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Yankees 5, Red Sox 4: Playoff spot clinched after Donaldson’s walk-off single

We’re still waiting for Aaron Judge’s big moment, but one goal has been checked off the Yankees’ list.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While Yankees fans may have attended tonight’s game or tuned in hoping to see one major milestone, they ended up seeing a lesser, but still very good one. Aaron Judge’s 61st home run did not come on Thursday night, as the Yankees’ slugger went 0-for-2 with three walks, and a very, very loud fly out.

Although that didn’t happen, what we did get to see was the Yankees officially booking their spot in the MLB playoffs. Like so many games this season, it wasn’t an easy victory. Starter Jameson Taillon was great, but a less-than-stellar performance from the bullpen had New York in a losing position late in the ballgame. On the offensive side of things, the Yankees grounded into four double plays, putting an end to several potential crooked numbers. However, thanks to an eighth-inning rally and a walk-off single in extras from Josh Donaldson, the Yankees came away with a 5-4 win and a postseason spot.

Red Sox starter Michael Wacha very much appeared to not want to give up the milestone home run to Judge, walking him on a combined 10 pitches in his first couple plate appearances. Unfortunately for Judge, the rest of the lineup rewarded Boston’s cowardice, grounding into inning-ending double plays after the walks.

Other than the free passes to Judge, Wacha mostly cruised through the first couple frames, needed just 38 pitches to get through four. In the fifth though, the Yankees finally put something together. After Oswaldo Cabrera led off with a walk, Harrison Bader and Isiah Kiner-Falefa both singled to load the bases. A Kyle Higashioka sac fly was enough to get the Yankees on the board and also set the stage for Judge. In his third chance, Judge actually got some legitimate pitches to hit, but in this case, he couldn’t do anything with them and struck out.

The Yankees still had a chance to add to their score after the Judge strikeout, but they couldn’t manage to do so until the sixth. With Donaldson on after a leadoff single, the Yankees’ other large man, Giancarlo Stanton, took a Wacha pitch 377 feet to right-center for a two-run homer.

Stanton’s 28th homer of the season was also the 375th of his terrific career, breaking a tie with nine-time All-Star Rocky Colavito for 79th on the all-time list. Next up is Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk at 376.

Taillon’s day would come to an end after that, as Clarke Schmidt came in for the seventh inning. In his six innings, Taillon allowed four hits and a walk while striking out eight. It was a very nice performance from him, with the Yankees needing some good signs from their starting pitching.

However, a lot of Taillon’s outing would immediately be flushed down the toilet. The first batter Schmidt faced was rookie Triston Cases, who homered to get Boston on the board. Kiké Hernández followed with a single and Yu Chang walked after that. Reese McGuire then stepped to plate as the go-ahead run, and soon lived up to that mantra, as he homered to put Boston in front. It was just his second long ball of 2022.

Judge came back to the plate in the seventh, but drew another walk, this one coming with nobody out and a runner on after a Higashioka double. That seemingly set the Yankees up for a rally attempt, but that one would be curtailed when Rizzo grounded into a double play, his second of the game.

Even beyond Schmidt, the Yankees’ bullpen wasn’t at its best in this one. Aroldis Chapman and Lou Trivino combined to have a bit of a scary eighth with three walks to load the bases before the latter finally got out of it.

In the home half, the Yankees managed to even things up thanks to some speed. After Stanton led off the inning with a single, Tim Locastro was sent in to pinch-run. To start things off, he stole second, and while he was originally ruled out, replays showed that he got in there safely. A groundout moved him over to third, on a play that might have seen even slightly slower baserunners thrown out. That allowed him to then tag up and score on a Harrison Bader pop fly that was deep enough to plate Locastro, tying things up.

Clay Holmes entered and threw a clean inning, with some help from an incredible 92.3-mph throw by Judge at the start of the ninth to retire Tommy Pham at second.

That set the stage with Judge due up second in the bottom of the inning. What would have been an absolutely crazy moment came very close to happening, as a potential Judge walk-off for both No. 61 and a playoff clinch died on the warning track in deep center field.

The game thus went into extras.

Holmes followed his good ninth inning with a very good 10th, sealing an impressive outing from him, and setting up another walk-off chance. With the runner starting on second, the Red Sox opted to intentionally walk Gleyber Torres to get to Donaldson, who had been responsible for one of the four double plays. However, much like he did on Opening Day, Donaldson came through with a walk-off hit against Boston, squeezing through a single.

We may have to wait a little while longer for Judge’s 61st, and clinching the division still requires a few more wins (the magic number is six with Toronto’s loss to Tampa Bay). But for now, you can start planning your October.

The Yankees will aim for five wins in a row tomorrow night on Apple TV+. Judge will face the veteran southpaw Rich Hill in his bid to tie and surpass Roger Maris, while Gerrit Cole takes on the Red Sox lineup. First pitch will be at 7:05pm ET.

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