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Yankees 6, Royals 4: Aaron Judge powers Yanks to ninth straight win

New York sweeps Kansas City and heads to Canada with a nine-game winning streak.

New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Well. This was one of those games that ended a lot differently than it felt for much of it. But thanks to a couple of Judgian blasts, some timely small ball, and stellar relief pitching, the Yankees are off to Toronto winners of nine straight. They’ve now swept three consecutive series, turning away the Guardians, Orioles, and now, the Royals.

The top of the first inning opened with a bang. Aaron Judge made his triumphant return to the lineup after a rest day. And on the second pitch from Daniel Lynch, he unloaded one of those aforementioned Judgian blasts:

An impressive 113.5 mph and 453 feet later, it was a quick 1-0 Yankees lead.

Luis Severino took the hill for the bottom of the first and did exactly what we want starting pitchers to do after the Yankees score. Red-hot Andrew Benintendi managed to hammer a double into the right field corner with two outs, but Sevy bounced back to strike Salvador Perez out swinging on a 96.6-mph fastball off the plate on a full count to escape with no damage. Severino continued his strong work in the second inning, sandwiching two routine fly balls around a strikeout of Emmanuel Rivera, who replaced phenom Bobby Witt, Jr. in the Royals lineup after the latter was hit by a pitch last night.

The top of the third inning was a master class in the capriciousness of baseball. First, Kyle Higashioka smashed a ball 398 feet. Unfortunately, he did so to dead-center field ... and got nothing to show for it but an out. Then, LeMahieu hit a groundball to the right side, but Whit Merrifield ranged to his left, dove, fielded the ball, and threw LeMahieu out. xBAs of .770 and .420 went for naught.

Sevy, on the other hand, had a rough third inning. He left a first-pitch 95-mph fastball up in the middle of the strike zone to leadoff hitter Michael A. Taylor, and he did what a major league hitter should to with that. The former National deposited it into the stands 408 feet away and tied it up.

From there, singles put runners on first and second with one out and the heart of the Kansas City order looming. Benintendi drew a walk, and Severino was officially in capital-T Trouble. He then spiked a changeup down and away to Perez, Higashioka had it bounce off his glove, and the run scored from third on the wild pitch to gift Kansas City a 2-0 lead with runners on second and third. Luckily, the Royals then ran themselves into an out on the contact play. Severino got Perez to ground to Isiah Kiner-Falefa with the infield in. A clean throw to the plate later and the Yankees had the second out and still only trailed by one.

That one-run deficit did not last long. On an 0-2 count, Carlos Santana slashed one past LeMahieu at first base, scoring another run and extending the inning. Finally, Severino got a grounder to Josh Donaldson at third to end the frame down only two runs. Throughout the third inning, the YES booth noted that Severino became reliant on his changeup.

Unfortunately, Lynch had fully settled into a rhythm by the top of the fourth. Donaldson flew out to the warning track in left, and then Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres went down without a fight. The 2018 first-rounder ended the frame with a streak of 11 consecutive Yankee batters retired.

Kansas City continued to bully Severino in the bottom of the fourth inning, putting their first two batters on with singles. Donaldson then fielded a bunt and tried to get the force out at second inning. Instead, the ball sailed into the outfield; womp womp, 4-1 Royals. To Severino’s credit though, he pitched out of any further trouble and limited the bleeding.

Miguel Andújar, starting in left field, finally catalyzed some offensive life for New York in the fifth with a ground-ball single that ended Lynch’s interminable streak of 12 straight Yankees retired. IKF followed that up with a double into the left field corner and Miggy, on his horse the whole way, scored to cut the Royals lead to 4-2.

With two out and Kiner-Falefa at second, LeMahieu poked a groundball through the hole at shortstop. IKF scored easily and after several innings of fecklessness, the Yankees found themselves only trailing by one run, 4-3.

Lynch recovered to whiff Judge for the second time, but after four and a half innings, this one felt like a new ballgame.

Boone sent Severino back out for the fifth inning and he responded with his best frame since the second. On his 93rd pitch of the day, Sevy fired a 98-mph fastball by Rivera to end his afternoon on the mound. That was a big shutdown inning on a day when he really had to battle.

Severino relied on his changeup throughout the afternoon. He threw 29 of them, induced 19 swings, and got 4 swings-and-misses. But when the Royals put it in play (seven balls in play), they hit it hard. Kansas City hitters averaged an exit velocity of 92.9 mph, a number skewed downward by one 71-mph outcome.

With Sevy heading to the showers, Boone handed the ball to Clarke Schmidt in the sixth, the young hurler’s first appearance since he did yeoman’s work on April 19th against the Tigers. And Schmidt picked up where he left off, retiring the Royals with no damage, thanks in part to a nice throw from Higgy to nab a two-out would-be base stealer.

Kiner-Falefa led off the seventh with a fantastic 12-pitch plate appearance that featured six consecutive two-strike foul balls before he ultimately walked. With the leadoff man on late in a one-run game, Boone went to the bench and ended Anthony Rizzo’s day off, pinch-hitting him for Higahioka. Rizzo repaid Boone by taking a pitch off his leg (barely checking his swing in the process). LeMahieu then battled an 0-2 count to walk, loading the bases with no outs and the heart of the order looming.

What happened next was exactly what we all expected. Judge checked his swing on an 0-1 pitch from Royals reliever Scott Barlow and dribbled a ball up the first base line. The swinging bunt, 21.7-mph off Judge’s bat with a .350 xBA, did the job and tied the game. Next, Donaldson hit a ball to short with the infield in. One bobble later, and Rizzo’s aggressive baserunning paid off — it was 5-4, Yankees.

The contact play: it giveth and it taketh away. A bases-loaded GIDP from Torres ended the inning, but the Yankees were nine outs from a win.

After Lucas Luetge put two Royals on in the seventh and only got one out, Boone stopped messing around and summoned the King: Michael King, First of His Name, Defender of the Seven Kingdoms, etc., and so on. First, King promptly shut down the seventh inning with a double play. Then, he ruthlessly cut through the Royals in the eighth.

With New York still up by one in the ninth, Judge came to the plate and doubled the lead. No 21-mph bunt this time; instead, a 106.8-mph missile traveled 395 feet to right field, giving Judge two dingers, three ribbies, and granting closer Aroldis Chapman some breathing room for the ninth inning.

As is his wont, Chapman came in for the ninth in a save situation, to face Nos. 9, 1, and 2 in the Royals lineup. The veteran made it interesting, surrendering a walk and a single with two outs. But Chapman got Benintendi to ground out to third, ending the game and preserving his 0.00 ERA for the season with his sixth save. Final score: 6-4 for the good guys.

This was a solid win. It didn’t look great for a while, but the Yankees kept grinding, wore down Kansas City, and ultimately emerged with the sweep. They’ll take a nine-game winning streak north to face the Blue Jays. 7:07 pm EDT first pitch tomorrow on YES. The starting pitching matchup will be Jordan Montgomery against Ross Stripling. Be there or be square.

Box Score