You can’t look past any MLB team, but this was a game the Yankees absolutely should have won — they were playing a bad baseball team starting a bad pitcher, making his first appearance off the IL. Sure enough, they took care of business, winning their 14th straight series against the Royals with an 8-2 win on Old-Timers’ Day.
The club was off and running early, with DJ LeMahieu taking starter Jonathan Heasley deep in the Yankees’ first at-bat of the game. It was his 10th long ball of the season, tying his mark from 150 games last year in just his 92nd contest this season. Aaron Judge kept up the pressure, singling ahead of Andrew Benintendi’s walk, and Gleyber Torres doubled the lead with a two-bagger to the gap, and even though the 5-6-7 hitters were a little disappointing in following up on that kind of start, the Yankees were still up 2-0 after one.
In the second, well, you’ll never guess what happened:
Aaron Judge has 42 home runs and it is not yet August. He has played in 10 games since the All-Star break and has hit 9 bombs. There was some conversation right before the break around whether Yordan Alvarez, Rafael Devers, or Shohei Ohtani would overtake him in the AL MVP race. Those first two have gotten hurt, but for as amazing a season as Ohtani is having, I can’t believe that Judge isn’t, once again, the frontrunner for the award after putting up more than a win and a half in 10 games. (As an added bonus, his homer today was also a milestone, as he became the 18th Yankees player in history to hit 200 homers in pinstripes.)
The rest of the offense came on DJ’s second RBI of the day (a single that scored Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the fourth), Andrew Benintendi’s sacrifice fly two batters later, IKF coming home on a botched throwdown to third in the sixth inning, and lol Matt Carpenter hit another home run. All three runs of the non-dinger variety came courtesy of Royals errors to boot. IKF popped up to shortstop Maikel Garcia, who nonchalanted the ball only to see it bounce off the heel of his glove.
The next hitter, Jose Trevino, bounced a ball to third, and the attempt to go around the horn for a double play went awry when Whit Merrifield couldn’t corral the ball at second. Both men were safe, with IKF going to third ahead of DJ’s at bat. Similarly, in the sixth, with Izzy trying to steal third, Salvador Perez overthrew and allowed the seventh run to come in:
Nestor Cortes had a fine start, though not a great one. The Royals are a tough team to go up against, because they don’t strike out. They don’t really hit the ball with any authority, but they, as the YES booth might say, put a lot of pressure on the defense — for all that that’s worked for them this year.
Cortes bookended his start with two clean innings, the first and the fifth, but let multiple men on in the remaining innings. Only two of those runners came around, but he wasn’t quite as sharp as we’ve seen. Perez’s sac fly to deep left center was a particular mistake, a fastball at the belly that would have been a home run in 16 MLB parks, and Nestor knew it:
The All-Star did provide us with one other spectacular highlight, engineering an out of an overly aggressive Hunter Dozier at third:
Cortes probably could have gone more than five innings, but with a big lead, it’s not a bad idea to take him out and save an inning or two here and there. He’s already beyond his personal best for innings in a single season, and even if a pitcher is acquired by Tuesday, he’s the No. 3 man at worst in the rotation and will be called upon in October. On days like today, it’s best to take him out a little early and save some energy for the postseason.
So much of what’s going on with this club right now revolved around Aaron Judge. He went from the best player in baseball to absolute must-watch, quiet-the-dog TV. The Yankees can keep it rolling tomorrow with a sweep of the Royals, but I’m honestly more interested in what Judge’s batting line will look like. Either way, Zack Greinke will take on Jordan Montgomery in the series finale, with first pitch at 1:35pm ET.