AL East title getting within Yanks’ reach
The way the Yankees are playing perhaps a wild card berth is not all they are playing for while they also break in some youngsters. The American League East title is not out of the question for the Yankees, who find themselves only four games behind the first-place Blue Jays in the loss column after Tuesday night’s come-from-behind and sweat-to-stay-ahead, 7-6 victory.
The Yankees have pushed themselves into the divisional race as well as the wild-card chase while at the same time giving vital playing time to a collection of rookies. Luis Cessa had his fourth straight impressive start (two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings), and Tyler Austin celebrated his 25th birthday with a two-run home run into the right-center field bleachers that gave the Yankees a momentary lead in the seventh inning.
Toronto regained the lead in the eighth on a two-run double by Kevin Pillar off yet another Yankees rookie, Ben Heller, one of eight pitchers employed by manager Joe Girardi in the game. He has stayed true to his belief that the Yankees can be contenders and rebuilders at the same time.
Several veterans came through big-time in the bottom of the eighth after Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez turned a 4-3 lead over to Jason Grilli, who opened the door with a leadoff walk to Jacoby Ellsbury. One out later, Didi Gregorius tripled to tie the score. He scored the go-ahead run on a fly ball by Starlin Castro. Another walk by Grilli, to Brian McCann, who had homered earlier, was pivotal because Chase Headley followed with his 13th home run of the season.
And those runs proved necessary because Dellin Betances in trying to nail down his 10th save simply did not have it. He began the ninth with two walks, uncorked a wild pitch and gave up two infield singles that reduced the Yankees’ lead to one run and prompted Girardi to reach out to another reliever.
Blake Parker picked up his first save for the Yankees but had to share it with Brett Gardner. After Parker struck out Pillar looking for the second out, Justin Smoak threatened to break the game open for the Jays with a drive to deep left where Gardner leaped at the wall, crashed into it but held onto the ball, then checked his glove to make sure it did not fall out.
It was an incredible end to an incredible game in a season that the Yankees hope has an incredible finish. They have not swept a three-game series all season. Wednesday would be the perfect time to pick up their first.