Bombers reach postseason off Greg Bird's three-run blast

Coming off an 8-1 shellacking in the first game of the series, the Yankees looked to clinch a playoff spot this afternoon with a bounce-back win in Toronto. The Bombers fell behind early with a solo home run in the third, but Greg Bird would send a rocket in the fifth to take a 3-1 lead. That would be all the Yankees needed for the win but tacked on a few more runs to clinch their first postseason berth since 2015.

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Gray took the mound to face the hard-hitting Blue Jay lineup in the bottom of the first. After a quick strikeout, Gray gave up a walk and a sharp outfield single, bringing up slugger Jose Bautista. Gray was able to get the righty to pop up to centerfield,  but the threat wasn’t over just yet. With Kendrys Morales up to the plate and a runner in scoring position, Gray was in trouble early. Morales would hit the ball out to left field, but a sliding catch by Brett Gardner ended the inning.

In the top of the second. Chase Headley reached on a one-out single past the first baseman, but Jacoby Ellsbury would ground into a double play to end the inning. Gray would retake the mound and retire the Blue Jays in order, a nice a bounce-back inning for the Yankee starter.

Joe Biagini continued to frustrate Yankee hitters, forcing a groundout and two flyouts to complete a short third inning. Gray would not be as lucky, surrendering a deep one-out home run to Teoscar Hernandez, and the Blue Jays took a 1-0 lead. He worked his way out of the inning with a ground ball to third, but the damage was done.

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Aaron Judge bounced back from his 200th strikeout with a one-out double to extend his on-base streak to 18 games. Gary Sanchez would work a 3-2 walk, bringing up Didi Gregorius. With the hot-hitting shortstop up to the plate and Judge in scoring position, the Yankees looked poised to tie the game, but Didi hit a hard liner straight to the second baseman who would flip the ball back to second before Judge could get back to the base, completing an inning-ending double play.

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Gray again retires Toronto lineup in order, keeping the deficit to only one. A walk and a steal put Chase Headley in scoring position, but Ellsbury would strikeout on a check swing, bringing up Starlin Castro with one out. The second baseman worked a walk to bring up lefty Greg Bird. On the first pitch he faced, the smooth-swinging Bird ripped a shot over the right-field wall, putting the Bombers up 3-1. An interesting statistic for Bird, eight of his 17 home runs has given the Yankees the lead in the game, a testament to the first baseman's knack for big hits. Biagini walked Frazier, his third walk of the inning, bringing up Brett Gardner as the Toronto bullpen started to stir. Gardner would hit another hard liner to the shortstop, starting an inning-ending double play.

Sonny continued his great outing, only facing four batters to end another scoreless inning, preserving the Yankees 3-1 lead heading into the sixth. The Blue Jays replaced Biagini with Danny Barnes to start the sixth inning, and the righty retired the meat of the Yankees lineup for a quick three outs.

With Chad Green starting to get loose in the Yankees bullpen, Gray returned to the mound to start the bottom of the sixth. Sonny walked the first batter, then forced a high infield fly ball from Bautista. Morales would work a walk to bring up Kevin Pillar with a runner in scoring position and only one out. The righty would rip a line drive into the left-field gap, but somehow Gardner covered the distance to make the catch. After a conference on the mound with Larry Rothschild, Gray faced shortstop Ryan Goins. The Yankee starter would get lefty Goins to ground out to short to end the inning and the threat.

Aaron Loup replaced Barnes to start the seventh inning. Headley would fly out to start the inning, but Ellsbury would line a single to continue his great couple months. Ellsbury then was caught stealing second off a great throw from Blue Jay catcher Raffy Lopez. Castro struck out swinging to end the top half of the inning with the Yankee lead still 3-1.

Chad Green came out to start the seventh inning, and as the righty has done all year, dominated the opposing lineup for a quick one, two, three inning with two strikeouts.

To start the eighth, the Blue Jays again changed pitchers, starting out Tim Mayza to face Greg Bird. The lefty struck out Bird to bring up Todd Frazier, and the third baseman would barrel a centerfield home run to put the Bombers up 4-1. After a line out from Brett Gardner, Toronto again went to the bullpen, bringing out Luis Santos to face Aaron Judge, the righty would force Judge to ground to third to end the inning.

David Robertson started the eighth inning role as the Yankees had their sights set on clinching their spot in the postseason. Josh Donaldson took the righty's first pitch to the warning track, but it ran out of juice at the warning track for a flyout. Roberston struck out Justin Smoak to bring up Bautista. The crowd roared as he came to bat, but Robertson made quick work of the righty slugger, striking him out to end the inning.

To start the ninth, Sanchez ripped a deep fly to the centerfield wall, but Pillar misjudged his jump, giving the catcher an easy double. Didi would line out to short, bringing up Chase Headley. The DH worked a walk, and with Ellsbury up the bat, the Yankees threatened to score some insurance runs. Ellsbury grounded into a fielders choice to first, advancing Sanchez to third. Castro came up to bat with runners on the corners and two outs. A soft ground ball to the middle of the infield scored Sanchez, giving the Yankees a 5-1 lead. Bird would strikeout to end the inning.

Aroldis Chapman came in to start the ninth in a non-save situation. Chapman would retire the side in just 10 pitches to end the game. This was another strong outing for the lefty closer, and a great sign as the playoffs approach.

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Sonny Gray didn't look that sharp to start the day, struggling with location and finishing off batters. He was able to get it under control and go a strong six innings and finally got some run support to earn his tenth win of the season.

With the win today, the Bombers clinched their spot in the postseason again. The Yanks magic number over the Twins for a home wild card game is four, and the elimination number for the division is at five with the Red Sox win. It seems likely that the Yankees are going to have to play a one-game wild card game, which is less than ideal, but a postseason berth nonetheless. The Yankees look to secure yet another series win tomorrow when Jaime Garcia faces off against Marcus Stroman at 1:07 PM in Toronto.

Winning Pitcher: Sonny Gray (10-11 3.31 ERA) 6.0 IP 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
Losing Pitcher: Joe Biagini (3-12 5.34 ERA) 5.0 IP 3 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 3 K
Save: N/A

Notables:
Greg Bird: 1-4 R, HR (6), 3 RBI (21)
Todd Frazier: 1-2, R, BB, HR (27), RBI (75)
Starlin Castro: 1-3 R, BB, RBI (58)

Article by: Maxx Hotton

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