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Judge falls just short of 61, Yanks clinch playoff berth

From the This morning's top headlines: Friday, Sept. 23 series

Aaron Judge fell a few feet short of a record-tying 61st homer, hitting a 404-foot drive caught just in front of the center field wall, and the New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 5-4 on Josh Donaldson’s 10th-inning single to clinch their sixth straight playoff berth

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NEW YORK (AP) — Aaron Judge turned around a fastball in the ninth inning, and the already-standing crowd of 43,123 at Yankee Stadium erupted in noise, wondering, hoping he had hit a record-tying 61st home run and clinched a playoff berth with one mighty swing.

Seconds later, groans arose in unison. Kiké Hernández made the catch a step in front of the fence, 404 feet from the plate.

Judge remained one shy of the American League record set by New York slugger Roger Maris in 1961. But the Yankees did accomplish goal No. 1: Josh Donaldson's 10th-inning RBI single gave them a 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox and clinched their sixth straight playoff berth and 24th in 28 years.

“A great accomplishment. A lot of hard work over the course of the season to get to this point,” said Judge, who also threw out a runner at second base to help hold off Boston in the ninth. “But I think you could ask anybody in this room: The job’s not finished. We have an ultimate goal of going out there and winning our division, and setting ourselves up for the postseason. And this is step No. 1, step No. 1 of many steps to come.”

Coming within a few feet of his fourth walk-off home run this year, Judge went without a long ball for the second straight game since hitting No. 60 to match Babe Ruth's 1927 season.

Judge has 13 games remaining. He walked three times and struck out once before his drive off Matt Barnes just to the right of straightaway center.

"I thought it would have been pretty showy to drop it at Monument Park out there,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Judge didn't think it was gone, not on the first night of autumn with the game-time temperature a crisp 68 degrees.

“I just got underneath it a little bit,” he said. “A pretty windy night, so I was hoping maybe it was blowing out at the time I was hitting, but just missed it.”

The ball left the bat at 113 mph, the hardest-hit by anyone in the game.

“I go out there and get caught up in the history of what he could potentially be doing and I start tiptoeing around the at-bat, I’m probably going to hang something,” Barnes said.

Before each of the 26 pitches to Judge, Yankee Stadium's usual cacophony was replaced by a silence more familiar at a church or golf course.

“Literally, you could hear a pin drop,” Donaldson said. “It's kind of spooky, really.”

Jameson Taillon, who pitched six scoreless innings, said Judge's pursuit altered teammates' routines.

“There's guys that are inside and stuff watching the game," Taillon said, “and whenever he comes up, everyone runs outside to watch the at-bat because no one wants to miss it.”

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was on hand. Judge's fame has extended beyond the sport — he appears on the cover of the Oct. 3 issue of The New Yorker.

After an 0-for-2 night, Judge remained on track for an AL Triple Crown with a .316 batting average and 128 RBIs. Boston's Xander Bogaerts is second in batting at .314 after going hitless in five at-bats.

With the score 4-all, Tommy Pham led off the ninth with a one-hopper off the right-field wall against Clay Holmes (7-4). Judge played the carom and from the warning track threw a 92.3 mph strike to shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa for the tag. It was Judge’s sixth assist of the season.

Then in the 10th, with pinch-runner Marwin Gonzalez at second as the automatic runner, Kaleb Ort (0-2) intentionally walked Gleyber Torres before Donaldson grounded a single just past diving third baseman Rafael Devers and into left.

New York grounded into four double plays but had built a 3-0 lead on Kyle Higashioka's sacrifice fly and Giancarlo Stanton's 28th homer, a two-run shot against Michael Wacha.

Triston Casas hit a solo homer and pinch-hitter Reese McGuire delivered a three-run drive for Boston in a four-run seventh off Clarke Schmidt. Harrison Bader had a tying sacrifice fly in the eighth after Stanton’s leadoff infield single and a stolen base by Tim Locastro — he was called out initially but a video review reversed the decision.

Donaldson gave a speech to teammates after the Yankees secured their record 58th postseason appearance with their major league-high 16th walk-off win of the season, one shy of the team standard set in 1947.

“Welcome back to the playoffs,” he told them.

New York has a 7 1/2-game lead in the AL East over second-place Toronto, on track for a first-round bye. Boone became the first manager to reach the postseason in each of his first five seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“We're in the dance and we got a chance now,” he said.

CHOPPY CHAPMAN

Aroldis Chapman had another shaky outing for the Yankees in relief, walking two batters with one out in the eighth — the second on four pitchers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Red Sox: 2B Trevor Story (bruised left heel) went back on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Monday, and 1B/3B Bobby Dalbec was recalled from Triple-A Worcester.

Yankees: LHP Zack Britton (Tommy John surgery) was activated from the 60-day IL and LHP Wandy Peralta (back) was put on the 15-day IL, retroactive to Monday.

UP NEXT

New York ace Gerrit Cole (12-7, 3.41) starts against Boston LHP Rich Hill (7-7, 4.70) on Friday night.


More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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The young Cleveland Guardians finished what they started. Rookie Steven Kwan hit a grand slam and drove in a career-high five runs as the Guardians beat the Texas Rangers 10-4 to clinch the AL Central. Baseball's youngest team, the Guardians have won seven straight and gone 18-3 since being tied for first on Sept. 4. It's Cleveland's first division title since 2018 and it came in the team's first season after changing its name from Indians to Guardians. Manager Terry Francona was in the middle of a chaotic celebration in the clubhouse. It was a personal triumph for the 63-year-old who battled serious health problems the past two years.

Aaron Judge hit his 60th home run and Giancarlo Stanton followed minutes later with a game-ending grand slam, completing the New York Yankees’ stunning five-run, ninth-inning rally to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-8. Judge moved within one of Roger Maris’ American League record when he turned on a sinker from right-hander Wil Crowe and drove it 430 feet into the left-field bleachers, pulling New York within 8-5. Judge matched the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit for the 1927 Yankees to set a big league record that stood for 34 years.

Travis d’Arnaud broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the fourth inning, Dansby Swanson went deep in the eighth, and the Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 and clinched a playoff berth. The defending World Series champion Braves secured their trip to the postseason when Milwaukee lost to the New York Mets 7-5 less than 30 minutes later. Atlanta (93-55) is also vying for its fifth consecutive division title, but remained in second place, one game behind the Mets in the NL East. Swanson added his 21st homer in the eighth off Kyle Finnegan. The Braves have won 10 straight games at home, outscoring opponents 47-15 over this stretch.

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