Elliott on baseball column

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

BOSTON -- Maybe it was the thoughts back to last September. Maybe it was since today will be only the 18th day they have spent in first place.

Or maybe it was thoughts back to May 6 when they were 11-19, in last place, nine games out.

"There were nights in May when we didn't look very good," Alex Rodriguez said.

Whatever, the New York Yankees, who made winning look routine, celebrated this one. Well, would you want to go into Game 162 to decide matters with Mike Mussina and his bad elbow?

"People might think that the Yankees who have won eight straight division titles might not get too excited or might not celebrate too much," said Rodriguez, who had a four-hit day yesterday in New York's 8-4 win over the Boston Red Sox, "but internally, we felt after this seasons we were owed a little celebration."

The Yanks were four games back Sept. 10 and have won 16 out of their past 20 to clinch with a game to go.

"This one is the best of them all," said an emotional Joe Torre, the Yankees' manager, who cried after the win. "The first is always memorable, but this is the best of all because of all the questions I was asked which started: 'Normally at this time of year you are in first trying to line up your rotation for the first round.'

"This is more special because of what all that went on this year."

The AL East champs lost 11 of 19 games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, there were the normal amount of Mt. Steinbrenner eruptions and second guessing and newly acquired pitcher Randy Johnson had problems getting started.

"It took Randy a while to adjust, just as it took Roger Clemens a while," Derek Jeter said. "Randy started against Boston five times and we won all five including the clincher. He adjusted okay.

"We had some guys come in late and contribute, like Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small."

Chacon, acquired from the Colorado Rockies, went 7-3, while Small was elevated from triple-A Columbus and went 10-0.

"The funniest part of the afternoon was when Small came up to me in the eighth or ninth and told me that the White Sox had won," Torre said. "I said to (coach) Joe Girardi: 'What else do you want, he wins 10 games and gives you out-of-town scores too."

It was a much happier celebration than some business-like clinchings we've seen from the Yanks. Now whether it was September call-ups spraying us in the back long distance was tough to tell.

We did see Tino Martinez, Sheffield, Jeter and Rodriguez hugging and dousing each other with champagne. We also saw Ramiro Mendoza (one inning this season) spray six bottles of champagne.

Catcher Jorge Posada gave Mariano Rivera a bear hug like the one Yogi Berra gave Don Larsen after his World Series no-hitter when Rivera fielded Johnny Damon's comebacker and threw to first for the final out.

Then, there were high fives and hugs, like a bunch of first-timers.

"They can celebrate however they want," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "They deserve it. They can be subdued, they can be wild, they deserve it. I don't care."

Damon may have provided some bulletin-board material. First he pointed out "we got to celebrate on their field last year."

"The best-case scenario is we'll be the wild card. Hopefully we can go out win, we'll only have to fly halfway across the county (to Chicago). That could help."

Is he saying Ozzie Guillen's team is an easier matchup?

And the awards go to ...

Who to vote for ... Vernon Wells or Shea Hillenbrand as the Blue Jays' player of the year?

We'll get to that after all the final numbers are in, but going into Game 162 of the season, with still a chance for a Game 163 in each league, here are our picks:

- AL MVP: 1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees; 2. David Ortiz, Red Sox; 3. Vladimir Guerrero, Angels; 4. Travis Hafner, Indians; 5. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox; 6. Paul Konerko, White Sox; 7. Mariano Rivera, Yanks; 8. Miguel Tejada, Orioles; 9. Bob Wickman, Indians; 10. Brian Roberts, Orioles.

Ortiz has more RBIs (147-130) than Rodriguez, but Rodriguez has more homers (48-47), 16 of which knocked in either game-tying or game-winning RBIs.

Last time we looked a team had to get 27 outs and Ortiz makes almost zero contribution there. Rodriguez has 285 assists and 115 put outs (and 11 errors) -- 411 chances, while Ortiz has played first base enough to record 69 outs and record 11 assists -- 80 chances.

- AL Cy Young: 1. Mark Buerhle, White Sox; 2. Johan Santana, Twins; 3. Rivera.

Initially Santana was the pick, but he has 15 wins and no one had ever won with less than 16. We'll go with hurly-Buerhle.

- AL Rookie of the Year: 1. Robinson Cano, Yankees; 2. Huston Street, A's; 3. Tadahito Iguchi, White Sox.

- AL Manager of the Year: 1. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox; 2. Eric Wedge, Indians; 3. Mike Scioscia, Angels.

- NL MVP: 1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals; 2. Derrek Lee, Cubs; 3. Andruw Jones, Braves; 4. Morgan Ensberg, Astros; 5. Pat Burrell, Phillies; 6. Miguel Cabrera, Marlins; 7. David Wright, Mets; 8. Carlos Lee, Brewers; 9. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals; 10. Jason Bay, Pirates.

Pujols is the best player on the best team and helped his team win. The award is not most outstanding player or it might be Lee. Jones showed how valuable he was when the Braves went with so many youngsters do to injuries, but he was under .200 in September last time we checked.

- NL Cy Young: 1. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals; 2. Dontrelle Willis, Marlins; 3. Roger Clemens, Astros.

Carpenter, the former Blue Jay, who was told he wouldn't be given any guaranteed money after surgery in 2002, has the most wins and the fifth-best ERA; Clemens has been impressive but Andy Pettitte is right there with his ERA. Willis leads in wins and is the most exciting pitcher to watch.

- NL Rookie of the Year: 1. Ryan Howard, Phillies; 2. Jeff Francouer, Braves; 3. Garrett Atkins, Rockies.

- NL Manager of the Year: 1. Bobby Cox, Braves; 2. Ned Yost, Brewers; 3. Bruce Bochy, Padres.


Videos

Photos