TORONTO — From a near-August collapse to late September.
What seemed destined when the New York Yankees were the top baseball team in the first half of the season and looked questionable with their subpar play in the second half, was made official Tuesday night. A 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays gave the Yankees their 20th American League East Division title.
It is New York’s first division pennant since 2019, which was also the year Aaron Boone won his first title as manager.
Gleyber Torres had three hits and three RBI’s and Aaron Judge walked four in pursuit of his 61st homerun in the win. The Yankees won for the eighth time in their last nine games, as Jameson Taillon pitched in the eighth inning en route to his 14th win of the season.
“This has not been easy at all. The division is as good as ever,” said Boone in his on-field interview after the game. “We’ve been hit a lot this year, we survived and we’re going to enjoy it tonight.”
Striking out of the leadoff spot, Judge, who extended his homerless streak to seven games, finished 0 for 1 with two runs to go along with the four free passes.
But Anthony Rizzo had two basehits and an RBI, and Kyle Higashioka had three basehits and two runs, which provided enough offense to win the division four days before the calendar moves into October.
“A lot of different people are contributing now,” Boone said. “And everyone will need it.”
“We have a lot of bad guys in this room,” Judge said. “Guys who are absolutely hungry. When you have guys here who are special players and also who are hungry and have that drive, anything is possible.”
The Yankees, who at times looked like they were running away from the American League pack before stumbling in August, appear to be heading for the No. 2 postseason seed behind the Houston Astros. Tuesday’s win was their 39th away from home and their 95th overall.
“We had some down times, especially in the month of August,” Boone said. “But they never got too down. They always believed they would get through this.”
Toronto, which is still looking for the AL’s highest wildcard berth, fell to 17-9 in September. George Springer finished 2 for 4 in the loss, with two runs and his 24th home run of the season. It was Springer’s 52nd leadoff home run of his career, one shy to match Hall of Fame standout Craig Biggio (53) for third place.
But the Yankees scored two runs in the third inning on RBI singles by Torres and Rizzo and never looked back. Torres now has 23 RBIs this month, the third most in baseball in September.
Judge, who is one homer away from tying Roger Maris’ American League all-time mark, and the Yankees will close the series Wednesday-evening in Toronto with ace Gerrit Cole on the mound. New York returns home Friday to open a three-game set with the Baltimore Orioles.
“What a year it’s been so far, we’re definitely not done yet, but this is a great first step towards the ultimate goal of getting there and winning a World Series,” Judge said, “and the opportunity to make it to the division. With this group of guys this is definitely something special.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Judge met and spent time with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, last season’s MVP of the NHL. Matthews also threw the ceremonial first pitch for Judge’s first at bat.