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Yankees clinch AL East title, but lose top winner Domingo German

New York wins its first division crown since 2012.
The Yankees celebrate after defeating the Angels and clinching the AL East on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. [MARY ALTAFFER | AP]
Published Sep. 20
Updated Sep. 20

NEW YORK — Aroldis Chapman got Albert Pujols to swing over a slider in the dirt, and the Yankees jogged to the infield to exchange handshakes and hugs after clinching their first AL title since 2012.

No wild celebration, not this year.

“We’re just trying to avoid injuries,” DJ LeMahieu said.

LeMahieu hit a go-ahead, three-run homer for yet another big moment in his first year with New York and old mainstay Brett Gardner homered and had three RBIs. The homer-happy Yankees routed the Angels 9-1 Thursday night to wrap up the division ahead of the second-place Rays and breeze to their 100th win.

“You got a team full of savages,” slugger Aaron Judge said, invoking the word manager Aaron Boone made famous during his midsummer rant at an umpire. “It’s been a long season, a lot of ups and downs. We’re going to celebrate and enjoy tonight, but we got a lot more baseball to play.”

A day after wasting a chance to clinch the division, the Yankees went ahead when LeMahieu went deep in the second inning.

Gardner, among just two holdovers from their last World Series championship team in 2009, added a solo shot in the fourth and then hit a two-run double in the sixth. Cameron Maybin and Clint Frazier homered for good measure in the eighth

Despite putting 30 players on the injured list this year, New York (100-54) made Boone the first manager to win 100 games in each of his first two major league seasons.

“We got a lot bigger fish to fry, but this is the first step along the way,” Boone said. “Nothing has got in their way. Whatever has come adversity-wise, they faced it and powered right through it.”

The Yankees open the playoffs Oct. 4, likely against Minnesota, which leads the AL Central, or the wild-card winner.

Masahiro Tanaka (11-8), in line to start the opener, allowed Kole Calhoun’s homer leading off the fourth. The Angels had just four hits in seven innings off Tanaka, who struck out six and walked one.

New York’s 19th AL East title was its first following a run of 13 in 17 years that started in Derek Jeter’s rookie season. The Yankees, led by Judge, Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres, will be making their 21st postseason appearance in 25 years and 55th overall — 22 more than any other team.

And they will head to the October following their 21st 100-win season, their first in back-to-back years since 2002-04.

New York moved into sole possession of the lead for good on June 15 with the start of an eight-game winning streak, beginning a spurt of 13 victories in 14 games that ended the month. The Yankees led by 6 1/2 games at the All-Star Game, won seven of their first nine after the break and have led by seven to 11 1/2 games since. And they achieved their success despite the most players on the injured list for any big league team since at least 2004.

After Wednesday’s 3-2 loss, the Yankees waited in their clubhouse for three hours until just before 1 a.m., hoping the Rays would lose in Los Angeles and ensure the division title for New York. But the Rays rallied in the ninth and defeated the Dodgers in 11 innings.

Protective plastic remained overnight wrapping the six large-screen televisions in the Yankees clubhouse, a sign that the bubbly celebration was not too far off. There was plenty of spraying — but non-vintage Laurent Perrier Brut. The good stuff is saved for late October.

LeMahieu’s homer off Andrew Heaney (4-6), which followed a rare infield hit by slow-legged catcher Austin Romine with two outs, landed about three rows over the scoreboard in right-center, giving him career bests of 25 homers and 97 RBIs in his first season with the Yankees. Gardner also set career highs for homers (26) and RBIs (69), and New York extended its team record with 292 long balls.

“Hopefully the beginning of something special,” Gardner said.

STANTON UPDATE: The Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton was 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts as a DH in his second game back from a layoff of nearly three months.

STAR TURN: Pujols had a .328 career batting average when he left St. Louis after 11 major league seasons and joined the Angels for 2012. His career average dipped to .29995 with an 0 for 4 night. His average had not been below .300 at the end of a game since a 4-for-14 start as a rookie in 2001, according to the Elias Sport Bureau.

TRAINER’S ROOM: Yankees: RHP Dellin Betances has been told surgery is not recommended for the partially torn left Achilles tendon that ended his season after eight pitches. Boone said the foot will be in a walking boot for another four weeks. ... Judge was given the night off after he landed on his right shoulder during an attempt for a diving catch Wednesday.

German goes on leave under MLB’s domestic violence policy

Yankees star pitcher Domingo German was placed on administrative leave under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy on Thursday, casting doubt over whether the team’s top winner this season will be available for the playoffs.

Boone was informed of the decision while he was driving to Yankee Stadium for the game against the Angels.

“Set baseball aside, this is a bigger issue, obviously,” Boone said before the game. “When you hear the words domestic violence, it’s one of those things that stops you in your tracks.”

Details on what prompted the action weren’t disclosed. The leave may last up to seven days, barring an extension.

The Yankees begin the AL playoffs on Oct. 4.

A 27-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic who made his major-league debut in 2017, German entered this season 2-7 in 14 starts and 14 relief appearances. He became a full-time member of the rotation after ace Luis Severino got hurt in spring training and is 18-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 24 starts and three relief appearances over 143 innings

German was shifted to the bullpen last week as the Yankees limited his innings — he threw 94 in the majors and minors combined last year. He followed CC Sabathia in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Angels and tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Boone said he “heard some of the whispers” that MLB was investigating.

MLB and the union agreed to the domestic violence policy in August 2015. Players get paid while on administrative leave, but if discipline is later imposed the time missed can be converted to an unpaid suspension.

“I give Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association credit for doing their part several years ago trying to be ahead of this in putting disciplinary action in place to hopefully be a part of the solution to what is a problem in our society, obviously,” Boone said.

German, who has a $577,500 salary, has the right to challenge the administrative leave before an arbitrator. MLB might ask the union to extend administrative leave be extended while it investigates.

Boone and general manager Brian Cashman spoke with players before Thursday’s game.

“It’s a difficult situation that none of us really know that many details about, so you just try and lay it out,” Boone said. “Sometimes things come up over the course of the season that you’re not necessarily prepared for and you just try and talk through it the best you can.”

German is not allowed to be around the team during the administrative leave.

“There’s no denying the importance of Domingo to our team,” Boone said, "so there is that element of we must continue on and continue to press forward. But it’s also, this is something that touches our society, unfortunately. So, hopefully, that’s a forum for people, players to talk through it.”

In German’s absence, the Yankees will formulate their postseason rotation from among Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Sabathia and J.A. Happ. Severino returned from a lat injury and made his season debut with four scoreless innings Tuesday.

“We have to certainly make plans like he may not a part of it,” Boone said. “It does turn into like losing a player to injury. “

Acquired by the Yankees from Cincinnati while he was under investigation, New York closer Aroldis Chapman was suspended for the first 29 games of the 2016 season under the domestic violence policy.

Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias and Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera have served suspensions under the policy this season, and Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez was put on administrative leave this week after he was charged with statutory sexual assault.

In the NFL, Patriots receiver Antonio Brown is being investigated for accusations of rape and sexual assault, allegations the player’s lawyer has denied.

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