The Yankees Find Their Footing at Exactly the Right Time

BOSTON — The Yankees are feeling it now, after nearly six months of triumph and torment, great moments and gut punches. They are blistering or bumbling, rarely in between. They knew they would need a final burst to reach the playoffs for the fifth season in a row, and here it is.

“We aren’t afraid to make it interesting,” Giancarlo Stanton said late Sunday night, “that’s for sure.”

Stanton played punisher all weekend at Fenway Park, lifting the Yankees to the top spot in the American League wild-card race with a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox. They might come back here to start the postseason with a knockout game on Oct. 5, but they are not planning on it. They staged a going-away party in the creaky visitors’ clubhouse.

“It’s quaint, tight, low ceiling,” Manager Aaron Boone said. “It was pretty raucous after this one. It feels like a family coming together.”

Stanton launched another rocket over the Green Monster and onto Landsdowne Street to cap Sunday’s 6-3 victory, the Yankees’ sixth win in a row. He was 7 for 12 in the series, driving in 10 runs with three homers. The only other Yankee to go deep in all three games of a three-game series at Fenway? Joe DiMaggio in 1949.

Stanton’s Sunday blast followed Aaron Judge’s go-ahead double after the Red Sox stubbornly refused to let Judge make an out. Catcher Christian Vasquez dropped a third-strike foul tip while transferring the ball from his glove to his bare hand. Then first baseman Bobby Dalbec let a foul ball drop untouched on the warning track.

“I felt like a cat,” Judge said. “I felt like I had nine lives up there.”

Given yet another chance — Well, if you insist — Judge hammered a fastball from Adam Ottavino into the gap in left center. Judge slid headfirst into second, exulted in celebration, then noticed his pinkie was pointing the wrong way. He popped it back in and kept playing.

“I don’t need it to hit,” Judge said, “so I think I’ll be in good shape.”

You have to admit: as inconsistent as the Yankees have been, they’re awfully imposing at their best. Judge and Stanton have combined for 70 home runs and 185 runs batted in (and, yes, 304 strikeouts). The pitching is deeper with Corey Kluber and Luis Severino back from injuries and two others — Jameson Taillon and Jonathan Loaisiga — likely returning in the next few days. Closer Aroldis Chapman has converted his last 14 save chances.

Taillon, Gerrit Cole and Kluber are lined up to face Toronto in a three-game road series starting Tuesday. The Blue Jays, who have finally settled in at home after being forced out of Canada by coronavirus restrictions, are doubling the capacity at Rogers Centre to 30,000 for the series, their first in Canada with the Yankees since 2019. However the games turn out, the Red Sox will be happy; in such a tight race (the Yankees have 89 wins, the Red Sox 88, the Blue Jays 87), the schedule is their ally.

“We still have a wild-card spot,” Manager Alex Cora said. “We know the Jays and the Yankees are playing each other, so for how big this weekend was, Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday are probably bigger. We know someone is going to lose in the next three games, and we can gain ground.”

The Red Sox will end the regular season with three games in Baltimore and three more in Washington. The dreadful Orioles have lost 12 of their last 13 against the Red Sox, and the Nationals are not much better.

The Yankees will return from Toronto to host the Tampa Bay Rays next weekend, while the Blue Jays stay home to face the Orioles. The Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics — both alive but trailing all three A.L. East teams — play each other for three games in Seattle starting Monday.

Remember, too: If Boston and the Yankees end up tied atop the wild-card standings, the Red Sox will host the Yankees on Oct. 5 because they won the season series, 10 games to 9. The Red Sox won the first seven of those meetings, which fits with the pattern of the Yankees’ season: awesome or awful, all or nothing at all.

Maybe now is the payoff for all that mental anguish. The Yankees have made it through to reach the precipice of a playoff berth, and they deserve to feel proud.

“We’ve had a lot of crushing losses and some good streaks as well, so we’ve been through a lot of what we need to to overcome times like these,” Stanton said. “It’s a matter of understanding all that, and understanding how this year has not been a wash, it’s very much a learning curve and we can use it to our advantage, even the bad parts.”

Stanton has handled plenty of good and bad across four seasons with the Yankees. But he carried the team in the playoffs last fall, and with 18 homers and a .314 average since Aug. 1, he is doing it again.

“That’s the type of player he is,” Judge said. “He comes up in big moments and continues to deliver, deliver, deliver.”

Stanton was asked about the feeling among the players after Sunday’s sweep, and he confirmed Boone’s description. There was joy in the clubhouse, he said, but also a recognition of where they stand. While other teams are toasting playoff berths, the Yankees are not quite there.

“We’re hyped,” Stanton said. “That’s very important that we were able to sweep them. But yeah — hyped and all business, too. We know there’s a lot of work to be done still.”

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