Yankees top Jays to clinch post-season berth
New York returns to playoffs after 1-year absence
One year into a rebuild, the New York Yankees are back in the playoffs.
Greg Bird, among the new generation of Baby Bombers, hit a three-run homer that led New York over the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 on Saturday to clinch no worse than a wild card.
"I feel like our motto in the offseason was: `We're going to surprise people,"' Bird said. "Obviously, we had a good spring, but we knew that wasn't the real deal. We came out and played our game the whole year, and I feel like we showed people."
Sonny Gray (10-11), among New York's midseason reinforcements, allowed one run and four hits in six innings as the Yankees won for the 11th time in 14 games and at 86-68 matched their season high of 18 games over .500.
"I didn't know exactly what we were going to be this year, but when I saw the way these kids were playing in spring training and the depth of our talent, it got me really excited and I thought it was possible," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Yankees to likely play in wild card game
Chase Headley reached base three times to help the Yankees reach the postseason for the 53rd time in franchise history. The Los Angeles Dodgers are second with 31.
"We're a lot better than a lot of people thought we were," Headley said.
Unless New York overcomes Boston's four-game lead the AL East, the Yankees would play in the AL wild card game on Oct. 3, most likely at home against Minnesota. New York lost the wild card matchup to Houston 3-0 at home two years ago and has not won a postseason game since Derek Jeter broke an ankle in the 2012 AL Championship Series opener against Detroit.
Led by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, New York celebrated in a low-key manner on the field after former-Yankee Rob Refsnyder hit a game-ending groundout off Aroldis Chapman, then sprayed bubbly in the visitors' clubhouse.
"This is just the beginning," Judge said. "We've got a chance to be in the postseason, now we've got to keep it rolling."
Longtime Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia was excited to be heading back to October with a new group of teammates.
"I felt like the talent was always in here. It was just a matter of when it was going to come through and it came through really quick for us," Sabathia said.
In his 10th season managing the Yankees, Girardi enjoyed the success of New York's youngsters.
"To see the kids kind of grow up in front of you, it's special," Girardi said.
Minnesota started the night with a 3 1/2-game lead over Texas for the second wild card and has been eliminated by the Yankees in four of its last five postseason appearances.
Toronto officially eliminated
Toronto was eliminated with the loss after consecutive losses in the AL Championship Series.
"A frustrating year for everybody," right-hander Joe Biagini said.
Bird, who spent much of the year sidelined and hampered by a right ankle injury, connected off Biagini (3-12) in the fifth inning for his sixth home run of the season and third in seven games. Todd Frazier, another of the Yankees' July reinforcements, homered against Tim Mayza in the eighth, and Starlin Castro added an RBI single off Luis Santos in the ninth.
Gray, acquired from Oakland at the trade deadline, improved to 4-6 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts with the Yankees. Chad Green, David Robertson and Chapman each retired three straight batters.
Teoscar Hernandez homered in the third, but Biagini allowed three runs, three hits and four walks in five innings, falling to 0-4 with a 6.03 ERA in six starts since rejoining Toronto's rotation on Aug. 27.