Aaron Judge nearly sent the Yankees into the postseason by himself, with his ninth-inning shot to center briefly looking like it was going to end up in Monument Park to clinch a playoff berth.
This time, though, Judge got under the ball and it came up just short.
But while 61 waits, the Yankees did cement their spot in the postseason Thursday with Josh Donaldson’s game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th for a 5-4 win over the Red Sox.
“This is a great accomplishment,’’ Judge said of getting back to the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. “But I think if you ask anybody in this room, the job’s not done. We want to win the division and set ourselves up for the postseason. This is step number one.”
Before that happens, Judge will have almost certainly matched — and shot by — Roger Maris’ American League and franchise record of 61 homers.
On this night, though, Judge walked three times and struck out before coming up with one out in the bottom of the ninth against Matt Barnes, bringing the crowd of 43,123 back to its feet.
“I just missed it,’’ Judge said.
He saved his difference-making for the field.
With the game tied in the top of the ninth, Tommy Pham led off with a ball off the wall in right against Clay Holmes.
Judge played the bounce well and made a perfect throw to Isiah Kiner-Falefa to get Pham at second for the first out and the Red Sox didn’t score.
“It’s amazing how well he executes that play, like he’s not in a hurry,’’ Aaron Boone said. “You can tell he’s done it a million times.”
Boston manager Alex Cora said simply of the play: “That’s what MVPs do.”
After Holmes pitched a perfect 10th, Marwin Gonzalez pinch ran for automatic runner Anthony Rizzo.
Gleyber Torres was walked intentionally before Donaldson hit one through the left side of the infield to score Gonzalez and set off a celebration that was fairly mild by postseason-clinching standards.
“You never want to take it for granted,’’ Boone said. “We’re in The Dance, so we’ve got a chance. We’re after the division crown.”
Jameson Taillon, who pitched six scoreless innings, noted how the Yankees had to wait until the final day of the season to get into the playoffs a year ago, and that took a walk-off victory as well.
And this win, much like their season, saw some drama, as Clarke Schmidt took over for Taillon and gave up four runs in the seventh, capped by a three-run homer from Reese McGuire.
Giancarlo Stanton led off the bottom of the eighth with an infield hit and pinch-runner Tim Locastro stole second and moved to third on a ground ball before Harrison Bader’s sacrifice fly tied the game at 4-4.
Judge helped keep the game tied in the top of the ninth with his throw on a night in which he got just a handful of pitches to hit.
He’s gone two straight games without a homer and has three more games to do it in The Bronx before the Yankees head to Toronto.
Until then, the spectacle of Judge’s at-bats will continue, with the entire crowd stopping to watch him even before he gets to the plate.
Judge entered the game 0-for-14 with nine strikeouts against right-hander Michael Wacha, who walked him on four pitches in the first.
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Wacha walked him again in the third, this time on a full count before Wacha struck him out in the fifth.
Facing John Schreiber in the seventh with pinch-runner Oswald Peraza on second after Kyle Higashioka’s leadoff double, Judge walked again before the ninth-inning battle against Barnes.
Taillon said it’s not that much different than what they’ve seen the rest of the season.
“There’s been hype around him all year,’’ Taillon said. “We know it’s gonna happen at some point.”