Aaron Judge strengthens MVP case as Yankees whip Rays

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Aaron Judge would no doubt like the script reversed, but that’s not going to happen.

As the Yankees’ chances of winning the AL East took a hit Wednesday night even though they beat the Rays, Judge’s stock as the AL MVP remained on the escalator going up.

Judge drove in the Yankees’ first two runs of a 6-1 win that was witnessed by a Yankee Stadium crowd of 30,549 and hiked his RBI total to 111.

At this point it appears Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Judge have reduced the field for MVP honors to a pair.

Luis Severino (14-6) got plenty of support as Starlin Castro, Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks homered in the four-run sixth inning of the Yankees’ 14th win in 18 games.

“Worry about today, win today and see if we get a little bit closer,’’ manager Joe Girardi had said before the win.

Half of that wish came true, but the AL East-leading Red Sox reduced their division-winning magic number to two with a 10-7 victory over the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. The Yankees trail the Red Sox by three games.

With four games remaining, the Yankees will use them to prepare for the AL wild-card game, likely against the Twins, on Tuesday in The Bronx.

Provided he isn’t needed in an unlikely AL East playoff game that would be played Monday at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox should the teams finish in a tie, Severino will start the wild-card tilt.

Luis SeverinoAnthony J. Causi

In six innings, the right-hander allowed a run, four hits and fanned nine. With 14 wins he leads the Yankee staff in victories. Severino also tied CC Sabathia for third place on the all-time Yankee single-season strikeout mark with 220.

Judge extended an extra-base hit streak to seven with the double. In those seven games Judge is 10-for-22 (.455) and all his hits have been extra-base hits.

Castro and Bird hit back-to-back homers in the sixth inning off different pitchers and upped the Yankees’ cushion to 4-1.

Castro’s second homer in as many games and 16th of the season, hit the back wall of the Rays bullpen in left field and was hit off starter Matt Andriese leading off the inning.

The right-handed Andriese was lifted for lefty Xavier Cedeno to face the left-handed hitting Bird and he drove a 1-2 pitch into the right-field seats for his eighth homer. Chase Headley singled and Aaron Hicks crushed a 3-1 pitch into the left-field seats for a 6-1 lead. It was Hicks’ 14th homer of the season and the end of Cedeno’s brief performance.

Severino worked around a leadoff walk to Kevin Kiermaier in the first, Brad Miller’s single to start the third and Logan Morrison’s single and Steven Souza, Jr.’s double with two outs in the fourth.

However, once Adeiny Hechavarria’s fly ball leading off the fifth got in the air, there wasn’t a chance Severino was going to dance around it because it was headed over the left-field wall and a 1-0 Rays lead.

Ahead in the count, 1-2, Severino opted to go with an 89-mph breaking ball the right-handed hitter stroked for his eighth homer.

After going 3-for-15 (.200) with runners in scoring position in Tuesday night’s victory the Yankees wasted a strong scoring chance in the first.

Brett Gardner greeted Andriese with a leadoff double to right, but Judge grounded to third, Gary Sanchez fouled out and Didi Gregorius popped up.

Chase Headley’s infield single with two outs in the first, Judge’s two-out walk in the third and Castro reaching on third baseman Evan Longoria’s throwing error in the fourth didn’t lead to a run.



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