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Yankees 5, Royals 4: Defense steals the day in narrow victory

A hard-fought win ended a four-game skid.

Billy McKinney makes a leaping grab in the seventh inning.
Billy McKinney makes a leaping grab in the seventh inning.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In a game full of leaping grabs and soaring homers, the Yankees came out on top, beating the Royals by a 5-4 score. Desperately in need of an easy win, this might have been a little close for comfort especially against lowly Kansas City, but it will look good in the scorebook nonetheless. The Bombers have two more contests against KC to look forward to next, so at least they eked out this opening victory.

The Yankees got on the board in the bottom of the second with a Franchy Cordero solo shot, his second homer in as many games:

The blast called to mind the outfielder’s hot April, which included a stretch with four homers in five games. But it paled in comparison to Michael Massey’s gargantuan three-run homer in the top of the fourth:

Prior to putting those men on first and second, Yankees righty Clarke Schmidt had been perfect through his first three frames, but he’d exhibited some warning signs. For starters, he only had one strikeout in that time. Perhaps more alarmingly, five of the eight balls in play he yielded had been hit 90 or more miles per hour.

The main reason Schmidt remained perfect, and later scoreless, was that he was backed by some sterling defense. Oswald Peraza, in his first major-league appearance at second base since May 1st, snagged this Bobby Witt Jr. liner that had a .730 expected batting average, nearly doubling off Maikel Garcia in the process:

And earlier, Billy McKinney, manning center in Harrison Bader’s stead, covered a lot of ground to snag this Kyle Isbel liner and end the top of the third:

But that wasn’t McKinney’s only web gem; he also robbed Drew Waters of at least extra bases in the top of the seventh:

Billy was no slouch on the other side of the ball, either. In the bottom of the fourth, he put the Yankees back in the lead with a three-run homer of his own:

Gleyber Torres followed that up with a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, extending his hitting streak to 11 games and the Yankees lead to two runs:

It could’ve been a two-run homer, too, if Witt hadn’t made a spectacular grab himself on an Anthony Rizzo popup the previous at-bat:

Yet, the Yankees’ defense had its shoddy moments: in the top of the fifth, Nick Pratto dunked a single in front of Cordero in left on a ball with a .110 expected batting average. The Royals’ first baseman probably should’ve come around to score when Giancarlo Stanton bobbled an Isbel double a couple of batters later, but he stayed at third. He could’ve come home on a high chopper one more batter later despite a drawn-in Yankees infield, too, but played it safe once again. Schmidt then struck out Witt on a sweeper, his second and final strikeout of the night.

In fact, Schmidt only got two more outs; the Yankees didn’t want to chance it even though the right-hander had just 64 pitches because he had put two more runners on. All told, it was just Schmidt’s second start of the year with fewer than three strikeouts, and he looked far from dominant against the league’s second-worst offense by wRC+ — 11 of 20 balls in play against him were hit harder than 90 mph.

Luckily, the Royals’ Alec Marsh was shaky too. Although he exhibited plus stuff at times, with 14 whiffs on the night, he also walked two and hit two. Making matters worse for KC was that three big mistakes led to three homers.

Peraza nearly made it four (though Marsh was gone at that point) when he hit a deep drive to left-center in the bottom of the seventh that would have made the seats in 22 of 30 major league ballparks; it had an expected batting average of .740. But Isbel didn’t care, getting some payback for the hit McKinney robbed him of earlier:

Meanwhile, Tommy Kahnle’s slide continued in the next inning, when he granted Massey his second homer of the game, bringing the Royals to within one:

However, the right-hander kept his emotions in check this time and he finished the inning without harming any fans (neither inanimate nor human).

Clay Holmes closed out the game in the ninth, surviving a pair of replay reviews including one on a wise play by Volpe, who went after the lead runner to end the game:

Highlight-reel plays aside, there were some major positives in this one. Namely, the Yankees’ three homers; while they handily led the league in dingers last season, they had dropped into a tie for fifth this year prior to this contest. The return of their power can go a long way toward getting them back on track.

Aaron Boone’s ballclub will look to continue their quest to do just that tomorrow against Brady Singer, who’s allowed the highest hard-hit rate among qualified pitchers this season at 51.3 percent. He’ll square off against ace Gerrit Cole in a day game, with first pitch set for 1:05 pm ET.

Box Score