On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- a night of solemn remembrance at Citi Field in Queens and all around baseball -- the Yankees defeated the crosstown Yankees by a score of 8-7 (box score) in a game that spanned almost four hours.
The game between the two teams from New York, the city most lacerated by those attacks of 2001, was rich with ceremony and tribute, but once the game began the focus was on a pair of fading contenders trying to muster a needed win. That game they played was a taut and back-and-forth one that provided plenty of drama
The Yankees barged to an early 5-0 lead thanks to a trio of home runs in the second inning -- including the 150th home run of Aaron Judge's career. However, Mets starter Taijuan promptly settled down, while Yankees starter Corey Kluber began to fall apart. The Mets added a trio of runs in the third and another in the fourth to cut the margin to a single run. In the sixth, the moved in front thanks to a two-run homer by James McCann.
The Yankees, though, were not done, as Judge hit his second home run of the night to tie the score in the eighth, and then a Javy Baez throwing error allowed the go-ahead run to score. In the bottom of the ninth, Aroldis Chapman permitted the potential tying run to reach third base but was able to escape, thanks in part to some strong defensive play.
With the outcome, the Yankees were able to snap their losing streak of seven games -- their longest losing streak of the season. The host Mets, meantime, fell back to a game below .500 ahead of the series finale on Sunday.
Now for some takeaways from this one.
Judge owned the night
As noted above, Judge homered twice and drove in three. His second homer, which moved the Yankees' chances of winning this game from less than 20 percent to roughly 50 percent, merits some color-television footage:
That was Judge's second homer of the night. His first of the night was also the 150th of his career. That put him in rare company:
Playing in his 552nd game tonight, Aaron Judge is the 2nd fastest player to record 150 career home runs.— New York Yankees Stats (@nyyankeesstats) September 12, 2021
The only player to reach 150 faster than him is Ryan Howard (495 games)
As well, Judge made a nifty play in the field to record the first out of the ninth. Given that the Mets would soon thereafter put a runner 90 feet from tying the game, it was an even bigger play than it seemed at the time.
For the season, Judge is now batting .294/.378/.538 with 32 home runs in 128 games.
Kluber still hasn't been the answer for the Yankees
The Yankees this past offseason eschewed pricier known quantities for the rotation in favor of taking on Kluber as a reclamation project. That's defensible, at least in theory, as Kluber is a two-time Cy Young winner and has pitched at an ace level as recently as 2018. However, his recent injury issues are substantial, and he's also 35.
While Kluber has had his moments -- including a May 19 no-hitter against the Rangers -- he hasn't been the stabilizer behind Gerrit Cole that the Yankees hoped he would be in 2021. On Saturday night against the Mets, he almost squandered a 5-0 lead he was staked to after two innings, and he lasted just four innings (allowing four runs). That's four straight starts in which he's failed to pitch into the fifth. Overall, Kluber's ERA for the season stands at 4.02, and he's on pace for the worst full-season K/BB ratio of his career. That's to say nothing of the fact that Kluber missed more than three months with a shoulder injury.
This one had playoff implications
Coming into Saturday's slate, the SportsLine Projection System gave the Yankees a 35.4 percent chance of winning a wild card spot in the AL (they're given effectively no chance of catching the Rays for the division title). As for the Mets, they were given a meager 3.9 percent of making the postseason, mostly likely by winning the NL East. Now you can nudge the Yankees' figure up a bit and the Mets' down.
For a little while, the Yankees were out of playoff position on Saturday night. That's because the Blue Jays swept their doubleheader in Baltimore and concluded the second game before the Yankees' win. So the Blue Jays were up by a half-game in the race for the second (and final) wild card spot until the final out settled in Judge's glove. Now, the two teams are tied for that spot.
As for the Mets, the NL East-leading Braves also lost, so they remain five games back of Atlanta and in third place. The Mets also remain four games out of the second NL wild card spot. However, four teams -- the Padres, Reds, Cardinals, and Phillies -- are ahead of them in the queue.