Yankees win AL East 5-2 win over Blue Jays, safe playoff bye

This wasn’t a perfect game in the traditional sense of only 27 opponents coming to the plate and none reaching the plate, but in terms of the Yankees’ execution, it was close to perfection. The bats stringed together singles and got through with runners in scoring position. The pitching was sharp and catchy, 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 always play like this.

And when the dust settled and the final out was recorded, the New York Yankees were the champions of the American League East in 2022. It’s only 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 take on the winner of the AL Wild Card Series between the AL Central champion Cleveland Guardians and the Wild Card team that ends with the worst record.

Tonight started with a leadoff home run – just what everyone wanted, right? Aaron Judge started the ball game through his 136th complete count of the season (LOL) before moving to third base, robbing the baseball world for the record-tying 61st home run. Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres went down in order and the top of the first was over in an instant.

Jameson Taillon was not so lucky in the bottom half. A badly placed Taillon fastball from George Springer landed over the midfield 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, sniffs Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with a nasty deuce and sent this to second as a one-run game.

After Kyle Higashioka led off the third with a single in midfield, Judge came to the plate with one out, in his second chance of the evening to equal the 61-year record of Roger Maris. Again, Judge worked out the count in full. This time, his patience was rewarded and he walked to put two runners on their feet.

Next, Rizzo did exactly what Yankee bats have to do when Judge gets ahead of them: make opponents pay. Rizzo hit a hard groundball through the shifted right side of the Jays infield. Higgy scored easily and evened the game. Then the glowing Torres knocked one back in the middle, allowing Judge to score easily from third. Unfortunately, Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton followed suit with gadgets. But when the dust settled, the Yankees had a 2-1 lead and let BerrĂ­os work to escape the frame.

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

The first of the fifth brought everyone’s favorite baseball batting midfielder back to the plate, chasing history for the third time in the game. With a frame lead, Judge (again) completely worked out the count, then grabbed a BerrĂ­os fastball just off the plate for his second walk of the night and his 103rd of the season.

Rizzo then dipped a shallow flyout into no man’s land in right midfield to put runners in first and second with no one out. Torres kept the line moving with another RBI single, his second of the evening. Rizzo, with the game in front of him the whole time, somehow managed to force TOOTBLAN into the first of the inning by the third inning.

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

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

Inside came Zach Pop, a right-handed reliever who faced Judge. Different pitcher, same result; Judge completed the count, then walked the eighth pitch of the performance, his third free pass of the night. After Rizzo lined up a rocket, Torres got back into scoring position with runners and came through again. The resurgent second baseman grounded out through the vacant right side of the infield and Hicks scored. That made the score 5-1 Yankees, and three RBI on the night for Torres.

Another out was not on the horizon for Jamo, but a combination of excellent defensive awareness from the Yankees and Toronto’s TOOTBLANing 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-midfield hole. Judge, on his horse, cut the ball and quickly passed the ball to Isiah Kiner-Falefa who finished second. When Bichette broke free from the bag for a moment, IKF smashed the tag on it for the second one out of the frame.

Vladdy then smoked a ball into left field, but came out of the penalty area and thought it was gone. Hicks fired back a frozen rope in the second and nailed Guerrero as he tried to extend his hit into a double. The run scored, but the inning was over – a trade the Yankees were happy to make.

After a quick inning by Taillon in the seventh – frankly, the Blue Jays took their at bats like they were double parked – we got the fifth installment of the Watch for 61. With Higgy on board after his third strike of the night, Judge came to the plate to take on former Yankee David Phelps. For the fifth time in the evening Judge worked out the count completely, and for the fourth time in a row he took his free pass.

Taillon came out for the eighth, but after sandwiching two basehits around a well batted flyout 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 from. Lou Trivino was tasked with escaping the inning, and he did the job in the blink of an eye:

One pitch. Two out. Collection over.

Trivino returned to the mound in the bottom of the ninth to try to end it. Two quick outs followed, while the single by Alejandro Kirk prevented the clean inning. Stunned, Trivino caused a harmless ground ball from Matt Chapman to close it and take the AL East crown.

Huge win, frankly, and congratulations to the 2022 Yankees! No one wanted the division title to hang around for a few 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 up like this, Dingers should definitely follow suit.

Maybe tomorrow they will follow in the rubber game of this set. Speaking of which, the first pitch is at 7:07 PM ET, with Gerrit Cole hitting the bump against Mitch White. Cole is chasing the Yankees’ one season strikeout record and needs four to match Ron Guidry at 248.

Box score

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