The Yankees’ magic number for clinching a playoff spot isn’t zero yet. They haven’t guaranteed themselves anything, and still have plenty to play for over the final two weeks. But they are closing in. Today, they won their fourth straight, pounding Orioles starter Jeremy Hellickson. Jordan Montgomery turned in a strong start, and the Yankees clinched the series with a 9-3 victory.
The game’s early proceedings went without incident. Montgomery and Hellickson quietly went about their business, trading a handful of zeroes before Hellickson ran into some two-out trouble in the bottom of third.
Chase Headley got things rolling with an innocuous-seeming walk with two down. Hellickson showed little interest in pitching to Aaron Judge, who drew his second walk of the game. Didi Gregorius then brought them both home with a three-run homer, his 23rd of the season:
Gregorius is now just two dingers shy of the 25, a threshold never before crossed by a Yankee shortstop. Sure, the current homer-heavy offensive environment plays a huge part in Gregorius’ power output, but this will be the third straight season he’s increased his wRC+. He simply keeps getting better and better, without getting any less delightful.
Jacoby Ellsbury kept the pressure on with a double to lead off the fourth. Todd Frazier followed with a walk, and Greg Bird made it 6-0 and chased Hellickson with the game’s second three-run home run. It was the second time in as many nights Bird sent one into the second deck in right field.
Bird has had a muddled, injury-riddled season. A return to his form from 2015 would be a huge boon to the Yankees as they head towards October. If Bird is finally healthy and effective, the Yankee lineup simply profiles as one of the deepest in the league (Bird was batting eighth in the order today!).
The three-run rally killers proved to be more than enough support for Montgomery, who cruised for most of the afternoon. He relied heavily on his curveball early on, keeping the O’s off balance and generating plenty of whiffs, before switching to a more sinker-heavy approach as the game wore on. It was classic Montgomery, using all parts of his deep arsenal and mixing speeds to dice his way through an opposing lineup.
He finished with six shutout innings, striking out six and walking one. This was a nice rebound for Montgomery, who lasted just 3.1 innings last time out, and hadn’t pitched more than five innings since August 13th. If the Yankees make a deep playoff run, it’s difficult to say where Montgomery would stand, given he may not profile as one of their top four starters, or as someone whose stuff would play up in the bullpen. Regardless, this was another nice start in a nice season for the rookie.
To relieve Hellickson, the Orioles brought on Chris Tillman, whose descent from strong mid-rotation arm to mop-up man has been a sad one. He couldn’t hold the deficit in the fifth, yielding a base hit to Gregorius, a walk to Starlin Castro, and an RBI single to Ellsbury to make it 7-0. This was a game full of good days, one of which belonged to Ellsbury, whose three hits pushed his season wRC+ above 100.
The Yankees kept piling on in the seventh, when Gregorius led off with a single, his third hit of the game. Frazier brought him home with a two-run shot, Frazier’s tenth homer with the Yankees. Frazier may not be long for this organization, but he’s acquitted himself well during his short time, posting a wRC+ in excess of 120 with New York.
Tommy Kahnle and Ben Heller each contributed a scoreless inning out of the bullpen, but Chasen Shreve was unable to hold the shutout, surrendering a two-run homer to rookie Austin Hays in the ninth, the first of his career. Shreve then walked three batters with two out and no one on, before Giovanny Gallegos came on and balked in a run to bring the score to its final tally of 9-3. An odd end to an otherwise excellent game.
According to the YES Network broadcast, the nine runs today gave the Yankees more runs against the Orioles this year than any team since 1961 has had against another team in a single season. You’ll notice the Yankees still have another game versus Baltimore tomorrow afternoon (CC Sabathia will square off with Ubaldo Jimenez then).
With the victory, the Yankees moved to 82-66, 16 games above .500, which represents their high-water mark for the year. The last time the Yankees reached a new high-water mark was June 12th, and though they are just 44-43 since that date, they’ve outscored their opponents by 59 runs over that span. Even with their injuries and slumps, the Yankees have simply played really good baseball all year. It’s no coincidence, then, that a playoff spot appears to be right around the corner.