Yankees clinch AL East with 5-2 win over Blue Jays, secure playoff bye

This wasn’t a perfect game in the traditional sense of only 27 opposing hitters coming to the plate and none reaching, but in terms of the Yankees’ execution, this was almost perfection. The bats strung together hits and came through with runners in scoring position. The pitching was sharp and clutch, with shutdown innings and well-timed double plays. The defense was on point and stole some outs. Well-played game; 10/10 would recommend the Yankees play like this all the time.

And when the dust settled and the final out was recorded, the 2022 New York Yankees were the American League East champions. It’s just their second division title in the past decade of play, but it’s also their 20th in franchise history. More importantly, it also secured a first-round bye in the new MLB playoff format; New York will face the winner of the AL Wild Card Series between the AL Central champion Cleveland Guardians and whichever Wild Card team finishes with the worst record.

Tonight started off with a leadoff home run — just what everyone wanted, right? Aaron Judge started the ballgame by working his 136th full count of the season (LOL) before lining out to third base, depriving the baseball world of the record-tying 61st home run. Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres went down in order and the top of the first was over in the blink of an eye.

Jameson Taillon was not so lucky in the bottom half. A poorly located Taillon fastball to George Springer ended up over the center-field wall to make it 1-0, Jays, on Springer’s 24th dinger of the season. The baseball gods are cruel. We all wanted a leadoff home run and they gave us one. Taillon recovered, whiffing Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. with a filthy deuce, and sent this off to the second as a one-run game.

After Kyle Higashioka led off the third with a single to center field, Judge came to the plate with one out, in his second opportunity of the night to tie Roger Maris’ 61-year-old record. Once again, Judge worked the count full. This time, his patience paid off and he walked, putting two runners on.

Next, Rizzo did exactly what Yankee bats need to do when Judge gets walked in front of them: Make opponents pay. Rizzo hit a hard groundball through the shifted right side of the Jays infield. Higgy scored easily and tied the game. Then, the incandescent Torres knocked one right back up the middle, easily scoring Judge from third. Unfortunately, Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton followed with whiffs. But when the dust settled, the Yankees had a 2-1 lead and made Berríos work to escape the frame.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Jamo did exactly what a starting pitcher needs to do after his team gives him some runs: Put a zero up in the run column. He worked around a leadoff single in the bottom of the third to retire the next three Jays he faced, including Springer and Guerrero. Shutdown innings, y’all. They’re neat; the bee’s knees, even.

The top of the fifth brought everyone’s favorite baseball bludgeoning center fielder back to the plate, hunting for history for a third time in the game. Leading off the frame, Judge worked the count full (again), then took a Berríos fastball just off the plate for his second walk of the night, and his 103rd of the season.

Rizzo followed up by dunking a shallow fly ball into no man’s land in right center field to put runners on first and second with no one out. Torres kept the line moving with another RBI single, his second of the night. Rizzo, with the play right in front of him the whole way, somehow TOOTBLAN’d his way into the first out of the inning at third.

Torres moved up to second, and to third on a Bo Bichette error, but after a Stanton strikeout and an Oswaldo Cabrera groundout, the Yankees had to settle for one run, and a 3-1 lead. But that was twice already that evening that the opposing pitcher walked Judge, and twice the bats brought the big man in to score.

Following a seven-pitch frame from Taillon, the Aaron Judge Watch continued in the sixth. After back-to-back doubles by Higgy and Aaron Hicks extended the Yankees’ lead to three, Jays manager John Schneider came out to make a pitching change.

In came Zach Pop, a right-hander reliever to face Judge. Different pitcher, same result; Judge worked the count full and then walked on the eighth pitch of the appearance, his third free pass of the night. After Rizzo lined out on a rocket, Torres came up with runners in scoring position again, and came through again. The resurgent second baseman rapped a ground ball through the vacant right side of the infield, scoring Hicks. That made the score 5-1 Yankees, and three RBI on the night for Torres.

Another zero was not in the offing for Jamo, but a combination of excellent defensive awareness from the Yankees and TOOTBLANing by Toronto reduced what could have been a huge inning for the Jays to a one-run outing. With one out and Springer on first, Bichette drove a ball into the right center field gap. Judge, on his horse, cut the ball off and quickly relayed the ball to Isiah Kiner-Falefa covering second. When Bichette momentarily disengaged with the bag, IKF slapped the tag on for the second out of the frame.

Vladdy then smoked a ball into the left field, but loafed coming out of the box thinking it was gone. Hicks fired a frozen rope back into second and nailed Guerrero trying to stretch his hit into a double. The run scored, but the inning was over — a trade that the Yankees happily made.

After a quick inning from Taillon in the seventh — honestly, the Blue Jays took their at-bats like they were double parked — we got the fifth installment of the Watch for 61. With Higgy aboard after his third knock of the night, Judge came to the plate to face former Yankee David Phelps. For the fifth time on the night, Judge worked the count full, and for the fourth-straight time, he took his free pass.

Taillon came out for the eighth, but after sandwiching two singles around a well-struck fly out to left field, Aaron Boone came out to relieve his starter with the tying run at the plate in the form of George Springer and only one out. Lou Trivino was tasked with escaping the inning, and he did the job in the blink of an eye:

One pitch. Two outs. Innings over.

Trivino returned to the mound in the bottom of the ninth to try and close this one out. Two quick outs ensued, although Alejandro Kirk’s single prevented the clean inning. Nonplussed, Trivino induced a harmless ground ball from Matt Chapman to close this one and clinch the AL East crown.

Huge win, honestly, and congratulations to the 2022 Yankees! No one wanted the division title to linger for several more days. Judge didn’t hit number 61 tonight, but his at-bats were a tour de force in approach and plate discipline. If he stays locked in like this, dingers should surely follow.

Perhaps they’ll follow as early as tomorrow, in the rubber game of this set. Speaking of, first pitch is at 7:07pm ET, with Gerrit Cole on the bump against Mitch White. Cole will be chasing the Yankees’ single-season strikeout record and needs four to tie Ron Guidry at 248.

Box Score

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