TORONTO — The first part of the Yankees’ agenda heading into their critical nine-game stretch that will define their season was to deal with the Red Sox.
Now, fresh off their sweep at Fenway Park, they’ll head to Rogers Centre for the first time in more than two years to try to do the same to the Blue Jays as the teams battle — along with the Red Sox — for the two AL wild-card spots. After being on the outside looking in at times last week, the Yankees will enter Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays — the Yankees’ first in Toronto since September 2019 due to COVID restrictions that limited travel to Canada — with a one-game lead over the Red Sox atop the AL wild-card standings and two games up on the Blue Jays.
“I think it’s gonna be another playoff atmosphere,’’ Aaron Judge said. “They took it to us back in New York and are fighting just like us for that playoff spot.”
Judge was putting it mildly when describing what the Blue Jays did to the Yankees this month in The Bronx.
Toronto clobbered the Yankees in four straight games, outscoring the Yankees 25-8 and never trailing for even a single inning.
The Yankees wound up losing seven of eight to put their postseason hopes in jeopardy, but they’ve since rebounded — while Toronto has cooled off.
Giancarlo Stanton believes the Yankees are battle-tested and ready for this stretch run.
“We’ve had a lot of crushing losses and we’ve been through a lot of what we need to to overcome times like these,’’ Stanton said. “[The season] is very much a learning curve. We can use it to our advantage, even the bad parts. Now we need to keep rolling the next two series. … We know we’ve underperformed at times and not played to capabilities at times. There’s not much time left to have that roller-coaster [ride]. It’s go-time.”
It’s been go-time for a while for the Yankees, who helped themselves by sweeping Boston to extend their winning streak to six games. They also got some assistance from Minnesota, which split a four-game series with Toronto over the weekend.
The Yankees, though, would be wise to build up their lead even more, since they finish the regular season against the first-place Rays in The Bronx.
Even with the Rays having already clinched the division, they’re always a dangerous matchup for the Yankees.
And Toronto finishes up against the cellar-dwelling Orioles.
As for the Red Sox, they also have a series with Baltimore, followed by one with the Nationals — and the Yankees can’t count on getting assistance from either of those also-rans.
But the Yankees have insisted throughout this final run that they aren’t looking for help and remain confident they can take care of business on their own.
They proved to be up to the task in Boston, with a convincing win on Friday and consecutive comeback wins on Saturday and Sunday to put themselves in position to not just make the wild-card game, but to host it.
They can further cement that this week in Toronto, where the Blue Jays are expected to play in front of their largest crowds of the season because of eased COVID restrictions that will allow for increased capacity at Rogers Centre.
“It’s going to be rocking,’’ Brett Gardner said.
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