they play in the first week of October, the Yankees' goal will be to advance further than they have in each of the past two years, when they were knocked out before the World Series.
"We need to make this postseason a lot longer than it's been for us," Torre said. "This ballclub has a nice mix of youth and veterans, so hopefully we're poised to do something special. Whoever we have to face is going to be a battle for us, but we're certainly ready to do it."
"There's so much togetherness here; we support each other, and I hope I can be a part of helping this team win a championship," Damon said. "I want to get a championship for Giambi, get a championship for A-Rod, get a championship for Donnie Mattingly and whoever else has never won one. There's a lot of work to be done."
The Yankees' nine straight division titles now ranks as the longest active streak in the Majors. While some may believe that these celebrations could get tiresome, the players who have done it again and again couldn't disagree more.
"This is what you play for -- to get to the playoffs and have a chance to win a championship," Jeter said. "This is the first step."
"It just doesn't get old doing this, as many times as we have," Mussina said. "Hopefully we'll get to do it a few more times before the season is over."
Posted by Steve Kenul at 7:53 AM
Sodapop posted at 9:20 PM
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