If the Yankees are going to track down the Red Sox and make a push towards more meaningful games in September and October, Friday night’s game in Seattle will serve as the blueprint, starting with the pitching.
After Luís Severino set the tone in the series opener and laid to rest any thoughts that he might not be the Yankees’ ace, the elder statesman of the staff came out and reminded fans that he’s far from done. CC Sabathia has battled well-publicized issues on and off the field over the past few years, so this season has been something of a revelation. He pitched to a 4.54 ERA from 2013-16, but on his 37th birthday, Carsten Charles earned his ninth win (matching his nine wins in 2016 and his total from ’14 and ’15) and lowered his ERA to 3.44.
In the first inning, however, it didn’t look like Sabathia would be in the mood to celebrate anything at night’s end. The first two batters went down harmlessly enough, but Robinson Canó singled and went to third on a booming single off the bat of Nelson Crúz. (How Crúz could end up at first after hitting a ball to the base of the wall is completely beyond me. Cadillac much?)
Sabathia did his best to get out of the jam by getting a ground ball from Kyle Seager that should’ve ended the inning were it not for the inexperience of Chad Headley at first base. The ball was hit hard to Headley’s right, but instead of leaving the ball for Starlin Castro, who was pulled over and deep in a shift for Seager, Headley took a dive and missed. When Castro fielded the ball easily, Headly had to scurry back to first to take the throw on the run while searching for the bag with his foot, something he’s likely never done at third base. He missed the bag, and the Mariners had a 1-0 lead.
Seattle had Andrew Moore on the mound, and in the third inning the Yankees began to take his measure. It was the bottom of the lineup that started things off. Headley set about redeeming his earlier misplay with a leadoff double to center, then came home on rocketed double to right center off the bat of Clint Frazier. A quick word about Frazier – there’s no way this kid should be going anywhere. Whether you want to believe the numbers or what you see with your eyes, he has the résumé of a major league ball player. In addition to this RBI double, he also produced a diving catch in left that would fit comfortably on any outfielder’s highlight reel. I understand that Jacoby Ellsbury is making roughly forty times Frazier’s salary, but is there anyone out there who thinks Ellsbury is the better player? Anyone?
But back to our game. That Frazier double tied the game at one, and after a fly out from Brett Gardner and a walk to Gary Sánchez, Aaron Judge came to the plate with runners at the corners. Judge got a good pitch to hit from Moore, but he just missed squaring it up – and lofted a sac fly to the wall in center field. It was 2-1, Yanks, but there would be more from Judge later on.
Sabathia, meanwhile, was fighting through his start. He wouldn’t allow a run after that first inning, but there was a loud double from Ben Gamel in the second, and then a walk and a hit batsman in the third. It wasn’t easy, but then suddenly it was. After hitting Seager, Sabathia coasted through the next eight batters, striking out four of them.
Normally, that would be the story of the game, but Aaron Judge simply isn’t normal. Judge came to the plate in the fifth inning with one out and runners on first and third and watched the first two pitches sail outside the zone. He fouled off a 2-0 fastball and was clearly frustrated that he had missed his pitch, possibly also frustrated that it had been ten games since his last home run.
He didn’t miss the next pitch. Moore left a slider up around the belt and on the inside half of the plate, and Judge hit a ball as hard and as far as any he hit during last week’s Home Run Derby. Everyone in the park knew it was gone immediately, so Judge took a glance towards left field during his followthrough, but his head was down before leaving the batter’s box, and he didn’t look up again until rounding first, long after the ball had been caught by a fan in the upper reaches of the upper deck. Another ten feet and it would’ve left the stadium, a feat not accomplished in the eleven-year history of Safeco Field.
How prodigious was this home run? It was too big for Statcast, which couldn’t track the blast. (The Twitterverse ate this up, by the way.) With no high-tech data, people were forced to do it the old-fashioned way, with Mariners’ PR people offering a ludicrous estimate of 415 feet before someone, somewhere, settled on 437, a guess which calls to mind our President’s estimates of his Inauguration crowd.
But as many have said, it’s probably better this way. The Legend of Judge grew a few sizes on Friday night, and on Saturday people will take selfies in the seat where the ball landed and an intern will no doubt be dispatched with a tape measure, just like the days of Jimmy Foxx and Mickey Mantle.
Oh, and another thing – don’t worry too much about Judge and his second-half slump. The big fella appears to be just fine.
The scoring was done for the night, thanks mostly to the Yankee bullpen. Sabathia walked the leadoff batter in the sixth inning, and Joe Girardi didn’t hesitate, jumping at the chance to unwrap the back end of his bullpen, gifts that just keep on giving. First up was Tommy Kanhle, who touched 100MPH on the gun while setting down all three batters he faced, and then David Robertson and his high socks took the seventh and struck out the side. (Welcome back!)
Dellin Betances had the eighth and worked around a double and a single before giving way to Adam Warren who faced just three batters in the ninth. In total, the bullpen logged four innings and struck out six while yielding just three hits.
So this 5-1 Yankee win is the blueprint for how the team might climb over the Red Sox and back into the division lead. Of course, before we start thinking about division flags and playoff rotations, these Yankees have to win a series, something they haven’t done since early June. This is the time.