TORONTO — The long ball proved costly for starter Robbie Ray and the Blue Jays on Thursday as the New York Yankees dealt a blow to Toronto’s playoff chances while solidifying their own.
Aaron Judge hit two of New York’s five home runs in a 6-2 victory that strengthened the Yankees’ grip on the first wild-card spot.
“They can hit. They’ve proven it all year,” Ray said “It’s a tough lineup from top to bottom. They’re a good hitting team for sure.”
Judge launched a mammoth solo shot in the opening frame and added another blast in New York’s four-run sixth inning as the Yankees took the rubber game of the critical three-game series.
Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres, with a two-run homer, also went deep in the sixth off Ray. Brett Gardner added an insurance run with a solo shot in the ninth.
Closer Aroldis Chapman, New York’s fourth reliever of the night, sealed the victory as the Yankees (91-68) won for the eighth time in nine games.
The Blue Jays (88-71) fell three games behind the Yankees but remained a game back of Boston for the second wild-card berth.
The Red Sox dropped a 6-2 decision in Baltimore to fall into a tie with the idle Seattle Mariners at 89-70.
Judge’s first shot off Ray (13-7) nearly hit the stadium’s large video screen well above the wall in centre field. The ball travelled an estimated 455 feet with an exit velocity of 114.6 m.p.h.
The Blue Jays pulled even in the second inning against Yankees starter Corey Kluber. Bo Bichette singled, stole second and scored on Corey Dickerson’s double.
Toronto nearly scored another run, but Judge made a nice diving catch on Santiago Espinal’s sinking flare to end the inning.
The Blue Jays took the lead in the fifth after manager Charlie Montoyo challenged a call that would have been a inning-ending double play. Video review showed a hustling Marcus Semien beat the throw at first base.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., then drove him in with a double that was an inch or two away from a home run. The ball hit the top of the wall in centre field and somehow bounced backward into the field of play.
Rizzo tied the game with a rainbow solo shot for his 21st homer of the season. Ray had retired the previous 13 batters in order, going back to a leadoff walk to Gary Sanchez in the second inning.
Judge followed with his 39th home run of the year for a sixth multi-homer game this season. Giancarlo Stanton walked before Torres ended Ray’s night with his ninth home run.
“He ended up giving up four hits. They just happened to be home runs,” Montoyo said of his starter. “You have to give them credit for hitting the ball out.”
An announced crowd of 29,659 — a sellout under new provincial capacity restrictions — tried its best to boost the home side.
Bichette’s leadoff double in the eighth gave the crowd a jolt, but Yankees reliever Chad Green retired the next three Blue Jays with strikeouts.
Reliever Michael King (2-4), who took over for Kluber in the fifth, worked 1 1/3 innings for the win. Toronto outhit New York 10-6 but left nine runners on base compared to New York’s four.
The Blue Jays close out their regular season with a three-game home series starting Friday against the last-place Orioles.
“We’ve just got to go one game at a time and win every game now for sure,” Montoyo said.
The Yankees go home to play the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.
“We’ve got more to do,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It makes the plane ride home a little nicer but we’ve got business to attend to tomorrow.”
The Red Sox continue their road trip with a weekend series in Washington while the Mariners finish against the LA Angels.