For the team, winning the division seemed almost predestined earlier in the season after the Yankees ran up a seemingly insurmountable lead in the standings. Through July 9, the Yankees’ advantage was 15 games ahead of the next closest rival. But an August swoon carried into early September, when the Yankees lost 20 of 29 games, chiseling that lead down to 3 ½ games through Sept. 9.
“Certainly there were days for me personally, where it was frustrating,” Boone said of the slump. “But there was always that belief that we would get through it.”
They did. September has been much kinder, thanks in large part to Judge, who for long stretches was their most productive hitter. They have also seen injured players like Anthony Rizzo return to health and productivity, while others, like Gleyber Torres, have contributed, too. Torres has now reached safely in 20 straight games and the rookie Oswaldo Cabrera is batting .321 with four doubles and four home runs in his last 15 games after going 2 for 4 Tuesday.
After beating Toronto, the Yankees had a tempered celebration on the field, much like after any routine win. But back in the clubhouse, they donned shirts with the words, “The East Is Ours,” written on them, listened to Boone’s speech and then erupted.
Judge said the late-season struggles made the Yankees stronger and solidified their internal bonds.
“When you play 162 games, you’re going to have those times when things aren’t going your way, when you think you’re doing everything right, but you can’t scratch out a win,” he said. “But what makes this team special is that guys didn’t waiver. They came to work every single day and got ready to go out there and help us win.”
But no one has done more to help the Yankees win this year than Judge himself, who is likely to be rewarded for his effort with the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award after the season. That has all but been settled, and the divisional title is already denoted on the websites.
The only questions remaining now are how the Yankees will fare in the postseason, and whether Judge will hit another home run, or maybe two.