TORONTO — There was finally something to celebrate Tuesday night.
While Aaron Judge is still chasing history, he drew four walks and scored twice as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 5-2 to clinch the American League East and the No. 2 seed in the American League playoffs.
It’s just the second division title for the Yankees (95-59) in the last 10 seasons. They also won in Aaron Boone’s second season, 2019, when they advanced to the AL Championship Series. The No. 2 seed also comes with a first-round bye under the new MLB playoff structure. The Blue Jays (87-68) are still playing to clinch an AL Wild Card berth.
While the Yankees had to go an impressive 16-7 in September after a brutal 10-18 August, it was still a little anticlimactic with Judge holding on 60 home runs for the seventh straight game. He is one shy of the iconic Yankee and American League regular-season record of 61. Instead of powering the Yankees Tuesday night, Judge passed the baton. Gleyber Torres went 3-for-5 with three RBI. Aaron Hicks doubled in a run and Anthony Rizzo singled in another. Kyle Higashioka also went 3-for-4.
And Jameson Taillon, after giving up a lead-off homer to George Springer, was devastatingly effective, retiring 16 of the next 17 batters he faced. Springer singled off him in the bottom of the sixth. He allowed two runs on seven hits and struck out six. For the 13th time in 31 starts, he did not issue a walk.
The Blue Jays pitchers challenged Judge, who finished 1-for-2 Tuesday night. He went to full counts in each of his five at-bats, falling behind 0-1 in his first four.
In his first at-bat on Tuesday night, Judge lined a ball right into the glove of third baseman Matt Chapman. In the third inning, Judge came to bat with Higashioka on base with one out. He fell behind 0-1, but worked an eight-pitch walk as the Yankees began to rally. Rizzo’s ground ball got past second baseman Whit Merrifield to score Higashioka. Then, Judge scored on Torres’ single to center field.
In the fifth, Judge led off with a six-pitch walk and scored on another Torres single. In the top of the sixth, with one out and Hicks on second, the Blue Jays brought in right-hander Zach Pop, who actually got ahead of him 0-2, before Judge worked an eight-pitch walk.
Judge has now gone 31 plate appearances since hitting No. 60 a week ago against the Pirates. He’s had just two streaks of 30-plus plate appearances without a homer this season. There was a 41-plate appearance drought in August and another 30-plate appearance drought in April. It is the second longest game drought of the season for Judge, who went nine games without a homer this season. He’s reached base safely in 15 of those 31 plate appearances with 13 walks.
And with a .314 batting average, Judge still holds a narrow lead over Xander Bogaerts (.313) and Luis Arraez (.313). He is vying to be the first Triple Crown winner since Miguel Cabrera did it in 2012. Judge’s 128 RBI are 11 more than Jose Ramirez’s for 117 for the most in the AL.
Judge has just three homers in 67 at-bats against the Blue Jays this season.
There is a little less pressure on Judge here at the Rogers Centre. With the Blue Jays looking to clinch a playoff spot, the Yankees’ fans who traveled here hoping to see history are outnumbered. Back in the Bronx last week, Judge heard roars every time he went to the plate and the venue went quiet as each pitch was delivered. Fans groaned every time he did not hit a homer — including when he doubled. Monday night, there were boos when he was walked, but it was almost normal when he struck out and Blue Jays fans went crazy.
Judge has been downplaying the intense spotlight on him.
“Well, nothing’s like Yankee Stadium. That’s for sure,” Judge said. “I know the Roger Centre here gets pretty loud and pretty packed, but nothing like Yankee Stadium. But it felt just like a normal game. For me. That’s like the past couple days.”