It was Josh Donaldson’s ground ball in the 10th that gave the Yankees their 16th walk-off win of the season and clinched a playoff spot for the Yankees on Thursday night, but it was Aaron Judge’s long fly ball in the bottom of the ninth that everyone will remember. Donaldson’s grounder to shortstop gave the Yankees a 5-4 win over the Red Sox, but much of the 43,123 at Yankee Stadium left disappointed.
For the second straight night, Judge did not homer and he remains just one shy of the American League and Yankee record of 61 in a single season set by Roger Maris 1961.
“I thought Judge had it with the homer but it was nice to be able to come through for the team,” Donaldson said. “I just keep plugging away and really just trying to put my best foot forward.”
Judge finally connected on a ball Thursday night. After walking three times and striking out, the Yankees’ slugger came to the plate with one out in the ninth of the tied game and got two pitches to hit. He fouled the first fastball off and then gave the second, another fastball, a ride. The crowd, already on their feet for his every at-bat, screamed as the ball sailed high and 404 feet deep—just to the wall at dead center field at Yankee Stadium. That would have been a record home run in eight other ballparks, but Thursday night in the Bronx it was just a fly out.
The win, which was the third straight for the Yankees (91-58), clinched their 58th playoff appearance in franchise history and their sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs. It also dropped the Bombers’ magic number to six to win the American League East.
“A great accomplishment, a lot of hard work over the course of the season to get to this point,” Judge said. “But I think you’re gonna ask anybody in this room and they’ll say the job’s not finished. We have the ultimate goal of going out there and winning our division and really setting ourselves up for the postseason, but this is step number one and step number one on many steps to come, that’s for sure.”
Giancarlo Stanton hit his 28th homer of the season and his second in three games. Kyle Higashioka and Harrison Bader both drove in runs on sacrifice fly balls. Jameson Taillon held the Red Sox to a run on four hits over six innings. He walked one and struck out eight. Clarke Schmidt gave up four runs; a three-run homer to pinch hitter Reese McGuire and a solo shot to rookie Triston Casas. Clay Holmes pitched two scoreless innings—with some help from Judge.
The slugger made an outstanding defensive play in the top of the ninth, playing Tommy Pham’s leadoff ball off the wall in the corner of right field and firing to shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa to get the Red Sox left fielder out.
The play was one that an MVP makes, Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters.
“I’m just trying to make a play like anybody else,” Judge said. “A lot of respect for those guys over there. So that means a lot.”
The Yankees slugger holds at a major-league-leading 60 homers, one shy of the record as Maris’ family was at the Stadium again Thursday night.
They didn’t get to see a lot of action from Judge.
Michael Wacha walked Judge on four pitches to start his night and was booed loudly. In the third inning, Judge worked a seven-pitch walk. In the fifth inning, Wacha needed five pitches to strike Judge out swinging on a changeup. In the seventh, with a runner on second base, Red Sox right-hander John Schreiber walked Judge on five pitches. His fly ball off Matt Barnes at the center field wall sent the fans screaming only to groan when it came up short.
It was the fourth game this season in which Judge has been walked three times.
Judge also leads the American League with a .316 batting average, just ahead of Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (.314) and the Twins’ Luis Arraez (.313). With his major-league-leading 60 home runs and his MLB best 128 RBI, Judge could also become just the third Yankee to win a Triple Crown, joining Lou Gehrig (1934) and Mickey Mantle (1956). The only player to win a Triple Crown in the last 50 years was the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in 2012.