BOSTON -- Derek Jeter was explaining the possibilities in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park yesterday morning.
"If the White Sox and us win, then ..." Jeter said.
"If we and the Indians win ...," Jeter said.
"And if Boston wins, it changes because ...,"
Gary Sheffield listened and listened. Finally, he scowled. He had had enough.
"Screw it," Sheffield said, "let's just win the damn game."
Sheffield hit a three-run, first-inning homer off Tim Wakefield and Randy Johnson pitched the Yanks to an 8-4 win over the Boston Red Sox yesterday before 34,556 fans.
The win clinches an eighth consecutive AL East title for the Yanks since the they are 10-8 against Boston going into today's finale.
Yet the defending World Series champs aren't dead. In fact, thanks to a 4-3 Cleveland Indians loss to the Chicago White Sox yesterday, Boston has three shots to gain the wild-card berth:
The Sox could win today against Jarret Wright, who starts in place of Mike Mussina.
The Indians could lose today.
The Sox could lose and Indians could win, forcing a Cleveland-Sox playoff game for the wild-card berth tomorrow at Fenway.
A champagne soaked Sheffield asked if the Yanks could knock out Boston, listened to the scenario and said, "Well, at least let's make them play the playoff game."
"We know the situation is a little unique," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We have to come packed and prepared to leave here (for Chicago).
"We expect to win. If we don't, we watch the scoreboard (for a Chicago win) and play the next day."
Both teams went to extra efforts to prepare for Game 161 of the schedule.
With the 6-foot-10 Johnson facing Boston hitters in a day game, Sox fans handed out green T-shirts to the first four rows of fans in the centre field. All the better to see the ball leaving Johnson's hand better. A white Stop Shop advertising sign in centre was lowered a few feet.
Meanwhile, the Yanks brought in former knuckleballer Joe Ausanio to throw batting practice in preparation for facing knuckleball artist Tim Wakefield, who painted outside the lines on this afternoon.
First Sheffield homered, then Hideki Matsui hit one into the black centre-field backdrop for a solo shot in the third to make it 6-2 and Alex Rodriguez hit a solo shot in the fifth to bump the score to 7-2.
"I couldn't hit the ball out of the cage during batting practice," Rodriguez said.
The Yanks signed Johnson to be the dominant arm they did not have in the 2004 post-season and in five starts against the Sox this season, New York has won all five. He pitched 7 1/3 innings allowing five hits -- including a two-run, monster mash by Manny Ramirez -- throwing 122 pitches and striking out eight for his 17th win.
Not bad for a 42-year-old with so much on the line, although Johnson claimed he had no idea it was possible for the Yanks to wrap things up. Tom Gordon retired the final two outs of the eighth and Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth.
"Johnson found his control around the fourth," Johnny Damon said. "The shadows did not help us, either, but we faced two Hall of Famers and Gordon's not bad, either."
The Sox turn to Curt Schilling this afternoon.
"He's our ace now. That's why Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe aren't here. Curt's going to show up and do well."
Damon was obviously forgetting Schilling's previous start against the Jays when he failed to hold a 5-2 lead, lasting only 6 1/3 innings.
"I phoned Ozzie Guillen and told him to stop the bull," said David Ortiz. "Those last few games Cleveland had a lot of opportunities to score and they haven't.
"These are like playoff games."
And there could be another one tomorrow.