New York, New York,- Four feet separated Aaron Judge from deliciously making history Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, the slugger’s ninth-inning drive exploded off his bat and soared toward the legends’ lair at Monument Park. Perhaps, on a warmer night, the ball would have landed near Roger Maris’ retired No. 9. We will never know.
As Judge’s fly ball ran out of steam, it was Josh Donaldson who sealed a significant Yankees victory, providing the consolation prize for those who longed to see Judge hit his 61st home run. Donaldson’s RBI single in the 10th drove in a 5-4 victory over the Red Sox, securing the Bombers’ spot in the 2022 postseason.
The Yankees are a playoff club for the sixth straight year, or, to put it in context, a streak that spans each of Judge’s full seasons. They’ve made the postseason 24 of the last 28 years, and Aaron Boone is the first manager to earn a playoff berth in each of his first five seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Simply securing a postseason berth has never been a goal for this team, which has set its sights on an American League East title since the first day of spring. The Yanks’ magic number for the division is six over the Blue Jays, and as such, their celebration in the clubhouse was more of a silent acknowledgment.
Donaldson was presented with the team’s gold-plated wrestling-style championship belt, indicative of that night’s most valuable contributor. The veteran closed his comments by telling his teammates: “Welcome back to the playoffs.”
One big shot away from tying Maris’ 61-year-old AL home run record in a single season, Judge walked three of his first four plate appearances, hearing fans loudly booing pitchers who they didn’t dare leave biscuits in the middle.
Judge had already offered a reminder of why he should be the AL MVP in the top of the ninth, firing a seed to second base off the right field wall that dropped Tommy Pham who was attempting to single. in a double.
The Judge was showing patience at the plate once again in the bottom of the ninth, working the count to 2-2 against Matt Barnes. The Boston right-hander tested a 95.8 mph fastball that caught the plate too far in the top half of the strike zone. Judge fired, a cannon shot that came off his bat at 113 mph, thrilling a crowd of 43,123 who remained on their feet during each of his plate appearances.
Judge dropped his bat and jogged at three-quarters speed, hoping he could reach the net over the monuments. Center fielder Kiké Hernández ran back, back and then stopped, cleats firmly planted in the warning track. The ball fell into Hernandez’s glove and an entire city apparently groaned in unison.