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Yankees clinch first division title since 2012

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The New York Yankees beat the Anaheim Angels 9-1 this evening and in so doing won their 100th game of the season and clinched their first American League East title in seven years.

The Yankees have been in the playoffs thee times since that 2012 season but all three of them were as a Wild Card winner. This year, however, their eventual division championship was never really in doubt. Sure, the Rays led the East for all of April and off and on for a time after that, but the Yankees have held it for all but five days since May 19. On June 25 they led by six games. It was up to ten games by July 20. Their lead hasn’t been fewer than eight games since August 2. It’s just been smooth sailing for most of the year.

In the standings at least. In the trainer’s room it has been anything but. As you all know well, the Yankees roster has been absolutely rotten with injuries this year, with the team losing star after star to the injured list, some for extended periods.

Giancarlo Stanton has played 11 games all year. Aaron Judge missed two months in the middle of the season. Luis Severino didn’t make his first appearance of the year until two days ago. Edwin Encarnación and Gary Sánchez have missed time. Miguel Andújar underwent season-ending surgery in May. Greg Bird was out for the season as of April. Dellin Betances pitched a third of an inning all year. Aaron Hicks has been out since August 4 and played only 59 games all year.

But it didn’t matter. Aaron Boone plugged in replacements like the coach of an SEC football power and his horses never broke stride. Michael Tauchman. Luke Voit. Gio Urshela. Mike Ford. It didn’t matter who they were or how anonymous they were to anyone but the most ardent Yankees fans, they just produced when called upon. The Yankees got big seasons from some veterans too, with D.J. LeMahieu putting in a campaign that will get him MVP votes, Brett Gardner reverting to vintage form and even Cameron Maybin having some big moments. All of this, by the way, as the starting rotation had fairly big issues at times and as Boone had to lean heavily on the pen. Despite all of this the Yankees just . . . found a way. They found a way by bashing tons of dingers no matter who was in the lineup.

Thee Yankees path through the postseason will not be an easy one. The Astros are formidable. The Twins have bashed almost as many home runs as the Yankees have. Two of the A’s, Rays and Indians will make it and they’re pesky. To get through October the Yankees are going to have to piggyback starters. And, it appears, they’ll have one less starter to piggyback than they assumed they would. Their work is cut out for them.

But that’s the challenge for October. For now the New York Yankees are division champs and they can enjoy that for a week and a half or so.

Astros claim AL pennant with walk-off win against the Yankees

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Following a rollercoaster performance on Saturday, the Astros clinched the American League Championship Series with a decisive 6-4 walk-off win against the Yankees, claiming their second AL pennant and earning a well-deserved entrance to the World Series.

Both clubs decided to preserve possible Game 7 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole, electing to have a “bullpen day” for a pivotal Game 6. Chad Green took the mound for the Yankees, tossing one inning before handing the ball off to a long line of relievers, while Brad Peacock‘s rare playoff start was capped at 1 2/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that made it the first postseason game since 1999 in which neither starting pitcher lasted two innings or longer.

All told, the two clubs utilized a total of 13 pitchers to make it through nine innings. The Astros lost Ryan Pressly to a worrisome knee injury in the third, but were able to lean on José Urquidy for 2 2/3 innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball. Although Yankees’ bullpen fought back in every inning, they had considerable difficulty recovering from Yuli Gurriel‘s three-run homer off of Green in the bottom of the first:

Still, New York managed to get in a couple of knocks as well: first, with Gary Sanchez‘s RBI single in the second inning, then with Gio Urshela‘s 395-foot blast in the fourth inning — the second of his postseason career to date. That wasn’t enough to close the gap, however, and Alex Bregman‘s productive groundout in the sixth helped cushion the Astros’ lead as they headed toward the final few innings of the series.

That lead started to look a little shaky in the ninth. Only three outs away from a ticket to the World Series, Houston closer Roberto Osuna gave up a leadoff single to Urshela, which was quickly followed by a jaw-dropping, full-count, game-tying two-run shot from DJ LeMahieu that barely cleared the right field fence.

With the threat of extra innings and a potential loss looming, the Astros engineered a last-minute rally to regain the lead and stake their claim for the pennant. With two outs and no runners on, George Springer took a five-pitch walk from Aroldis Chapman. In the next at-bat, Houston pinned their hopes on José Altuve — and he didn’t disappoint, lifting a 2-1 slider out to left field for a 406-foot, two-RBI homer that confirmed the Astros’ series win.

The 2019 World Series will mark the third Fall Classic appearance for the Astros and the first for the Nationals. It all begins on Tuesday night.