|Red Sox get first division title in 12 years|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 29 September 2007 01:09|
They did just that - dousing general manager Theo Epstein with champagne, dancing on the field and singing along to ``Don't Stop Believin' `` playing on the sound system - after clinching the AL East title for the first time in 12 years.
They did it when the New York Yankees lost in Baltimore more than an hour after Boston beat the Minnesota Twins 5-2 Friday night behind Daisuke Matsuzaka's best performance in more than six weeks.
``It's as good as it gets,'' team owner John Henry said while holding a victory cigar. ``To win the division, that's what you want to do.''
The Red Sox finished second to the Yankees for eight straight seasons from 1998 through 2005. They gained five wild-card berths in that stretch, including 2004 when they went on to win their first World Series since 1918.
``We've won wild cards,'' reliever Mike Timlin said. ``It means a lot'' to take the division.
It meant plenty to Matsuzaka, the star from Japan who cost the Red Sox $103 million to bring over from the Seibu Lions. Boston bid $51.11 million to negotiate with him then gave him a six-year, $52 million contract.
Exactly three hours after Boston's game ended, Dice-K was the only person on the Fenway Park field, kneeling by the first-base line and scooping up dirt to keep as a souvenir.
``There are going to be many important games in a row,'' Matsuzaka (15-12) said through a translator. ``Knowing that fact, I just wanted to set myself up and throw a good game and, hopefully, that will carry me into the playoffs.''
The Red Sox have led the AL East since April 18. But their season-high lead of 12 games on July 5 had dwindled to 1 1/2 on Sept. 19 after their fourth straight loss.
But they persevered and with their win, New York's loss and Cleveland's 5-3 victory over Kansas City, the AL playoff pairings were set: The Los Angeles Angels will open at Boston, and the wild-card Yankees will start at Cleveland.
Whichever team finishes with the AL's best record, Boston or Cleveland, will choose whether to start the series on Wednesday, and have an extra day off after it starts, or Thursday.
None of that mattered to manager Terry Francona in the euphoria among his bosses in his office once they saw Melvin Mora's bunt that gave Baltimore a 10-9 win over New York in 10 innings.
``I pulled my hamstring jumping off the couch,'' said Francona, who watched the end of the game with general manager Theo Epstein and owners John Henry and Tom Werner. ``It's fun to see grown men act like little kids.''
The Red Sox led 4-0 after six innings, two runs coming in the first on Mike Lowell's single and J.D. Drew's double off Kevin Slowey (4-1), another in the third on Lowell's groundout and one more in the fourth on Kevin Youkilis' single.
Matsuzaka allowed two runs, two walks and six hits while striking out eight in eight innings.
``He never really threw two balls in the same place,'' Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``That makes for a tough night.''
The Twins finally got to Matsuzaka for two runs in the seventh on Justin Morneau's 31st homer and Brian Buscher's run-scoring groundout. But David Ortiz capped a 3-for-4 night with his 35th homer in the eighth off Matt Guerrier.
``Right now, he's hitting good pitches and bad pitches,'' Gardenhire said of Ortiz.
For the Red Sox, Matsuzaka didn't make many bad ones Friday after going 1-4 with an 8.15 ERA in his previous seven starts.
He celebrated on the field with his teammates in front of about 2,000 fans who watched the Yankees lose on the center-field scoreboard in a fully lit stadium.
``We were just laughing and joking, sitting and watching baseball'' as they waited for that game to end, Timlin said. ``There's no more fun than watching baseball with your buddies.''
Matsuzaka bowed and smiled to a group of reporters. A wilder Jonathan Papelbon, who got his 37th save in 40 chances, sprayed champagne and gyrated barefoot on the infield grass.
After about an hour, the players returned to the clubhouse where reality began to set in.
``I'm freezing, man,'' reliever Eric Gagne said, tugging at his champagne-drenched T-shirt.
It will be back to business Saturday night, with the next to last game of the season against the Twins. After Sunday's finale come the playoffs, where more celebrations could await.
``It's October,'' Curt Schilling said. ``That's when great players play great. Hopefully, we have a few in this clubhouse.''
Notes:Ortiz reached base in 11 straight plate appearances before grounding out in the sixth. ... Slowey got his first loss in his 13 major league games.