On Sunday night, the Yankees chased Aaron Judge into the outfield, swinging him into a bouncy, gleeful embrace. Now they will follow the judge in the playoffs.
Judge is the cornerstone of the Yankees, the slugger who has led them for half a decade as they try to return to the World Series. This season was trying to make the most of it, with lengthy parts of the game alternating between entertaining and confusing. But the judge assured it would continue with a game-winning single at the bottom of the ninth inning while on top of a tense day at Yankee Stadium. Tampa Bay Rays, 1-0.
“It’s been a crazy, wild, tough year,” said manager Aaron Boone. “Okay this will be the last day to come in. But I love my group, I love my people, I love our competition. It hasn’t always been pretty, but we get to take our shot.” We are ready. We know when we do our best we can beat anyone.”
The Yankees’ first Test rival would be the Boston Red Sox, who scored a 7–5, comeback road victory over the Washington Nationals with four hits and two homers from Rafael Devers. The Yankees and Boston finished the regular season with similar records (92-70), but the Red Sox will host the American League wild-card game at Fenway Park on Tuesday as they took the season 10-9 from the Yankees.
The Yankees will make their ace Gerrit Cole debut, with the Red Sox set to start former Yankee Nathan Iovaldi.
“You can feel that the Yankees-Red Sox is a little different,” said starter Jameson Tellon, the first-year Yankees who collected the first 10 outs on Sunday. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. The Red Sox-Yankees, even in the regular season, back in June, felt different, so I’m sure it’s going to be a crazy game. I have none on the mound than Gerrit Cole Will happen.”
Judge, who has been a three-time All-Star, set the date with the first game-ending hit of his career. He was linked with a hard shot in the middle that went off the glove of Rays pitcher Andrew Kittredge. Second baseman Brandon Lowe picked up the ball and threw an off-balance throw to the plate, but pinch-runner Tyler Wade slid head-first before the throw to touch the celebration.
“It took us a while to go,” said the judge. But we got a place in the playoffs. All you have to do is enter.”
It was the first Yankees game to go scoreless in the ninth inning in more than three years, and the Yankees only managed one hit through the first eight. They are missing a star infielder after putting DJ Lemahieu on the injured list before the game with a sports hernia, but Rugged Odor – third baseman batting .201 at game time – came on to start the winning rally.
Odor takes a single off left-hander Josh Fleming and Wade runs for it. After the dismissal, Anthony Rizzo lashed a single to the right, placing Wade in third to move to second on the throw home. Then Kittredge, a right-hander, came to face the judge, leading the Yankees to their 57th postseason appearance and fifth in a row.
“We know that our ultimate goal isn’t just to go in,” the judge said after partying with peers in the clubhouse. “It was a nice celebration, but now it’s time to go to work. All that other stuff, 162, that was spring training. Now it’s time to get into the regular season and turn it over.”
The Yankees used a six-man pitching relay to subdue the Rays, and one stood on top of the rest. With two outs in the sixth inning, shortstop Gio Ursella charged toward the third base dugout for a sinking foul pop from Austin Meadows. Ursella intercepts the ball and hits the head in the feet of the Rays’ dugout through an opening in the railing.
“He looked like a missile flying there,” Boone said. “It put me to death.”
Urshela, playing in one shift, went limp on her own and remained in the game till the ninth inning. He said he initially thought he might have been seriously injured, but was relieved not to have suffered a head injury. He felt pain in his legs and elbows but said he could play on Tuesday.
“I was in great pain in that moment; I didn’t even know what was happening, ”said Urshella. “But thank God I feel really well. It could have been worse.”
Ursella’s effort was a highlight of an all-around performance inspired by the Yankees, who lost the first two games of the series, risking the need for a play-in game to reach the wild card.
The Yankees rarely take that long to secure a post-season trip. It was only the fifth time he had entered the final day of the regular season with a chance to secure a playoff spot – and one of those regular seasons, 1978, was made famous by Bucky Dent’s astonishing three-run homer in a clash at Fenway. Ended up with Over the Green Monster.
That game – a playoff, but technically part of the regular season – propelled the Yankees to the American League Championship Series. At stake will be a trip to Tampa Bay for the Division Series on Tuesday, and the Yankees and Red Sox made sure it would only take one game.
The day began with the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners also surviving for the wild-card spots, setting up the possibility of a three- or four-way tie for two spots. But both the Yankees and the Red Sox led Toronto and Seattle by one game, and when they won, the Blue Jays and Mariners were eliminated.
(For the record: Toronto beat the Baltimore Orioles 12–4, but the Mariners lost 7–3 to the Los Angeles Angels as Shohei Ohtani connected for his 46th homer and batted in the 100th.)
In the National League, a five-team playoff ground was decided before the weekend, but the days were expensive for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They could not snatch the West Division title from the San Francisco Giants, and lost two major contributors to injury.
Clayton Kershaw, the best left-arm starter of his generation, left Friday’s game with a recurrence of pain in his elbow and forearm; He said he was probably done for the season. Max Munsey, the Dodgers’ leader in homer and batting in runs, abandoned Sunday’s game after a play at first base in which a runner hit his outstretched wrist as he reached for the ball. Manager Dave Roberts later told reporters that Muncie was unlikely to play in a wild-card game against the St. Louis Cardinals or a potential division series.
The Dodgers’ streak of eight consecutive division titles came to an end despite their blistering end to the season. They went 44–13 after acquiring Max Schaezer and Tree Turner in a trade with Washington on July 31, and went on to set a franchise record with 106 wins.
But the Giants never dropped, and the Dodgers will host St. Louis in the NL wild-card game on Wednesday.