New York Yankees clinch AL East title, secure first-round bye in 2022 playoffs

TORONTO – Countless times across the Yankees’ season, Aaron Judge has stated that their first goal was to win the division.

In their 154th game of the year, that mission was accomplished by the Yankees with Tuesday night’s 5-2 victory against the second-place Blue Jays before 40,528 fans at Rogers Centre.

Judge is still parked on 60 home runs, walking four times after lining out in his first at-bat as he pursues Roger Maris’ franchise and AL single-season record of 61.

But Judge scored twice on two of Gleyber Torres’ three RBI singles, during a terrific September for Torres.

Jameson Taillon pitched into the eighth inning, Lou Trivino induced a key double play grounder in the eighth, and Clay Holmes closed it out in the ninth – setting off a clubhouse champagne celebration.

Clinching a No. 2 seed and earning direct entry into the best-of-five AL Division Series in MLB’s updated playoff format, the Yankees captured their second division title under manager Aaron Boone.

Boone’s first AL East crown was in 2019.

Before that, the Yankees’ last AL East title was in 2012, with Joe Girardi at the helm. In both those seasons, the Yankees bowed out in the AL Championship Series.

Building up, battling back

On the morning of July 9, the Yankees held a 15.5-game lead in the AL East, their high water mark of the season.

At the All-Star break, the Yankees owned a 13-game advantage, and were still drawing comparisons to the 1998 world championship club that won a franchise record 114 regular season games.

But the injuries began piling up, the bullpen started struggling and the Yankees’ lead in the loss column was down to two games over the Tampa Bay Rays on the morning of Sept. 10.

Since then, the Yanks (95-57) have won 12 of their last 15 games, with some better performances from the relief corps and the returns of starter Luis Severino and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

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During the roughest summer period, “there were times … when we weren’t even close to whole,’’ said Boone. “That’s one part of this storyline.’’

Weathering a summer storm

But even when the Yanks’ losses mounted, cutting into their once-considerable lead, “our guys did a really good job of never getting too emotional or overwhelmed by it.

“They did a really nice job of weathering the storm, keeping their blinders on, working.

“(And they maintained) the confidence it was going to turn,’’ Boone said. “I think we all shared in that.’’

“As we talk about all the time, we know adversity is coming for us, in different shapes through the year,’’ Boone said. “We faced our share, certainly in the month of August (10-18 record). But part of being a good big-league team and players is you’ve got to be able to deal with those things.’’

Angered at a question about his club’s ability to right the ship at one point, a frustrated Boone pounded the podium table at Yankee Stadium as he emphasized that everything was “right there for us’’ to win the division.

“I don’t think our group ever lost any confidence, and certainly there were days – and for me personally – when it was frustrating.

“But there was always the belief that we’ll get through this and then you hope you’re able to take those difficult moments from the season (and make it) serve us well moving forward.’’

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Yankees win AL East; Aaron Judge remains stuck at 60 home runs