Monday, June 27, 2022

Yankees Thrive On Intangibles, What Boone Calls "Key ingredients to the whole thing"


Sky's the limit for the Yankees, seen during one of their batting practices. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Yankees are on a historic pace this season, and one reason for their exceptional play has been the formula they have used for three decades of winning baseball in The Bronx. 

They will work for everything, hustle more, battle in every at-bat going into deep counts, play harder than the competition, and, more telling than all, they are never out of games.   

Sunday's 6-3 comeback win over the Houston Astros improved the Yankees' Major League Baseball-best record to 53-20, which matches their third-best start in franchise history, after the 1928 team that began 55-18 1998 (54-19), and 53-20 in 1939. It also matched the third-best 73-game start of any Major League team in the last 53 years (since 1930), behind only the 1998 Yankees and 2001 Mariners, who were both 54-19.

With the Oakland Athletics in town Monday night, it is easy to see that the Yankees are winning games on the intangibles that aren't quantifiable in the data revolution started by Oakland twenty years ago, what came to be known as Moneyball.

"No question, I think intangibles, makeup, those are key ingredients to the whole thing," Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said in his pre-game press conference on Monday afternoon. "I think you have to have those kind of people, winning people, winning players, and fortunately I think we do have a lot of those people in that room, and that's absolutely an important part of the stew."

Sunday afternoon's game against Houston was a perfect example of how the Yankees have something that separates them from the competition. 

They fell behind 3-0 early, as Jose Altuve led off the game with a home runs against Yankees starter Nestor Cortes, and then in the fourth, Mauricio Dubon got a two-run single. Through all of this, the Yankees were being no-hit by Jose Urquidy, all the way through one out in the seventh inning, one day after three Houston pitchers - Cristian Javier, Hector Neris, and Ryan Pressly - no-hit them. 

One would think this game is long over, like how does a team rise up to win it after seeing their hitters being demoralized for two afternoons? The 2022 Yankees have shown they don't think like that.

Giancarlo Stanton ended the no-hit bid with one out in the seventh inning with a bang when he hit a colossal shot to center field for a solo home run, his 17th of the season to make it 3-1 Houston.

That started a Yankee offensive barrage, as DJ LeMahieu tied it with a two-run shot in the eighth, and Aaron Judge hit a three-run shot in the 10th, his 28th of the season, to give the Yankees the walk-off win. 

It was the Yankees' 10th walk-off win of the season, part of their 22 comeback wins on the season, both most in the Major Leagues. Five of those walk-offs have come in June, which is just the 10th time in franchise history they have recorded at least that many in a month.

Boone said of what makes this team able to comeback so often, "I think their closeness has helped them, I think they have a lot of trust in one another, so even though you certainly want to come through in those situations, you also realize it doesn't have to all be on you. In the moment, it's 'I don't have to do more than I'm capable of,' and if it's the next guy because I'm not getting pitches, there is that closeness and confidence in one another, I think, that exists, I think that's helpful. You know, I think they've been tremendous at, you know, with our hitting coaches, of really being dialed in to what the game plan is, what their individual plans are, and being disciplined to that, and being confident in that, so that, I think that's kind of led to whatever's happened to that point. 

"You know, whether we're having success that night offensively or we're struggling or grinding out way through it, there's certainly a confidence that we just got to keep at it and we can come through, and then I think having the kind of success they've had in those situations, I think adds some confidence in that room."

When asked for one specific comeback that sticks out in his mound, Boone said, "Judge's homer against Toronto was pretty cool. I don't know if that was his first one, that was just, you know, the no-doubter, that was pretty neat." 

That was a three-run home run by Judge to cap off a 6-5 Yankees win, and it's interesting that Boone brought up that game because the next day is what crystallized for this writer what separates the Yankees from a team like Toronto.

The Yankees were trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning in that game when Anthony Rizzo grounded one into the shift, and Bo Bichette took his time getting to it, and fired from just behind his normal shortstop position, and Rizzo, not known for his speed, beat it out. DJ LeMahieu followed with a single, then Gleyber Torres hit a three-run homer, start of a five-RBI day for him in a 5-3 Yankees win.

The Blue Jays very soon saw the opposite of that hustle, or not even hustle, just being driven to win the game. In the top of the fifth, Bichette hit a two-out double, and then when Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., was up, a pitch got away from Yankees catcher Jose Trevino. Next thing you know, Guerrero, Jr., is vigorously waving Bichette to go to third. Instead, he was walking BACK to the bag, completely oblivious to what was going on. Guerrero, Jr., then struck out to end the inning.

Toronto, the much-hyped, vaunted, cool, new age, bat-flipping team, entered Monday with a record of 40-32, tired for third with Tampa Bay, who both have seen another fundamental-based team, the Boston Red Sox, leapfrog them into second place with a record of 42-31, making their 10-19 start a distant memory.

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