Yankees win division title

Wednesday, September 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The big celebration at Yankee Stadium came before the game to honor the city's rescue workers.

Winning a fourth straight division title didn't merit nearly as much joy considering all that New York has been through the past two weeks.

Playing at home for the first time since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, the New York Yankees clinched the AL East when Boston lost to Baltimore then went on and lost themselves, 4-0 to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Tuesday night.

When the final score from Fenway Park was posted in the seventh inning, there was loud applause. But in the clubhouse after the game, there were no signs of a normal division-winning celebration.

``The last two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster,'' shortstop Derek Jeter said. ``We didn't feel this was the time to start spraying champagne. As we move further on, hopefully the celebrations will be a little more joyous.''

Roger Clemens (20-2) lost for the first time since May 20 at Seattle, ending a 16-game winning streak. He did strike out nine batters to move into third place on the career strikeout list.

Clemens is high-strung and sometimes succumbs to his emotions. He had a hard time getting started after the game began 1 hour, 11 minutes late because of a ceremony in honor of the victims and rescue workers from the attacks.

``I knew it would be emotional,'' said Clemens, who wore a jacket from fire station 22 _ his number _ on his way in from the bullpen. ``I was pretty pumped up and let a few balls go.''

He gave up a one-out single to Brent Abernathy in the first inning then threw wildly into the stands on a pickoff attempt. Ben Grieve and Toby Hall hit RBI singles in the inning to give Tanyon Sturtze a 2-0 lead he wouldn't relinquish.

``We came out flat,'' manager Joe Torre said. ``We were sloppy in the first inning. We were distracted, but you can't help but get distracted with all the heroes on the field.''

Sturtze (9-12) was pitching with a heavy heart. Tara Creamer, the wife of Sturtze's close friend, John Creamer, was on one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center.

But he was extremely effective, allowing four hits in seven scoreless innings to end a four-start winless stretch. Victor Zambrano finished Tampa Bay's second straight shutout.

``Everyone was just playing for New York,'' Sturtze said. ``We were playing for New York, they were playing for New York. I knew that if I didn't focus it would be a quick evening.''

Despite the loss, the Yankees assured themselves of their record 39th first-place finish. Next up, is a run for their fourth straight World Series title and 27th overall.

``I think this is one step to getting things back to normal,'' Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius said. ``It will take a long time to heal the wounds. Maybe this can be part of that.''

It was a night for contrasts of emotions. The fans interspersed chants of ``USA! USA!'' with ``Let's Go Yankees!'' and even did the wave.

Players from both teams lined the baselines side-by-side with city rescue workers during patriotic songs. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the city's most public Yankees fan, got a loud ovation before joining the players on the pitcher's mound before the game.

``This wasn't a vigil,'' reliever Mike Stanton said. ``This wasn't a mourning. This was a celebration of the courage of all the rescuers and everyone in the United States. It's not easy to keep going to work or to come out here after what happened.''

Clemens, the only pitcher in major league history to win 20 of his first 21 decisions in a season, allowed four runs and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings.

He moved past Bert Blyleven for third place when he struck out Toby Hall leading off the fourth inning for No. 3,702. Oddly enough, the pitch was in the dirt and got past catcher Jorge Posada, allowing Hall to reach on the wild pitch.

The crowd of 33,777 gave Clemens a standing ovation after the feat was put up on the scoreboard. Clemens finished with nine strikeouts, giving him 3,705 for his career. He trails only Steve Carlton (4,136) and Nolan Ryan (5,714).

Notes: The Devil Rays beat Toronto 1-0 Sunday and have a franchise-record 20-inning scoreless streak. ... The Yankees lost for just the third time in 13 games against the Devil Rays this season. New York had won eight straight at home against Tampa Bay. ... New York had won Clemens' last 20 starts.