The American League playoff race took 162 games to settle, but it won’t require any more. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees punched their playoff tickets in Sunday’s regular-season finales, shutting the door on the surging Toronto Blue Jays.
Aaron Judge secured the Yankees’ place with a walk-off infield single to break a scoreless tie against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Boston Red Sox then got a massive 2-run homer from Rafael Devers to complete a comeback and defeat the Washington Nationals.
After a weekend of struggles, the two rivals locked in a high-stakes meeting in Tuesday’s AL wild-card game and avoided tiebreaker games that would have been necessary if either or both lost. The Blue Jays, who started Sunday one game back, put the pressure on with a throttling of the Baltimore Orioles, but ultimately fell short of their division rivals.
Yankees, Red Sox prevent playoff chaos
The AL wild-card race entered Sunday on the precipice of chaos. The Yankees and Red Sox were tied but in playoff position. The Blue Jays and Mariners were one game out. Any combo of wins by Toronto or Seattle and losses by New York or Boston would have created tiebreaker fireworks.
The Blue Jays were the quickest to take care of business. George Springer blasted a leadoff homer and later a grand slam as they dispatched the Orioles. Seattle, meanwhile, fell behind just as quickly in its quixotic quest for the playoffs. Shohei Ohtani capped his likely MVP-winning season with a leadoff homer and the Angels piled on to take an early lead they would not relinquish.
After failing to capitalize on a series with the Orioles, the Red Sox struggled through a sloppy game in Washington — Chris Sale walked in the Nationals’ second run with the bases loaded and the offense flailed against Nationals starter Joan Adon in his big-league debut — but ultimately rallied behind Devers. Manager Alex Cora turned to starters Eduardo Rodriguez and Nick Pivetta to pitch the final frames.
The Yankees dueled with the Rays using a parade of pitchers. The main (only?) highlight was a daring grab from Gio Urshela before Judge eventually broke the tie with his walk-off infield knock.
A playoff picture that had threatened to remain unsettled past the 162-game mark, and perhaps require a never-before-deployed MLB tiebreaker system, instead clarified itself on the season’s final day with the AL East powers holding serve.
The Red Sox and Yankees will now face off at Fenway Park on Tuesday night for the right to face the top-seeded Rays in the ALDS.