- Associated Press - Sunday, October 3, 2010

BOSTON | No hats, no T-shirts, no celebratory champagne. Just a 49th postseason appearance for the New York Yankees and a chance at an unprecedented 28th World Series title.

The defending World Series champions missed out on their second straight AL East title on Sunday, losing 8-4 to the Boston Red Sox to complete a rare late-season fade and finish with a wild-card berth. The Yankees open the postseason at Minnesota on Wednesday.

“In New York, you’re expected to make the playoffs, but it’s only Step 1. We all know what the goal is,” manager Joe Girardi said. The goal is not to win the division. The goal is to win the whole thing.”

The Yankees went into the final day of the season needing a victory and a Tampa Bay loss at Kansas City to win the division. Had New York (95-67) and Tampa Bay finished in a tie, the Rays would have taken the title anyway by virtue of a 10-8 record against the Yankees in the season series.

But the Rays (96-66) clinched the AL East and home field against Texas when the Yankees lost, then beat the Royals 3-2 in 11 innings.

“It would be stupid to say it doesn’t matter how you finish. We would have liked to get this thing done, but we didn’t,” said pitcher Andy Pettitte, who appears to be on track to start Game 3 against the Twins. “The bottom line is: We’re the world champs until someone knocks us off.”

It’s the Yankees‘ fourth wild-card berth and their 15th playoff appearance in the last 16 years. But they’ve stumbled to the finish line, going 29-30 since Aug. 1 and failing to finish first after holding the lead on Labor Day for the third time (it also happened in 1904 and 1944), according to STATS LLC. New York lost 17 of its final 26 games.

“It hasn’t been our best baseball, but you can throw that all away,” Girardi said. “We won 95 games in an extremely tough division. … In our division, that gets you the wild card.”

The Yankees showered and dressed in a businesslike visitor’s clubhouse without any indication of a celebration. Girardi said he would give the team the day off on Monday and schedule a light workout for Tuesday in Minneapolis.

“We played 162 games,” shortstop Derek Jeter said, “and now it’s time to go.”

Jed Lowrie homered twice, J.D. Drew also homered and Boston had two double steals in the sixth inning. John Lackey (14-11) struck out 10 in 7 2-3 innings for the Red Sox, who missed the playoffs for the second time in eight years.

After winning 95 games last year, Boston (89-73) was hampered by injuries and finished in third place for just the second time since 1997.

“We’d still be playing right now if a lot of things (hadn’t) happened,” Lackey said. “I pretty much can guarantee that.”

Robinson Cano’s RBI single in the eighth inning made him the first Yankees second baseman with back-to-back 200-hit seasons. Nick Swisher homered and Mark Teixeira scored his major league-leading 113th run for New York.

Dustin Moseley (4-4) gave up four runs, five hits and two walks, striking out three in five innings for the Yankees. He gave up Drew’s two-run homer in the first and Lowrie’s in the fifth before Boston broke it open against the bullpen in the sixth.

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