Yankees clinch AL East title: 'This is step one'

September 28th, 2022

TORONTO -- With his dripping ballcap turned backward, beamed and popped the cork of another bubbly bottle in Rogers Centre’s visiting clubhouse, dousing his teammates with reckless abandon. The Yankees' star appeared as though he’d gone for a fully clothed swim, sporting a soaked T-shirt that declared in bold white letters: “The East is Ours.”

Indeed it is. When the Yankees first gathered as a complete squad six months ago, savoring a sunny spring afternoon that ended a winter of uncertainty, manager Aaron Boone had outlined the expectations ahead. The first objective was to secure the American League East title; with a 5-2 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night, they have done so.

“I’ll be a little bit happier maybe at the end of October,” Judge said. “But this is a big moment, especially for a lot of guys in that room that haven’t had a chance to clinch a division. To get a chance to celebrate with them is going to be fun tonight.”

A week that has seen the national spotlight focused on the exploits of one individual player -- Judge and his ongoing pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season AL home run record -- shifted into a celebration of team performance, with the Yankees toasting their first AL East title since 2019. To be sure, Judge voiced no complaints about yielding that attention.

While Judge was kept in the ballpark for a seventh consecutive game, tying his career high with four walks along the way, the Yankees offered a potent reminder of why they are in this position.  drove in three runs and  pitched effectively into the eighth inning, precisely the type of cohesive formula they may need to enjoy postseason success.

“We can say we’re the best team in the best division this year, and it wasn’t easy,” Boone said. “Everyone in that room knows that. We took everyone’s punches; we had some low moments. But tonight is to be celebrated. It’s not easy going through the American League East and to survive. … This is step one, and we want to win a championship. That’s our goal.”

New York’s 95th victory secured a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the AL Division Series, with the Yankees’ upcoming opponent still to be determined. They clinched the 58th playoff appearance in franchise history and their sixth consecutive playoff berth (since 2017) on Thursday, as well as their 24th trip to the postseason in the last 28 years (since 1995).

Game 1 of the ALDS will be played at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 11.

“With the new format, it’s definitely nice to get a bye, and we get to play in front of our fans, which is going to be great,” Taillon said.

and Torres stroked back-to-back RBI singles in the second, and Torres added run-scoring hits in the fifth and sixth. banged a run-scoring double in the sixth to support Taillon, who settled in after surrendering a leadoff homer to George Springer.

“We’re in one of the best divisions in baseball, and to be able to lock it up is a big deal,” Taillon said. “We’re the Yankees. Everyone brings their best against us, every single time. And here we are.”

Judge extended his on-base streak to 26 games, the longest by a Yankee this year, with those four walks. His only official at-bat came in the first inning, a hard lineout to third base.

“I’ll trade four walks for a win every single day,” said Judge, who scored twice.

Having not homered since his 60th blast on Sept. 20 against the Pirates, Judge’s seven games without a long ball equal his second-longest drought of the season. Judge had nine straight games without a homer from Aug. 13-21 and seven without one from April 14-21.

That was of no concern to the Yankees, who splashed the night away with a loud and lively party, packed shoulder to shoulder in a dressing area that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Manhattan railway apartment.

Plastic sheeting covered each locker and hip-hop music blared as players donned goggles and double-fisted cans of Budweiser, providing icy-cold baths for anyone and everyone within the general vicinity. Torres strutted about the room wearing a fireman’s helmet, and rookie Oswaldo Cabrera declared: “I’m living the dream!”

“We all erupted,” said catcher Kyle Higashioka. “It’s what you want after a big win and clinching the division.”

That served as an acknowledgment of the hard work put in through a spring slate and 154 regular-season games, but also a dangling carrot of sorts -- Tuesday’s party was one the Yankees hope to replicate three more times, celebrating each advance toward a 28th World Series title.

“I don’t like talking about the future, but I like this team. It’s a special group,” Judge said. “We went out there, playing in the toughest division in baseball, and went out there to win our division. I like our chances, that’s for sure.”