Brian Cashman was blunt: The division title remains the goal. But the wild-card berth the Yankees clinched Sunday wasn't to be dismissed.
"If you asked me in spring training, I wanted the division, and if not the division, I'll take a wild card, so right now, I'll tell you I want the division,'' the Yankees general manager said before Monday night's's game.
"I think the Orioles will say the same thing. But whoever winds up with the short end of the stick, they'll say they're happy they got the wild card, given the alternative.''
The Yankees went a long way in making sure the Orioles get the short end.
With a nine-run second inning that included four home runs, one by the torrid Robinson Cano, the Yankees smashed the nearly comatose Red Sox, 10-2, in front of 45,478 at the Stadium.
The victory, combined with Baltimore's 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, Fla., put the Yankees (93-67) one game ahead in the AL East with two to play. One more victory by the Yankees and another Orioles loss would clinch the division.
Swisher and Cano each had three hits as the Yankees piled up 13 against the overmatched Red Sox (69-91). They lost for the 10th time in 11 games with a lineup better suited for Triple-A Pawtucket that CC Sabathia predictably shut down.
Clay Buchholz (11-8, 4.56) was bounced after allowing eight runs, six hits and two walks in 12/3 innings.
Cano went 3-for-5, including a home run and a double in the nine-run second. It was his seventh straight multi-hit game, and he is 18-for-29 in that stretch.
"Unbelievable,'' Sabathia said of Cano. "When he's on, he's on. It's good to have him on right now down the stretch.''
Cano is hitting .308 with a .375 OBP with 31 homers and 88 RBIs. Just as the Yankees aren't likely to go deep in the playoffs without Sabathia pitching like an ace, they're just as unlikely to go far without production from Cano.
"Things have changed around at the right time,'' said Cano, whose average dropped to .293 Sept. 24, the lowest it had been since May 30, when it was .291. "That's when you really need it, right now.''
Sabathia, who was coming off two dominant starts, made it three straight. That was no surprise given the patchwork lineup, one lacking Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, that Bobby Valentine put on the field.
Sabathia (15-6, 3.38) allowed two runs and four hits, which included Daniel Nava's fourth-inning homer. Sabathia, with a changeup he and Joe Girardi thought was as good as it's been this year, struck out seven and walked one in eight innings, which gave him 200 innings in a season for the sixth straight year.
"It feels good to be able to help the team these last three starts,'' Sabathia said. "Hopefully, I can keep it going.''
The Yankees did that in the second, sending 13 to the plate while collecting six extra-base hits. They tied a franchise record with four home runs in the inning -- by Cano, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Teixeira, back in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 8.
Cano started the crucial inning against Buchholz by jumping on the righthander's first pitch and sending it into the netting over Monument Park. Granderson's 41st homer brought in Swisher to make it 3-0, and Martin's 21st home run made it 4-0.
Alex Rodriguez added a sacrifice fly and Cano stung a double into the gap in left-center to bring in two more to make it 7-0 and, mercifully, end Buchholz's night. Teixeira's 24th homer, a two-run blast off Alfredo Aceves, made it 9-0.
"That's what you want, when you're playing this game, that you can control your own destiny,'' Girardi said. "We have to go out and win a ballgame tomorrow.''