The Yankees went into Wednesday night’s game against Texas at Yankee Stadium knowing a victory would vault them past Toronto and into sole possession of the second AL wild card.
Controlling your own fate. It’s one of the top cliché phrases ballplayers use at this time of year. It’s what they say they all want a crack at.
It just took the Yankees a while to take control of this game. But Gleyber Torres hit a tiebreaking two-out double in the eighth inning and the Yankees went on to score three more times to take a 7-3 victory and head into their first day off since Sept. 2 with a half-game lead over Toronto for the second AL wild card.
"A sluggish start to things," manager Aaron Boone said. "A really strong finish to things."
The Blue Jays lost to Tampa Bay earlier in the day, 7-1. The Yankees, who are two games behind the wild card-leading Red Sox, ended a stretch of 20 games without a day off by going 9-11.
Does it feel better going into Thursday a half-game up instead of a half-game down?
"I don’t know, honestly," Boone said. "What's comforting is we're in control of things. Regardless of what would have happened tonight, we're in control of things. Regardless of what happens to start this trip, we're in control of things. There's some comfort in that. It’s on us. It's right in front of us. We go out and play well, we'll get to where we want to go. We don't, we're going home."
On Friday, the Yankees will start a three-game series at Fenway Park against the Red Sox with Gerrit Cole on the mound. Then they will visit Toronto for three and host Tampa Bay for three to end the regular season.
"It's all kind of in our hands," Aaron Judge had said after Tuesday’s victory. "That's where you want to be as a competitor and as a professional. You want to be holding the cards. You want to be out there controlling it. Go out there and have some fun and win some ballgames."
No one said it would be easy, though. The Yankees fell behind 3-0 before rallying to tie it on Kyle Higashioka’s two-run double in the fifth and three walks and a wild pitch in the sixth.
Facing Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo in the eighth, the Rangers were one strike away from retiring the side in order and preserving the 3-3 tie when Spencer Patton got ahead of Gallo 1-and-2. Six pitches later, the Yankees had a 7-3 lead.
With the Rangers playing him to pull, Gallo blooped an opposite-field double down the leftfield line, Torres lined an RBI double into the rightfield corner and Gio Urshela hit a ground ball to second baseman Yonny Hernandez's left. When it kicked off his glove for what was scored an infield hit and an error, Torres scored to make it 5-3, sliding headfirst and touching the plate with his left hand barely ahead of the tag by Jose Trevino. Then, on a 2-and-0 pitch, Sanchez drove his 23rd homer onto the netting above Monument Park.
"I thought the at-bats got really competitive there at the end," Boone said. "We did some really good things on both sides of the ball there the second half of the game and then put together some really good winning at-bats to put it away at the end."
Corey Kluber went 4 1/3 innings and allowed three runs. Four Yankees relievers, including winning pitcher Chad Green (9-7), allowed only one baserunner in the final 4 2/3. That was on an error by Urshela, and that baserunner was erased trying to steal second by Sanchez.
Higashioka, who was robbed of a potential two-run double to the centerfield wall by leaping centerfielder DJ Peters in the second, tried left-center in the fifth and lined a two-run double over Peters' head to bring the Yankees within 3-2. Urshela ran through third base coach Phil Nevin's stop sign but scored without a throw when shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa mishandled Peters' relay throw.
One batter later, DJ LeMahieu hit a fly ball to medium rightfield. Higashioka was gunned down by Adolis Garcia on a 95.5-mph clothesline of a throw that reached catcher Jose Trevino on a fly.
With the bases loaded after three one-out walks in the sixth, Torres looked bad while striking out, but in an apparent cross-up, Dennis Santana's 97-mph fastball to Urshela ricocheted off Trevino's right knee for a wild pitch, allowing Judge to score the tying run.
Judge (0-for-3, walk), who Boone said is "banged up," was the designated hitter for the second straight game.
"It’s September," Judge said when asked what is ailing him. "Everybody’s banged up."