The Yankees thought they needed some youthful energy to get out of their funk. Maybe all it will take is some savvy veteran hitting.
After making a cosmetic shake-up to their roster Wednesday by bringing up two prospects, it was 36-year-old struggling slugger Josh Donaldson that gave this team its first big win in a month. Donaldson hammered a 10th-inning, walk-off grand slam to beat the Rays 8-7 at Yankee Stadium.
“The guys were pumped,” Donaldson said of the celebration on the field. “I definitely think that was some kind of release of some joy and some frustration over the past couple weeks for sure.”
The Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak and won just their third game in their last 14. They are 9-17 since the All-Star break and 12-22 since reaching their high-water mark of 38 games above .500. They moved back to 10 games ahead of the Rays (62-54) in the American League East.
With Aaron Judge as the ghost runner in the bottom of the 10th, Gleyber Torres singled and Anthony Rizzo walked to set the stage for Donaldson.
Donaldson’s grand slam was just his third homer at the Stadium this season. It was the 10th walk-off grand slam in Yankees history and just the third with the Bombers trailing by at least three runs, joining Jason Giambi and Babe Ruth.
“I think that’s who we are as a team. I don’t think the last two weeks is who we are,” Donaldson said. “I think that’s a little more of a blip more than anything. For us to be ourselves and go out there and compete to the last final out and pick each other up. That’s what we do.”
It is what the Yankees did a lot of in the first half of the season. Wednesday’s walk-off was their 13th of the season. It was their 31st come-from-behind win. The Yankees had to battle back twice Wednesday night.
Jose Trevino led off the eighth with a single and DJ LeMahieu, pinch hitting for Estevan Florial, lined the first pitch he’s seen since Saturday into right field to put the tying run on base. Andrew Benintendi drew a walk and then Pete Fairbanks walked Aaron Judge on four pitches to cut the Rays’ lead to 4-3.
Torres, who had snapped an 18-game homerless streak with a two-run shot in the sixth, grounded into a double play to end the threat. It was the 11th inning-ending double play with the bases loaded for the Yankees this season. Anthony Rizzo, however, led off the eighth with his 28th home run of the season to tie the game.
But then after getting 1.1 scoreless innings from Scott Effross, Aaron Boone went with Aroldis Chapman with one out in the top of the 10th. The Yankees’ former closer came in and walked back-to-back batters to load the bases with one out. He struck out Jose Siri and got ahead 0-2 against Francisco Mejia before the Rays catcher chipped a 101 mph fastball down the right field line for a three-run double.
“I mean, that’s one of those gut punches, with what we’re going through, especially when it felt like Chappy was kind of righting the ship there,” Boone said. “He gets Siri on the strikeout and has two good heaters to start out Mejia and then it’s that kind of block hit over there and it’s just inside the line.
“It’s kind of a gut punch right there. But credit to the guys it’s like ‘Hey, let’s keep fighting.’”
It has been a fight for the Yankees the last two weeks. They have lost five straight series. Without Giancarlo Stanton (Achilles injury) and LeMahieu (missed three games with big toe inflammation), their lineup has looked lifeless. Donaldson, the former AL MVP the Yankees took in a trade to acquire Isiah Kiner-Falefa, has struggled. He’s slugging .391 with an OPS of .698, well below his career averages of .496 and .859 respectively.
“He’s been grinding a lot, as a lot of these guys have, especially lately, trying to get on track,” Boone said. “He’s a great player and a great hitter. And, I keep believing that that’s going to show up in an extended period here and you know, that’s about as big as one you can get right there.”
Donaldson’s struggles, along with those of Kiner-Falefa and Aaron Hicks, as well as the team’s recent slide had them adding prospects Florial and Oswaldo Cabrera to the roster Wednesday. Florial made a tremendous catch at his shoelaces to end the seventh and went 0-for-2 in his 25th major league game. Cabrera went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his major league debut.
“Today was amazing. Today was so amazing,” Cabrera said. “I didn’t get my base hit, but we got the big win. … I was so excited to be a little part of it.”