Yankees clinch 1st AL East title since 2012, reach 100 wins

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Payers spray New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone as they celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Angels and clinching the AL East baseball title Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Aroldis Chapman got Albert Pujols to swing over a slider in the dirt, and the New York Yankees jogged to the infield to exchange handshakes and hugs after clinching their first AL title since 2012.

No wild celebration, not this year.

“We’re just trying to avoid injuries,” DJ LeMahieu said.

LeMahieu hit a go-ahead, three-run homer for yet another big moment in his first year with New York and old mainstay Brett Gardner homered and had three RBIs. The homer-happy Yankees routed the Los Angeles Angels 9-1 Thursday night to wrap up first place and breeze to their 100th win.

“You got a team full of savages,” slugger Aaron Judge said, invoking the word manager Aaron Boone made famous during his mid-summer rant at an umpire. “It’s been a long season, a lot of ups and downs. We’re going to celebrate and enjoy tonight, but we got a lot more baseball to play.”

A day after wasting a chance to clinch first place, the Yankees went ahead when LeMahieu went deep in the second inning.

Gardner, among just two holdovers from their last World Series championship team in 2009, added a solo shot in the fourth and then hit a two-run double in the sixth. Cameron Maybin and Clint Frazier homered for good measure in the eighth

Despite putting 30 players on the injured list this year, New York (100-54) made Boone the first manager to win 100 games in each of his first two major league seasons.

“We got a lot bigger fish to fry, but this is the first step along the way,” Boone said. “Nothing has got in their way. Whatever has come adversity-wise, they faced it and powered right through it.”

The Yankees open the playoffs on Oct. 4, likely against Minnesota, which leads the AL Central, or the wild-card winner.

Masahiro Tanaka (11-8), in line to start the opener, allowed Kole Calhoun’s homer leading off the fourth. The Angels had just four hits in seven innings off Tanaka, who struck out six and walked one.

The win came hours after Domingo Germán, the Yankees’ top-winning pitcher at 18-4, was placed on administrative leave under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. His status for the postseason is uncertain.

New York’s 19th AL East title was its first following a run of 13 in 17 years that started in Derek Jeter’s rookie season. The Yankees, led by Judge, Gary Sánchez and Gleyber Torres, will be making their 21st postseason appearance in 25 years and 55th overall — 22 more than any other team.

And they will head to the October following their 21st 100-win season, their first in back-to-back years since 2002-04.

New York moved into sole possession of the lead for good on June 15 with the start of an eight-game winning streak, beginning a spurt of 13 victories in 14 games that ended the month. The Yankees led by 6 1/2 games at the All-Star Game, won seven of their first nine after the break and have led by seven to 11 1/2 games since. And they achieved their success despite the most players on the injured list for any big league team since at least 2004.

After Wednesday’s 3-2 loss, the Yankees waited in their clubhouse for three hours until just before 1 a.m., hoping second-place Tampa Bay would lose at Los Angeles and ensure the division title for New York. But the Rays rallied in the ninth and defeated the Dodgers in 11 innings.

Protective plastic remained overnight wrapping the six large-screen televisions in the Yankees clubhouse, a sign that the bubbly celebration was not too far off. There was plenty of spraying — but non-vintage Laurent Perrier Brut. The good stuff is saved for late October.

LeMahieu’s homer off Andrew Heaney (4-6), which followed a rare infield hit by slow-legged catcher Austin Romine with two outs, landed about three rows over the scoreboard in right-center, giving him career bests of 25 homers and 97 RBIs in his first season with the Yankees. Gardner also set career highs for homers (26) and RBIs (69), and New York extended its team record with 292 long balls.

“Hopefully the beginning of something special,” Gardner said.

STANTON

Giancarlo Stanton was 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts as a designated hitter his second game back from a layoff of nearly three months.

STAR TURN

Pujols had a .328 career batting average when he left St. Louis after 11 major league seasons and joined the Angels for 2012. His career average dipped to .29995 with an 0 for 4 night. His average had not been below .300 at the end of a game since a 4-for-14 start as a rookie in 2001, according to the Elias Sport Bureau.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Yankees: RHP Dellin Betances has been told surgery is not recommended for the partially torn left Achilles tendon that ended his season after eight pitches. Manager Aaron Boone said the foot will be in a walking boot for another four weeks. … Judge was given a day off after he landed on his right shoulder during an attempt for a diving catch Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Angels: RHP Jamie Barria (4-8) will be on the mound at Houston, opposed by Zack Greinke (6-1).

Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (12-8) starts Friday’s series opener against Toronto, his former team.

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