Aaron Judge looked a lot like Aaron Judge, and that was good news for the Yankees, who slugged their way past the Oakland Athletics, 7-2, in the American League wild-card game on Wednesday. With the win at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees advance to the divisional round, where they will face the Boston Red Sox
It was an unusual start to the game, with Oakland choosing to continue the trend of using a reliever to start the game. Liam Hendriks was overmatched immediately, walking Andrew McCutchen and then watching as Judge crushed a 427-foot homer over the left-field wall for a 2-0 lead, showing no ill effects from a wrist injury that had sapped his power in September.
Oakland’s pitching staff settled down after that for four shutout innings, but in the sixth inning another rally was started when Judge fought off an inside fastball, pushing it into the outfield for a double. Aaron Hicks drove Judge in for the Yankees’ third run, and Giancarlo Stanton drew a walk and stole a base.
That set up a face-off between Blake Treinen, Oakland’s top reliever, and Luke Voit, the Yankees’ September phenomenon. The young slugger won easily, tripling off the right-field wall to bring in two runs.
The Yankees added one more run that inning on a sacrifice fly by Didi Gregorius that scored Voit, and then Stanton led off the eighth inning with a mammoth home run, the first of his postseason career.
Luis Severino had been a somewhat controversial choice as a starter for the Yankees after a rocky second half of the season, but he was brilliant for four no-hit innings, and Manager Aaron Boone pulled him quickly when he allowed two hits to start the fifth.
A group of Yankee relievers held the powerful Oakland lineup to just two runs, both of which came on an opposite-field homer by Khris Davis, the major league home run leader.
The win sets up what has been a hotly anticipated series all season between the bitter A.L. East rivals. Game 1 of their division series will be Friday in Boston, with J.A. Happ expected to start for the Yankees against Chris Sale.
Looking Ahead: Yankees vs. Red Sox
It has been 14 years since the Yankees and the Red Sox faced one another in the postseason, and for only the fourth time, the two great American League rivals will tangle in a playoff series.
As the rookie manager Aaron Boone knows, the intensity and scrutiny will be magnified now. Boone authored one of the more famous moments in Red Sox-Yankees lore with his game-winning home run off Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the 2003 A.L.C.S.
But the 2004 series, after Boone had left the team, is perhaps the most memorable league championship series of all time. At the time, the Red Sox had not won a World Series in 86 years. But after falling behind, 3-0, in games to the Yankees, the Red Sox became the first team to overcome such a deficit to win a postseason baseball series. They went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series championship since 1918.
The stakes are not quite as high this time. Boston has won two more World Series since 2004 (in 2007 and 2013), and this will be only a division series. But it still is certain to be captivating.
The Red Sox won 108 games and the division title, but they go into the series with some serious questions marks. Chris Sale, their ace pitcher, has thrown only 17 innings since July 27 because of a tender shoulder, and his velocity has dropped noticeably. Also, their Game 2 starter, David Price, is 0-3 with a 10.34 earned run average against the Yankees in recent years.
The Yankees will almost certainly start J.A. Happ in Game 1. He has had success against the Red Sox, with an 8-4 career record and 2.98 E.R.A. Even at Fenway Park, he is 5-2 with a 3.27 E.R.A. over his career. The one trouble spot for Happ is Steve Pearce, who is 11 for 32 lifetime against Happ, with six home runs, two doubles, five walks and 16 runs batted in.
But the Boston bullpen has been a weakness all season, so it is a possibility the Yankees could return to the Bronx with a 2-0 lead in games.
Either way, fans of both teams will now turn their attention to the renewal of one of the best rivalries in sports. — David Waldstein
Here’s how the Yankees beat the Athletics, inning by inning:
Top 1st: Luis Severino Mows A’s Down
The top of the first inning didn’t look anything like Luis Severino’s first postseason game last year. He got things started right with a three-pitch strikeout of Nick Martini, catching Oakland’s leadoff batter looking at a pitch down the middle. He needed just two pitches to retire Matt Chapman on a grounder to third and then struck out Jed Lowrie on five pitches. Oakland looked completely lost against the Yankees’ one-time ace, who had been inconsistent in the second half of the season.
David Waldstein: Small sample size, but already the bold decision to go with Severino looks good. The right-hander came out blazing, and the Athletics’ hitters had trouble catching up to his 98 mile-per-hour fastballs as he set the side down in order with two strikeouts.
It was critical for the Yankees that Severino got off to a strong start in order to dispel any doubt that he could rebound from last year’s disaster when he surrendered three runs to the Minnesota Twins in the first inning and only recorded one out. Plus, Severino has a 5.23 earned run average in four career starts against the A’s, and that was 6.23 this year after a dismal start in Oakland on Sept. 5.
