The Yankees clinched at least home-field advantage for next Tuesday’s wild-card game with a 6-1 win over the Rays on Tuesday, which is good news for a team that has the best home record in the American League.
But they may not stop there.
Coupled with Boston’s loss to Toronto, the Red Sox’s magic number to capture the AL East crown remained at three with five games to play.
The Yankees will finish up with two more against the Rays and then three against Toronto — all at home, while Boston closes with a game against the Blue Jays and then a four-game visit from Houston, which is still battling Cleveland for the top seed in the AL.
Even if the Yankees are unable to catch the Red Sox, they figure to head into the wild-card game in better shape than two years ago, when they staggered into the game having lost six of their last seven, and needing an Astros defeat on the final day of the season to get the game to The Bronx.
With Tuesday’s victory, the Yankees have won six of eight and 10-of-13, keeping Minnesota far in the distance in the wild-card race and the pressure on Boston.
They also have won nine of 10 at home, and with their 88th win have their most victories in a season since 2012, when the Yankees won the division and reached the ALCS.
On Tuesday, they got a second straight solid outing from rookie Jordan Montgomery, whose role remains undetermined for the postseason.
He gave up just one run over six innings after blanking Baltimore over six innings in his previous outing.
Montgomery also got some help, not just from a Yankee lineup that scored four runs off Tampa Bay southpaw Blake Snell in the second, but also from a spectacular grab by Aaron Hicks — just returned from the disabled list — in the first inning.
Montgomery loaded the bases with no one out in the first with two singles and a walk before he struck out Logan Morrison.
Wilson Ramos followed by belting a shot to deep center, but Hicks made a spectacular leaping catch on the run and above the fence to rob Ramos of a grand slam.
Kevin Kiermaier scored on the sacrifice fly and pitching coach Larry Rothschild visited Montgomery, who then fanned Adeiny Hechavarria to get out of the inning having surrendered just one run.
After his 26-pitch first inning, Montgomery settled down and the Yankees tied it at 1-1 in the second, when Starlin Castro led off with a homer into the bleachers in left.
It was Castro’s 15th homer of the season and first since Sept. 7.
Todd Frazier, Clint Frazier and Ronald Torreyes followed with singles to load the bases against Snell, who then walked Hicks to force in a run and give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Snell then walked Judge on four pitches to make it 3-1 and end the pitcher’s night.
The Yankees seemed primed to blow the game open, but Gary Sanchez lined to first and Hicks was caught off second for a double play.
Torreyes scored on a wild pitch by Chaz Roe, who was briefly a Yankee in 2014.
They could have added to their lead in the fourth after Hicks walked and Judge doubled with one out, but Sanchez grounded out and Matt Holliday whiffed.
But going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position through seven innings didn’t hurt the Yankees, as Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Dellin Betances combined for three shutout innings to complete the win.
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