The Yankees entered play 3-2 on this homestand, playing the Royals and Athletics, neither team a real playoff threat in the American League. As the saying goes, beat the teams you should beat, and the Yankees were able to do that Sunday afternoon.
Michael Pineda got the win in what I thought was a classic “bend but don’t break” type of game. He notched six strikeouts in his six innings, to go along with three walks. Pineda seemed to have real problems with his breaking pitches today, putting a lot of low pitches into the dirt, and early, making it easy for a batter to lay off. He worked into fifteen two-strike counts, but could only sit down six of those batters.
Pineda was behind the eight ball early, allowing three straight baserunners in the top of the second. A Khris Davis walk, Yonder Alonso ground rule double and Ryon Healy single plated two. Healy was called out on a replay challenge trying to take second, so chalk up another good challenge for the Yankees’ replay team.
Pineda got into trouble again in the fifth, putting two men on with just one out. He was able to work out of it, striking out the next two batters, but it was clear that Pineda wasn’t long for the game after that.
He also balked in the top of the sixth, proving he didn’t have his A game. The balk moved Jed Lowrie to second, and Pineda allowed Lowrie to come around and score later in the AB, as Mike fielded a weak ground ball and threw it clear over Chris Carter’s head. The Yankees escaped further problems with a lucky double play, as Alonso lined sharply to Starlin Castro, who doubled up Davis at first.
Fortunately for Pineda and the Yankees, the vaunted offense returned in a big way today. Andrew Triggs, the Athletics’ starter, is the type of junk thrower that can give teams fits sometimes, but the Yankees were all over him early. Matt Holliday hit a screaming line drive in the first that Mark Canha had to dive to catch, and the second inning saw hits from Castro and Didi Gregorius, another laser right-to-a-fielder from Aaron Judge, and a sacrifice fly from Aaron Hicks to cut the deficit to 2-1.
An inning later, the A’s defense gifted the Yankees an extra chance. With two men on, Holliday lofted a fly ball to right that Matt Joyce dropped, loading the bases with just one out. Castro had a bad strikeout, and it looked for a moment like the lineup would continue to be snakebitten.
But, of course, we have a Judge:
That was Judge’s first career grand slam, and moves him back into a tie with Mike Trout for the league lead in home runs with sixteen. It also gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead, and the lineup wouldn’t look back.
Taking advantage of poor defense was a theme today for the Yankees, as in the fourth, Aaron Hicks stole second and was able to advance on a misplayed throw to the bag. This set up Chris Carter’s sacrifice fly, pushing the lead to four. In the seventh, a Gary Sanchez fly ball was dropped after a dive from Khris Davis, allowing another run in. Davis’s play wasn’t an error, or even particularly misplayed, but it gave the Yankees an extra out and their seventh run.
Meanwhile, this rotten stretch of bullpen pitching continued. Chad Green, the eleventh-best-player on the team, worked around trouble in the seventh after walking a batter and hitting the next. He couldn’t avoid trouble an inning later, however, serving up a two-run home run to Davis, to make it 7-5.
Tommy Layne did a great job (wow, that was weird to say), getting an easy flyout from Alonso. He was only allowed to throw one pitch before getting yanked in favor of Adam Warren, and I think that was the right call.
Looking for insurance in the eighth, the Yankees saw a Judge single and back to back walks from Carter and Ronald Torreyes. That led to a two-run double for Brett Gardner, looking to put a bad homestand behind him.
Warren was also looking to shake a cold streak of late, and did so quickly, recording four outs on just 11 pitches, giving the Yankees the win in today’s game, the series win, and a winning homestand. With 13 straight games coming up against the AL East, going 4-2 this week is hard to overstate.
Naturally, Judge gets the WPA honors with a .320. A two hit, four RBI day will do that.
The Yankees head out on the road two and a half games clear in the AL East, and this upcoming stretch of games is a golden opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the division. The roadtrip starts tomorrow in Baltimore, with a 1:05 pm start at Camden Yards.