NEW YORK -- Bernie Williams sent a drive soaring to left-center field, raised his right arm in triumph, and circled the bases.
Pretty soon, he was home -- and so were the New York Yankees.
Williams hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning and the Yankees clinched their seventh straight AL East title, beating the playoff-bound Minnesota Twins, 6-4, last night for their 100th victory of the season.
With the crowd already standing and hollering, Williams connected with one out to set off a celebration. "I've been through it so many times. I was picturing it in the on-deck circle, taking it all in, thinking it would be nice for me to end it," Williams said.
Williams missed much of spring training following an appendectomy. He struggled at times during the season, and even was benched late in the year for a big game against the Red Sox.
Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were the first players to greet Williams at home. The Yankees enjoyed the moment, gathering for a group hug near the plate. "It was fitting. Bernie's been here the longest," Jeter said in the champagne-filled clubhouse.
Williams's homer was the Yankees' major league-leading 241st of the season, breaking the franchise record set in 1961.
Hideki Matsui and John Olerud also homered for New York, which won the division by overcoming an 8-11 start that included six losses in seven games against the Red Sox.
New York became just the fourth team to post three straight 100-win seasons, joining Atlanta (1997-99), Baltimore (1969-71), and the Philadelphia Athletics (1929-31). "I am very proud of the team. They're real warriors," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "Now, let's get ready for the playoffs."
The Yankees swept the three-game series from the Central champs and may face the Twins in the first round starting Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. For New York to meet the West winner -- Anaheim or Oakland -- Minnesota would have to sweep Cleveland in its final three games and the weekend series between the Angels and Athletics would have to wind up 2-1.
The Yankees won this one as they did so many others, featuring the recurring themes of home runs, strong bullpen work, and comebacks. The victory, the 61st in which New York overcame a deficit. Tom Gordon (9-4) pitched one inning for the win. Aaron Fultz (3-3) took the loss in a game the Twins led on three separate occasions.
Brad Radke tuned up for his playoff start by going five innings for the Twins. Expected to pitch Game 2 behind ace Johan Santana, Radke gave up two runs and six hits.