NEW YORK -- Bobby Valentine was making his last weekly radio appearance of the 2012 baseball season on ESPN New York when Michael Kay asked him if he believed Wednesday also would be his last game as manager of the Red Sox.
"I have no idea," Valentine said. "We'll know soon. No need to pop the champagne before it's necessary."
At 9:55 p.m., it became necessary — at least in the Yankees clubhouse.
Called too old and too beaten up after a 10-game, mid-July lead had wilted to zero, these resilient Yankees not only clinched the American League East title with a 14-2 battering of the hapless Red Sox. They secured the league's best record (95-67) and as No. 1 seed hold home-field advantage until the World Series.
There will be no tiebreaker game tonight in Baltimore. There will be no wild card game Friday night back at Yankee Stadium. Instead, the Yankees will be off until Sunday when they play Game 1 of the ALDS at the wildcard winner — either Baltimore or Texas.
There will no late-night radio talk rants and no statistically inspired treatises about a grisly September collapse. Instead there would be champagne corks popped in the Yankee clubhouse after Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano each clubbed two home runs in the rout of Daisuke Matsuzaka and a string of ineffective relievers. Instead there would be a long, loud standing ovation in the Bronx when the pennant-clinching news of the Rays' 4-1 victory over the Orioles was displayed on the huge center-field videoboard.
It was, quite naturally, followed by the chant, "Boston sucks!" It's fact. Finishing in last place with their worst record in 47 years [69-93], Boston did, indeed, suck.
The Yankees, who have 27 world championships' worth of bubbly in their bellies, wanted no part of a celebration after they clinched a wild card berth. Goal No. 1, Girardi said, was the AL East title. On the last night of the 2012 season, the mission was accomplished. As vulnerable as the club looked over a 50-game slide, the Yankees have looked equally formidable during a 14-4 finish. They never fell into second place.
"Our guys just never give up," Girardi said. "I was concerned [with all the injuries]. It seemed like every time we got one guy back another guy went down. They're a very resilient group. They're used to winning. These guys just expect to win."
There would be no repeat of last season's last night around the country. How could there be? From the Orioles-Red Sox game to the Rays' incredible comeback against the Yankees to the National League, Sept. 28, 2011, had to be the most riveting night in the history of baseball. But this night also was tres important. While the postseason spots already were filled, the various scenarios were far from complete.
That's why the completion of a three-game sweep of the Red Sox was so important. The day started with the Yankees in charge of their destiny, but also with only a one-game lead on the Orioles, Rangers and A's. It would be the Rangers who ended up blowing a 13-game AL West lead they held on June 30 on the A's.
The Yankees wanted to avoid a potential one-night wild card knockout at all cost and they did. There will be three days' added rest for the pitching staff. As the postseason drags on through October and arms become so heavily taxed, this night could be remembered as a vital one.
Matsuzaka, the much-celebrated $103 million investment, again was a disaster in what in all likelihood was his final game with the Red Sox. In the end, Dice-K proved to be almost as big a myth as his gyro-ball. Yes, he had two good years, but the last four, plagued by injury and horrible control, were beyond painful. After allowing five runs in 1 2/3 innings, he finished 2012 at 1-7 and an 8.28 ERA.
Although GM Ben Cherington said before the game nothing had been decided, Valentine could be fired as early as Thursday. Even before Dice-K was rolled one last time, in fact, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that Red Sox upper management already had decided to oust Bobby V.
Sayonara, Bobby V.
Hello more October baseball for the pinstripes.
Asked on WEEI earlier in the day if he felt members of the Red Sox coaching staff had been loyal to him, Valentine responded, "No." Asked if he felt he was undermined by them, Valentine said, "Yes." There were some holdovers from the Terry Francona regime, although Valentine conceded he had interviewed everybody and went along with the choices. Valentine is known to have a frosty relationship with bench coach Tim Bogar (a possible managerial candidate) and bullpen coach Gary Tuck. Pitching coach Bob McClure already was fired in August.
Valentine was pressed in his pre-game media session on all this.
"I just had a feeling," Valentine said. "I don't have any facts. Just a feeling once in a while that we weren't all on the same page."
Yet when asked how much it impacted the team's performance, Valentine said, "Very little. I don't think it had anything to do with anything."
The noted ballroom dancer danced away.
Asked if he felt he had the backing of ownership, Valentine answered, "Absolutely. Ownership has been incredible. It seemed when things got worse, one of them would always be there to say hang with 'em." Asked if he felt he had the backing of general manager Ben Cherington, "Yeah, totally."
Regrets? He had a few. Valentine said, in retrospect, he wouldn't have made the comment in April that he didn't think Kevin Youkilis for some reason wasn't as physically or emotionally into the game as he had been been in the past. He said he didn't expect the blowback that he got. Valentine also said he would have been more prepared for the bullpen situation at the start of the season after a spring training injury led to thumb surgery for Andrew Bailey.
The Yankees, of course, have no regrets.
"We had a great year," said Derek Jeter, who at age 38, had 216 hits and finished at .316.
"Remarkable," Girardi said of Jeter. "One of the greatest seasons I've seen considering the circumstances, considering [his ankle injury] it exceeded my expectations."
We will have to see if Mark Teixeira, whom Girardi moved out of the cleanup spot after he stranded a small army of runners Tuesday night, can get into any kind of groove after missing so much time with a calf injury. We will have to see how that starting staff will hold up through the month. There still are questions, but the Yankees also have been giving answers in the past few weeks. Suddenly, old looked wily and experienced.
"When [the lead] got to zero, nobody panicked," Girardi said.
"Being in control of your destiny can be a blessing or a curse," Granderson said.
The Yankees made it a blessing.
So there they were at 10:35, after Ivan DeJesus struck out looking, pulling on T-shirts commemorating their pennant-clinching achievement. Then they made their way to the clubhouse to pop the champagne. Valentine could only stand there in the visitors dugout watching forlornly, turn around and head into his future.