09/29/10 12:37 AM ET
CC you in the playoffs: Yanks' ticket punched
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
CC Sabathia strapped the team on his back by pitching into the ninth inning, and the Yankees popped the corks to toast their 15th playoff berth in 16 seasons, punching their tickets with a 6-1 victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
A September swoon was washed away with an ice-cold bath of bubbly and brew as the Yankees are now guaranteed at least the AL Wild Card while still battling the Rays for the top spot in the division with four games remaining on their schedule.
"We knew it was going to happen," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "No one had a doubt we were going to get in the dance and have a chance to win another World Series, but it's nice when it's official."
The magic number dropped from one to zero behind Sabathia, who picked up a staggering Yankees team that had lost five of its last six contests by limited the Blue Jays to a run on three hits over 8 1/3 innings.
"Now we've got a chance to defend our title," Sabathia said. "This was our No. 1 goal, and we'll see what happens the rest of the year."
Mariano Rivera recorded the final two outs and the Yankees shook hands in subdued fashion on the field, but they cut loose in the clubhouse, filling the plastic-covered confines with the pungent aroma of spilled liquor while still setting their sights on bigger and better things down the line.
"If the guys want to celebrate, I'm all for it," manager Joe Girardi said. "They worked really hard. They've been going at it since February 15, grinding and grinding. Guys have been playing hard, tough schedule, tough division. Let them let loose a little bit. It's nice."
In a development that should have surprised no one, Nick Swisher managed to find his way into the middle of all the action, whooping from behind blue goggles as his teammates drenched him with cans of Labatt Blue. He was happy with the timing -- in Canada, as Swisher made sure to tell his teammates, the alcohol content is slightly higher than in the United States.
"It's been a rough past week for us, no doubt," Swisher said. "But to be able to have that and be able to celebrate like this, this stuff never gets old, man. Never."
Girardi kept his own role in the celebration low-key, retreating to his office after congratulating his players on a job well done. Some others did as well -- Alex Rodriguez managed to stay dry, swigging a bottle of Henkell champagne as he ducked into the trainers' room before returning later.
"Nobody messes with the old guys anymore. It's all about the young," Rodriguez said, laughing. "I think you can't say you're too cool for this first step -- you have to celebrate it and celebrate the season. But this team is very focused and has the eyes on the prize."
In support of Sabathia, who will be New York's starter in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, the Yankees got to Toronto starter Kyle Drabek for three runs in six innings.
A-Rod put New York up with a first-inning sacrifice fly, and Teixeira put the Yankees up 2-0 in the third with another sac fly. Brett Gardner tripled and scored on a fielder's choice in the fifth before the Bombers added three more runs against the Toronto bullpen.
It was more than enough for Sabathia, who bounced back from allowing a season-high seven runs to the Rays on Thursday, pressed into action for what will be his final start of the year.
"It definitely felt good to be able to command both sides of the plate and have my offspeed pitches working," Sabathia said. "That was the key for me tonight. I'm sure I'll throw a couple of [bullpen sessions] and be ready to go on Wednesday."
Aside from Travis Snider's third-inning solo homer, Sabathia was dominant, improving to 21-7 in his second season as a Yankee.
"Tremendous. He shut down a very potent offense," Girardi said. "You look at this club, everyone seems to have 20 home runs. They're dangerous. He did an unbelievable job."
Sabathia now owns a round 40 victories in the regular season since inking a seven-year, $161 million contract with New York in December 2008.
"You can't say enough about CC," A-Rod said. "I'm speechless when it comes to him. Ever since the minute he put on the pinstripes, he's been everything we've expected and a lot more."
Now the planning begins. Immediately after the victory, the Yankees opted to nix Wednesday's scheduled starter, Andy Pettitte, instead getting him ready to pitch against Boston this weekend so he will line up for the playoffs.
The position players, whom Girardi has opined are more banged up this year than they were down the stretch in 2009, can also expect to see some at-bats spread around the clubhouse to younger players. This was a night to enjoy, but as Girardi reminded his troops, now the real challenge begins.
"We think we play in the toughest division in baseball, and we did pretty good all year," Derek Jeter said. "Yeah, there's been ups and downs, but when you get into the playoffs, everything starts over. Everybody is 0-0 next week."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.