NEW YORK – In the ninth inning of a tie game, with home run history on the line, Aaron Judge nearly sent Yankee Stadium into delirium with a 404-foot drive.
“I thought Judgie had it,’’ Josh Donaldson said of the Yankee slugger’s bid for home run No. 61, caught at the center field warning track.
But in Thursday night’s 10th inning, Donaldson delivered a game-winning single off Red Sox reliever Kaleb Ort, sending the Yankees to a 5-4 victory and officially putting them into postseason.
Afterward, Donaldson received the player of the game championship belt and began his acceptance speech by saying: “Welcome to the playoffs.’’
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It’s a “great accomplishment, a lot of hard work … to get to this point,’’ Judge said. “But I think you can ask anybody in this room, the job’s not finished."
Yankees' magic number
The next goal is to secure the AL East, and the Yankees (91-58) are 7.5 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, with a division-clinching magic number of six and 13 games remaining.
Against the last-place Red Sox (72-77), the night began with Jameson Taillon’s encouraging start, going six scoreless innings, and striking out eight batters.
But after Clarke Schmidt gave up four runs in the seventh, the Yanks manufactured the tying run in the eighth on pinch-runner Tim Locastro’s stolen base (reversed on review) and Harrison Bader’s sac fly.
It was Bader’s sixth RBI in his first three Yankees games.
Defensively, Judge gets an assist for the Yankees’ fourth straight win, nailing Tommy Pham with a bullet throw at second base after he attempted to stretch a single off the right field wall to start the ninth.
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Red Sox manager Alex Cora called it a play that MVP’s make, and it was a reminder that Judge could win an outfield Gold Glove award, along with a Silver Slugger and the AL MVP.
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“Just a complete player,’’ Donaldson said. “You take him off our team and we’re not in the position we’re in.’’
Aaron Judge: So close to 61
Seeking to match Roger Maris in single-season home run history at 61, Judge (0-for-2, three walks) came up with one out and nobody on base in the ninth inning.
With the entire Stadium standing and cheering – and then going silent – Judge drove a towering fly that dropped into Enrique Hernandez’s glove, a few feet from the wall.
“Kind of spooky,’’ Donaldson said of 43,123 fans suddenly falling into a hush right before each pitch to Judge.
That fly to center by Judge was still the longest drive by any player Thursday night.
That includes Triston Casas’ solo shot and Reese McGuire’s go-ahead three-run homer off Schmidt in Boston’s four-run seventh and Giancarlo Stanton’s towering two-run homer in the sixth off Michael Wacha.
“I just got underneath it a little bit,’’ Judge said of Matt Barnes’ 2-2 fastball. “Pretty windy night, I was hoping it was blowing out when I was hitting. Just missed it.’’
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Aaron Boone felt that way too, off the bat, but with Judge’s strength, the manager was hopeful “it was going to drop onto Monument Park.’’
According to Elias, Boone became the first manager in MLB history to reach postseason in his first five seasons at the helm.
“It starts a long time ago, a lot of work, a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point,’’ Boone said. “Excited to get this opportunity.’’
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Yankees punch playoff ticket with walk-off win over Red Sox