When it comes to late-September series in Toronto that carry postseason implications, the Yankees have a mixed history. In 1985, the Yankees entered the season’s final weekend needing a three-game sweep of Bobby Cox’s Blue Jays to force a one-game AL East playoff. They won the first game but lost the second game and watched the Jays celebrate their first-ever playoff appearance. The next day, the season’s final day, Phil Niekro won his 300th game.
Ten years later, the Yankees were the ones celebrating. They swept the Blue Jays to complete a 22-6 September and clinch their first playoff berth since 1981. The image of Don Mattingly pounding his fist on the top step of the Rogers Centre dugout, knowing he was finally getting his chance to play in a postseason series, is ingrained in the memories of Yankees fans.
Tuesday night, Toronto was the site of yet another Yankees playoff clincher. Following Monday’s two-and-a-third degree burn from the Purple Pie Man, there was a sense of confidence and calm with CC Sabathia on the mound. CC was back to his ace-level self, powering through the first eight innings, allowing one run on two hits in that span.
Sabathia was pulled in the ninth inning after putting the first two runners on base and retiring Jose Bautista. With a 6-1 lead, manager Joe Girardi could have summoned anyone to get the final two outs — I’ll be honest, I was ready for any combination of Javy Vazquez, the inimitable Chad Gaudin, even the Meat Tray — but he put one over on those of us who thought he was mailing it in since last Wednesday by calling on Mariano Rivera to close it out. Six pitches later, it was done. If corks didn’t pop, sighs of relief were definitely released.
Two thousand miles to the south, the Rays’ ace, David Price, shut out the Orioles to secure Tampa’s spot in the playoffs and keep them a half-game ahead of the Yankees.
Now the Yankees have a decision to make: Be content with just reaching the playoffs and rest the aging veterans prior to the start of the Division Series, or go for the Division crown and home field? Two games separate the Rays, Yankees and Twins. Only two of those teams will open their first-round series at home.
Girardi has said he wants to win the division. He has four games to prove it. At the very least, though, it’s nice to see that “x” next to the Yankees’ place in the standings.
QUICK GOOFY GAME NOTE
The Yankees did a great job of plating runners with less than two outs. And none of those runners scored as a result of a hit. While the Yankees did muster two hits with runners in scoring position, five productive outs — three sacrifice flies and two groundouts — and a bases-loaded walk provided the six Yankee runs.