Torres leads Yankees to AL East clinching 5-2 win against Blue Jays, Judge stays at 60 HR but draws four walks

The Yankees clinch the American League East title with Tuesday night’s win against the Blue Jays. (Nathan Denette/AP)

TORONTO — Aaron Judge stood in the middle of the narrow visitors clubhouse at the Rogers Centre Tuesday night covered in champagne and beer. The slugger had a real big smile on his face and looked as relaxed as he had been in weeks. There was finally something to celebrate.

No, Judge did not make history with a historic home run, but he did walk four times and score twice as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 5-2 and clinched the 2022 American League East title.

“The reason why I came here, the reason I am playing with the Yankees is to try and help us win games,” the Yankees’ de facto captain said. “Anything I can do, hit a homer, taking a walk in a big situation and letting [Anthony] Rizzo drive me in, I am going to do that.”

The No. 2 seed also comes with a first-round bye under the new MLB playoff structure. The Blue Jays (87-68) are still playing to clinch an AL Wild Card berth.

“We can say we’re the best team in the best division this year,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It wasn’t easy. We all know that everyone in that room knows that. We took everyone’s punches. We had some low moments. But, tonight is to be celebrated. You know, it’s not easy to go through the American League East and survive and be the team, especially when there’s other teams in the division like the team we’re playing right now.

“So I think we all understand that this is step one and we want to win a championship. That’s our goal,” Boone continued. “But tonight, deserves to be celebrated, especially all the things you face in the course of the season and especially the adverse times. Tonight’s a night to pause and appreciate one another.”

For a night, Judge was able to not talk about being stuck on 60 home runs for the seventh straight game. He is one shy of the iconic Yankee and American League regular-season record of 61. Instead of powering the Yankees, Judge just took what was given to him and passed the baton. Gleyber Torres went 3-for-5 with three RBI. Aaron Hicks doubled in a run and Rizzo singled in another. Kyle Higashioka also went 3-for-4.

And Jameson Taillon, after giving up a lead-off homer to George Springer, was devastatingly effective, retiring 16 of the next 17 batters he faced. Springer singled off him in the bottom of the sixth. He allowed two runs on seven hits and struck out six over 7.1 innings. For the 13th time in 31 starts, he did not issue a walk.

Like the Yankees, who went 10-18 in August and had to turn it around this month, Taillon had to get back on track this season. So it was appropriate he was on the mound when they clinched.

“It was nice. I mean, especially through the middle of the year I struggled a little bit. We picked ourselves up,” Taillon said. “I worked the whole time I was behind the scenes and so just to be able to contribute feels good.”

And Tuesday was a rare night that Judge seemed to relax and just enjoy the moment. He hit No. 60 a week ago and every pitch he’s faced since then was the focus of the entire baseball world. That next homer will tie the 61-year old American League single-season home run record set by Roger Maris in 1961.

The Blue Jays’ pitchers challenged Judge, who finished 0-for-1 with four walks. He went into full counts in each of his five at-bats, falling behind 0-1 in his first four.

Judge has had just two streaks of 30-plus plate appearances without a homer this season. There was a 41-plate appearance drought in August and another 30-plate appearance drought in April. It is the second longest game drought of the season for Judge, who went nine games without a homer this season. He’s reached base safely in 15 of those 31 plate appearances with 13 walks.

“It was great,” Boone said of Judge’s at-bats. “I thought he got some pitches to hit too. He was fouling off some pitches, but his ability to lay off some pitches close and out of the zone, especially at the top of the order…..I mean four walks tonight, I mean, he set the table. It’s awesome to see the discipline that he’s showing and just the consistency of it while he’s going through this with all the attention around it.”