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Sox clinch first division title in 12 years

It was a made-for-TV experience. The Red Sox, 5-2 winners over the Twins earlier in the evening, became champions of the American League East at 10:56 Friday night when the Baltimore Orioles beat the New York Yankees, 10-9, in 10 innings, a comeback win the Sox watched from inside their clubhouse while several thousand fans watched on the Fenway Park video scoreboard. When the parlay came in, the Sox had cashed their first division crown since 1995.

On a night the Red Sox announced Clay Buchholz would not pitch again this season because of a tired shoulder, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who became a legend in his native Japan when he threw 250 pitches in a high school game, served notice he is hardly on his last legs as the team advances to October.

Matsuzaka went eight strong innings, limiting the Twins to two runs on six hits while crossing the 200 threshold in both strikeouts and innings. David Ortiz, meanwhile, is displaying the kind of finishing kick that Yaz made famous in '67, when he went 7 for 8 the last two games of the Impossible Dream season against the Twins.

Ortiz hit his 35th home run, doubled, and singled, continuing an extraordinary run that began Wednesday night against Oakland and has continued the last two nights against his former team.

Ortiz walked, singled, doubled, and doubled in his last four plate appearances against the Athletics Wednesday. On Thursday, it was double, single, home run, single, and walk against the Twins.

He doubled and scored on Mike Lowell's single in the first inning, Lowell then coming home on J.D. Drew's double that kicked around in the left-field corner.

Ortiz singled in the third inning, setting up the third run, which scored on Lowell's broken-bat infield out.

Ortiz finally was retired in the sixth on a ground ball to second, ending a streak of 11 consecutive plate appearances in which he reached safely. He was not deterred for long, hitting one into the Monster Seats off reliever Matt Guerrier to make it 5-2 in the eighth.

The major league record for consecutive times reaching base is 16, set by Ted Williams in 1957.

When Jonathan Papelbon finished off the Twins in a 1-2-3 ninth for his 37th save, the sellout crowd of 36,843 broke into a chant of "Let's Go, Orioles," as the video scoreboard switched to the live feed of the Yankees game.

"Let's See if the Orioles Can Work Some Magic" was the message posted on the board, and the Orioles did, coming back from a 9-6 deficit with three runs in the ninth off Mariano Rivera.

Matsuzaka, meanwhile, did a great job disposing of thoughts he was running on empty as the Sox await the start of their Division Series.

He'd raised those questions with a desultory performance in his previous seven starts, in which he'd posted a 1-4 record with an 8.15 ERA. The Sox pushed him back three days before his last start, giving him seven days of rest before he pitched last Saturday against the Devil Rays. The results were mixed, Matsuzaka giving up five runs in 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision.

There was nothing so-so about his performance Friday night. Matsuzaka struck out the first two batters, and allowed only one runner as far as second base before Justin Morneau homered to start the seventh. Matsuzaka (15-12) struck out the next batter, Michael Cuddyer, before walking rookie Garrett Jones on a full count, the first walk he issued. Matthew LeCroy hit a ground-rule double, the ball hopping into the right-field grandstand, and Brian Buscher's roller to Dustin Pedroia at second brought home Minnesota's second run. Nick Punto lined to center to end the inning.

It was a measure of Terry Francona's confidence in his starter that Matsuzaka came out for the eighth, a confidence that was rewarded when Matsuzaka struck out Jason Bartlett on a 95-mile-per-hour fastball, his eighth and final whiff of the night. Jason Kubel walked, but Torii Hunter hit into a double play.

Matsuzaka became just the 14th rookie in club history to throw as many as 200 innings in a season (204 2/3), the first since Frank Sullivan in 1954. He also has 201 strikeouts, adding to his rookie record that far eclipses the mark of 155 by Ken Brett in 1970.

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