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Yankees clinch AL East for first time since 2012

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The resilient New York Yankees powered their way to the club’s first American League East title since 2012, routing the Los Angeles Angels 9-1 on Thursday night behind three RBIs each from old mainstay Brett Gardner and newcomer DJ LeMahieu.

A day after wasting a chance to clinch first place, the homer-happy Yankees went ahead when LeMahieu hit a three-run drive in the second inning and breezed to their 100th win.

Gardner, one of just two holdovers from New York’s most recent World Series championship team in 2009, added a solo shot in the fourth and hit a two-run double in the sixth. Cameron Maybin and Clint Frazier homered for good measure in the eighth, and Aroldis Chapman struck out Albert Pujols to end it as fans’ cellphones flashed to record the moment.

Players lined up for handshakes and hugs, more exuberantly than usual, but there was no wild celebration on the field.

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

Despite putting 30 players on the injured list this season, New York (100-54) wrapped up first place with eight games to spare and made Boone the first manager to win 100 games in each of his first two major league seasons.

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

Masahiro Tanaka (11-8), in line to start the playoff 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 none.

The win came hours after Domingo German, their 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 young stars Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez 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 October following their 21st 100-win season, their first in back-to-back years since 2002-04.

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The Yankees battled through injuries all season long and now bring that next-man-up mentality for a run at the World Series.

New York moved into sole possession of the AL East 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 6½ games at the All-Star Game, won seven of their first nine after the break and have led by seven to 11½ games since. And they achieved their success despite so many players landing on the injured list, the most in the major leagues since at least 2004.

“Everybody’s done a great job of stepping up when they’re needed,” Gardner said.

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 to the Los Angeles Dodgers and ensure the division title for New York. But the Rays rallied in the ninth and defeated the Dodgers in 11 innings.

“It was probably actually a good little team building, bonding, one of those times you enjoy being together,” Boone said.

Protective plastic wrapping the six large-screen televisions in the Yankees’ clubhouse remained overnight, a sign that the bubbly and beer celebration was not far off. Moments after the final out, the spraying started.

A few minutes later, many players headed back to the field for team pictures.

LeMahieu’s homer, 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.

LeMahieu was the fourth Yankee to reach the 25-homer mark this season, joining Gardner, Torres (38) and Sanchez (34). It’s the fifth season in franchise history, and second straight, that at least four players hit 25.

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

Andrew Heaney (4-6) gave up six runs and five hits in five-plus innings pitched for the Angels.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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New York Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu on verge of winning AL batting title

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NEW YORK — DJ LeMahieu is on the verge of a first in more than a century of Major League Baseball: the first player to win undisputed batting titles in both the American and National Leagues.

Luke Voit is about to become a more common name atop the leaderboards but part of an illustrious list, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez as New York Yankees to top the majors in home runs.

“I’ve always admired the Babe,” Voit said after the Yankees woke up from their latest slump to beat the Miami Marlins 11-4 on Saturday and kept their hold on the AL’s No. 5 postseason seed going into the final day. “It’s just awesome company. That guy hit 700 home runs (714 to be exact). That means I got to start hitting like 150 a year to catch up to him. So that’s never going to happen.”

Voit hit his major league-leading 22nd homer. Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox is second with 19.

LeMahieu had his fourth four-hit game and three RBIs while raising his average to .359. He passed Washington’s Juan Soto (.346) for the big league lead and opened a large margin over defending AL batting champion Tim Anderson of the White Sox, second in the AL at .337.

“This game’s been around for a long time, and I think anyone who’s watched knows just how special a player DJ LeMahieu’s been for us in these two years,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

LeMahieu won the 2016 NL batting title with a .348 average for Colorado. Ed Delahanty hit .410 for the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL championship in 1899; he is credited by some researchers with the 1902 AL championship at .376, while others accept Nap Lajoie as winning that title at .378 despite lacking the plate appearances required in more modern times.

“Guys don’t win batting titles in both leagues, because you win it in one league, they probably keep you,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, the 1984 AL batting champion with the Yankees. “It’s a different game nowadays.”

A 32-year-old infielder in his second season with the Yankees, LeMahieu will become New York’s first batting champion since Bernie Williams in 1998.

Voit hit a three-run drive against Nick Vincent in a seven-run sixth for a 10-3 lead. He has made 38 consecutive starts, including 19 straight at first base, despite an injured foot.

“I’ve been trying to transform myself into a better power hitter and this year was another steppingstone for me,” Voit said. “I’ve always been a guy, high school, college, minors. I play through stuff. I’m a grinder. I want to be out there. I want to help a team, especially when we were hurting earlier in the year and I had to do whatever it took to be out there. So I was making sure I was getting plenty of treatment from all of our trainers and trying to stay on top of it so I could play through it and not be like killing me.”

