Aaron Judge almost single-handedly sent the Yankees into the postseason, with his shot in the ninth inning to the center that momentarily looked like it would end up in Monument Park to secure a playoff spot.
This time, however, Judge got under the ball and came up just short.
But while 61 waited, the Yankees cemented their spot in the postseason Thursday with Josh Donaldson’s game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th for a 5-4 win over the Red Sox.
“This is a great achievement,” Judge said of returning to the playoffs for the sixth straight season. “But I think if you ask anyone in this room, the job isn’t done. We want the win the division and get ready for the post-season, this is step number one.”
Before that happens, Judge will almost certainly have matched — and shot by — Roger Maris’ American League and franchise record of 61 home runs.
However, on this night, Judge ran three times and struck out before coming out with one out in the bottom of the ninth against Matt Barnes, bringing the crowd of 43,123 back to their feet.
“I just missed it,” Judge said.
He saved his make a difference for the field.
With the tie in the top of the ninth, Tommy Pham led off with a ball from the wall into the right against Clay Holmes.
Judge played the bounce well and made a perfect throw to Isiah Kiner-Falefa to put Pham in second place for the first out and the Red Sox failed to score.
“It’s amazing how well he executes that game, like he’s not in a rush,” said Aaron Boone. “You can tell he’s done it a million times.”
Boston manager Alex Cora simply said of the piece, “That’s what MVPs do.”
After Holmes threw a perfect 10th, Marwin Gonzalez pinched for auto runner Anthony Rizzo.
Gleyber Torres was walked intentionally before Donaldson drove one through the left side of the infield to score Gonzalez and start a celebration that was quite lenient by postseason standards.
“You never want to take it for granted,” Boone said. “We’re in The Dance, so we have a chance. We’re looking for the division crown.”
Jameson Taillon, who pitched six scoreless innings, noted how a year ago the Yankees had to wait until the last day of the season to get into the playoffs, and that also cost a walkoff win.
And this win, like their season, saw some drama, as Clarke Schmidt took over for Taillon and gave up four runs in the seventh, then ended by a three-run homer to Reese McGuire.
Giancarlo Stanton led off the bottom of the eighth with an infield hit and pinch-runner Tim Locastro stole second and moved to third base on a sacrifice fly by Harrison Bader to make the game 4-4.
Judge helped tie the game in the top of the ninth with his pitch on a night when he had only a handful of pitches to hit.
He has played two games in a row without a homer and has three games left in The Bronx before the Yankees leave for Toronto.
Until then, the spectacle of Judge’s at bats will continue, with the entire audience stopping to watch him even before he gets on the plate.
Judge went 0-for-14 in the game with nine strikeouts against righthander Michael Wacha, who walked him in the first.
Everything you need to know about Aaron Judge and his pursuit of the home run record:
Wacha walked him again in the third, this time on a full count before Wacha eliminated him in the fifth.
Against John Schreiber in the seventh with pinch-runner Oswald Peraza in second place after Kyle Higashioka’s leadoff double, Judge walked again for the fight in the ninth inning against Barnes.
Taillon said it’s not much different from what they’ve seen the rest of the season.
“There’s been hype around him all year,” Taillon said. “We know it’s going to happen someday.”