NEW YORK — Four feet separated Aaron Judge from making delicious history Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, the slugger’s ninth-inning drive exploding off his bat and flying toward the legends lair of Monument Park. Perhaps, on a warmer evening, the ball would have landed near retired No.9 Roger Maris. We’ll never know.
Because Judge’s fly ball ran out of steam, it was instead Josh Donaldson who sealed a meaningful Yankees victory, providing the consolation prize to those eager to see Judge hit his 61st homer. Donaldson’s RBI single in the 10th allowed for a 5-4 victory over the Red Sox, clinching the Bombers’ berth in the 2022 playoffs.
“It’s not over yet, but the chance that we get the opportunity to play playoff baseball is going to be fun,” Donaldson said. “I thought Judgie got it with a home run, but it was nice to be able to pass for the team.”
The Yankees are a playoff club for the sixth straight year — or, to put that into context, a streak that spans each of Judge’s full seasons. They have reached all 24 of the playoffs in the past 28 years, and Aaron Boone is the first manager to earn a playoff ticket in each of his first five seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“You never want to take it for granted,” Boone said. “We are in the dance, and we have a chance now.”
Simply earning a playoff berth has never been a goal for this team, which has been aiming for an American League East title since day one of the spring. The Yanks’ magic number for the division is six over the Blue Jays, and as such, their celebration at the clubhouse was more of a muted recognition.
Donaldson was awarded the team’s wrestling-style gold-plated championship belt, indicating the most valuable contributor that night. The veteran closed his remarks by telling his teammates: “Welcome to the playoffs.”
“There’s been a lot of hard work over the season to get to this point,” Judge said. “But I think you can ask anyone in this room – the job isn’t done.”
Oh, but it could have been a magic moment, meant for a Yankeeography schmaltzy episode and music borrowed from “The Natural” soundtrack. A big swing after tying the 61-year-old Maris’ American League record for homers in a single season, Judge played in three of his first four appearances on the board, hearing fans loudly mock pitchers who didn’t. didn’t dare to bake cookies in the middle.
The judge had previously reiterated why he should be the AL’s most valuable player in the top of the ninth, shooting a seeded second baseman from the right-field wall that took down Tommy Pham who tried to stretch a single in a double.
“You’re taking him off our team,” Donaldson said, “and we’re probably not sitting in the position we’re in right now.”
Judge again showed patience at the plate late in the ninth, working the count to 2-2 against Matt Barnes. The Boston right-hander attempted a 95.8 mph fastball that caught too much plate in the top half of the strike zone. The judge fired it – a cannon shot from his bat at 113 mph – thrilling a crowd of 43,123 who remained standing throughout each of his home plate appearances.
The judge dropped his bat and trotted off at three-quarters speed, hoping it could reach the net above the monuments. Center fielder Kiké Hernández ran back, back, then stopped, his cleats firmly planted on the warning track. The ball fell into Hernández’s glove and an entire town seemingly groaned in unison.
“I’m just a little below,” Judge said. “It was quite a windy night. I was hoping he was blowing. I just missed it.
Said Boone: “I thought it would have been quite showy to drop it off at Monument Park there.”
The seeds for the Yankees’ 16th Major League-leading victory were sown early. Although Judge went career-hitless against Michael Wacha (0 for 15, 10 strikeouts), Kyle Higashioka hit a sacrificial fly in the fifth inning and Giancarlo Stanton smashed a two-run homer on the right-hander in the sixth .
Jameson Taillon got off to a brilliant start, scattering four hits and striking out eight of six scoreless innings. Clarke Schmidt had a shaky outing, allowing a solo home run to Triston Casas and a three-run home run to Reese McGuire that put Boston ahead, 4-3.
Stanton sparked a rally in the eighth inning with a first single. Pinch runner Tim Locastro stole second, advanced on a groundout and scored on Harrison Bader’s sacrificial volley to tie the game at 4.
There was a lot to see; just not what we all expect.
“Any time [Judge] comes,” Taillon said, “everyone is running outside to watch the bat. No one wants to miss it. We know that will happen at some point.