NEW YORK -- The Yankees’ 2021 season has brought soaring highs, gut-punch plunges and seemingly everything in between. Aaron Judge aptly described his team’s first 144 games as “a roller coaster,” and the slugger would caution you to prepare for a few more twists and turns. In his view, this thrill ride isn’t close to over yet.
On Monday afternoon, Judge crushed a game-tying three-run homer in the eighth inning and Gary Sánchez delivered the winning RBI single in the 10th as the Yankees rallied from five runs down for a 6-5 walk-off victory over the Twins at Yankee Stadium. It was the largest comeback win of the year for the Bombers, who had been 0-34 when trailing by four or more runs.
“You’ve got to enjoy the ride,” Judge said. “When you’re on a roller coaster, you’ve got to enjoy it. This is the fun part of the year, so just keep riding it -- and ride it through the playoffs.”
With 18 games remaining, New York (80-64) moved within a half-game of Toronto (81-63) and Boston (81-65), the two clubs tied atop the American League Wild Card standings. But at the end of the night, with the Mariners topping the Red Sox and the Blue Jays easily dispatching the Rays, New York was in a virtual tie with Boston for the second Wild Card spot (although the Yanks would advance on winning percentage if the season ended today).
Judge’s homer came off right-hander Alex Colomé and Sánchez connected off righty Ralph Garza Jr., powering yet another win for the Bombers over Minnesota, a team they’ve defeated 33 times in 43 tries since 2015 (including postseason matchups).
With the clubs making up an Aug. 22 contest postponed by Hurricane Henri, the Yankees returned to action still buzzing from an emotional three-game Subway Series against the Mets that included some spicy theatrics late in Sunday night's finale.
“For us as a whole, the goal is to win as many games as possible,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. "We find ourselves to be here in this stretch, and that’s the mentality: focus on each game at a time and try to win as many as we can.”
The Yankees trailed, 5-0, through five innings as Luis Gil gave up three home runs over six frames. Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano each hit a two-run homer in the first off Gil, who had a second consecutive tough outing after beginning his big league career with 15 2/3 scoreless innings over his first three starts.
Byron Buxton added a solo homer in the third off Gil, who scattered seven hits, walked one and struck out eight.
“[Gil] continued to compete and allowed us to do something special late,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Just a great job by him, and then a lot of guys came up big, whether it be in the bullpen or some big hits. With these games meaning so much, that’s a good one right there.”
Though Twins starter John Gant lasted only three batters before exiting with a lower abdominal strain, the Yanks were held hitless until Joey Gallo dropped a bunt single to open the fifth.
“You never want to start a game in a hole, but Gil came up big for us by putting up some zeros,” Judge said. “If you put up some zeros for this offense, we’re going to get the job done eventually.”
DJ LeMahieu was robbed in the sixth by a leaping Max Kepler near the wall in right field, settling for a sacrifice fly. Gallo then launched a solo home run, his 33rd of the season and eighth for the Yankees, off righty Tyler Duffey to bring New York within three runs in the seventh.
“It was really good to see the fight that we had today,” Gallo said. “We could have easily just let that game go, but we kept grinding and competing.”
Not over yet
Anthony Rizzo and Brett Gardner worked walks in the eighth to set the stage for Judge, who has been the club’s most consistent offensive performer this season. Judge was limited to two at-bats -- both strikeouts -- on Sunday against the Mets due to dizziness, but he reported improvement on Monday, likening his feeling to “getting [his] bell rung” during his high school football days.
“I feel better today. Not 100 percent, but I’m not too concerned about it,” Judge said.
Judge connected with a 2-1 Colomé cutter for a 394-foot drive to the seats in right-center field, Judge’s 33rd homer of the year. Aroldis Chapman and Clay Holmes each tossed a scoreless frame before Sánchez ripped Garza’s 1-1 sinker down the left-field line in the 10th, plating Gleyber Torres for the winning run.
“In that at-bat, I was trying to stick to my plan -- trying to look for a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it,” Sánchez said. “I’m happy with the results there and very excited we were able to win that game.”