BOSTON — The Yankees’ streak ended with an exclamation point Sunday night at Fenway Park:
They did not play their third straight best game of the season.
Instead, they delivered their toughest.
The Yankees own the top American League wild-card slot because they overcame a jaw-dropping flurry of ineptitude to defeat the Red Sox, 6-3, to complete the weekend sweep of their rivals and record their sixth straight win overall. At 89-67 with six games left in the regular season, the Yankees control their own destiny to host the AL wild-card tilt Oct. 5 at Yankee Stadium.
“You can’t get bogged down by a mistake that’s inevitably going to happen,” manager Aaron Boone said. “You’ve got to keep on competing, keep on moving to the next play, These guys are in that mode right now.”
Every bit of that control — and every bit of their toughness — might be necessary to turn the possibility of opening the playoffs at home into a reality, as the Red Sox (88-68) close out their schedule with a tour of the miserable Mid-Atlantic: Three games at Baltimore, then three games at Washington. The Orioles (14-40) and Nationals (16-37) are a combined 30-77 since the July 30 trade deadline.
No such luck for the Yankees, who head to Toronto to take on the fighting-for-their-lives Blue Jays (87-69), then return home for three with the AL East champion Rays, who might be in postseason preparation mode yet surely wouldn’t mind disrupting their big-budgeted rivals.
If the Yankees proved anything this weekend, though, it’s that they can take some punches, even self-inflicted punches à la Edward Norton in “Fight Club,” and stay upright, nimble and dangerous.
Have you ever seen anything like that bottom of the seventh, when DJ LeMahieu and Joey Gallo — two of the team’s more reliable defenders — dropped pop flies in the same at-bat? Good god, Chad Green could’ve filed for emancipation from his fielders as LeMahieu first couldn’t glove Kyle Schwarber’s foul near third base, then Gallo failed to snare the lethal Schwarber’s hang-time special to left, the latter snafu allowing Jose Iglesias to score the lead run.
“A little bit stunning,” Boone said. “Can’t make that stuff up.”
That Iglesias led off that inning with a single, pinch hitting for pinch-hitter Travis Shaw (who pinch hit for Christian Arroyo) as Boone lifted the hot Clay Holmes for Joely Rodriguez, called into question Boone’s decision there, to boot.
And all of those lowlights faded into nothingness when the Yankees put up a four spot in the eighth inning for the second straight day. Even that rally got off to a false start when Tyler Wade pinch running for Gio Urshela after a leadoff walk, got thrown out trying to steal second base without even sliding, thinking that LeMahieu had fouled off a pitch when he looked at strike two.
Nevertheless, they persisted: LeMahieu drew his own walk, Anthony Rizzo doubled LeMahieu over to third and when Boston skipper Alex Cora lifted Garrett Richards for old pal Adam Ottavino, Aaron Judge prevailed in an eight-pitch at-bat (which included a very generous call by Joe West on a foul tip that Bosox catcher Christian Vazquez caught, then dropped on the transfer) by scalding a double to left-center field. The en fuego Giancarlo Stanton followed that with his 34th homer, giving the Yankees a cushion, and the bullpen took care of the rest.
Cray cray, as the kids say, yet here the Yankees stand, in prime position with one week to go. Can they tough it out into October? After all you’ve seen and all they’ve done, you can’t feel too confident betting against them, can you?