Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks is greeted in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run in the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 28, 2018, at Yankee Stadium.

USA TODAY Images

Keidel: Yankees Prove Many Wrong By Climbing Back Into AL East Race

Sit 6 1/2 Back Of Boston After Tuesday's Win

Jason Keidel
August 29, 2018 - 9:43 am
Categories: 

Guilty, your honor. 

Maybe you won't admit it, but I surely buried the Yankees as contenders for the AL East title. I wrote the eulogy, jammed the tombstone into River Avenue and airmailed the division crown to 4 Yawkey Way, Boston, MA, 02215. 

But after Aaron Hicks bashed that 421-foot home run in the eighth inning to tie the game and Aaron Boone tapped the right bat off the bench to finish off the White Sox on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, the Yanks (84-48) are only 6 1/2 games behind Boston (91-42). It was the 80th walk-off homer in MLB this season, already tying the 2004 season for the most in history. And here we are, days now getting dark with autumnal accuracy, and the Bombers are an arm's length from their tormentors to the north.  

Is it likely too late to sneak up on the Red Sox? Yes. But Boston, a club that seemed to steamroll the sport all season -- including a grotesque four-game beating they put on the Yanks last time they played at Fenway -- had lost three straight before winning Tuesday night. Over their last 11 games, the Yankees are 9-2; over their last 10 games, Boston is 4-6. So that mountainous lead that tickled 10 games not long ago, has been shaved to a surmountable number. And remember, there are six games left between these two titans, with the final three games of the season at Fenway. 

Even if the Yankees run out of breath and depth during this chase, they should get some kudos for the effort. No, they have never dwelled in consolation prizes, but they have inched back into the divisional race despite a litany of injured limbs to key players. The dog days of summer have taken a bite out of star sluggers Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Judge and star pitchers CC Sabathia and Aroldis Chapman. 

Despite that some of their biggest hitters are stuck in the trainer's room, they won Tuesday's game with pinch hitter and light-hitting Neil Walker blasting a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth inning. Walker entered the game batting .224, with the game-winner just his ninth home run of the season. And a tip of the cap to rookie manager Aaron Boone for shoving a cold Walker to the batter's box. 

MORE: Keidel: Clock Ticking On Yankees To Avoid Going Full Decade Without Title

Kudos as well to Dellin Betances who's pitching like a closer -- even more so than the flame-throwing Chapman -- with a 0.70 ERA over his last 34 appearances with 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. He is about to become the first Yankees reliever to fan at least 100 batters in five straight seasons. 

After whipping the inept Orioles for four games, the Yanks lost to the White Sox on Monday -- a game that vexed the normally stoic Boone and blew a chance to gain ground on the Red Sox. So when they were down Tuesday night, 4-2, in the eighth, the resurgent Hicks delivered the shot that kept the Yankees in the game, then Walker kept the team in the race for the AL East. 

It won't be easy. After some bottom-feeding on Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit, the Yankees go on a bumpy nine-game road-trip, including six against the playoff-contending Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's. When the Bombers return to the Bronx, they'll host the Toronto Blue Jays and then Boston. The final 16 games the Yankees play will be against clubs in their division, and six against the Sox. 

Should the Yankees win all six remaining games against Boston, it would go a long way to making a remarkable comeback. Of course, they could sweep the Red Sox and lose to everyone else. There's almost nothing the Yankees or Red Sox can do that hasn't happened during their sprawling century of mutual contempt. Yet it is still, somehow, special. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​