Nobody can say the Tampa Bay Rays backed into the AL East title Sunday.
Knowing that New York's loss about an hour earlier had already assured them of the championship, the Rays rallied for a 3-2 victory over Kansas City in 12 innings, sending them into the postseason on a winning note.
"Winning in extra innings on the road is a great measure of your team and the character of your group," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. "Under these circumstances that really demonstrates that."
Tampa Bay will start the playoffs at home Wednesday against AL West champion Texas and have home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. The Yankees are the wild card and open Wednesday at AL Central champion Minnesota.
The Yankees and Tampa Bay began the day tied at 95-66, with both teams already assured of postseason spots. To win the division, New York needed to finish ahead of the Rays, who held the tiebreaker after winning the season series 10-8.
Carlos Pena hit a tying, two-run double in the ninth for Tampa Bay off All-Star closer Joakim Soria.
Pinch-hitter Rocco Baldelli singled with one out in the 12th off rookie Dusty Hughes (1-3) and stole second. Baldelli scored when Kelly Shoppach hit a grounder through the legs of third baseman Wilson Betemit, who was charged with an error.
When closer Rafael Soriano finished off the Royals for his AL-leading 45th save in 48 chances, the Rays streamed onto the field to celebrate.
At Boston, the defending World Series champions missed out on their second straight AL East title, completing a rare late-season fade and finish with a wild-card berth.
"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."
"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.