NEW YORK — Even though they let a win get away Wednesday night, the Boston Red Sox locked up something more important. And as far as they were concerned, an AL East title was certainly worth celebrating.
Boston clinched the division championship despite wasting a three-run lead in the ninth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Yankees. David Ortiz and the Red Sox, who last weekend secured at least a wild-card spot in the playoffs, were assured the crown when Baltimore rallied for a 3-2 win at second-place Toronto nearly 30 minutes before New York completed its comeback against Craig Kimbrel (2-5) and Joe Kelly.
“In the end, the one inning, it doesn’t take away from 158 games played to date. They should be extremely proud for winning a very, very difficult division,” manager John Farrell said.
Though the final score in Toronto was posted on the out-of-town scoreboard for all to see, the Red Sox hardly seemed to notice as players draped their arms over the dugout railing and rooted for Kimbrel in the ninth.
Farrell and other Red Sox said they knew the Blue Jays had lost and what that meant, but they were focused on closing out their own game at the time.
Red Sox executives, however, jumped out of their front-row seats next to the Boston dugout and rejoiced when the Blue Jays’ game ended.
“This is one stop. We’ve got a lot of work ahead,” Farrell said. “We’re not done by any means.”
After winning their eighth AL East title, the Red Sox will open their postseason schedule Oct. 6 seeking a second World Series championship in four years. The team’s first opponent has not been determined yet.
“It’s only the beginning. We have to keep pushing,” first baseman Hanley Ramirez said.
Mark Teixeira’s two-out grand slam off Kelly won it for the Yankees, costing Clay Buchholz a win after he allowed just an infield single in six shutout innings.
That only stunned the Red Sox for a short time, though. Once they returned to their clubhouse, they regrouped and let loose, dousing each other with beer and bubbly in a typical celebration.
So even if they didn’t pile onto the field in enemy territory, the Red Sox got their chance to party in the Bronx — the site of so much Boston heartache throughout its storied rivalry with the Yankees.
Of course, there was one glorious moment across the street, when Big Papi and his 2004 teammates overcame a 3-0 deficit to win the AL Championship Series at the old Yankee Stadium. Boston rejoiced and went on to capture its first World Series crown since 1918.
With Ortiz nearing retirement after the current season, this division title tasted sweet as well — especially after the Red Sox completed a worst-to-first turnaround for the second time in five seasons. After winning the 2013 World Series, Boston finished last twice in a row.
“I think we can definitely use this as a stepping stone. But this is step 1,” outfielder Mookie Betts said. “We’ve got to win a World Series and once we get there, everybody will know who the Red Sox are.”
No matter what happens from here, this year has become much more than a farewell tour for Ortiz. The 40-year-old franchise icon is enjoying one of his biggest seasons at the plate, joined by steady veterans like Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia mixed with blossoming young stars in Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.
“This is a pretty dynamic team in terms of homegrown players at various stages of their career that are coming together to be a very successful team,” Farrell said before the game.
Rick Porcello (22 wins) and free-agent prize David Price have solidified the front end of a suspect rotation, with new closer Kimbrel anchoring the bullpen.
Boston took control of a wide-open AL East with an 11-game winning streak — all against division foes — that ended with Tuesday’s defeat at Yankee Stadium.
“Above and beyond all, this is a team that cares for one another. And I don’t say that loosely,” Farrell said. “They’re tough, they’re focused, they’re talented, but, like I said, above all, they care for one another in an extraordinary way.”
Farrell, who took over as manager before the 2013 season, enjoyed a personal triumph with this division title as well: He missed the final 1 1/2 months of last season after he was diagnosed with stage 1 lymphoma.
“It’s been a journey that makes you relish the good times a little bit more. They’re more meaningful,” Farrell said. “There’s so much to be fortunate or thankful for. … Clearly, this puts you in a position to reflect on things differently.”
The only other time Boston clinched the AL East title away from Fenway Park was at Cleveland in 1988.
Now, the Red Sox hope to reach the World Series again — and set up a potential dream matchup against the Chicago Cubs and former Boston general manager Theo Epstein.
“You enjoy the night tonight and the accomplishments up to this point, but we still have a lot on our minds and a lot that we want to accomplish,” Porcello said.