There were no personal milestones for Jorge Posada in what has been a frustrating season.
The best Posada could do was deliver the hit that won the AL East.
He lined a two-out, two-run pinch hit single in the bottom of the eighth inning that gave the Yankees a 4-2 victory over the Rays and their 17th division title.
Posada batted for Jesus Montero after two Tampa relievers issued walks to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. After taking a pitch for strike one, Posada lined Brandon Gomes’ pitch into right field for the lead, sending the Yankee Stadium crowd into a delirium.
“The fans have been very supportive my whole career, especially this year,” Posada said. “They’ve been very supportive. I got to really thank them because they have been there for me this whole year and it has been tough.”
Posada’s second pinch hit in 12 at-bats came on a night that Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez -- both on the bench -- were obvious candidates to pinch hit. However, manager Joe Girardi said he liked Posada’s experience as designated hitter and was thrilled to see him come through.
“I’m sure it meant a lot to him,” Girardi said. “This is a guy that has been a great Yankee, has had a wonderful career and has had a lot of big hits. Just to get another one to clinch the division has to mean a lot to him. As I’ve said, we went through some difficult struggles at times, but I believe in Jorge. Jorge is a guy that I told you at the time I sat him for a little bit that he’s a guy that’s going to help us and that is exactly what he’s done.”
In some ways Posada’s hit that clinched the Yankees’ 12th AL East title since 1996 was similar to Bernie Williams’ game-ending home run that clinched the 2004 AL East against Minnesota. Williams was starting the final stages of a productive career and a year later was a part-time outfielder.
“It felt real good, bases loaded two outs coming in to pinch hit it’s not an easy job,” Posada said. “I got a good pitch to hit.”
“It’s been such a magical year -- Jeter with 3,000 hits, (Mariano) Rivera with 602 saves and for Jorge to wrap up that AL East -- that’s a great feeling,” Nick Swisher said. “We couldn’t be happier for him.”
Posada’s hit was met with positive reaction throughout, but perhaps the most animated came from best friend Derek Jeter. Jeter was standing on the top step of the dugout with a wide smile and raised hands to celebrate the hit.
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” Jeter said. “He has worked extremely hard. He takes a lot of pride in going out there and doing his job. He hasn’t been on the field as much as he’s used to but in that situation -- I knew he was going to get a hit.”
After Posada’s hit, Rafael Soriano finished it off. He gave up a two-out single to Casey Kotchman and fell behind pinch hitter Matt Joyce. But after blowing a slider past Joyce, the crowd rose in anticipation and Soriano delivered, finishing it with a check-swing slider.
The Yankees raced out of the dugout and bullpen and exchanged hugs and handshakes to celebrate the occasion. Then they headed for a champagne celebration in the clubhouse after forgoing one for clinching a playoff spot in yesterday afternoon’s first game, also won in the eighth.
About an hour before Posada’s biggest hit of the year, the Yankees had their magic number cut to one when the Orioles finished off a 6-4 victory in Boston. At the time, the Yankees were locked in a 2-2 tie, but they managed to keep it that way until Posada’s division-clinching hit.
“It’s hard not to see it, the scoreboard is really big,” Girardi said. “And then when they flash it, you’re following it. You’re trying to pay attention to your game, but you’re going to peek.”
Before the Red Sox lost and Posada’s hit, CC Sabathia had seemingly pitched the Yankees to a division crown with his best performance in two months, but he gave up a solo home run to Sean Rodriguez in the seventh and then loaded the bases in the eighth by walking Evan Longoria.
David Robertson picked up Sabathia by throwing just one pitch to Ben Zobrist, who grounded it to second base for double play that erased a bases-loaded jam.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.