Yankees come alive late to sweep Rangers and move into second wild card position

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The Yankees (86-67) did not look like a playoff team for most of Wednesday night’s game. Luckily for them, they were playing the dismal Texas Rangers (55-97), a team that literally benefits more from losses than they do wins right now.

The Yankees’ offense, which started the night with Anthony Rizzo and Gary Sanchez on the bench, struggled to put a rally together in the first four innings. When they did, double plays or outs on the bases — or both in the same at-bat — neutered them. The final result was still a 7-3 win keyed by a wild pitch, a blooper and a big moment from Gleyber Torres.

“It wasn’t great early,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We did some really good things on both sides of the ball in the second half of the game. Then we put together some really good, winning at-bats there to put it away at the end. Sluggish start to things, really strong finish.”

The Red Sox ran away from the Mets, but the Blue Jays were manhandled in Tampa Bay, meaning the Yankees are now in possession of a playoff spot in the crowded sprint toward the Wild Card game.

Rangers’ intimidating lefty Taylor Hearn carved his way through the Yankees in the early going. The starting pitcher’s heater got revved all the way up to 97 miles per hour and his secondary pitches were enough to keep the Bombers off-balance. Most of the Rangers’ bullpen did the same, until Spencer Patton was done in by shift luck and Torres’ clutch double in the bottom of the eighth.

“Especially in those moments, I try to be more focused when I go to the plate and do the little things,” Torres said. “I was just focusing on putting the ball in play and going the other way.”

Torres put the Yankees on top in their final at-bat, slicing a line drive into the right field corner that scored Joey Gallo, whose high-arcing fly ball down the left field line became a double due to the Rangers’ defensive alignment that was, ironically, designed to prevent doubles.

With third baseman Brock Holt shaded toward shortstop and left fielder Willie Calhoun playing at the warning track, what would have normally been an out put Gallo at second base standing up.

“They were in a no doubles situation, playing deep,” Boone broke down. “He’s able to hit it in no man’s land and realize it right away, then Gleyber comes up with a great job going the other way and giving us the lead.”

Gallo’s trip home on Torres’ double ended up being the first of four runs in the eighth, as Torres later slid home safely on an error and Sanchez obliterated a two-run home run to dead center in his first at-bat. Kyle Higashioka was subbed out for a pinch runner one inning prior, pressing Sanchez into duty when the Yankees needed insurance runs. Walloping a ball 420 feet is a great way to get some insurance.

Patton’s poor performance made Hearn’s start to the game feel as distant as the Rangers’ last winning season. Hearn worked 5.1 mostly low-stress innings, leaving after back-to-back walks to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Judge scored the tying run when Dennis Santana, the first man out of Ranger manager Chris Woodward’s pen, unfurled a wild pitch that nearly ricocheted off his catcher and into the Yankees’ dugout. That made the score 3-3 (a Higashioka double one inning earlier secured the first two runs), setting the Yankees up nicely to eventually capitalize against an impotent group of Texas relievers.

“We’ll take any opportunity the opponent gives us to get runs,” Torres said.

The Rangers had some marvelous plays on defense, with elite defensive shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa starting a pretty double play to end the third and Adolis Garcia launching one of the throws of the season to get Higashioka at the plate on a failed sacrifice fly.

Unfortunately their offense went to sleep after Corey Kluber was yanked. Texas’ hitters managed eight hits and three earned runs against the ex-Ranger, who couldn’t get through five innings. For the third time in three days, the Yankees’ bullpen was tremendous though, buying enough time for Torres to finally drive in the winning run. Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes and Chad Green teamed up for 3.2 scoreless, hitless innings in support of Kluber.

Aroldis Chapman took over for the ninth — in a non-save situation thanks to the explosive eighth — robbing the Yankee Stadium crowd from seeing Domingo German grace the mound again. German, whose shoulder inflammation caused a lengthy stay on the injured list, was available in the bullpen but did not pitch, meaning his return to action will have to come against the much-scarier Red Sox, Blue Jays or Rays.

The Yankees don’t have to worry about that quite yet, though. They took care of business and swept a very sweepable team, and on Thursday the club will enjoy its first off day since Sept. 2 before the real gut check: nine games with the class of the AL East that will determine their playoff fate.

“We’re ready,” Higashioka promised.

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