|The Yankees celebrate their win on Sunday. Photo by Jason Schott.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone is known for his optimism, that he will always believe his players can win no matter how much adversity they are facing or who he is penciling in as the starting nine.
On Sunday, before the Yankees's 7-6 win over Kansas City, they had to place right fielder Aaron Judge on the injured list with a strained oblique, leaving Luke Voit and Brett Gardner as the only two Opening Day starters left in their lineup.
Boone said of writing the lineup out for Sunday's game against Kansas City without Judge in it, "I feel like it's balanced, feel like it's capable, look forward to those guys going out and producing, and I really do feel that way. Look, hate not writing Judgie in there, but feel like the lineup we're putting out there today is capable of putting some points on the board."
The lineup went: DJ LeMahieu at second base, Luke Voit as the designated hitter, Brett Gardner in center field, Clint Frazier in right field, Mike Tauchman in left field, Gio Urshela at third base, Mike Ford at first base, Austin Romine at catcher, and Tyler Wade at shortstop.
The Yankees showed early that this lineup will be manufacturing runs and playing "small ball."
In the first, LeMahieu led off with a double, then a Voit fly ball to right moved him to third base, and he came home on a passed ball.
In the second, with two outs, Ford launched a double to left field for his first Major League hit. He came home on a single by Romine to make it 2-0.
In the 5th, with one out, Voit and Gardner singled, and Frazier then hit a blast to left field that cleared the bullpen for a three-run homer and a commanding 5-0 lead.
Yankees starting pitcher James Paxton was superb, as he pitched into the seventh, delivering his second straight quality outing. His final line was: 6 innings, no runs, 3 hits, 1 walk, and 12 strikeouts.
Paxton is now the second Yankees pitcher in franchise history to record back-to-back games of at least 12 strikeouts, with the first being David Cone, who did it in 1998 with 14 K on June 7 vs. Florida and 12 K vs. Cleveland on June 14, 1998.
In the seventh, Paxton gave up a double to Alex Gordon and walked Hunter Dozier before he was lifted for Tommy Kahnle, who got out of it with two strikeouts and a fly ball to right field.
The Yankees turned to Chad Green in the eighth and he didn't have it, allowing a single to Martin Maldonado, followed by a walk to Billy Hamilton and a single to Whit Merrifield.
That was all for Green, and in came Adam Ottavino, who gave up a two-run double to Adalberto Mondesi, followed by a three-run homer to Gordon and then a solo homer to Hunter Dozier to make it 6-5 Royals. The Dozier homer came on the first pitch in that at-bat, so Ottavino surrendered consecutive home runs on consecutive pitches.
The Yankees came right back in the bottom of the eighth as Tauchman doubled and then with two outs, Romine laced a rocket past the third baseman Chris Owings to bring him in and tie it at 6.
In the ninth, with the game tied, the Yankees turned to their closer Aroldis Chapman, who allowed a single to Billy Hamilton. The speedster then stole second base before Chapman struck out Merrifield.
With Mondesi up, Hamilton took third, but Chapman didn't let that distract him as he struck out Mondesi and then got Gordon to hit a lazy fly ball to center field to end it.
|Aroldis Chapman facing Adalberto Mondesi with Billy Hamilton dancing off third base. Photo by Jason Schott.
Zack Britton pitched the 10th, and he allowed a single to Dozier to open the inning. With Terrance Gore running, Britton caught him leaning, but got caught in the rundown himself and appeared to tweak his ankle when he applied the tag.
Britton was fine and stayed in to strike out Soler and Owings.
In the bottom of the 10th, Jake Diekman was on for the Royals, and he walked Tauchman and Urshela before being lifted for Ian Kennedy.
The Yankees then countered by sending up Thiaro Estrada, who was called up on Sunday morning, to hit for Mike Ford.
Estrada made his Major League debut by executing a perfect bunt, which he did to perfection, moving Tauchman to third and Urshela to second.
Boone said of sending in Estrada at that moment, "He's here to do that. He's been prepared, confident that he could get the bunt down in that kind of a matchup, which is not easy. You know they're selling out defensively for the bunt, so not that you have to be perfect by any means, but you've got to really execute the bunt in that spot. He put it in a perfect spot, softly.
"Really excited for him to get up, contribute, first Major League at-bat, who knows what's going through your mind and to be able to slow it down enough to go execute, really proud for him today."
Romine was up next, and he launched a fly ball up the gap in right-center field to bring home Tauchman with the winning run, giving the Yankees a 7-6 victory. They took three of four games against Kansas City this weekend and improved to 11-10.
|Austin Romine greeting his teammates at first base after his winning hit. Photo by Jason Schott.
Boone was asked how much confidence he has when Romine comes up in a spot like that, and he said, "A lot, and really, really excited how he really controlled that last at-bat, too, when it was probably getting a little bit difficult with the shadows there. Lay off that first pitch, get a pitch he can handle with the sole intent: get something in the air. You could tell that he was really just selling out for that and executed.
"Obviously, a big hit when we tied the game back up (in the eighth) and been doing a heck of a job behind the plate, so big day to salvage that one."
The lineup rewarded Boone's faith, as every single player reached base, including seven with hits. Gardner went 3-for-5 with a run scored, Tauchman went 2-4 with a double, two runs scored, and a walk. Romine went 3-for-5 with three RBI.
Boone said of what a win like this could do for his team, " I think it gets you comfortable in these situations, these situations that come up over the course of the year, that are going to come up in big spots. It's not always going to be perfect and I think you need to embrace that, you know, get comfortable being uncomfortable.
"For looking like we were going to cruise, a lot of really good things happened for us to snatch that game back and you could feel that energy in the room on a win like that."
The Yankees' pitching staff combined for twenty strikeouts, tied for the second-most strikeouts in a game in franchise history. The 26 K's coming against the Cubs on May 7, 2017 in an 18-inning game, and the 20 K's coming at the White Sox on August 7, 2018 in 13 innings.
Boone said of Paxton's start, "I mean, kind of dominant again. I didn't think his stuff was quite the same as the Boston game (last Tuesday), where he had that overpowering stuff. I thought the command was really good. I thought his sliders and his breaking balls were really good. He really found his lane with the fastball, you know, I think definitely tired there a little bit in the end. Even in the sixth, I felt like he got through it, but I felt like he was tiring and we wanted to get him through a couple batters, but I think he was definitely spent there. Another big time effort by him and a great way to finish this homestand."
The Yankees head to the west coast a nine-game road trip, with a four-game set in Anaheim against the Angels starting Monday night, then three games next weekend in San Francisco, followed by two in Arizona.