NEW YORK (AP) — Aaron Judge returned a fastball in the ninth inning, and the already standing crowd of 43,123 at Yankee Stadium erupted in the noise, wondering, hoping he had hit a record 61st home run and clinched a playoff berth with one powerful blow.
Seconds later, moans arose in unison. Kiké Hernández hooked one step past the fence, 404 feet from home plate.
Judge remained a shy of the American League record set by New York slugger Roger Maris in 1961. But the Yankees achieved goal No. 1: Josh Donaldson’s 10th RBI single gave them a victory of 5-4 over the Boston Red Sox and clinched their sixth consecutive playoff finish and 24th in 28 years.
“A great achievement. Lots of hard work over the season to get this far,” said Judge, who also kicked out a runner at second base to help hold Boston at ninth. “But I think you could ask anyone in this room: the job isn’t done. We have an ultimate goal to go out there and win our division, and get ready for the playoffs. And this is step #1, step #1 of many steps to come.
Just yards from his fourth home run this year, Judge went without a long ball for the second straight game since hitting No. 60 to match Babe Ruth’s 1927 season.
The judge has 13 games remaining. He walked three times and struck once before his departure from Matt Barnes just right of center straight away.
“I thought it would have been pretty showy to drop him off at Monument Park there,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
The judge didn’t think it was gone, not the first night of fall with a temperature of 68 degrees during the game.
“I just got a little under it,” he said. “A fairly windy night, so I was hoping it might be blowing as I struck, but I just missed it.”
The ball left the bat at 113 mph, the hardest hit by anyone in the game.
“I go over there and get caught up in the story of what he could potentially do and I start tiptoeing around the stick, I’m probably going to snag something,” Barnes said.
Before each of the 26 throws to the judge, the usual cacophony of Yankee Stadium was replaced by a more familiar silence in a church or a golf course.
“Literally you could hear a pin drop,” Donaldson said. “It’s a little scary, really.”
Jameson Taillon, who pitched six scoreless innings, said the Judge chase changed his teammates’ routines.
“There are guys inside and stuff watching the game,” Taillon said, “and every time he comes in everyone runs outside to watch the game because no one wants to miss it. .”
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred was on hand. Judge’s fame has extended beyond sports – he appears on the cover of the October 3 issue of The New Yorker.
After a 0-for-2 night, Judge remained on course for an AL Triple Crown with a .316 batting average and 128 RBIs. Boston’s Xander Bogaerts is second at bat with a .314 ERA after going without a hit in five at bats.
With the score at 4-all, Tommy Pham started the ninth with a jump off the right field wall against Clay Holmes (7-4). The judge played the carom and from the warning lane threw a 92.3 mph strike to shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa for the tag. It was Judge’s sixth assist this season.
Then in the 10th, with pinch runner Marwin Gonzalez at second as the auto-runner, Kaleb Ort (0-2) intentionally walked Gleyber Torres before Donaldson smashed a diving single just past third baseman Rafael Devers and into left.
New York had four double plays, but had built a 3-0 lead on Kyle Higashioka’s sacrifice fly and Giancarlo Stanton’s 28th home run two-run shot off Michael Wacha.
Triston Casas hit a solo home run and pinch hitter Reese McGuire delivered a three-run drive for Boston in a four-run seventh against Clarke Schmidt. Harrison Bader had an equalizing sacrificial fly in the eighth after Stanton’s first infield single and a stolen base by Tim Locastro – he was called up initially, but a video review overturned the decision.
Donaldson delivered a speech to his teammates after the Yankees earned their record 58th playoff appearance with their major league-high 16th win of the season, one shy of the team standard set in 1947.
“Welcome to the playoffs,” he told them.
New York has a 7 1/2 game lead in the AL East over second-placed Toronto on track for a first-round bye. Boone became the first manager to reach the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“We are in the dance and we have a chance now,” he said.
Aroldis Chapman had another shaky outing for the relief Yankees, walking two batters with one out in the eighth — the second of four pitchers.
Red Sox: 2B Trevor Story (bruised left heel) returned to the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Monday, and 1B/3B Bobby Dalbec was recalled from Triple-A Worcester.
Yankees: LHP Zack Britton (Tommy John surgery) was activated from the 60-day IL and LHP Wandy Peralta (fullback) was put on the 15-day IL, retroactive to Monday.
New York ace Gerrit Cole (12-7, 3.41) starts against Boston LHP Rich Hill (7-7, 4.70) Friday night.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports