TORONTO -- It was supposed to take a while for the Yankees to rebuild after selling off some key veterans last season -- or at least, that was the outside perception. The Yanks never bought into that, and as they sprayed cold bubbly in the visiting clubhouse at Rogers Centre, there was great optimism about accomplishing much more in October.
The Yankees clinched the 53rd postseason berth in franchise history on Saturday afternoon, with Greg Bird cracking a three-run homer to support Sonny Gray's solid effort in a 5-1 victory over the Blue Jays. Shaking hands on the field before cutting loose behind closed doors, this exciting crop of "Baby Bombers" now plans to savor high-stakes baseball.
"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. So we came out and played our game the whole year, and I feel like we showed people. But we know we've still got a lot of work to do, and obviously we want to do it."
Bird's three-run blast in the fifth inning, his sixth of an injury-shortened season, came off Joe Biagini. It was all the support that Gray needed to pick up his fourth victory in 10 starts since joining New York in a July 31 trade. The right-hander limited Toronto to Teoscar Hernandez's solo homer among four hits over six sharp innings, walking three and striking out four.
"Any time you can pitch in a clinching game, no matter if it's a postseason berth like it is today or something else, clinching games are always exciting," Gray said. "To be able to come out and get a win on a day like this, it's a really good feeling."
The victory guarantees the Yankees at least the second American League Wild Card, marking their first playoff action since 2015. The Yanks trail the Red Sox by four games in the American League East. They lead the Twins by 5 1/2 games for the first AL Wild Card.
Biagini pitched well through the early innings, but he found trouble in the fourth and fifth before surrendering the home run. He left after five innings, allowing three runs on three hits and four walks.
"I thought he was going along pretty good, attacking pretty good," manager John Gibbons said. "The occasional curveball -- he was missing on his curveball -- but he was effective, and I just think he kind of hit that wall a little bit. You could tell when he started losing the strike zone."
Todd Frazier padded the Yankees' advantage with a solo home run in the eighth inning off Tim Mayza. It was Frazier's 27th homer of the season and his 11th with New York. Starlin Castro knocked in the fifth run with a ninth-inning infield single.
"We had to find a way to get to the playoffs," Frazier said. "I told them, 'All we need is an invitation,' and we got that invitation today. We're pretty excited. We're getting after it a little bit right now, well-deserved, and we'll be back to business tomorrow. We've still got a division to try and win, too. You never know what can happen."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Bird is the word: Biagini permitted just three hits in a 74-pitch effort, but one of them traveled a long way. Chase Headley and Castro reached base as Biagini issued walks to two of the first three batters he faced in the fifth inning. The righty then challenged Bird with a 91.1-mph cutter that Bird launched a Statcast-calculated 399 feet to right-center field. The ball came off Bird's bat at 105.7 mph with a launch angle of 24 degrees.
"It's about the team," Bird said. "I've said it. Whatever your job is, you've got to do your job. At points this year, my job was to get better and try and come back. Just to be back now is huge for me, to be a part of the team and be able to support however I can. These guys have been great, really."
Gardy's got it: Gray started to lose the strike zone in the sixth inning, as he issued five-pitch walks to Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales. Kevin Pillar jumped on a 2-1 curveball and mashed it toward the gap in left-center field, but Brett Gardner -- a 2016 AL Gold Glove Award winner -- flagged the potential extra-base hit down to pin the runners. Gray then got Ryan Goins to ground out, ending the inning.
"I think a lot of guys in the room really believed that we could get back here from Day 1," Gardner said. "It's a lot of fun for me to experience this with these young guys for the first time. A lot of these guys came up through the Minor Leagues together. I think that's where the Yankee organization does a great job of really preaching how important winning is."
"I think I've established some consistent inconsistency." -- Biagini
WHAT'S NEXT Yankees: Left-hander Jaime Garcia will again seek his first victory as a Yankee on Sunday as the club concludes its three-game visit to Toronto, New York's final road game of the regular season. First pitch is set for 1:07 p.m. ET. Garcia is 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in seven starts since being acquired from the Twins on July 30.
Blue Jays: Right-hander Marcus Stroman (12-8, 3.01 ERA) makes his final home start of the season on Sunday, and he is chasing some milestones. He's six strikeouts shy of his career high (166) and within reach of the 200-innings plateau, currently sitting at 191 1/3 pitched in 2017.