As Yankees regulars arrived at the Stadium early yesterday afternoon, a team employee noticed none of them had any extra baggage.
Although the Yankees were in the driver's seat to win the AL East, a loss to the Red Sox combined with an Orioles victory over the Rays would have required a one-game playoff tonight in Baltimore.
So packing at least an overnight bag would have been prudent. But the implication of showing up without luggage was clear: We don't plan on going anywhere. At least, not until the weekend.
Emphatically taking care of business, the Yankees, behind four hits, including two home runs, and six RBIs from the blazing Robinson Cano, clobbered the Red Sox, 14-2, Wednesday night in front of an energetic Stadium crowd of 47,393.
"We didn't back into anything,'' said Alex Rodriguez, who was 2-for-3 with a double that ended a career-high streak of 67 at-bats without an extra-base hit. "This team showed a lot of grit the whole month of September. We bent but we never broke.''
The Yankees (95-67) lost all of the 10-game lead they enjoyed July 18 but never were passed by the Orioles, winning their last four games and 14 of their last 18. They open the Division Series Sunday night at the winner of tomorrow's wild-card playoff between the Rangers and Orioles in Arlington, Texas.
"I got a great group of guys in there,'' Joe Girardi said. "That's what it says. I got a great group of guys that expect to win. And talk about going to get it. They went and got this division.''
The division was clinched in the seventh when the final came in from St. Petersburg, Fla., showing the Orioles' 4-1 loss. Rodriguez stepped out of the box as the crowd stood and roared and the team exchanged hugs and fist-bumps in the dugout. "I knew it wasn't for me,'' A-Rod said, laughing, "because those cheers were way too loud.''
The Yankees, who had 15 hits in clinching the East title and the top seed in the American League playoffs, also got two homers from Curtis Granderson, his 42nd and 43rd. That gave them a franchise-record 245, one more than in 2009, when they last won the World Series.
The Yankees, powered by the home run, have won their share of shootouts this year.
The absurdly hot Cano went 4-for-4 to extend his nine-game surge to 24-for-39 with 14 RBIs, raising his average to .313 from .293. He belted a two-run homer in the third for a 5-1 lead and another two-run blast in the fifth that made it 7-1.
"I don't know what else there is to say,'' Swisher said of Cano. "Especially in a clinching game like this, you need big guys to step up in big spots.''
Granderson's three-run shot off Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-7, 8.28) in the second inning gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead, plenty for Hiroki Kuroda. The 37-year-old righthander had struggled lately, but after allowing a first-inning run he shut out the Red Sox for the next five innings.
Matsuzaka left after giving up five runs and six hits in 21/3 innings. Kuroda (16-11, 3.32) allowed two runs and seven hits in seven.
"It's really tough to do, as long as the season is, but every time out there he battled his butt off,'' said Russell Martin, who also caught Kuroda when they were with the Dodgers. "There's not one start, one pitch, where I didn't feel he was fully committed. To have a guy like that on your team is definitely special.''
The Yankees feel that way heading into the postseason. "Right now our lineup's feeling pretty good,'' Martin said. "Hopefully, we can keep it going.''
But only after the short rest the team desperately wanted and, when players left their homes Wednesday, fully expected to have.