By Jon Lane
The Yankees aren’t clinching the AL East this week, their magic number is 16, though the way they’re playing the question has become not if, but when. Yes, I’ve written in this space that stranger things have happened, it’s not over until it’s over, blah, blah, blah. But to win 100 games minimum, they’d have to go 11-12. At 89 wins the Yankees have already matched their win total from last season and their division lead is a season-high nine games, I doubt very seriously we’ll see a Flushing-like choke job.
Storylines and subplots will be changing, but here’s what’s going on right now:
? That Red Sox-Yankees series September 25-27 at this rate will be relegated to playing for pride – unless the magic number isn’t at zero by then.
? More importantly, New York leads the L.A. Angels by six games in the race for the league’s best record, which means homefield advantage throughout the postseason.
? The Yankees pounded Rays pitching for 24 hits in their two-game sweep yesterday – but not one came from Derek Jeter. At 2,718 hits, Jeter remains three away from Lou Gehrig’s franchise record. He’s faced tonight’s starter, David Price, twice and walked once. The Rays start Jeff Niemann Wednesday night, who allowed a double to Jeter the first and only time he’s pitched to the Captain.
? Jeter did reach another milestone. He played in his 2,117th game as a Yankee to pass Yogi Berra for third all-time.
? One more race to watch: Carlos Pena is out for the season with a fractured index and middle finger. He finished with 39 home runs, which leaves Mark Teixeira (35) in pursuit. Jeter, Teixeira and Joe Mauer make for a nice MVP debate, but what about Mariano Rivera? He’s 1-2 with a 1.75 ERA and returned from groin stiffness to earn his 34th straight save in Game 1. You can make a serious case that Rivera is the Yankees’ most indispensable player. That’s serious value in my book.
? He said it: “It’s great to have Gardy back – the fastest white man in America.”
It was good to see the Bronx’s version of Brett the Jet back with the Yankees. Brett Gardner raced to Swisher’s territory in right field to rob Fernando Perez with a tremendous running catch. Gardner will provide Melky Cabrera a much-needed blow and that lightning-like speed that will be critical come the postseason.