NEW YORK -- The Yankees gleefully gathered in the center of a thumping bass beat on Wednesday night, using their posh clubhouse as a bubbly-soaked playground and exchanging hugs to mark the conclusion of their hard-fought mission accomplished.
After playing what they called playoff-intensity games through most of the final stretch, the Bombers deserved to cut loose a bit. The Yankees celebrated wildly and proudly stood as American League East champions, having trounced the Red Sox, 14-2, at Yankee Stadium.
"It was a battle, but at the same time it was fun," said Robinson Cano, who homered twice and tied a career high with six RBIs. "You've got to give credit to the way we played in the last 20, 25 games. At the end, the whole team was there -- defense, offense, pitching. That's what you want going to the playoffs; everybody being able to contribute to win a game."
New York earned the top spot in the division for the 13th time since 1996 and the 18th time overall, never falling out of first place after June to control its own destiny and hold off the Orioles, who finished two games back.
"It was important for us to stay in first place," Derek Jeter said. "It was important for us to win the division. You have the Wild Card to fall back on, but we didn't really look at it that way. We wanted to win the division from the get-go."
Owners of the best record in the AL, the Yankees plan to host a fourth straight year of postseason baseball at their newest home. But unlike previous years, New York will play Games 1 and 2 on the road in either Baltimore or Texas, as the Orioles and Rangers will play a one-game AL Wild Card contest Friday.
"It's a great feeling, because it has been a grind," manager Joe Girardi said. "It has not been an easy season. You look at some of the injuries we went through, some of the up and downs, you would have never thought we would win 95 games."
At 9:57 p.m. ET, the division was the Yanks' alone. A standing ovation forced Alex Rodriguez to step out of the batter's box, as the final score of the Orioles' 4-1 loss to the Rays was posted on the large center-field scoreboard.
"I knew it wasn't for me," Rodriguez said. "Those cheers were way too loud. I knew they weren't for me."
Of course, the clinch seemed a formality with a rout well under way in the Bronx. Cano continued to be among the hottest hitters on the planet, while Curtis Granderson also started the party early with a pair of homers, including a three-run blast.
"Just to be in this spot, man, to say we're division champs, that's been our goal all along," Nick Swisher said. "To be able to get to this point, we've reached phase one of the final goal. We can enjoy this. A little champagne is always smooth, bro."
That helped the Yankees spoil what could have been Daisuke Matsuzaka's final start in a Red Sox uniform, as he allowed five runs in 2 1/3 innings. The loss also may have been the last for manager Bobby Valentine, rumored to be in his final days at the helm of the Sox.
Cano's shots were his 32nd and 33rd of the year and the 176th and 177th of his career, surpassing Bobby Murcer for sole possession of 20th place on the Yankees' all-time list. Granderson's homers were his 42nd and 43rd of the season, establishing a new career high.
"Home runs are nice, but there's a lot of things we have to do that I think are going to pay a lot of dividends for us in October," Rodriguez said. "I think that the diversity of our offense right now is something that's very exciting."
That early support made for a breezy outing from Hiroki Kuroda, who limited Boston to two runs and seven hits over seven innings, finishing the regular season with a team-leading 219 2/3 innings pitched.
Kuroda had shown signs of fatigue in September as he chugged to the finish line, but the right-hander leaned on an effective sinker and slider to complete his year on a strong note.
"You could tell from the get-go, he wasn't going to take his foot off the pedal," catcher Russell Martin said. "He was fun to catch tonight. He had everything working for him."
Granderson's second homer of the game gave New York 245 blasts for the season, eclipsing a franchise record set by the 2009 club, while Jeter finished the season with a Major League-leading 216 hits.
"This is what you play for," Jeter said. "You play for a chance to get to the playoffs, win the division, and now we have to start all over again."
And if the Yankees want to really do serious damage in the postseason, as they naturally do, their best bet may rest with Cano -- riding the type of hot streak that even he doesn't believe he's seen.
Cano smashed a long two-run homer in the fifth inning off Clayton Mortensen and added a two-run single in the sixth off Scott Atchison, finishing the regular season with an obscene 24 hits in his last 39 at-bats.
"In a situation like this, you don't want to go back and think about anything you did in the past," Cano said. "You just can't wait to step to the plate and just be able to get a pitch that you can drive."