Cincinnati clinches title, 1st playoff spot in 15 years

Jay Bruce (32) is welcomed at home by Reds teammates. (Associated Press)
Jay Bruce (32) is welcomed at home by Reds teammates. (Associated Press)

Jay Bruce raised both index fingers as he rounded first base and took the final steps toward a long-awaited championship. Jubilant Reds teammates streamed toward the plate while fireworks went off overhead.

Fifteen years of futility had just ended with Bruce’s dramatic swing.

Bruce homered on the first pitch from Tim Byrdak leading off the ninth inning Tuesday in Cincinnati for a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros, securing an improbable N.L. Central title for a franchise that has gone through some of the worst times in its storied history.

Nine straight losing seasons. A 15-year playoff drought. All washed away with one home run and an eye-stinging clubhouse spray.

“There’s nothing like it,” said Bruce, who repeatedly got doused with bottles of Korbel champagne and 24-ounce cans of beer in the clubhouse.

The 23-year-old outfielder, part of Cincinnati’s young nucleus, provided a fitting finish to the championship drive. Cincinnati has won 22 games in its last at-bat, second most in the majors.

Drama found them all season as they got into contention early, then held off the heavily favored Cardinals.

“When he hit that one up there, there was a big sigh of relief and the party was on,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I’m as happy as a man can be. This is sweet. This is a special group, special guys and a special feeling.”

With the latest title, Baker joined Bill McKechnie as the only managers to lead three different N.L. teams to the playoffs. Baker also has made it with the Giants and Cubs.

Yankees clinch routine A.L. playoff spot

The New York 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 in Toronto.

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.

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 victories by a Yankee since Ron Guidry went 22-6 in 1985.

Rays in postseason for 2nd time in history

Tampa Bay clinched its second playoff berth in three years, beating Baltimore 5-0 in St. Petersburg, Fla., behind another strong pitching performance by 19-game winner David Price.

The Rays remained one-half game in front of the New York Yankees atop the A.L. East.

Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena hit solo homers to support the 25-year-old left-hander before a crowd of 17,891 that joined in the celebration at Tropicana Field.

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