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The coronation ultimately came -- at 10:35 p.m. while the Yankees were losing, 4-0, in the bottom of the seventh inning -- and the script so perfectly mapped out for them took an anticlimactic detour from its intended poetry.

The Yankees had returned to New York for the first time since the Twin Towers were destroyed to an emotional pregame ceremony that began with Branford Marsalis' somber rendition of "Taps" and was to end with the Yankees bringing some much-needed joy to a wounded city by beating the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and winning their fourth straight AL East title.

They had their best pitcher, 20-1 Roger Clemens on the mound, and they were facing the weakest opponent in baseball in the Devil Rays.

But the script didn't pan out as planned. The Yankees lost, 4-0, but won the AL East anyway when the Baltimore Orioles beat Boston, 12-7, at Fenway Park.

It wasn't the emotional, perfect exclamation point it would have been had the Yankees won, but the deed is nonetheless done. The Yankees are the division champs for the fourth straight time and for the seventh straight year will enter the playoffs.

The celebration was nonexistent. That the Yankees lost and the city remains in a state of devastation contributed in different proportions to the solemnity that engulfed the Yankees clubhouse.

"It doesn't belittle the accomplishment, but this is still only one step out of four," reliever Mike Stanton said, reminding himself that the Yankee way of celebrating comes only after a World Series title. "It still never leaves your mind that this comes in the middle of a terrible tragedy."

The last time Clemens lost a game, summer hadn't officially started and the world made a lot more sense. Coming into Tuesday's game, he had won 16 straight decisions.

Clemens struck out nine to move into third place all-time with 3,705, now trailing only Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Steve Carlton (4,136).

But the strikeouts would be the only thing on the night that Clemens had control of as he dropped to 20-2.

On the title and Clemens' magical season, Torre told him, "Even when you lose, we win, because we won the division tonight."

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