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YANKS GRAB PIECE OF HISTORY, AIM FOR ANOTHER

For 71 years, Murderer's Row had stood at the top, the winningest team in the long and glorious history of the New York Yankees.

With a grand slam from a September callup, the 1927 Yankees have been surpassed.

"It feels enormous. We've made our place in history," Yankees manager Joe Torre said after Shane Spencer's homer led New York over Tampa Bay, 5-2, Thursday night.

With 111 wins, the Yankees set a team record and tied the AL mark.

"From the time I was a kid growing up, all I've ever heard is how great the '27 Yankees were," owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement read while Torre listened. "That's why this means so much. . . . You all know that winning is important to me. It's not the No. 1 thing -- it's second. Breathing is."

New York (111-48) equaled the 1954 Cleveland Indians (111-43) and trails only the 1906 Chicago Cubs (116-36) in the win column. However, these Yankees had a 162-game schedule while the Indians set the AL record in a 154-game season. The '27 Yankees finished 110-44.

"To me, the Yankees record is more important than the American League record," Torre said. "The '27 club is the standard everyone goes by."

Spencer, a 26-year-old rookie, has 11 hits -- five of them homers -- and 15 RBIs in his last 17 at-bats. He hit his first career grand slam last Friday at Baltimore.

He's so hot, his family and friends won't speak to him.

"Where's my mom? I leave messages. She's not calling back. They don't want to jinx me," Spencer said.

With the homer, New York moved 63 games over .500 for the first time since -- you guessed it -- the end of the 1927 season.

Mike Buddie (4-1) pitched two shutout innings in relief of David Wells, the Yankees' probable starter in their postseason opener next week. Wells finished 18-4.

Wilson Alvarez (6-14) took a no-hitter into the fifth and a 2-0 lead into the sixth before walking Chuck Knoblauch on four pitches.

Singles by Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams produced the Yankees' first run, Chili Davis walked and Spencer followed with his eighth homer.

Spencer has not only earned a postseason spot as the Yankees' fifth outfielder, he may even work himself into the lineup. Spencer played right field Thursday night, which was appropriate. The right fielder on the '27 Yankees was Babe Ruth.

"You ride a hot hand as much as you can," Torre said. "Shane's numbers are pretty tough to ignore. If you're going to go on a hot streak, this is the time to do it. He has given us something to think about."

A starting berth is not out of the question for Spencer with Tim Raines (left knee) and Darryl Strawberry (left calf) both hobbling and Chad Curtis in a 5-for-43 (.116) stretch.

"I'm really not thinking about stuff like that," Spencer said. "When I got called up (a third time this season Aug. 31), I just wanted a chance to play and thought it might happen if they rested some guys. I've tried to make the best of it."

Red Sox put up numbers

BOSTON -- On one memorable night, it all came together for the Boston Red Sox.

Tom Gordon set a major league record for most consecutive saves and Dennis Eckersley matched the mark for career appearances. Mo Vaughn got his 200th hit and took over the AL batting lead by percentage points, and Nomar Garciaparra hit two homers.

Pedro Martinez (19-7) even stopped a three-game losing streak and his batterymate, Scott Hatteberg, went 4-for-4.

Most importantly, the Red Sox clinched the AL wild-card berth, eliminating idle Toronto. In the wake of a 9-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles in which they had 18 hits Thursday, they feel ready for the playoffs.

"Maybe a lot of this stuff is meant to be," Eckersley said.

Vaughn went 3-for-5 and, with a .3344 average, overtook New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams, batting .3340, for the AL lead. Gordon got his 45th save in 46 opportunities. And Eckersley, once the game's best closer and still effective, tied Hoyt Wilhelm's 1,070 appearances.

When Gordon completed striking out the side in the ninth -- breaking a tie with Rod Beck and Trevor Hoffman in achieving his 42nd straight save conversion -- he and several teammates hugged at the mound.

In the locker room, there were the traditional cigars and champagne, but not much of it was sprayed. And there was a silence that showed the Red Sox know they still have a ways to go to achieve their goal -- the team's first World Series championship in 80 years.

"I really don't think this team has over-achieved," manager Jimy Williams said. "I really don't have to say much to the team. Just make a lineup out and watch them play."

Boston, which had the AL's second-best record for much of the season, will open the best-of-five first round on the road Tuesday. The opponent will be the team with the better record between Cleveland and surging Texas, which trails by a game.

Rangers close on Tribe

The Texas Rangers performed a difficult feat Thursday night. They clinched a tie for the American League West title but made their playoff situation more complicated.

The Rangers won their fourth consecutive game, routing Seattle, 9-3, at the Kingdome. The Rangers can win their second AL West title in three seasons tonight by either defeating Seattle or having Anaheim lose at Oakland. The Angels beat the A's, 10-6, on Thursday, getting five hits from shortstop Gary DiSarcina.

The Rangers have planned on facing the New York Yankees, champions of the East, in the division series. Cleveland's four-game losing streak has changed the Rangers' thinking.

Baseball goes to a seeding format for the playoffs this year. If the Rangers finish with the same or better record than Cleveland, they would face wild-card entrant Boston with the home-field advantage in the division series.

This forces Texas manager Johnny Oates to make a decision on how to play the final weekend.

Does Oates use his front-line players throughout the weekend in an attempt to overtake Cleveland for the second seed? The drawback to that is the Rangers would not have their two hottest starting pitchers -- Todd Stottlemyre and Rick Helling -- ready for the opening of the playoffs.

"Our goal is to make it to the World Series, not just make it to the second round," Oates said. "Any time you can have home-field advantage, no matter who you're playing, it's a plus."

The Rangers likely will play their final three regular-season games without first baseman Will Clark. A driving force in the offense for the last month, Clark left this game in the fourth inning after fouling a pitch off his already-fractured right big toe.

A week ago, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Indians would have home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Now, things seem a bit more tentative. Minnesota right-hander Brad Radke held Cleveland to four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a 2-0 victory Thursday.

The Indians seem to be staggering to the finish. They dropped three straight at New York prior to Thursday's shutout and saw their second half record fall to 38-36.

"Our goal is home-field advantage and it doesn't matter how we get there," manager Mike Hargrove said.

Around the horn

Dean Palmer tied George Brett for the second-best RBI total in Kansas City history and the Royals snapped the White Sox's 11-game winning streak in Kauffman Stadium, 6-4. Palmer has 118 RBIs; Hal McRae holds the team record of 133 in 1982. . . . Milwaukee's Steve Woodard retired the first 18 batters, but the Dodgers took advantage of first baseman Mark Loretta's two errors in the eighth inning to beat the Brewers, 4-1. Roger Cedeno ended Woodward's perfect game with a homer leading off the seventh. The Dodgers have received permission from the Expos to talk to Felipe Alou to replace Glenn Hoffman. . . . The Phillies and Marlins will play back-to-back doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday after the announcement that tonight's game has been postponed by Hurricane Georges. Thursday's game also was postponed.

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