Aaron Judge delivers in 9th, Yankees clinch playoff spot
Aaron Judge drove home the winning run with a one-out single in the ninth inning and the New York Yankees clinched a playoff berth in their final at-bat of the regular season by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 Sunday.
Yankees shortstop Gio Urshela made a Jeter-esque catch, charging recklessly into the visiting dugout, and New York finished the year 92-70, punching a fifth consecutive postseason ticket after nearly falling into a labyrnth of tiebreaker scenarios.
The Yankees had their bags packed, knowing a loss to the 100-win Rays could send them into one of several potential Game 163s on the road Monday. Instead, they'll wait until Tuesday to play again in the AL wild-card game against either Boston, Toronto or Seattle, pending the rest of Sunday's results. New York will host the game if the Red Sox lose to Washington.
Rougned Odor led off the ninth with a single against Josh Fleming (10-8), just New York's second hit. Pinch-runner Tyler Wade advanced to second on Gleyber Torres' flyout to the warning track in center, and Anthony Rizzo moved Wade to third with a one-out single.
Andrew Kittredge came on to face Judge, who ripped a 104.4 mph line drive off the right-hander's glove. The ball skipped toward drawn-in second baseman Brandon Lowe, whose off-balance throw home wasn't nearly in time to catch a sliding Wade.
Teammates swarmed a smiling Judge midway between first and second, and fans chanted “MVP! MVP!” at the face of the franchise during an on-field interview.
“I wouldn't say we exhaled,” Judge said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
With the out-of-town scoreboard showing the Blue Jays routing Baltimore from the start, it was clear by the fourth inning that New York wouldn’t back into a wild-card spot.
Rays starter Michael Wacha wasn't getting out of the way, either. The veteran pitched one-hit ball over five innings, steamrolling the Yankees with 56 pitches. He induced two double plays, pushing New York's AL-most total to 154.
Urshela restored a charge into Yankee Stadium with his brazen bolt into Tampa Bay's dugout.
With two outs in the sixth inning of a scoreless game, Urshela sprinted 126 feet after Austin Meadows’ popup from a shifted infield formation. He caught it a stride before reaching the top step of the Rays’ dugout, then appeared to leap from the warning track full-speed into an empty spot on the bench.
Plate umpire Angel Hernandez flipped over the railing chasing after him to confirm the out call while Tampa Bay players quickly waved toward the home dugout for a trainer. Yankees manager Aaron Boone sprinted across the field and was followed by members of the medical staff. Pinstriped teammates gathered near the dugout entrance while Urshela was tended to.
Urshela emerged about a minute later and limped back to the Yankees bench to chants of “Gio! Gio!” Astoundingly, he returned to shortstop for the seventh inning slightly favoring his left leg. He grounded out in his next at-bat in the eighth inning, then was replaced by Andrew Velazquez in the ninth.
Derek Jeter, inducted into the Hall of Fame last month, famously bloodied his face diving into the third-base seats after catching a popup in a game against rival Boston on July 1, 2004.
Yankees right-hander Jameson Taillon delivered 3 1/3 scoreless innings in his second start since partially tearing a ligament in his right ankle last month. Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes, Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga got the ball to closer Aroldis Chapman in the ninth with the game still scoreless.
Chapman (6-4) struck out two and stranded a runner to keep it 0-0.
New York had just one hit through eight innings, although Gary Sánchez hit two rockets in the eighth. The first sailed wide of the left-field foul pole, and the other was caught with a diving effort by left fielder Brett Phillips.
This was the fifth time the Yankees entered the final day of the regular season still in contention for a postseason spot and first since 1995.
Tampa Bay rookie Randy Arozarena led off the eighth with a single and stole second, giving him 20 homers and 20 stolen bases. Only Tommy Pham and B.J. Upton had previously reached those marks in the same season for the Rays.