|Aaron Judge at the plate in the sixth inning Saturday night. Photo by Jason Schott.|
Summer is here, the Yankees are in first place, all their stars have returned, and with a possible playoff preview against Houston on tap, a crowd of 46,034 created quite a raucous atmosphere at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night.
The Yankees outlasted the Astros, 7-5, for their eighth straight win. They have won all six on this homestand against two contenders, with three over Tampa Bay and now three over Houston, with the series finale coming tomorrow afternoon, which is also Old Timers' Day.
"These are fun games to be a part of because you know you're up against a really good team, and you can feel that when you're playing them," Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said after Satuday's night's win. "Even though they're going through a little tough time (seven straight losses) and they have a couple of key guys out, but you can feel their capability. Every at-bat's a grind, they make you work. Obviously, they have capable guys on the mound. It's nice to win these games when you know you have to play well, but don't look much further than that."
The Yankees now have opened up their largest lead of the season in the American League East, 5-1/2 games over the Tampa Bay Rays and 8 games over the Boston Red Sox, who coughed up a 6-1 lead late in their game against Toronto, losing 8-7 at Fenway Park.
The Yankees are now 49-27, a season-best 22 games over .500. In the last 15 seasons, this is the second-fastest they have reached that level, with the other time last season when they hit 22 over at 41-19.
Giancarlo Stanton led the way for the Yankees, as he went 2-for-4 with four RBI in his fourth game back after missing over two months on the injured list. He had a pair of two-run singles late in the game to put the Yankees over the top.
Boone had a message for some of his doubters, "Big at-bats by him and hope everyone takes notice of that...Sometimes we forget what a good player he is, hope they saw those at-bats."
Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka entered this one coming off an impressive two-hit complete game shutout of Tampa Bay last Monday.
In the first, Houston a two-out hit to Mickey Brantley, who hit one to the left side with the shift on and only Gio Urshela covering. Tanaka then got Yordan Alvarez to ground out to second base to end it.
For the Yankees, DJ LeMahieu drew a walk to start things off, and then Houston starter Wade Miley fell behind in the count to Aaron Judge, which prompted a mound visit from catcher Max Stassi.
Whatever the backstop said worked, as Judge hit into a double play, the start of a run in which Miley retired nine straight Yankees.
Houston got two runners on against Tanaka in the second and third innings, and he got out of both when he got groundouts to DJ LeMahieu for force outs.
The top of the fourth was the Luke Voit show, as he went full extension to snare a hit down the line by Josh Reddick, and threw to Tanaka at first to nab the Astros right fielder. Reddick even patted Voit on the shoulder after the big play.
The next batter up, Tyler White, then popped one up by the Yankee dugout, and Voit reached over the rail by the photographers' well to snare that one.
Voit came up with two out in the bottom of the fourth, and as if on cue, he reached on an error when center fielder Jake Marisnick could not handle the routine fly ball. Voit wound up on second, but he was stranded when Giancarlo Stanton flew out to left.
When Jake Marisnick laid down a running bunt to open the top of the fifth, Voit made another great play as he ran to his right and then got back to the bag in plenty of time to get the out.
Boone said of the big first baseman's defense, "They were really good plays by Luke, really good to see. He works hard at it, he takes pride in it, it's important to him, and you know, I feel like the last couple of weeks he's had a lot of really good picks on the other end in some big spots, and tonight, some really good plays.
In the bottom of the fifth, Aaron Hicks drew a one-out walk, and after Didi Gregorius flew out to left, Gio Urshela launched one into the right field corner that just cleared the fence for a two-run homer, giving the Yankees a 2-0.
This was a historic one, as the Yankees now have home runs in 25 straight games, tying the franchise record set in 1941 and they are two away from the Major League record set by Texas from July 11-September 9, 2002.
Houston tied it in the sixth when Josh Reddick got a two-run homer of his own to right field, just a bit to the left of Urshela's, and that tied it up at 2. A couple batters later, Stassi hit one into the right field corner, and he rounded first, set to test the arm of Judge, which was a big mistake as he was gunned down at second to end the inning.
The Yankees kept it going against Miley in the bottom of the sixth, as he walked LeMahieu and Judge to open the inning, and then allowed a single to Voit.
That was all for the big lefty, and in came right-hander Will Harris (side note: Houston has no lefties in their bullpen) to face Stanton, and he laced a single to left to score LeMahieu and Judge to make it 4-2 Yankees.
Harris then settled down and struck out Edwin Encarnacion and Aaron Hicks before getting Gregorius to fly out to center.
Tanaka did not come back for the seventh, so his final line was: 6 innings, 8 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 88 pitches/55 strikes.
Jonathan Holder came on for the Yankees in the seventh, and after he retired Marisnick and Altuve, he allowed two quick singles to Bregman and Brantley before Alvarez hit a three-run homer to right to give Houston a 5-4 lead.
With Ryan Pressly on for Houston, Yankees catcher Austin Romine was up with one out, and he launched a solo homer to right (where else?) and that tied the game up at 5.
LeMahieu kept the rally going with a single, then Aaron Judge reached on a catcher's interference, so that brought Stanton to the plate, and for the second straight inning, he laced a two-run single to make it 7-5 Yankees.
Adam Ottavino came in to pitch the eighth against the bottom of Houston's order. Walks to Josh Reddick and pinch-hitter Tony Kemp (for Marisnick) brought Altuve to the plate with two outs. Ottavino struck him out looking with a low fastball to end the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, against Reymin Guduan, Gregorius hit into a rather unorthodox double play, as he hit into a force to get the lead runner Hicks at second, and then when the throw got away at first, Didi took off for second, and was thrown out there on a perfect throw from the catcher, Stassi, who backed up the play at first.
Since Aroldis Chapman pitched the prior two nights, Zack Britton was on for the save in the ninth.
Britton got Bregman to ground out to open the frame before he walked Brantley and Alvarez. Gurriel then grounded to third for the second out, which brought a visit from Boone as to what to do with pinch-hitter Robinson Chirinos.
Britton went 1-0 to Chirinos before he was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Boone said of putting the winning run at first base, "It was a decision, I mean, I went out there, just felt like the better matchups were slightly the next two guys and, with not putting the walk in play for the tying run, just felt like it was the matchup I wanted once he fell behind there, felt it was the right call."
The matchup Boone wanted was Britton against Tyler White, and he lined out to Judge to end it. The lefty earned his third save of the season.