Aaron Hicks and the New York Yankees reached the playoffs the same way they played the regular season: They got hurt, stood up and kept on going.
Hicks doubled home the winning run in the 11th inning , just after a foul ball to an ankle sent him sprawling to the dirt face-first in pain, and the Yankees clinched an AL wild card for the second straight year with a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.
“It hurts. It’s going to be sore tomorrow, that’s for sure,” Hicks said after limping to his locker, his left ankle taped. “I think after I hit the ball, it was kind of all adrenaline.”
Rookie manager Aaron Boone will lead the Yankees into the winner-take-all Oct. 3 wild-card game, most likely against Oakland. The Yankees are 1½ games ahead of the Athletics for home-field advantage and are 53-27 at home this season.
New York acquired slugger Giancarlo Stanton from Miami during the offseason, and then boosted its offense with the early season call-ups of rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. Stanton will be in the playoffs for the first time following eight frustrating seasons with the Marlins.
“There’s no feeling like it,” Stanton said after the Yankees celebrated with a bubbly spraying in their clubhouse, many wearing new “DEFEND THE BRONX” postseason T-shirts. “I’m going to enjoy tonight, enjoy this buzz and celebration, and just know we’ve got more work to do.”
New York sprinted to a 54-27 record at this season’s halfway point and was ahead of Boston by percentage points in the quest for its first AL East title since 2012, but the Yankees slowed in the second half as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gregorius and Aroldis Chapman got hurt. The Red Sox clinched their third straight division crown by beating New York on Thursday.
Still, at 95-59 the Yankees matched their most wins since 2012 and equaled their season high of 36 games over .500. They will make their 54th postseason appearance — 21 more than any other team — and their 20th in 24 seasons.
Boone replaced Joe Girardi last fall, having never managed at any level, tasked with leading the team to its first World Series title since 2009. He walked around the clubhouse during the celebration thanking each player individually.
“Everyone in that room understands that we feel just as capable as any other team that’s going to have an opportunity to do something special,” said Boone , who set off a celebration at old Yankee Stadium with his pennant-winning homer against Boston in 2003.
Chad Green, Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Jonathan Holder and Tommy Kahnle (2-0) each pitched a scoreless inning in relief of Lance Lynn. Holder escaped a second-and-third, no-outs, and bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 10th , helped by first baseman Luke Voit’s diving catch of a Chris Davis liner with the infield in.
“I would imagine if we win big, we’ll look back and they’ll have played a huge role,” Boone said.
Speaking in the afternoon, Boone called Hicks “one of the most underrated players in the game.”
New York went ahead in the second inning against David Hess when Hicks hit his 26th home run and Voit hit his 11th in 32 games since he was acquired from St. Louis on July 29, a drive that hit the Toyota sign above the Yankees bullpen in right-center . Still learning about New York, Voit had trouble finding the D train on the subway to get to Yankee Stadium.
“Man, this has been the craziest year in my life,” Voit said.
Baltimore scored against Lynn when Cedric Mullins’ tapper in front of the plate drove in a run in the third , and DJ Stewart singled in the tying run in the fifth . Lynn got out of bases-loaded trouble in the fifth when Adam Jones grounded into a forceout.
Tampa Bay lost at Toronto as the ninth inning was about to start in the Bronx, putting the Yankees in position to clinch with a win. New York finally broke through after Gregorius singled off Paul Fry (0-2) starting the 11th.
Stanton struck out, and the foul ball off Hicks’ foot caused a two-minute delay. Hicks took a ball and then lined a low, inside slider down the left-field line.
Gregorius sped around the bases as left fielder John Andreoli picked up the ball by the wall, and Gregorius slid in headfirst ahead of shortstop Jonathan Villar’s relay throw and spread his arms wide. Hicks said X-rays on the ankle were negative — but his necklace was cut in half during the celebration.
Now the Yankees will try to stay ahead of the A’s and host the wild card.
“You got to come to this jungle here or us fly cross-country and go spend a couple days on the West Coast?” Stanton said. “I think we’d prefer to be here.”
Judge, a veteran of last October’s run, kept the day in perspective .
“Enjoy it. Soak it up,” he said. “But we’ve still got four more celebrations to go.”
Baltimore dropped to 44-110, one shy of the franchise record for losses set by the 1939 St. Louis Browns. The Orioles entered 60½ games out of first place and are assured of next year’s top pick in the amateur draft.
Steve Wilkerson was thrown out at the plate twice, by Torres after the second baseman retrieved Sanchez’s errant throw and by Judge on Caleb Joseph’s single to right in the fifth . Wilkerson threw out Torres trying to score from third on Andrew McCutchen’s seventh-inning grounder to third.
“We’re not in the playoff hunt, but it gives you a little experience of what the atmosphere is like,” Fry said. “Everyone’s against you.”
A day after the Yankees said the struggling Sanchez would be their postseason starter, he allowed his major league-leading 15th passed ball — he tied for the high last year with 16. He also made his sixth error.
Orioles: RHP Andrew Cashner remains bothered by pain in his left knee. … RHP Hunter Harvey is to have his sore elbow examined Monday, according to manager Buck Showalter.
LHP J.A. Happ (6-0, 2.39 ERA with the Yankees; 16-6, 3.62 overall) starts Sunday’s home regular-season finale and is lined up to start the wild-card game. RHP Alex Cobb (5-15) starts for the Orioles.
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