The Yankees wouldn’t be in this position, enjoying a lovely four-day weekend before squaring off against their bitter rivals the Rays, without the home run.
They went deep seven times against a tough Indians pitching staff at a Progressive Field that careened from pleasant to windy to rainy to rainy and windy to downright chilly. The Indians countered with one.
Yet if your old-school blood still yearns for more offensive diversity, if you believe in your heart of hearts that the Joe Torre/Derek Jeter/Mariano Rivera dynasty emanated from well-placed bunts and grounders to the right side, then the Yankees scratched an itch for you, too, during Wednesday night’s epic American League wild-card game. In a contest when they needed all of their 10 runs to outlast the Indians (10-9, naturally) and send them home, two of their streakiest hitters, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton, each went deep … and each added a sacrifice fly.
Against the resourceful Rays and their strong pitching and defense, the Yankees must utilize all of their offensive weapons to prevail.
“It’s that time of year where people like to beat the drum on the little ball and all that. But at the end of the day, the home run is going to play a big role in who continues to advance,” Aaron Boone said Thursday, before the Yankees held an optional workout at Progressive. “That being said, you’re going to have nights where you’ve got to be able to have a quality at-bat. An at-bat where it’s not perfect, and you’re still able to do things.
“I think one thing we saw from our guys in these first two games, and one of the things that we believe is a real strength from our team when we’re whole and healthy like we are now, is the length of our lineup and the ability to put quality at-bats on you time and time again throughout the lineup. That makes it difficult on a pitcher, even when you’re getting us out. And hopefully, eventually, we can get to you.”
That’s how it worked out against the Indians, who allowed the fewest runs in the AL (209) during this COVID-shortened season; the Rays placed third at 229 and the Yankees sixth with 270. Eventually, repeatedly, the Yankees got to the Cleveland pitching staff. Stanton started things off, after Masahiro Tanaka (clearly shaken by the crazy weather and ill-fated Major League Baseball decisions on delaying and restarting) fell into a 4-0 hole, with a second-inning solo blast off Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, and Gio Urshela’s fourth-inning grand slam off rookie James Karinchak gave the Yankees their first lead, 5-4. The next inning, with teammates on second and third and none out, Stanton scored Aaron Hicks with a sac fly to right field.
“You’ve got to understand that situation. You’ve got to get a run in any way possible,” Stanton said. “So that’s ideal in that situation. You’ve just got to keep feeding from that, keep having good at-bats and keep it rolling.”
After one of multiple Yankees bullpen malfunctions, Sanchez put his club back on top, 8-6, with a two-run homer in the sixth, and the beleaguered catcher came up in the ninth with one out, the bases loaded and his team down, 9-8. His deep-enough fly ball to center field allowed pinch-runner Mike Tauchman to knot the score and tagged Indians closer Brad Hand with his first blown save of 2020, after going a perfect 16-for-16 during the regular season.
“I feel like the last month’s been a lot different from an at-bat quality. And we saw it again last night,” Boone said of Sanchez. “He had real competitive at-bats all night and, obviously, a couple of big swings, the homer and the sacrifice fly to get us back into it.”
The Yankees, who paced the AL in runs (315) and on-base percentage (.342), finished 12th with 11 sacrifice flies. If it’s obviously not the most important weapon, it’s a nice one, especially for typically feast-or-famine guys like Sanchez and Stanton.
“We have big guys,” Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames said. “If they make good swings, good things happen.”
Consistently good swings, even when they result in a mere productive out, might just be the key to solving the Rays.
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