For the New York Yankees, the season is just starting.
The Yankees clinched their 15th postseason berth in the last 16 years and CC Sabathia got his 21st win of the season, beating the Toronto Blue Jays 6-1 on Tuesday night.
“It's just a first step,” first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “No one in here is satisfied with this season. Everyone knows it's World Series championship or bust.”
Derek Jeter scored three runs and drove in another for the Yankees, who have reached the postseason every year but one since 1995. New York missed the playoffs in 2008, finishing behind Tampa Bay and Boston.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who hold a half-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East, clinched a playoff berth Tuesday, beating Baltimore 5-0.
Sabathia (21-7) allowed one run and three hits in 8 1-3 innings to match Andy Pettitte's 21 wins in 1996 and 2003 for the most by a Yankee since Ron Guidry went 22-6 in 1985.
“Two words: Cy Young,” outfielder Nick Swisher said of Sabathia. “No doubt, man. He's been a horse all year long, he's done a tremendous job.”
The left-hander, who walked two and struck out eight, is 9-3 in 12 career starts against Toronto, including 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA in six starts at Rogers Centre.
“You can't say enough about CC,” Alex Rodriguez said. “I'm speechless when it comes to him. The minute he put on the pinstripes he's been everything that we've expected and a lot more. He's been a dream for our franchise.”
Mariano Rivera got the final two outs for the Yankees, who kept their on-field celebration muted before retiring to the clubhouse for a brief speech from manager Joe Girardi.
“I congratulated them and just told them this is the first step,” Girardi said. “There's a lot of work to be done.”
After that, it was party time, with players donning playoff hats and goggles and dousing one another with champagne and beer.
Rodriguez was one of the few players not soaked in alcohol, saying the bigger celebrations were reserved for “young guys.” Nevertheless, he said he wanted to “honor” the achievement.
“You can't say you're too cool for this first step, you have to celebrate it and really celebrate the season,” Rodriguez said. “But this team is very focussed and has its eye on the prize.”
Girardi, who sat quietly in his office, had left the decision on whether to celebrate up to the players.
“If the guys want to celebrate I'm all for it,” he said. “They worked really hard. We've been going at it since February 15, grinding and grinding and guys have been playing hard, a tough schedule in a tough division. Let them let loose a little bit. It's nice.”
Girardi knows there's plenty to be decided in the final four games of the season.
“We still have aspirations of winning our division and trying to get homefield advantage,” he said. “I've got to pick my spots to rest guys.”
Pettitte, originally scheduled to start Wednesday, will be scratched for right-hander Javier Vazquez, Girardi said.
Sabathia came in having lost two of his past four starts, allowing 16 runs, but was on form against the Blue Jays. He retired eight of the first nine batters, walking Jose Bautista in the first. Travis Snider hit a leadoff homer to right in the third, his 12th.
The homer was Toronto's major league-leading 244th of the season, matching the team record set in 2000. Seattle holds the all-time record, hitting 264 in 1997.
Sabathia responded to Snider's blast by setting down 11 straight batters and 16 of the next 17.
New York opened the scoring in the first when Jeter singled, took second on a wild pitch, went to third on Teixeira's single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Rodriguez.
The Yankees doubled their lead with some more small ball in the third against Blue Jays rookie Kyle Drabek. Jeter drew a leadoff walk, again took second on a wild pitch, moved to third on Swisher's sacrifice and scored when Teixeira hit a sacrifice fly to center.
Making his third career start, Drabek (0-3) allowed three runs and five hits in six innings. He walked one and struck out four.
New York added to its lead in the fifth when Brett Gardner tripled to left-center and slid home ahead of the tag from catcher John Buck on Jeter's grounder to third. Edwin Encarnacion's throw beat Gardner, who got his right leg around Buck to score.
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston came out to argue the play with plate umpire Mark Carlson and was later ejected when he argued another call in the sixth.
Gaston returned after Carlson called Blue Jays designated hitter J.P. Arencibia out for running outside the baseline on a grounder to first. Sabathia's throw hit Arencibia, who was running inside the line.
After a brief discussion, Gaston had turned back to the dugout when he made one final comment, prompting Carlson to eject him. It was the third time this season he's been tossed, with all three coming against the Yankees.
“I didn't say anything to get run out of the game, trust me,” Gaston said. “I've said a lot worse.”
Gaston came back and renewed the argument with Carlson before crew chief Jeff Kellogg intervened, pointing Gaston back to the dugout.
The crowd of 18,193 stood and chanted “Cito! Cito!” as Gaston, who is set to retire at season's end, walked off the field.
The Yankees got two more runs in the eighth. Jeter scored when Rodriguez drew a bases-loaded walk from Josh Roenicke, and Robinson Cano followed with a sacrifice fly off David Purcey.
Greg Golson capped it in the ninth with an RBI grounder against Casey Janssen.
NOTES: Girardi took about 15 swings during a drill in early batting practice, homering to left on his final pitch. … Former Blue Jays OF George Bell threw out the first pitch to fellow Dominican Jose Bautista. … The Blue Jays will hold a farewell ceremony for Gaston before Wednesday's game, their final home game of the season. … Drabek is being shut down for the rest of the season after reaching his innings limit.