The tears in Joe Torre's eyes said it all. No matter how many times the New York Yankees spray each other with champagne and beer to mark another milestone, none of them takes winning for granted.

Especially Torre.

The Yankees' manager dabbed at his eyes as New York clinched its second straight American League East title Thursday night with a 12-5 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Torre already has accumulated two World Series rings and three division crowns in four seasons in New York, yet he is not that far from the time when such success was only a dream.

When the Yankees hired him in November 1995, Torre had been dumped five months earlier from his job as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He owned an unspectacular 894-1,003 career record and one first-place finish over 14 seasons.

So even though the Yankees haven't come close to matching last year's 114-48 record, and although the season won't be considered a success unless New York successfully defends its World Series title, Torre took great delight in donning the hat that proclaimed his team AL East champions in 1999.

"You're talking to a 59-year-old guy who was fired at age 55 and had a little daughter born at the end of that year. Now all of a sudden it's the greatest time of my professional life," Torre said. "It continues to amaze me."

During a season in which he missed two months after prostate cancer surgery, Torre wasn't about to play down this division crown just because New York didn't run away from the persistent Boston Red Sox.

"It's still the same result," he said.

CAPTION: Designated hitter Chili Davis receives a champagne shower Thursday night after the Yankees clinched AL East with 12-5 victory over Orioles.