The New York Yankees stuck around in their vast clubhouse at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night to find out if they would be American League East champions for the first time since 2012.
Instead, they watched the Tampa Bay Rays prolong the waiting by staging a ninth-inning rally against the Los Angeles Dodgers and eventually winning 8-7 in 11 innings.
The Yankees hope to officially celebrate the AL East title Thursday night when they host the Los Angeles Angels in the finale of a three-game series.
“That’s certainly how we spin it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said about three hours after his team made the final out Wednesday in a 3-2 loss to the Angels. “I think that’s a better way to do it, and hopefully we can do that tomorrow.”
New York (99-54) enters Thursday with a magic number of one to secure the division that it has led since June 15.
“We got pretty close there (to clinching Wednesday),” Boone said. “We were all ready to go, and then were some funny noises throughout the clubhouse later in the (Rays) game and even in that final inning watching. So hopefully we’ll have better luck tomorrow.”
In addition to battling for the AL East title, the Yankees are jockeying with the Dodgers and the Houston Astros for the best record in baseball, which would ensure home-field advantage throughout the entire postseason. The Astros are one game ahead of New York and two games ahead of Los Angeles.
Besides clinching, another thing the Yankees would like to achieve is getting more at-bats for Giancarlo Stanton. The slugger returned from his second lengthy injured-list stint Wednesday and had a double in three at-bats before being lifted after the sixth inning.
“Just building him up and hopefully getting him at-bats to where he could get into a good rhythm,” Boone said Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll just see how he’s responding. I would expect him to play regularly and try and build him appropriately on the defensive side.”
Stanton has appeared in 10 games and has totaled 34 at-bats this year. He played left field Wednesday and could be used as the designated hitter Thursday.
The Angels were pleased to delay the Yankees’ celebration for at least one more day. They were able to prevent New York from clinching Wednesday when Michael Hermosillo scored the tiebreaking on a throwing error by reliever Adam Ottavino in the sixth inning.
Los Angeles manager Brad Ausmus said of the Yankees, “I’m sure they’ll get their celebration soon enough, but I’d rather not be here.”
The Angels, who have won 15 of their past 49 games, are looking for more timely hits. Los Angeles evened the series despite stranding 13 runners and striking out 14 times Wednesday.
The Yankees’ Thursday starter, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (10-8, 4.60 ERA), is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in his past three starts. He gave up four runs on eight hits in five innings last Friday during New York’s 6-5 loss at Toronto.
Tanaka is 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA in seven career starts against the Angels. He faced them in Anaheim on April 25 and took a loss, allowing six runs (five earned) in 5 2/3 innings.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney (4-5, 4.76) will start for the Angels, hoping to reverse some recent struggles. He went 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA in four starts last month but is 1-2 with an 8.79 ERA in his three September outings.
Heaney last pitched in the Angels’ 11-4 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday, when he was tagged for six runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings. Heaney is 1-1 with a 1.47 ERA in three career starts against New York, one outing in 2015 and the other two last year.
–Field Level Media