Bottom 1st: Aaron Judge Blast Gives Yankees an Early Lead
The Yankees were the first to score when Aaron Judge crushed a two-run homer over the left-field fence off Liam Hendriks, taking advantage of a reliever pressed into starter duty who came in far too amped up and had trouble keeping his pitches in the strike zone.
The Oakland bullpen immediately showed activity, but Hendriks calmed down enough to get Aaron Hicks to line out to first. He struck out Giancarlo Stanton on eight pitches and then finished the inning by retiring Luke Voit on a fly ball to center on just one pitch.
David Waldstein: Yankee Stadium came alive on Aaron Judge’s two-run homer to left. He absolutely crushed it and Liam Hendricks, the A’s opener, was fortunate to get out of the inning giving up only those runs. Aaron Hicks hit a ball very hard, but right to first baseman Matt Olson, and so the A’s immediately had action in the bullpen with former Yankees relief pitcher Shawn Kelley warming up.
Top 2nd: Severino Has 5 Strikeouts Through 2 Innings
Staked to a lead, Luis Severino came out and immediately struck out the major league home run leader, Khris Davis, fanning him on a slider on the fifth pitch of the at-bat. With one out, he was fairly cautious with Matt Olson, throwing the first baseman mostly stuff outside the strike zone in what turned into a fairly epic nine-pitch at-bat that ended with a walk. He continued to have his pitches dart all over the zone against Stephen Piscotty, but this time he won the battle, getting a called strike three on an inside slider that simply froze Piscotty. That left Ramon Laureano, a rookie, up with one on and two outs, and he struck out to end the inning.
The A’s didn’t do any real damage in the inning, and have already struck out five times, but they have gotten Severino’s pitch count up to 37, which could work in their favor going forward.
David Waldstein: We like what Severino did in the second inning, going to his breaking ball more to strike out the side, wrapped around a harmless walk to Olson. Severino threw 28 pitches in the frame after throwing only 9 in the first, but looked a little more artful about it and his confidence is clearly redlining.
Word from the right-field stands is that soon after the Yankees went ahead on Aaron Judge’s home run, the fans out there began with the anti-Boston chant. Still 21 outs to go before it’s “On to Boston.”
Bottom 2nd: A’s Switch Pitchers and Get Out of a Jam
The A’s have already gone to the bullpen, replacing Liam Hendriks with Lou Trivino after just an inning. And while Trivino got himself in trouble, with two on and no outs, he escaped with a scoreless inning.
The right-hander starting things off by allowing a soft infield single to Didi Gregorius and a walk to Miguel Andujar, who had just 25 walks in 606 plate appearances this season. A first-pitch ball to Gary Sanchez prompted a visit to the mound from Oakland’s pitching coach, Scott Emerson, and that got Trivino settled down enough to induce a double-play ball from the struggling catcher.
With two outs and a runner on third, Trivino struck out Gleyber Torres on a curveball in the dirt to end the inning.
Top 3rd: A’s Make a Little Noise, but No Runs
The A’s finally made some decent contact against Luis Severino, but it didn’t make a difference in another scoreless inning.
Marcus Semien led off the inning with walk on six pitches. Jonathan Lucroy was quickly erased on a three-pitch strikeout in which he simply flailed at a slider way off the plate. Nick Martini hit a sharp grounder to first that should have set up a double-play, but the A’s got a little from Luke Voit, whose throw forced shortstop Didi Gregorius to dive for it, yielding just one out instead of two. With two outs, Matt Chapman lined out to right to end the inning.
Severino has six strikeouts and two walks in three innings and has yet to allow a hit.
Bottom 3rd: Trivino Keeps Yankees in Check
Lou Trivino was absolutely dominant in a second scoreless inning.
The A’s second pitcher got an easy first out when Andrew McCutchen grounded into the shift. That brought up Aaron Judge, who Trivino overwhelmed in a three-pitch strikeout in which the slugger looked totally lost on a cutter that darted away from him. Aaron Hicks was third up and he was retired on a soft grounder back to the pitcher.
Unfortunately for Oakland, at two innings and 28 pitches, Trivino is probably nearing his limits of endurance and it may be time to change pitchers again.
David Waldstein: The A’s have stabilized things after a tough first inning, and this is a team that has a record of coming back. Oakland was second in baseball this year with 280 runs scored after the seventh inning, a team record. They were also 25-11 in games decided in the final at-bat. That was also the second-best record in the majors behind Seattle’s mark of 22-9, but Oakland’s 25 last-AB wins were the most in the majors.
