Tonight’s game could not have been drawn up any better for the Yankees – Masahiro Tanaka delivered a clutch pitching performance, the Bombers slugged four home runs, and the Yankees clinched a playoff spot with their 100th win, downing the Angels 9-1.
We’re not quite in the playoffs yet, but playoff Tanaka took the mound for the Yankees tonight. After a rough start to September (0-1, 6.00 ERA in three starts), Tanaka was moved up in the rotation to finish the job tonight, and he did not disappoint. He struck out four batters over the first three innings, and finished the night with six strikeouts in seven four-hit, one-run innings. It may not be the biggest game of Tanaka’s career, but the Yankees needed a stellar pitching performance tonight, and they got one.
While Tanaka cruised through the Angels’ batters, the offense held up their end of the bargain, one night after going silent. DJ LeMahieu got the party started in the second inning with a three-run opposite field shot, and Brett Gardner followed suit with a solo blast in the next inning. LeMahieu and Gardner sit third and fourth on the team in home runs, and have combined for 51 dingers. It never would have seemed true before the season, but the Yankees wouldn’t be a 100-win team without their contributions.
The Angels kept it a close game with Kole Calhoun’s solo homer, but Gardner broke the game open with a two-run hustle double in the sixth, making it 6-1 Yankees. Meanwhile, Tanaka kept dealing, and the Yankees had all but wrapped things up through seven innings.
However, the Yankees wouldn’t go quietly into the night. Cameron Maybin and Clint Frazier added home runs in the eighth inning, giving Aroldis Chapman plenty of cushion as he entered the contest for just his third appearance of the month. The extra rest proved vital for Chapman, who buzzed around 103 mph with his fastball before whiffing Albert Pujols to clinch the Yankees’ spot in October baseball.
This is the Yankees’ first American League East title since 2012, and their second straight 100-win season. The team still has eight games left this year, including two against a potential playoff opponent (Tampa Bay), so it’s not time to phone it in yet. Still, the Yankees can party knowing that they’ve finally clinched their spot in the playoffs tonight – I’d expect a light lineup tomorrow against the Blue Jays after a clubhouse celebration tonight.
This season has been all sorts of things, and although we’ve known pretty much since Opening Day that this team was making the playoffs, that doesn’t make the achievement any less special. With 100 wins under their belt and an AL East crown, the Yankees achieved Step One tonight on their route to history.