Through two innings, it seemed as though CC Sabathia might actually get the 11 strikeouts he needed to join the exclusive 3,000 club. Of course, the former Cy Young Award winner — who once blew hitters away with his upper-90s heater — now relies on a steady diet of 89 mph cutters, paired with a vintage glass of 19 years’ experience in the big leagues. That combination was sufficient to beat the Royals on Friday night, though MLB’s active career leader in strikeouts remains six away from 3,000.
While he once again only lasted five innings, Sabathia has been everything the Yankees could have expected following his heart scare in the offseason; he’s yet to allow a single earned run this year. As I mentioned in the game thread, he has become the team’s designated stopper given his clutch outings after a loss. With today’s win, his record improves to remarkable 15-2 in such situations over the past three seasons.
The bullpen more than held up its end of the bargain, as the trio of Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, and Zack Britton combined for three innings of no-hit ball to close the game. Britton in particular looked sharp, retiring the Royals in order in the ninth on nine pitches with the kind of strike zone command that’s eluded him at times. Granted, this Royals’ offense is far from elite, but it was an all-around encouraging pitching performance nonetheless.
On the offensive side of the ball, a balanced effort — highlighted by homers from Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman — eventually got the job done against struggling Royals starter Jakob Junis. Aaron Judge, for his part, did not take Junis deep as I forecasted in the game thread, though he did manage a double and a walk.
In a Yankees season that has witnessed more than a dozen injuries already, it’s easy to forget the extent to which just one injury defined their 2018 campaign. It occurred on July 26 of last season, as Junis plunked Judge with a fastball that broke his wrist and cost the slugger nearly two months. During that stretch, the Yankees went 26-21, including an ugly four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. The team suffered an eight-game swing in the standings, and that would prove the difference between the two clubs at year’s end.
The Yankees were once again sloppy in the field, committing three errors. The Royals’ speed was certainly a factor in some of those mistakes; the league’s fastest team stole three bags, including two by Billy Hamilton, who also made a spectacular catch in center field that saved multiple runs. However, the Royals joined the Yankees in making a number of mistakes — both in the field and on the bases. All in all, it amounted to a rather comfortable win for the Bombers, who improved to 9-10 on the season. That’s good enough for second place in this upside-down AL East right now.
The Yankees play the Royals again tomorrow at 1:05 PM EDT, right on schedule for Tanaka time.