NEW YORK – It was wild, absolutely wild finish to the 2021 regular season.
Aaron Judge’s ninth-inning base hit off the glove of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Andrew Kittredge scored Tyler Wade from third base, giving the Yankees a 1-0 win.
The late victory at Yankee Stadium on the last day of the regular season punched the Yankees’ ticket to Tuesday’s AL wild card, either against the Boston Red Sox or Toronto Blue Jays.
A spray of Yankees shot out of their dugout in celebration as Wade slid home safely, easily beating the throw home from second baseman Brandon Lowe after the ball deflected to him.
Starting with Michael Wacha’s five-inning start, the Yankees had just one hit – a Gleyber Torres fourth-inning single – entering the ninth.
Rougned Odor led off with a single against lefty Josh Fleming, and pinch-runner Tyler Wade made it to second on Torres’ deep fly out to center.
Anthony Rizzo followed with a sharp single to right that knocked Fleming from the game and brought in Kittredge, who struggled to save Friday night’s game, when the Yanks scored twice in the ninth and lost 4-3.
Shortstop Gio Urshela made a memorable play to end the sixth inning with none on base, snaring Austin Meadows’ foul pop and tumbling into the Rays’ dugout.
Down for an uncomfortable couple of minutes, Urshela emerged under his own power to a standing ovation and chants of “Gio! Gio!’’ from 40,409 fans.
Upon arrival for Sunday’s critical Game 162, Aaron Boone’s players were prepared for anything but trained on the task at hand.
Job one was to win a game and finally punch their ticket to postseason.
“We’re packed for the week,’’ the Yankees manager said Sunday morning, destination unknown.
The day began with the Red Sox and Yankees tied for the two available AL wild card spots, with the Blue Jays and Mariners each one game back.
A four-way tie was the most chaotic of possibilities, making for a dizzy pre-tournament just to set up the one-game wild card elimination.
Either way, the Rays would be waiting at home to begin a best-of-five Division Series beginning Thursday against the wild card survivor.
Boone said his team was “ready to roll, knowing we have a great opportunity in front of us to go seal the deal here.
“That’s the focus and the expectation,’’ said Boone, whose club had grown accustomed to playing in tense, taught games.
Among the favorite to wind up in the World Series when the season began, the Yankees were 41-41 at the year’s halfway point and looking listless and hopeless until a hot August run, which included a 13-game winning streak.
After going 5-1 on a critical road trip last week to Boston and Toronto, the Yankees arrived home with a magic number of one to clinch a wild card berth.
Then, they lost the first two games of this final regular-season weekend series against the Rays, who had already clinched home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.
“We been in this for a long time now,’’ Boone said. “We played in a lot of sort of playoff type games (and) we’re comfortable in these situations.
“We’ve rallied from adversity and we’re going to have to keep doing it.’’
Lefty Wandy Peralta survived a shaky fourth inning, thanks to Gleyber Torres’ sliding snare of a grounder, making the play at first and ending a second-and-third situation.
Ji-Man Choi opened the seventh with a double but never advanced, due to the relief of Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga.
In the eighth, with Randy Arozarena at third base and one out, Loaisiga struck out Nelson Cruz and retired Meadows on a fly ball.
Aroldis Chapman handled the ninth and picked up the Yankees' 92nd win of the year.
The Yankees’ pitching formula worked, starting with Jameson Taillon’s 3.1 scoreless innings before the bullpen-ing began.