With two of their most productive regulars resting, an opener on the mound, and one of the newest Yankees killers opposing them, the Bombers seemed to be behind the eight ball before the series opener even kicked off. That’s where proceedings diverged from the script, with Alek Manoah laying an egg and Jimmy Cordero and Jhony Brito combining for 7.1 innings. Aaron Judge left the yard twice to set the tone for an eventual 7-4 victory.
Manoah has been a thorn in the Yankees’ side since his MLB debut against them in 2021, and apparently the Bombers decided today was the day to repay the favor in kind. After Jake Bauers struck out to open the contest, Judge stayed behind an elevated 1-2 fastball, lining it over the newly-brought-in right-center field wall at the Rogers Centre for an opposite field solo shot.
They were far from finished in the inning. Gleyber Torres lined a single to left with two-outs, bringing up Calhoun. The lefty jumped on a center-cut 1-0 fastball, clobbering a no-doubter to right to spot the Yankees a 3-0 first inning lead.
They threatened to add more in the second with Oswaldo Cabrera drawing a leadoff walk. He may have gotten picked off at first, but Aaron Hicks replaced him there after grounding a single to right. That turned the lineup over for Bauers, who lifted a deep fly ball to dead center that missed a home run by a few feet as Kevin Kiermaier made a jumping grab.
The Yankees deployed Jimmy Cordero as the opener, their first time using the strategy this season, and he was nails, working a nine-pitch one-two-three first. He encountered slightly more resistance the following frame, Daulton Varsho working a ten-pitch AB before hitting a liner that Anthony Volpe made a spectacular leaping effort to snag.
In the end, Cordero retired all six batters he faced, giving the Yankees two perfect innings on 28 pitches before handing the ball over to Jhony Brito.
Manoah has struggled with command through the first quarter of the season, sporting the third-highest walk rate (13.1 percent) of all qualified starters, and the Yankees appeared to have a clear plan the third time through to make him work. Volpe led off with a double followed by a Cabrera walk and Kyle Higashioka RBI single to make it 4-0. A Hicks walk loaded the bases, allowing Judge to draw a free pass to force in the fifth run, though Manoah avoided complete disaster getting Anthony Rizzo to ground into the inning-ending double play.
Things didn’t get any better for Manoah in the fifth, as he walked Torres and Calhoun to open the frame. Toronto manager John Schneider had seen enough, signaling to the bullpen for Nate Pearson. The seven walks were a new career-high for Manoah, who threw 92 pitches, only half of which were thrown for strikes.
Deploying Brito as the bulk guy to follow an opener is an intriguing strategy. He owns a 7.17 ERA in the first three innings and 2.79 ERA in innings 4-6. Specifically for today, it reduced his exposure to the righty-dominant top of the Toronto lineup as righties are slashing .292/.347/.631 against him. He held them scoreless through his first five innings of work, making his biggest pitches when the situation demanded it.
New York tacked on a sixth run in the sixth as Pearson’s command wavered. Bauers drew a one-out walk followed by an intentional walk issued to Judge to end the Toronto righty’s night. Rizzo must have taken it personally, because he ripped a 1-0 sinker from Tim Mayza for a double to right-center to plate Bauers.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle involving Aaron Boone in the eighth. The home plate umpire had been stingy awarding the Yankees pitchers strikes at the bottom of the zone all game, yet called a dubious low second strike on Judge that had Boone incandescent with rage. He made sure to get in his two cents after being ejected. Perhaps energized by his manager’s tirade and perhaps in a show of solidarity with the skipper, Judge clobbered a baseball where few have gone before for his second solo shot of the night. The ball was hit 115 mph and landed 462 feet away to extend the Yankees’ lead, 7-0.
Brito ran into his first real hiccup in the bottom-half of the frame, though through no real fault of his own. Matt Chapman led off with a double that was clearly foul as it passed third base, yet the umpire down that line inexplicably signaled fair. Whit Merrifield singled him home to end the combined shutout bid. Brito then induced a tailor-made double play ball that Torres fumbled on the transfer — far from the first time he’s done that this season — and both runners were safe. Brito final act was to bobble a soft Kiermaier tapper back to the mound, and he departed for Ian Hamilton with the bases loaded. Despite the inning coming unraveled in short order, Brito was largely solid, going 5.1 innings giving up four runs (two earned) on six hits with no walks and two strikeouts on 71 pitches.
It only went downhill from there for Hamilton, from a results perspective rather than execution anyway. A weak grounder from George Springer plated Merrifield, a bloop single from Bo Bichette drove in Belt, and a broken bat double from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. scored Springer, and all of a sudden the Yankees lead had shrunk to three runs. Michael King came in to clean up the mess, but it was hard not to feel like the BABIP gods were cackling at the Yankees. Thankfully, there was no more funny business from there out, as King worked a clean ninth inning on ten pitches to seal the Yankees victory, 7-4.
It was crucial that the Yankees conquered their nemesis in the series opener to create positive momentum for the following three games. Domingo Germán gets the ball tomorrow facing off against Kevin Gausman. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07pm EDT so be sure to join us in the game thread.