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Posada's clutch single puts Yanks ahead late

NEW YORK -- It's hard to remember now, but the 2011 Yankees entered the season as underdogs, relatively speaking. Though still tabbed by many to make the playoffs, New York was considered a distant second in the American League East behind a Boston team considered far superior due to its dominance of the free-agent market.

Questions surrounded the Yankees about their bullpen, their aging stars, their starting rotation. And of all the Yankees, none was scrutinized as much as Jorge Posada, the longtime catcher who didn't crack .200 until June, and created a media firestorm in May when he publicly questioned manager Joe Girardi's decision to bat him ninth in the order.

There were no more questions Wednesday at Yankee Stadium when Posada delivered New York's 12th American League East title in 16 years with a pinch-hit two-run single to right field in the eighth inning. The hit came with two outs and the bases loaded, and lifted the Yankees to a 4-2 victory in the second game of a doubleheader sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays.

"I thought it was the ninth, I really did," Posada said. "I thought the game was over, and when I saw [teammate Mark Teixeira] scoring the second run in the inning, nobody was moving. It was kind of surreal, but it was a good time, a good moment."

"We went through some difficult struggles at times, but I believe in Jorge," Girardi said. "Jorge is a guy that I told you, there's times I sat a little bit, but I said, 'I still believe he's a guy who's going to help us,' and that's exactly what he's done."

The Game 2 victory was the cherry on top of a day that couldn't have gone better for the Yankees, who clinched a playoff spot with a 4-2 victory in the afternoon game. A stellar bullpen effort kept New York in the game before Eduardo Nunez tied it with a homer in the eighth and Robinson Cano put the Yankees ahead for good with a double later in the inning. Both wins, combined with Boston's loss to Baltimore, allowed the Yankees to wrap up the division title in one day.

The Yankees received an excellent starting pitching performance in Game 2 behind CC Sabathia. The left-hander was solid over 7 1/3 innings, save for a pair of solo homers by Kelly Shoppach and Sean Rodriguez that brought Tampa Bay back from a 2-0 deficit. Though the Rays are not known for their home run hitting, Tampa Bay's power has been a bit of a bugaboo for Sabathia this season, as he has given up eight of his 17 home runs to Tampa Bay hitters.

"He's been our ace," Derek Jeter said. "He goes out there every single night and gives us an opportunity to win. He did the same thing today, we just couldn't score too many runs for him. CC's the guy we want to see on the mound."

Sabathia was unable to notch his 20th win of the season because Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson was just as good over his seven innings of two-run ball. Hellickson allowed just two hits, a solo home run to Cano in the second and a leadoff double to Curtis Granderson, who would come around to score on a double-play groundout by Jesus Montero in the fourth.

In fact, Hellickson might have left Yankee Stadium with the win were it not for yet another escape act pulled off by Yankees reliever David Robertson. The right-hander came into the game with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth after Sabathia was removed following his 127 pitches, the lefty's second-highest total of the season.

It only took one pitch for Robertson to clean up Sabathia's mess, a cutter that Ben Zobrist hit into an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play.

"It's unbelievable," Sabathia said. "He's been doing it all year. If you're going to leave the game with the bases loaded, that's the guy you want to come in."

New York capitalized on Robertson's double-play ball immediately. Pinch-hitter Nick Swisher doubled with one out in the bottom of the inning to start the rally before a two-out walk and an intentional walk to Cano loaded the bases. Rays manager Joe Maddon brought Brandon Gomes in to pitch to Montero, but Girardi countered with Posada, who had hit a grand slam in his only prior at-bat against Gomes.

"I just felt it was the right time to go to Jorge," Girardi said. "I like him in the situation, I like the matchup. As much as we're trying to win the game, I also thought, Jorge is used to DH'ing, in a sense, and is used to having a lot of time in between at-bats, and those other guys don't pinch-hit much, and I just felt it was the right time."

Rafael Soriano closed things out with a scoreless ninth, and the Yankees had their title with seven games still left to play.

Though the Yankees have achieved another goal, there is still work left to be done in those seven remaining games. New York holds a five-game lead over both Detroit and Texas for the best record in the American League, a prize that will give the Yankees home-field advantage until the World Series.

"We came into this season and a lot of people said we were the second- or third-best team in the division," Teixeira said. "We didn't need to prove it to ourselves, but it's nice to prove it to the world that you can never count us out."

"We're going to enjoy this tonight and start playing some good ball to go into October." Comments