By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera became the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, while the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics claimed division titles on a wild final day to Major League Baseball's regular season.
The end of MLB's 162-game, six-month marathon produced special entries into the record books, as Cabrera ended the longest Triple Crown drought ever and postseason match-ups were finally settled in the first year of the double wildcards.
Cabrera left Wednesday's game in the fourth inning after going 0-for-2 at the plate and clinched the award shortly after when the Yankees pinch-hit for Curtis Granderson, who was one home run short of the Tigers slugger after he had hit two-homers in their win over the Boston Red Sox.
The 29-year-old Cabrera had a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 runs to become just the 15th player to achieve the Triple Crown and first since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
The Athletics capped a remarkable regular season by completing a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers with a 12-5 victory that gave them the American League (AL) West title by one game.
The A's, who trailed two-time defending AL champion Texas by 13 games in June before battling back into the race, answered a five-run scoring burst by the Rangers in the third inning with six runs in the fourth and never relinquished the lead.
The victory improved the Athletics to 94-68, and sent the low-budget team to the postseason for the first time in six years.
The loss dropped the Rangers, who had been in first place since April 9 and led Oakland by five games with nine days to go, to 93-69 and into a wildcard berth.
The Yankees, courtesy of two home runs from both Granderson and Robinson Cano, pounded the Boston Red Sox 14-2 to clinch the American League East.
The victory lifted New York to a 95-67 record and made them the top seed in the American League with home field advantage through the League Championship Series as they finally nosed clear of the surprising Baltimore Orioles.
"They are a very resilient group that takes pride in what they do and are used to winning and expect to win," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said about his players. "This is a grind. It's hard to win 95 games in our division."
Baltimore dipped to 93-69 after a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays and settled for a wildcard berth that puts them into the postseason for the first time in 15 years.
Texas, who were already assured of a spot in the postseason, will host Baltimore in a one-game showdown on Friday to advance to the best-of-five divisional series, with the winner hosting the Yankees on Sunday.
The Detroit Tigers, who had already clinched the AL Central title, will host the Oakland Athletics on Saturday in the other division series.
Earlier, the Washington Nationals finished their Cinderella campaign in style by beating the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1 to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Washington, playing in the postseason for the first time, ended with a 98-64 record to ensure they go into the playoffs as top seed in the National League.
The Nationals will play the winner of Friday's wildcard game between the Atlanta Braves and St Louis Cardinals when their division series opens on Sunday.
Cincinnati will start away to the San Francisco Giants in their division series, starting on Saturday.
(Editing by Frank Pingue/Greg Stutchbury)