The Yankees never would be so rude as to cite the famous quote about the city of Oakland, the one that claimed “there is no ‘there’ there.” Nothing personal. What the Yankees suddenly are urgently hoping is that there is no American League wild-card game there this year.
With abrupt motivation brought about by a tightened race with the Oakland Athletics for home-field advantage in the wild-card game, the Yankees shut out the Blue Jays, 11-0, on Friday night at Yankee Stadium, where they would just as soon play on Oct. 3.
“We want to go out and play well. Yes, sure, of course we want to play here in the playoffs. And it’s nice knowing that that’s in our control,” Aaron Boone said. “So we’re going to go out and hope to get that done and hopefully that coincides with us playing really good baseball these last couple weeks as we roll into the playoffs.”
Wherever that one-game playoff may be, the Yankees must be considering having Masahiro Tanaka start it. Tanaka (12-5, 3.47 ERA) allowed four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in six innings, extended his scoreless streak to 20 innings and now has allowed two or fewer runs in nine of his past 11 starts. For the second time in a row, he was a steadying hand after a loss.
These games are not auditions, Boone said, but they all are important, and performance could factor into a decision. Tanaka is 3-0 in September and has been rolling toward the playoffs as well as any Yankee. “His split and his slider have really been dialed in, the ability to get strikes, the ability to get swings and misses,” Boone said before the game. “Also, I think he has been much better with his fastball.”
As for his potential candidacy to work the wild-card game, Tanaka said through his translator, “That’s hard for me to say at this point. I think any one of us could pitch in that game. But for me right now, the important thing is to focus on this game and the next game.”
This game was important on a number of levels, not least of which was that it marked the return from the disabled list of Aaron Judge. The club dearly wants him healthy for the wild-card game. Toward that end, he was activated Friday even though the team believes he is not ready to bat. Judge was put into the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning and received a standing ovation. “I think they were cheering for that 10-0 ballgame,” he said.
For most of the summer, the last thing the Yankees expected in September was drama. As recently as two weeks ago, it seemed that the month would be nothing more than a long warmup for one game. It had been clear that they weren’t going to catch the Red Sox and it appeared obvious that no one was going to catch the Yankees for the top wild-card berth. So it was all a matter of preparing for the single-elimination game at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 3.
Then the Athletics got hot, the Yankees stumbled and the latter surprisingly had something for which to compete. Surprisingly, urgency was in the air Friday night. After the first inning, however, drama was not.
The Yankees teed up Marco Estrada for five runs and five hits as doubles by Andrew McCutchen and Luke Voit flanked singles by Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez. Torres’ RBI single and Voit’s two-run double came with two out. “That’s all you can ask for, as a pitcher,” Tanaka said.
McCutchen went 3-for-3 with a home run, double, single and two walks. Sanchez had a double and two singles, Didi Gregorius homered and Giancarlo Stanton had a two-run single.
Aside from the fact that the Athletics beat the Rays, 2-1, in 10 innings on Khris Davis’ 42nd homer, everything went right for the Yankees on Friday, including the three scoreless innings that earned Luis Cessa a save. There was much that made the team yearn for October.
“That performance by Tanaka tonight was amazing,” Judge said on a night when there was plenty of “there” there in the Bronx.