The word "reeling'' has gotten a workout this month in describing the Red Sox, but it's to the point where that doesn't quite cut it.

They're closing in on something more precise:


In the days leading up to this series, some Yankees whispered -- or enunciated clearly, in the case of Russell Martin -- that they wanted to be the team that delivered the final nail to their staggering division rival.

They collectively played like it yesterday, dropping the hammer in a 9-1 victory in front of a Yankee Stadium-record crowd of 49,556.

With the division title and home-field advantage in the American League playoffs now clinched, one of the few mysteries remaining for the Yankees (96-61) is whom they will throw in Game 3 of the ALDS.

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Freddy Garcia made his case, shutting out the Red Sox (88-69), now 5-17 this month, in his six innings. Joe Girardi didn't tip his hand but gave a strong indication that Garcia just might have earned himself a postseason start. "He's definitely one of the guys we're considering, definitely,'' Girardi said. "Freddy's a guy that's been there and done all that. As we move forward, we'll continue to look at all these things, but today he pitched great.''

Derek Jeter hit a three-run homer to cap a six-run second inning against Jon Lester and Jesus Montero went 3-for-4 with four RBIs, hitting his fourth home run since being called up Sept. 1.

Garcia (12-8, 3.62), who said he felt some pressure to pitch well, had allowed two home runs in each of his previous three starts and had seen his ERA climb to 3.77 from 3.09. But he experienced no such trouble yesterday, allowing six hits and a walk and striking out three. Boston got only two runners in scoring position against him.

"I needed to pitch good today and I did,'' Garcia said. "Now I'm going to get ready for my next start. I don't know when that will be, but hopefully it's in the playoffs.''

Garcia has made nine postseason starts in his career, going 6-2 with a 3.11 ERA. "I've been there before,'' he said. "It's not my decision . . . You always like to prove people wrong.''

Montero, 21, hadn't been anywhere other than the minors before his call-up Sept. 1, when he got the start at DH against Lester and went 0-for-3. This time he fared much better with a bases-loaded RBI single in the second, a two-out, two-run double in the third that knocked out Lester and an opposite-field homer in the sixth off Junichi Tazawa. He raised his average to .346.

"This kid,'' said Garcia, who has established a bond with Montero, "is something else.''

In his first major-league at-bat, Montero struck out with the bases loaded against Lester Sept. 1. When he came up with the bases loaded Saturday, Montero said, "I was like, wow, is this a movie?''

He got ahead 3-and-0 before Lester threw a 92-mph strike down the middle. When he threw another one, Montero lined it into left for a 1-0 lead. "I'm not saying I'm Derek Jeter; I still get nervous,'' he said of his comfort at the plate. "But it's better.''

Then, on consecutive pitches, Martin singled home two runs and Jeter sent a drive over the wall in right-center for his sixth homer of the season and first since Sept. 4. The three-run blast, which produced the kind of noise usually reserved for the playoffs, made it 6-0.

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Montero's two-run double to left-center in the third made it 8-0 and his homer in the sixth made it 9-0.

The Rays moved within 11/2 games of Boston by beating the Blue Jays Saturday night. Now the Yankees play the Red Sox in a split doubleheader Sunday before finishing the regular season with a three-game series at Tampa Bay.

"We want to continue to play well,'' Jeter said. "We need to stay sharp.''