Top 4th: Severino Gets Out of a Bases-Loaded Jam
The A’s threatened, with the bases loaded and two outs, but Luis Severino wriggled out of trouble and has still not allowed a hit in four shutout innings.
With one out following Jed Lowrie’s soft fly ball to left, Severino got betrayed by his team’s poor infield defense. Khris Davis, the big Oakland slugger, hit a playable grounder to third, but Miguel Andujar’s throw was short and Luke Voit couldn’t make the scoop.
Severino retired Stephen Biscotty on a fly ball to right, but then loaded the bases with a six-pitch walk to Ramon Laureano in which he seemed to get squeezed by the home plate umpire, Jim Wolf, on a potential strike three. But Severino showed some moxie, recovering to strike out Marcus Semien to end the inning.
Severino has seven strikeouts and four walks, and is up to 81 pitches.
David Waldstein: Andujar’s error highlights one area — corner infield defense — where the A’s have the advantage. Matt Chapman is as good as anyone at third base and first baseman Matt Olson excels at scooping balls out of the dirt, saving numerous runs during the course of the regular season. And the A’s rely on him. Olson played in all 162 games, the first American League first baseman to do that since Carlos Delgado in 2000.
If the Yankees hold this lead into the late innings, there is a good chance Aaron Boone will pull Andujar and Voit in favor of Adeiny Hechavarria and Neil Walker.
Bottom 4th: Trivino Keeps Cruising
Maybe Lou Trivino is more than a reliever? The rookie pitched a third scoreless inning — matching the longest outing of his major league career — looking absolutely dominant while retiring Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit and Didi Gregorius as if they were bottom-of-the-order hitters. The strikeouts of both Voit and Gregorius gave Trivino four in three innings, and he has allowed just one hit.
Trivino has now faced 10 Yankees batters. He is one short of his career-high of 11 and the A’s are in somewhat unexpected territory as they were not expected to allow any of their relievers to face the same batter twice.
Top 5th: Betances Cleans Up Severino’s Mess
The A’s threatened because Aaron Boone left Luis Severino in a little too long, but Dellin Betances cleaned up his starter’s mess and kept Oakland scoreless.
Jonathan Lucroy finally ended the no-hitter with a single to left on Severino’s first pitch of the fifth. That brought up Nick Martini, who singled to right.
Boone had seen enough at that point and pulled Severino in favor of Betances, who faced the difficult task of going up against the A’s best hitters with two on and no outs.
Betances got both Matt Chapman and Jed Lowrie to fly out harmlessly. That brought up Oakland’s top run producer, Khris Davis, and in a power vs. power situation, Betances came out on top, striking out the slugger to end the inning.
David Waldstein: Now it’s a full-on bullpen game. Betances in for the Yankees after Severino finishes a fine night of work, and Shawn Kelley is in for the A’s.
Opting to start Severino against the Athletics was considered a somewhat controversial decision by the Yankees, considering his history in the 2017 wild-card game, his weak second half of the season and his record against the A’s. But it worked out well enough.
Bottom 5th: Yankees Come Up Empty Again
The A’s brought out Shawn Kelley, the former Yankee, to start the fifth and he allowed an immediate infield hit to Miguel Andujar. Matt Chapman, who can be an absolute wizard at third, ranged wide to his left to even keep the ball in the infield but could not quite throw out Andujar at first.
Gary Sanchez grounded up the middle for a force-out at second, but showed enough hustle to get himself to first before the A’s could turn a double-play. But the effort went to waste when Gleyber Torres lined out to left and Andrew McCutchen popped out to shortstop to end the inning.
David Waldstein: Shawn Kelley pitches a scoreless fifth and walks off the mound with his fist raised. He grew up in Louisville and is a huge fan of the college basketball and football teams, particularly the hoops team. But way more interesting, he grew up with the actress Jennifer Lawrence. She is the younger sister of his childhood buddy.
He is out of the game, though, and Fernando Rodney is in for the A’s.
Top 6th: Betances Is Dominant in Relief
Dellin Betances was back out for a second inning and he was dominant once again. He battled with Matt Olson in a six-pitch at-bat that resulted in a groundout to first and then struck out Stephen Piscotty on four pitches. Ramon Laureano came up third, and the rookie struck out looking to end the inning.
The Yankees aren’t taking any chances with their narrow lead and replaced Miguel Andujar at third with Adeiny Hechavarria to start the half-inning. The move takes away one of the Yankees’ best hitters, but also takes away the team’s biggest defensive liability.
