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Contreras strikes out nine; Rivera closes it out

9/24/2003

CHICAGO (AP) -- The bottles of champagne were almost empty, and
the giddy New York Yankees were dousing each other in beer and
shaving cream.

The clubhouse was buzzing with the sound of laughter,
interrupted only by the occasional shout when someone got surprised
with a shower of champagne.

Then, in the midst of the celebration, Derek Jeter's voice rose
above the din:

"Enjoy it for a couple of days. But we've got three more steps
to go, fellas."

Yes, the Yankees were thrilled to win their sixth straight AL
East title Tuesday night. But three years removed from their last
World Series championship, they have their eyes on the ultimate
prize.

"This is just step one," manager Joe Torre said. "This is
just a minor celebration, hopefully."

Minor or not, the Yankees sure know how to throw a party.

Jose Contreras got the Yankees going with a gem of a game,
striking out a career-high nine on three days' rest. Jason Giambi
then kicked the festivities into high gear, hitting a grand slam in
the ninth to cap a 7-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

When Mariano Rivera struck out Jose Valentin for the final out,
the Yankees ran out of their dugout, exchanging hugs and
high-fives. T-shirts with "Six in a Row Eastern Division
Champions" were waiting for them in the clubhouse, as were bottles
of champagne.

"No, it doesn't get old," Jeter said. "We've been playing
from the middle of February to be in this position right here, to
win the division. It's worth celebrating."

Especially after the kind of season they've had. Jeter missed 36
games early in the season with a separated shoulder, and Bernie Williams was out for 42 games. Nick Johnson missed 61 games with a
broken bone in his right hand, and Rivera missed the first 25 games
of the season with a strained groin.

"The guys in this room understand how hard it is to get here,
especially when everybody in the league guns for you every year
because they know that you're going to have a good team," Giambi
said. "By no means was anybody feeling sorry for us when Jeter
went down and Bernie went down and Nick Johnson.

"That's what's gratifying. We still all came together as a
ballclub and ended up winning the division with all those guys
going down."

Even though the Yankees (98-59) and Red Sox (93-64) could finish
with the same record, the second-place team would be assured of the
wild card and New York would win the division because it beat
Boston 10-9 in the season series.

"Congratulations to Joe Torre and the Yankees," owner George
Steinbrenner said in a statement. "I know that Joe will be ready
to take on the next challenge. I believe this is really for New
York."

The loss was doubly disappointing for the White Sox, who were
eliminated from postseason play. Minnesota beat Cleveland 4-1
earlier Tuesday and leads the White Sox by six games with five to
play.

The White Sox had a two-game lead in the AL Central just two
weeks ago. Since then, they've lost nine of 13.

Already disgusted with their team's late-season collapse, White
Sox fans were more interested in doing "The Wave" than in watching
another loss Tuesday night. When Frank Thomas struck out for the
third out in the eighth, fans booed, then headed for the exits.

"I always held out hope," White Sox manager Jerry Manuel said.
"Regardless of what the numbers were, I always held out hope we
could get it done. Baseball is a funny game, but we just didn't get
it done."

Already guaranteed no worse than the AL wild-card berth, the
Yankees arrived in Chicago needing just one victory to clinch the
East title through the tiebreaker with Boston.

Though Torre initially said he wanted to wait to celebrate until
the team ensured it would have the most wins in the division, he
changed his mind after talking with general manager Brian Cashman.

"He said, 'We're going to be outright winners with the one,"
Torre said before Tuesday's game. "Doing that, with the day off
coming up Thursday, we might as well look to win a game and have
some fun."

And have fun they did.

Johnson, the second batter, worked Mark Buehrle (14-14) to a
full count before hitting a solo homer to left. It was Johnson's
14th homer of the year, and it would be all the offense Contreras
(7-2) would need.

But the Yankees kept piling on. Hideki Matsui added an RBI
single in the sixth, and Juan Rivera hit a solo homer off of Scott Sullivan with one out in the ninth.

Alfonso Soriano followed with a single and, after Kelly Wunsch
relieved, Johnson doubled off the wall. Wunsch intentionally walked
Jeter to get to Giambi, who had been just 6-for-28 in his last eight
games.

But the move failed miserably. Giambi hammered a 2-2 pitch,
sending it deep in the right-field stands for a grand slam homer,
his first of the year.

The homer was Giambi's 40th, and he joined Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig
and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees with multiple 40-homer
seasons.

"I hit my 40th tonight, a grand slam," Giambi said, a big grin
on his face. "The night doesn't get much better than that."

Contreras was pitching on short rest so Torre could set his
playoff rotation. Torre didn't want Mike Mussina pitching in the
playoffs after a week's layoff, so he moved the right-hander to
Wednesday and pushed Contreras up a day.

The quick turnaround didn't seem to hurt Contreras. He scattered
four hits and walked just one in eight innings, his longest outing
this year.

"He was nasty today," catcher Jorge Posada said.

Fun for the Yankees, maybe. Not so much for the White Sox.

Chicago had runners in scoring position only twice against
Contreras, and the Sox couldn't get them off second base.

"Our guys came back, and some were saying that's some of the
best stuff they have seen all year," Manuel said.

It was Contreras' third straight win, and the fourth time this
year he has won after a Yankees loss.

Buehrle gave up two runs and eight hits in seven innings.

"Even though our goals are so much higher than the division,
it's so important to be able to let off some steam," Torre said as
he watched his players celebrate. "There's a lot of pressure that
goes on during the year."

Game notes
Contreras' previous high for strikeouts was eight, against
Tampa Bay on Sept. 14. ... Jeter has reached base safely in 25
games. ... Buehrle is 0-2 with a 3.92 ERA against the Yankees.