After a season of surges and setbacks, the New York Yankees are set to find out who they really are in the postseason.
Aaron Judge drove home the winning run with a one-out single in the ninth inning and the Yankees clinched a playoff berth in their final at-bat of the regular season by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 on Sunday.
“It’s been a crazy, wild, tough year,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Fitting that it would come down to the last day to get in, but I love our group.”
Gio Urshela made a Derek Jeter-esque catch, charging recklessly into the visiting dugout in the sixth inning, and New York used six pitchers in a five-hitter to finish the year 92-70, punching a fifth consecutive postseason ticket after nearly falling into a labyrinth 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 play in Tuesday night’s AL wild-card game at Fenway Park after the rival Boston Red Sox rallied to beat Washington later on Sunday.
New York were a .500 club past the midpoint of the season, falling to 41-41 on 4 July. The Yankees are 51-29 since.
“We’re ready to take our shot,” Boone said. “Feel like I know we can beat anyone when we’re at our best.”
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.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers will face the St Louis Cardinals on Wednesday in the National League wildcard game.