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YANKEES 7, DEVIL RAYS 3

Yankees seal playoff spot

Derek Jeter hit a leadoff home run, Jon Lieber pitched into the eighth inning, and the New York Yankees clinched their 10th consecutive trip to the postseason with a 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays yesterday at Yankee Stadium.

"It's nice, but we expect that coming in," Alex Rodriguez said.

John Flaherty also homered for the Yankees (96-57), who are assured of no worse than a wild-card berth. They're guaranteed of finishing among the top two in the AL East, and no team can finish second in the AL Central or AL West with more than 95 wins.

"We don't come in here saying, `Let's get to the postseason,' " Jeter said. "We've made the postseason before. We want to win the division."

The Yankees have a 4 1/2-game lead in the East over the second-place Red Sox. The teams meet in a three-game series at Fenway Park this weekend.

New York, given a standing ovation by fans following the final out, has the second-longest streak of consecutive trips to the playoffs, trailing only Atlanta.

The Yankees took a low-key approach instead of celebrating clinching a playoff spot. "We just don't do that," manager Joe Torre said. "If you're sitting in first place and celebrate just getting into the playoffs, you've already taken a psychological dip."

Lieber (13-8), who no-hit the Red Sox until David Ortiz's two-out home run in the seventh inning last Saturday in a 14-4 win, allowed three runs and 11 hits in 7 1/3 innings. Yesterday's game was a makeup of an April 13 rainout, which at first was supposed to be played as part of a Labor Day doubleheader but got pushed back again because Tampa Bay was delayed traveling because of a hurricane.

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