Yankees Keep Pace With Red Sox, Preserving a Host of Season-Ending Scenarios

The Yankees kept their thumb on the Red Sox thanks to Aaron Judge’s two-run double, which put them ahead in the fifth inning before Starlin Castro, Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks hit homers in the sixth to make a winner of Luis Severino.

In his final start of the regular season, Severino, the Yankees’ ace, fulfilled that role well again, rebounding from a rare poor start last week against the Minnesota Twins, when he lasted just three innings. Severino breezed through six innings, allowing only four hits and one run, a homer by Adeiny Hechavarria in the fifth.

Severino struck out nine Rays, and ended the fourth inning with a 98-miles-per-hour fastball past Corey Dickerson with runners at second and third. He raised his season strikeout total to 230, tying C.C. Sabathia (2011) for third on the franchise’s season strikeout list. He improved his record to 14-6 and lowered his earned run average to 2.98.


Starlin Castro, right, was congratulated in the dugout after leading off the sixth inning with a home run.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Yankees have tweaked their rotation in recent weeks so that Severino would be ready for Tuesday’s wild-card game, but winning the division is such a carrot that Girardi intimated Wednesday that he would start Severino if there was a playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox for the A.L. East title, which would be held Monday at Yankee Stadium.

If the Yankees were to lose that game, then Sonny Gray would available on regular rest to start the wild-card playoff against Minnesota on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. Gray is scheduled to start Thursday against Tampa Bay.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be in a one-game shootout,” said Girardi, who noted that Severino would be on regular rest if he faced the Red Sox or five days rest versus the Twins. “I just think there are so many little things that can come up that can cost you a game in a one-game shootout, so your goal is to win” the division.

A one-game playoff for the division title would be compelling theater, especially after the Yankees reported the Red Sox to Major League Baseball for using an Apple Watch to steal signs.

And while it would not quite feature the win-or-go-home stakes of the end of the 1978 regular season — when Bucky Dent famously homered over the Green Monster to help give the Yankees the division title — there still would be consequences for the losing team, which would have to turn around and face the Twins the next day, and possibly without its best pitcher or a fully rested bullpen.

“If you do play in that game,” Girardi said of the division tiebreaker, “you’re somewhat at a disadvantage in the wild-card game if you lose that game because you might have to use your relievers and have to rely on them heavily and they may not be as effective the next day.”

The Yankees, who began Wednesday tied with Texas and Baltimore for the major-league home run lead, upped their total to 235; they have hit 27 in their last 13 games.

Judge, who had hit seven homers in his previous eight games, proved an adept situational hitter in the fifth when he came to the plate with one out and runners at the corners with the Yankees trailing, 1-0. With Hicks running on a 3-2 slider from Matt Andriese, Judge lined a double just inside the left-field foul line to score Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury.

When the home runs began being launched the following inning, the latter two off reliever Xavier Cedeno, the Yankees kept pace in their pursuit of the Red Sox — and a host of contingencies.

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