Oct 3, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) hits a game winning RBI single to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 and clinch a wildcard playoff spot at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
October 4, 2021
By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) – The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox scored dramatic late inning wins to bring the Major League Baseball regular season to an enthralling end on Sunday, setting up a wildcard showdown between the long-time rivals.
The final day of a 162-game, six-month marathon began with four teams — the Yankees, Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners — all in contention for two American League wildcards and when the dust settled it was two of baseball’s most storied clubs still standing.
The Yankees left it about as late as they possibly could to clinch their place as Aaron Judge swatted a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth for a 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It’s been a crazy, wild year,” said New York manager Aaron Boone after the Yankees reached the postseason for the 23rd time in 27 years. “Fitting that it would come down to the last day to get in.
“We’re ready to take our shot.”
It was also a nailbiter in the U.S. capitol, where the Red Sox were trailing the Washington Nationals 5-1 after five innings then rallied for six unanswered runs.
Rafael Devers broke open a 5-5 tie in the top of the ninth with his second homer of the day, a one-out, two-run shot to deep centre field.
The Red Sox will now host the Yankees in the wildcard game on Tuesday at Fenway Park with the winner moving on to the Divisional Series against the AL East champion Rays.
Toronto and Seattle went into the day needing a win combined with a New York or Boston loss to force a tiebreaker and extend their seasons.
The Blue Jays did what they had to do, hammering the Baltimore Orioles 12-4 while the Mariners season finished with a disappointing 7-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
Angels Shohei Ohtani, the hot favourite for American League most valuable player honours, launched a leadoff homer, his 46th of the season, to put the Mariners in a hole they would never climb out of.
After slamming five home runs in a 10-1 rout of the Orioles on Saturday, the Blue Jays’ bats were booming again on Sunday banging out four homers, including a third inning grand slam from George Springer and a two-run shot from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for his 48th of season.
Over in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball’s two top teams, started play with top spot in the West division up for grabs.
Both Los Angeles and San Francisco would finish the campaign with impressive wins — the Giants beating the San Diego Padres 11-4 while the Dodgers thumped Milwaukee 10-3.
But top spot in the West goes to the Giants with a record of 106-55 while the 105-56 Dodgers settled for an NL wildcard and a Wednesday meeting with the St. Louis Cardinals.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Kim Coghill)