Bird’s homer helps Yankees clinch postseason spot
TORONTO -- The New York Yankees feel they have a lot more to accomplish this season.
They took the first step Saturday when Greg Bird’s three-run homer and Sonny Gray’s solid start lifted them a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays to clinch an American League wild-card spot.
”We’ve got to keep working,“ Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said. ”We’re not done yet. This is just the beginning.
“We’ve got a lot of goals for this team, a lot of stuff we want to do. Getting a chance to be in the postseason, we’ve got to keep it rolling and finish strong.”
Todd Frazier also homered for the Yankees (86-68).
Relievers Chad Green, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning to finish the game.
Teoscar Hernandez homered for the Blue Jays (72-83).
“We’ve got one of the best bullpens in all of baseball and we’ve got a stacked lineup and we have fun and go out and compete,” said Judge, who has 46 homers. “We compete our butts off every single pitch, we don’t take a pitch off.”
The Yankees are on a 16-6 run and still have a mathematical chance to finish first in the AL East.
”It’s a great accomplishment,“ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ”We learned a lot about our young players, our veteran players. To see the kids kind of grow up in front of you, it’s special.
“We’re still playing for the division. Obviously, I have to be smart. I can’t run guys out there 10 days in a row. That doesn’t make sense.”
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is impressed with the Yankees.
”They’re young and talented,“ Gibbons said. ”They’ve got a lot of pop in their lineup. They’ve got some good pieces to go along with it. Some speed with (Jacoby) Ellsbury and (Brett) Gardner.
“They’ve got some good starting pitching and arguably one of the best bullpens, if not the best. They can be as tough as anybody.”
Gray (10-11) won for the fourth time against six losses since joining the Yankees in a trade with the Oakland Athletics on July 31 by holding the Blue Jays to one run and four hits.
Toronto starter Joe Biagini (3-12) continued to look for his first win since June 21 after allowing three hits, including a home run, four walks and three runs in five innings. He is 0-6 in his past eight starts.
“I’ve established some consistent inconsistency,” Biagini said. “The maddening thing for me is that I kind of see spurts of little parts of my game come out occasionally that I feel are good and that’s what I feel I should be doing and tap into a little bit more.”
Hernandez hit his fourth homer since being called up for September, and his second in two days, in the third inning.
Bird hit his sixth homer of the season with one out in the fifth on a first-pitch cutter. It also scored Chase Headley and Starlin Castro, who had walked, giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
“What a team to be a part of,” Bird said. “What a group. We were just trying to get (Gray) runs. We haven’t got him many runs the last few starts.”
”(Biagini) definitely had his fastball going early and we tried to keep that going as long as we could,“ Blue Jays catcher Raffy Lopez said. ”He lost it a little bit, so we had to try use more of his other pitches.
“He still did a good job. The cutter we were trying to go up and in (to Bird) and it was middle in and he put a pretty good swing on it. The fifth inning maybe he got a little tired. A hot day in late September, a guy who is trying to get extended out as a starter.”
Danny Barnes replaced Biagini and pitched a perfect sixth. Aaron Loup pitched around a single in the seventh.
Frazier hit his 27th homer of the season in the eighth against Tim Mayza.
The Yankees scored a run in the ninth off Luis Santos on a double by Gary Sanchez, a walk to Headley, a fielder’s choice grounder to first by Ellsbury and an infield single to third by Castro.
”We’re a lot better than a lot of people thought we were,“ Headley said. ”This is my second postseason in 11 years so I‘m enjoying it.
“Obviously, we have more work to be done, but any time you have a chance to play in the postseason, you can’t take it for granted. A lot of guys play a long time and don’t have this chance.”
NOTES: Yankees OF Brett Gardner was 0-for-4 Saturday to end an 11-game hit streak. ... Toronto INF/OF Steve Pearce (stiff lower back) will not play for the rest of the season. He had not played since Sept. 8 when he left the game after one inning. ... Yankees RF Aaron Judge struck out for the 200th time this year in the first inning, the first player this season to reach that plateau. It is a major league record for a rookie. ... Yankees LHP Jaime Garcia (5-9, 4.19 ERA) will oppose Blue Jays RHP Marcus Stroman (12-8, 3.01) in the series finale on Sunday.