In an odd way, the Yankees are playing out the string right now. It’s not that they don’t care whether they win, as home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is certainly a worthy goal to strive for. Yet the most important thing the Yankees can really do at this point is keep their players healthy for October, while also gauging where their pitchers are at heading into the postseason. For the most part, the Yankees were successful on all those fronts today. James Paxton was solid, no one got hurt, and the Yankees won by a score that closely resembles the New England Patriots’ record in seemingly any given NFL season.
Early in the game, the Yankees put a couple runs on the board the old-fashioned way; by stringing together rallies. In the second, Luke Voit worked a leadoff walk, moved to second on a Gio Urshela single, and scored on Brett Gardner’s double. In the third, DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge singled, before Voit’s ground-rule double took the Yankees’ lead to 2-0.
From there, the Yankees quickly reverted to their mashing ways, as Gardner led off the third with a solo shot to make it 3-0. They threatened further damage, as Thairo Estrada was hit by a pitch and LeMahieu singled, which forced starter Jacob Waguespack from the game. Brock Stewart came on and got Waguespack off the hook with a strikeout of Judge.
In truth, while the Yankees ultimately cruised in this game, they didn’t capitalize on several chances to really take it to Waguespack. The Yankees’ first inning at bat ended with a strikeout-em-out-throw-em-out double play. In the third, LeMahieu was caught in a rundown between third and home, and Urshela hit into an inning-ending double play. Waguespack left with only three runs on his line in 3.2 innings despite putting nine runners on base.
They would not let Stewart off the hook by any stretch of the imagination. Stewart hit Torres with a pitch and walked Voit to begin the fourth, and Gardner stepped to the plate with two on and one out. He doubled the Yankees’ lead with one swing of the bat:
That marked Gardner’s 25th home run of the season, a new career high. He’s now slugging .500 in what’s been another quietly strong season for the 36-year-old veteran. For good measure, he added an excellent defensive play to his highlight reel for the day, making a leaping catch on a Danny Jansen fly to deep center:
Of course, the rest of the lineup had to join Gardner in the fun. LeMahieu singled in the sixth, and Torres sent his 37th of the season out off of Stewart. Voit followed up with a solo shot of his own.
While the Yankees took Stewart to task, Paxton mostly had an effective day. He struggled in the first inning, as he is wont to do, putting two runners on with one out. He fought through a seven-pitch at-bat with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. before inducing a pop out, and struck out Teoscar Hernandez to avoid any early damage.
Paxton settled in after his initial struggles, only running into trouble in the fifth. Brandon Drury reached on an infield single, moved to second on a throwing error from Torres, and scored on a pair of sac flies to give the Jays their lone run off Paxton. He finished with five innings and three strikeouts, having walked two and yielded three hits. The Blue Jays did a good job working long at-bats and driving up Paxton’s pitch count, frustrating him just enough to keep him from slicing through the order. Even so, Paxton did his part to help win the game.
Cory Gearrin relieved Paxton in the sixth, and worked out of a two-on, none-out jam to keep the score at 9-1. Jonathan Loaisiga came on next and looked encouraging, topping out at 97 mph with his fastball and striking out two in a pair of scoreless innings.
The Yankees tacked on a few more in the top of the ninth for good measure. Kyle Higashioka led off with a double off of Justin Shafer, ensuring that every starter recorded at least one hit, and scored on an RBI single from Estrada. Clint Frazier, in for Judge, roped a double, and Mike Ford, pinch-hitting for Voit, smacked a three-run shot to take the score to 13-1.
Down 12, the Jays finally put together their best offense of the day. Ryan Dull entered and allowed a double, a walk, another double, and a single to give Toronto a pair of runs, bringing the score to its final tally at 13-3.
The win moves the Yankees to 98-52. They have a 9.5-game lead in the AL East with 12 games to play. The Rays play in Anaheim at 9:07 EST, so New York’s lead could stand at double digits by the end of the night. You can almost smell the champagne-laden clinching celebration around the corner.