Bottom 6th: Luuuuuke! Yankees Pull Away From Athletics
A’s relievers had fired four consecutive scoreless innings, but Fernando Rodney and Blake Treinen did not have their best stuff and it cost the A’s dearly, with Oakland falling behind by a score of 6-0.
Rodney got in trouble by trying to sneak a fastball past Aaron Judge only to watch as the big slugger fought it off, slapping a chopper down the first base line that made its way through the infield for a double.
A runner in scoring position was all the motivation Aaron Hicks needed, and the Yankees’ No. 3 hitter lined a double to right-center that easily scored Judge.
Hicks advanced to third on a wild pitch and with Giancarlo Stanton up and a 1-0 count, Bob Melvin pulled the plug on Rodney, calling in Blake Treinen, the team’s ace reliever, despite there being no outs in the sixth.
From there it only got worse. Treinen walked Stanton, who quickly stole second, and then Luke Voit tripled off the right field wall — just barely missing a home run — which drove in two runs.
Didi Gregorius added another run with a sacrifice fly to left that stood up even after a challenge in which the A’s believed Voit had been tagged out at home.
Treinen got out of the inning by retiring Adeiny Hechavarria on a soft comebacker and Gary Sanchez on a grounder to shortstop, but the A’s now have a huge deficit and will get just nine more outs on offense to try to even the score.
David Waldstein: It was extremely loud and got even louder when the Yankees extended the lead to 6-0 after Voit hit a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly.
The fans pretty much know now that the next time they come here to Yankee Stadium, it will be to see their team play the Red Sox in the division series. If it happens, that will be something.
Top 7th: Defensive Switch Pays Off
Adeiny Hechavarria was in the game for his defense and he showed why as he made a leaping grab of a line drive by Marcus Semien to start the inning. That hit would have made it past the vast majority of third basemen. Given a free out, David Robertson got through the inning easily, retiring Jonathan Lucroy on a liner to left and then striking out Nick Martini.
David Waldstein: With the Yankees up, 6-0, in the bottom of the seventh and the fans chanting, “We Want Boston,” it seems fairly safe to start looking ahead to the division series against the Red Sox. After all, the Yankees appeared to do just that when they held J.A. Happ out of Wednesday’s wild card playoff game, allowing him to pitch twice, if necessary, against Boston.
Obviously, the matchup between the old rivals is a terrific one. The Red Sox won 108 games and have home field advantage, but the Yankees are rolling into the series healthy and playing well.
Boston has not played a really competitive game in a week and their ace, Chris Sale, seems to have a shoulder issue with an alarming drop in velocity. On top of that, Boston’s bullpen has been suspect all year. Happ has a good record against the Red Sox and David Price, Boston’s probable Game 2 starter, has struggled against the Yankees in recent years. Call it a push.
Bottom 7th: Treinen Settles Down
Blake Treinen was back for the seventh and this time things went much better. He got an easy first out on a soft liner to shortstop by Gleyber Torres. Andrew McCutchen grounded out, and after a two-out walk to Aaron Judge, Treinen got Aaron Hicks to pop out to third to end the inning.
Top 8th: Khris Davis Cuts Into Yankees Lead
The Yankees brought in a left-handed pitcher and Khris Davis let them know why that was a bad idea. Oakland’s designated hitter displayed the opposite field power that made him the major league home run leader, crushing a one-out, two-run homer to right that got Oakland onto the board.
The inning started with Matt Chapman single to left-center off of Zach Britton. He was erased on a force-out that left Jed Lowrie at first, and Davis took advantage of the base runner to get his team within a grand slam of tying the game. Britton got out of the inning without any further damage, but the flawless performance by the Yankees bullpen is a thing of the past.
Bottom 8th: Stanton Adds an Insurance Run
It was not Blake Treinen’s night. The star reliever had already allowed a two-run triple to Luke Voit and he started the eighth by allowing Giancarlo Stanton’s first career postseason home run, a 443-foot blast that was never in doubt.
Treinen was pulled immediately after the home run, and Jeurys Familia got out of the inning without any further damage.
The A’s are down to their final three outs.
Top 9th: Chapman Finishes Off Athletics
Aroldis Chapman slammed the door shut.
Marcus Semien hit a leadoff single to center off the Yankees’ closer, but Chapman struck out Jonathan Lucroy and Mark Canha and then got Matt Chapman to ground out to first to end the game.
After a 97-win regular season, the A’s are officially eliminated, while the Yankees will move on to the divisional round.