|Masahiro Tanaka on the mound at Yankee Stadium on a sun-drenched day. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Yankees have raced to a big lead in the American League East on the strength of how they have played at Yankee Stadium, especially on this homestand.
On Saturday, the Yankees won their second straight against the Colorado Rockies, 11-5, to run their record to 7-2 on this 10-game homestand, which concludes on Sunday with the third and final game of this series.
They have now won five straight, which has allowed them to race out to a 9-1/2 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the divisional race.
After the Yankees lost the first game of their series with Tampa Bay on Monday, they won the next three to extend their lead to eight games, and then when they beat Colorado and Tampa Bay lost to the White Sox on Friday night, the lead extended to nine games, the Yankees' largest lead in the division since July 19, 2012, seven years to the day.
The Yankees' overall record is now 64-33, the best in the Major Leagues by percentage points over the Los Angeles Dodgers and a season-high 31 games over .500. They are now 38-16 at home, and are 16-3 in the 19 games on their last two homestands. They are 14-0-1 in their last 12 homestands and will attempt their ninth sweep of the season on Sunday.
The Yankees went to work early in this one against Colorado starter Antonio Senzatela, who entered with a record of 8-6 but an ERA of 5.79.
In the first, DJ LeMahieu led off with a single and scored on a double by Aaron Judge to make it 1-0.
Judge then made it to third base on a sacrifice fly from Aaron Hicks and tried to come home on a grounder to shortstop by Edwin Encarnacion, but Trevor Story fired a rocket to the plate, and catcher
Tony Wolters did a nice job blocking the plate as he received the throw, and he held onto the ball as Judge slid into his leg.
The Yankees kept it going in the second when Didi Gregorius led the inning off with a double into the left field corner, taking advantage of the shift Colorado had one, with nobody at the third-base spot.
Gleyber Torres then singled to left, and Raimel Tapia's throw went to third, where Senzatela got it and fired to second base to try to get Torres, but it went into the outfield, allowing Didi to score and Torres to reach third.
Austin Romine was up next, and he singled home Torres to make it 3-0 Yankees.
After Brett Gardner struck out, LeMahieu and Judge walked to load the bases before Hicks got an RBI single and Encarnacion got a two-run double to make it 6-0.
That was all for Senzatela, and Chad Bettis came on for Colorado. He walked Luke Voit before getting Gregorius to pop out to third base and Torres to line to third to end the frame.
This five-run second inning was the 16th time this season the Yankees have scored five-or-more runs in an inning.
The Yankees sent 16 batters to the plate in the first two innings, and aside from Gardner, every one of their hitters reached base.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of the big inning being yet another example of how his team wears down pitchers, "No question, I think we got some breaks in that inning and took advantage of them. To be able to run out a big lead on a hot day when, you know, I think, it was a challenge for everyone, pitchers, hitters. It was important and, yeah, just a lot of contributions up and down again."
Masahiro Tanaka was rolling for the Yankees, and he retired the first eight Rockies in order before Wolters singled with two outs in the third.
In the fourth, with Bettis still in their for the Rockies, Hicks led off with a walk, and then with one out, there was very scary moment as Luke Voit got hit in the helmet and, even though he stayed in to run the bases, had to leave the game in the sixth.
Boone said of Voit's condition and the fact he cleared the concussion protocol, "I actually felt pretty good about him even, I mean, we took him out, just obviously, that's scary right there, but felt like he was pretty good even before we took him out, and then going through the test, obviously was fine, and speaking to him after, felt like he should be okay." Boone also noted that Voit had a cut on his lip from the impact of the pitch.
Gregorius was up next, and he singled home Hicks, and then Torres had a two-run single to make it 9-0 Yankees.
The Rockies had just two hits against Tanaka through five innings, but that would all change in the sixth.
With one out, Charlie Blackmon got a single and scored on a double from Story. David Dahl then walked before Nolan Arenado hit his 22nd home run of the season, a three-run shot to make it 9-4.
Daniel Murphy then blooped a double down the right field line, and then he scored on a single from Ian Desmond to make it 9-5.
Ryan McMahon then launched one down the left field line that missed the foul pole (and a two-run homer) by inches. On the next pitch, he then grounded to second for a force out, ending a stretch in which six Rockies reached base. Tanaka then struck out Tapia to end the inning.
Boone said of Tanaka's outing and what was the difference between the first five innings and the sixth, "He had a really good split today, I thought, and you know, as well as mixing, obviously, slider and fastball, and his split flattened out in that final inning. Arenado got him on a split that that turned into more of a two-seam fastball up and out over the plate. So, I think he just lost his split there, the bite on that pitch, but I thought up until that point, I thought that was a really good pitch for him today."
When asked if it's odd that Tanaka lost the split that quickly, Boone said, "I don't know, I mean, that's been one of those things for him this year that, you know, whether it's within a game or start to start, he has searched for it, having it real consistent for him. Also, the day could have contributed to it a little bit, just a lot of long innings on the other side in the first half of the game; obviously, you know, the heat and everything, so hard to say exactly."
Tommy Kahnle came on to pitch a perfect seventh inning, and the and the Yankees tacked on two in the bottom half of that inning when Gardner (who walked) came in on a force out hit into by Mike Tauchman, and then Encarnacion got an RBI single to make it 11-5.
David Hale pitched the final two innings, in which he retired six straight Rockies.
When Voit exited in the sixth, Gio Urshela went in to play third base and LeMahieu moved over to first.
As usual, LeMahieu did not disappoint, as he made five superb defensive plays. This was in addition to having a 3-for-4 day at the plate, with two runs scored and a walk. It was his 39th multi-hit game of the season, best in the American League, one ahead of Houston's Michael Brantley. He is tied for most in the Majors with Arizona's Ketel Marte.
Boone said of what has impressed Boone most about LeMahieu's defense, "Well, the versatility, having not done it in the big leagues. You saw some special plays at first today; a really good play to start things off down at third, you know, and just the comfort and flexibility of having - you know, obviously, we removed Luke today, and it's like, Gio's (Urshela) our backup infielder today and he's in there. We've got DJ that we can plug and play everywhere, and wherever he goes, he plays it like a Gold Glover. He made some special plays today."
Special Day In Yankee history: On this day 10 years ago, July 20, 2009, the inaugural Yankees HOPE Week kicked off in Washington Heights when Manager Joe Girardi, along with Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera, surprised Marco and Jen Chiappetta, a couple who created the Patchwork of Young Leaders Society to promote afterschool leadership in urban communities