Yankees rookie Deivi Garcia (3-2) allowed four runs and seven hits in 6⅔ innings with seven strikeouts and a walk. Boone has not announced whether Garcia or left-hander J.A. Happ will follow Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka as his playoff starters.

Preparing for a first-round playoff series on the road, likely at Cleveland or Tampa Bay, the Yankees (33-26) are trying to hold off third-place Toronto (32-27) and keep the No. 5 seed. New York’s season has flowed and drifted like the tide: a 16-6 start, following by a 5-15 slide, a 10-game winning streak and five losses in a six-game span coming in.

New York trailed 3-0 before Tyler Wade‘s two-run homer in the fifth against Ryne Stanek, and Aaron Hicks had a two-run homer in the sixth against former Yankee Stephen Tarpley (2-2) for a 5-3 lead.

Wade’s homer off the second deck in right ended the Yankees’ first five-game homerless streak since April 1-5, 2014. They have scored nearly half their runs via the long ball, 156 of 315, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“Any spark to get us going, especially with the last game coming up tomorrow and going to the playoffs,” Wade said after his third homer this season.

Giancarlo Stanton was in a 1-for-21 slide with 12 strikeouts before his 113-mph RBI double to the left-center gap in the fifth that drove in Aaron Judge with the tying run.

“I feel like we’re always one swing away,” Voit said. “We just need to get that one to get us going.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Los Angeles’ Angels Mike Trout — ‘We gotta get to the playoffs’

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The Los Angeles Angels were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention at Dodger Stadium on Friday night, which means that in nine full seasons in the major leagues, Mike Trout — considered by many the game’s greatest player for most, if not all, of those seasons — has made the playoffs only once.

“The biggest thing is getting to the playoffs,” Trout said Saturday, moments before the second of a three-game series against the cross-town Los Angeles Dodgers. “You guys all see it. I see it. It sucks being out of it. It’s time. We gotta get to the playoffs.”

Trout made the playoffs in 2014, when the Angels suffered a first-round sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals. The 2020 season will now mark the fifth consecutive time his Angels have finished with a losing record, even though the offseason additions of manager Joe Maddon and third baseman Anthony Rendon had many believing the team might contend for a championship.

The Angels lost 25 of their first 37 games but have since won 14 of 21. The 60-game season didn’t provide enough time to make up ground.

“It could be a different story if we played a full season,” Trout said. “We got hot just a little late and fell short.”

The end result, a postseason absence even though Major League Baseball expanded the field to 16 teams, could lead to the firing of general manager Billy Eppler, who’s winding down his fifth season with the team and hasn’t been extended beyond 2020.

Eppler played a lead role in recruiting Shohei Ohtani, was a big reason Trout basically decided to spend his entire career with the Angels and took steps to rebuild the farm system, adding high-ceiling talent such as Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh. But Eppler consistently came up short addressing the pitching staff; the manager he appointed in 2019, Brad Ausmus, lasted only one season. Decorated executive Dave Dombrowski has been rumored inside and outside of baseball to be his successor.

“Billy was a big reason why I signed back here,” Trout said. “We’ve built a friendship over the years. He’s put a lot of great teams together, and it just didn’t work out these last few years. The relationship and the friendship I’ve built with Billy — it obviously goes beyond baseball now. I’ve had a couple GMs come in here; I’ve never had the GM relationship I’ve had with him with anybody else.”

Trout, who became a father eight weeks ago, was batting .281/.390/.603 with 17 home runs in 241 plate appearances heading into Saturday’s game. He ranked seventh among major league position players in FanGraphs wins above replacement, and though he continually called this season “a grind,” Trout will undoubtedly finish within the top five in American League Most Valuable Player voting for the ninth consecutive year. But he’ll be 30 next year — and is still chasing October.

“I don’t like losing,” Trout said. “I wanna get to the playoffs. Every time we get into spring, our main goal is to get to the playoffs and bring a championship back to Anaheim. That’s just the mindset. When you’re that close and you come up short, it sucks.”

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Chicago White Sox’s Jimmy Cordero suspended 3 games for hitting Willson Contreras

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Chicago White Sox pitcher Jimmy Cordero was suspended three games for intentionally hitting Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, while manager Rick Renteria got a one-game ban, Major League Baseball announced Saturday.

Cordero hit Contreras during Friday’s blowout loss to the Cubs, several innings after Contreras threw his bat high into the air to celebrate a three-run homer.

“I knew it was coming,” Contreras said after the game. “I have no regrets, zero regrets. Once they hit me, I don’t think that’s the smartest thing to do. He got thrown out. And who knows if he’s going to get suspended?”

Renteria will serve his suspension during Saturday’s game against the Cubs. He and pitching coach Don Cooper also were fined an undisclosed amount.

It is unknown at this time if Cordero will appeal the suspension.

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