TORONTO — One year into a rebuild, the New York Yankees are back in the playoffs.
Greg Bird, among the new generation of Baby Bombers, hit a three-run homer that led New York over the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 on Saturday to clinch no worse than a wild card.
“I feel like our motto in the offseason was: ‘We’re going to surprise people,'” Bird said. “Obviously, we had a good spring, but we knew that wasn’t the real deal. We came out and played our game the whole year, and I feel like we showed people.”
Sonny Gray (10-11), among New York’s midseason reinforcements, allowed one run and four hits in six innings as the Yankees won for the 11th time in 14 games and at 86-68 matched their season high of 18 games over .500.
“I didn’t know exactly what we were going to be this year, but when I saw the way these kids were playing in spring training and the depth of our talent, it got me really excited and I thought it was possible,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Chase Headley reached base three times to help the Yankees reach the postseason for the 53rd time in franchise history. The Los Angeles Dodgers are second with 31.
“We’re a lot better than a lot of people thought we were,” Headley said.
Unless New York overcomes Boston’s four-game lead the AL East, the Yankees would play in the AL wild card game on Oct. 3, most likely at home against Minnesota. New York lost the wild card matchup to Houston 3-0 at home two years ago and has not won a postseason game since Derek Jeter broke an ankle in the 2012 AL Championship Series opener against Detroit.
Led by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, New York celebrated in a low-key manner on the field after former-Yankee Rob Refsnyder hit a game-ending groundout off Aroldis Chapman, then sprayed bubbly in the visitors’ clubhouse.
“This is just the beginning,” Judge said. “We’ve got a chance to be in the postseason, now we’ve got to keep it rolling.”
Longtime Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia was excited to be heading back to October with a new group of teammates.
“I felt like the talent was always in here. It was just a matter of when it was going to come through and it came through really quick for us,” Sabathia said.
In his 10th season managing the Yankees, Girardi enjoyed the success of New York’s youngsters.
“To see the kids kind of grow up in front of you, it’s special,” Girardi said.
Minnesota, which has a 4½-game lead for the second wild card, has been eliminated by the Yankees in four of its last five postseason appearances and was swept in a three-game series at New York this week.
Toronto was eliminated with the loss after consecutive losses in the AL Championship Series.
“A frustrating year for everybody,” right-hander Joe Biagini said.
Bird, who spent much of the year sidelined and hampered by a right ankle injury, connected off Biagini (3-12) in the fifth inning for his sixth home run of the season and third in seven games. Todd Frazier, another of the Yankees’ July reinforcements, homered against Tim Mayza in the eighth, and Starlin Castro added an RBI single off Luis Santos in the ninth.
Gray, acquired from Oakland at the trade deadline, improved to 4-6 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts with the Yankees. Chad Green, David Robertson and Chapman each retired three straight batters.
Teoscar Hernandez homered in the third, but Biagini allowed three runs, three hits and four walks in five innings, falling to 0-4 with a 6.03 ERA in six starts since rejoining Toronto’s rotation on Aug. 27.
Judge struck out twice and raised his season total to 201, becoming the sixth player to strike out 200 or more times in a season after Mark Reynolds (223 in 2009, 211 in 2010 and 204 in 2008), Adam Dunn (222 in 2012), Chris Davis (219 last year and 208 in 2015), Chris Carter (212 in 2013 and 206 last year) and Drew Stubbs (2005 in 2011). Judge also set a rookie record, breaking Kris Bryant’s 199 times in 2015.
Sanchez failed to hustle out of the batter’s box on his leadoff drive in the ninth, which bounced off the glove of a leaping center fielder Kevin Pillar at the wall and went for a double.
The Blue Jays are reviewing security procedures after a man gained access to the Yankees clubhouse following Friday’s game. The man was taken into custody by Toronto Police.
Yankees: RHP Luis Severino, New York’s likely starter in the wild card game, was hit on the back of his left shoulder by a line drive while the Blue Jays were taking batting practice but didn’t appear to suffer a serious injury. “Seve seems to be fine,” Girardi said. … RHP Adam Warren (back) threw a 25-pitch bullpen session and is scheduled to throw again in a simulated game Tuesday. Warren could be activated after that if there are no issues. … OF Aaron Hicks (strained left oblique) had five at-bats in a simulated game at the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa, Florida.
LHP Jaime Garcia (1-2 in AL, 5-9 overall) starts Sunday for the Yankees and is winless in seven starts with New York. RHP Marcus Stroman (12-8) starts for Toronto and has a 2.18 ERA in four September starts. He is 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season.
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