NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge hit his American League-leading 44th home run and Jaime Garcia turned in his best start for his new club before Aroldis Chapman extinguished a threat in the eighth inning, converting his first five-out save in more than two years as the Yankees secured a 2-1 victory over the Twins on Monday at Yankee Stadium.
In what could have been a preview of the American League Wild Card Game, the Yankees remained three games behind the Red Sox in the AL East but padded their advantage to five games over the Twins for the first AL Wild Card. Minnesota leads the second AL Wild Card by 1 1/2 games over the Angels.
"There's a good chance we could play them in that one-game playoff, so it's always good to pick up a win against a team like that," said David Robertson, who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up his ninth victory of the season, the most among all big league relievers this season.
Garcia was a member of the Twins for six days in July but never set foot inside Target Field, having been traded both times during Minnesota road trips. The veteran lefty struck out nine of the first 13 men he faced and, backed by Judge's first-inning blast, limited his former mates to an unearned run and four hits over 5 2/3 innings.
"I think I was able to keep the ball down for the most part and elevate when I needed to," Garcia said. "I think the biggest thing was controlling the counts, getting ahead in the counts. I made them chase my stuff."
Twins starter Ervin Santana permitted two runs and seven hits over 5 2/3 innings, with the Yankees pushing across the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on Todd Frazier's one-out sacrifice fly. The Twins threatened with a soft eighth-inning rally against Dellin Betances, but Chapman pitched out of a key bases-loaded jam to preserve the lead.
"It was a good game and what you'd expect from two teams with something on the line," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "It was well-pitched on both sides. Ervin battled and Judge got a hold of one, but he held down the fort for the most part. He gave us an opportunity. But their bullpen is tough and it's hard to come from behind."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Home cooking: No one except Giancarlo Stanton has hit more long balls at home this season than Judge, who has launched 28 of his 44 blasts in The Bronx. Statcast™ calculated Judge's first-inning homer off Santana as having an exit velocity of 108.9 mph, traveling 395 feet to right-center field with a launch angle of 38 degrees. Judge is one of three Yankees to hit 44 or more homers since 1962, joining Alex Rodriguez (54 in 2007) and Tino Martinez (44 in 1997). More >
'Wild' card: Santana's sixth-inning wild pitch played a pivotal role in this taut battle, coming after Chase Headley smoked a one-out single off second baseman Brian Dozier's glove and Starlin Castro cleanly singled to left field. The wild pitch allowed both runners to advance, and the Twins intentionally walked Jacoby Ellsbury before Frazier pushed the go-ahead run across with a shallow fly ball to left field. More >
"It was a slider," Santana said. "It was just a back-up slider and that's why it did that. And [Frazier] is just a really good bad-ball hitter, so he made good contact to get a fly ball."
Seeking heat: Betances was ineffective in the eighth inning, hitting a batter and issuing two walks around a sacrifice bunt, but Chapman entered and put out the fire. The left-hander gassed Joe Mauer with a 102.7-mph fastball for the second out of the inning, then got Byron Buxton to fly out to right field, leaving the bases loaded. He hadn't recorded a five-out save since Aug. 31, 2015.
"Those are two big outs," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You're facing Joe Mauer, who puts the ball in play and doesn't strike out a lot. He's able to strike him out and Buxton has been swinging really well, especially against left-handers. Those are two big outs and then to get the final three, that's just a huge performance by him."
Chapman's final pitch was a 103.6 mph fastball past Eduardo Escobar, the fastest strikeout pitch in the Majors this season. More >
"I want to pitch better than this one. If I get the chance to come here again, we just have to win, no matter how." -- Santana, on the potential of starting the AL Wild Card Game in New York on Oct. 3.
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: Right-hander Jose Berrios (12-7, 3.84 ERA) is set to start for the Twins in the second game of the series on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. CT. Berrios limited the Blue Jays to one run over 5 2/3 innings last time out.
Yankees: Left-hander CC Sabathia (11-5, 3.85 ERA) will take on the Twins when the clubs meet for Tuesday's 7:05 p.m. ET contest at Yankee Stadium. Sabathia is 2-0 with a 3.14 ERA in five starts since returning from the disabled list in August.