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Yankees finally able to celebrate after clinching AL East title with win over Angels

Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the Yankees celebrates in

Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the Yankees celebrates in the locker room after clinching the AL East title on Thursday, Sep. 19, 2019 at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The ample supply of plastic wrap and goggles — to protect exposed carpet, lockers and eyes from spraying champagne and beer— in the Yankees clubhouse that went unused Wednesday night got a full workout Thursday night.

The Yankees, unable to clinch their first division title since 2012 on Wednesday night by virtue of a loss to the Angels and then the Dodgers blowing a ninth-inning lead to the Rays in Los Angeles, took care of business Thursday with a 9-1 victory in front of 42,056 at the Stadium.

“It feels like a long time,” Brett Gardner, who went 2-for-3 with a homer, double and three RBIs, said of the seven-year gap between division crowns.

The victory came on the heels of an overall sobering afternoon, one in which Domingo German was placed on administrative leave by MLB under its Domestic Violence Policy. The 27-year-old, 18-4 with a 4.03 ERA, will be on leave until the league concludes its investigation.

“Today is a rough day in a lot of ways,” Aaron Boone said afterward. “But I was certainly confident that the guys would be able to go out and play well. They’ve shown the ability to handle whatever you throw at them all year and today was no different.”

For the Yankees (100-54), who reached the 100-win plateau a second straight season, Thursday night crossed one big-ticket item off their spring training to-do list. Winning the East came first, followed by securing homefield advantage and, of course, capturing the franchise’s 28th World Series title. The Yankees are a half-game behind the Astros for the AL’s best record. That they’ve accomplished the first item and are very much in the mix for the second and third has been made all the more impressive by the record 30 players who have spent time on the injured list this season.

“A lot of people kind of counted us out after those first couple of injuries,” said Aaron Judge, who had one of those IL stints and didn’t play Thursday after tweaking his right shoulder trying for a diving catch in Wednesday night’s game. “But this team, we’re hungry. We’re ready for some more.”

The Yankees got a terrific seven-inning outing from Masahiro Tanaka, who was backed by home runs from DJ LeMahieu, Gardner, Cameron Maybin and Clint Frazier. The quartet gave the Yankees 292 homers this season.

“We’ve got a really, really good team, and I think we can be even better than we’ve been,” said Gardner, who has established career highs in homers (26) and RBIs (69). “I think it’s important for us to realize how special this is, how special accomplishment this is, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot of work left to go. It definitely, hopefully is the beginning of something special.”

Tanaka, who allowed four runs and eight hits in each of his last two outings, comprising a combined nine innings, was sharp from the first in allowing one run and four hits, including Kole Calhoun's homer, and no walks.

Tanaka (11-8, 4.47) retired the Angels (69-84) in order on 12 pitches and had four of his six strikeouts through three scoreless innings.

After stranding two in the first against lefthander Andrew Heaney, the Yankees got on the board in the second. LeMahieu came up with two on and two outs and took a 1-and-0 changeup the other way to right, his 25th homer making it 3-0 and improving him to 48-for-122 (.393) this season with runners in scoring position. Heaney (4-6,5.10) allowed six runs and five hits over five innings. Gardner’s homer in the fourth made it 4-1 and his two-run double in the sixth made it 6-1.

“This is one of the goals that we set out, we wanted to win the division,” Boone said. “I think it’s important to pause and celebrate, this is a pretty good accomplishment. We all have bigger aspirations, obviously, but I think it’s important along the way to smell the roses.”

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