The Yankees came out of the gate firing on all cylinders.
After another lifeless loss on Friday to the Tampa Rays, the Bombers seemed like an entirely different team in their 10-3 win on Saturday at Yankee Stadium, which brought their division lead back to four-and-a-half games (three games in the loss column).
The team that is deemed all-or-nothing and over-reliant on the long ball began the afternoon with seven straight singles leading to an early 4-0 lead. Kyle Higashioka knocked in the fifth run of the inning on a fielder’s choice and Aaron Judge delivered the final blow to Corey Kluber with his second single of the inning, giving the Bombers a 6-0 lead.
Kluber was pulled with two outs in the first inning having allowed six runs on eight hits.
“Awesome, just great at-bats from everyone,” said Yankees skipper Aaron Boone. “It was a collection of very good at-bats and good two-strike at-bats.”
Perhaps the Yankees seemed like an entirely different team because they quite literally were. Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson returned to the lineup and slotted into the second and fourth spots in the order. Donaldson was on the paternity list and returned with some newly acquired “Dad strength,” and turned in one of his biggest performances of the season.
“It was big, and he brought a lot of energy with him today,” Boone said. “I think guys kind of fed off of it a little bit. We need that from him, he’s a premium player when he’s going and we got to continue to get that from him.”
The third baseman’s second-inning solo shot gave the Bombers a commanding 7-0 lead. Donaldson was 2-for-3 with a homer, mixed in with a bat-flip single off the right field wall in the first. Donaldson also scored the eighth run of the game on a wild pitch. While the 36-year-old was out, the Yankees were missing that “edge” that he brings to the table, said winning pitcher Jameson Taillon.
“It’s fun, [Donaldson’s] definitely got an edge to him for sure,” Taillon said. “While he was out, understandably so on the paternity list, we definitely missed it a little bit. He can definitely bring some edge for us.”
Stanton was slotted behind Judge in the batting order and his presence provided much more impact than the box score indicates. The 32-year-old slugger was 2-for-5 with a homer that came off catcher Christian Bethancourt, who pitched the ninth. But his protection also helped Judge enjoy a big day.
Judge was 3-for-4 with an RBI, adding to his MVP qualifications by boosting his batting average to .307 ― just 11 points behind AL leader Xander Bogaerts, which may begin an AL Triple Crown watch amid Judge’s already historic season.
Judge, who hit home run No. 55 on Wednesday, has now been kept in the yard in four straight games.
“I just think he’s [Judge] so locked in and not giving anything away,” said Boone. “Obviously teams and pitchers are pitching him tough and he’s not leaving the strike zone. I just think his focus and plan of attack and what he wants to do when he walks up there is very clear for him.”
Taillon delivered in his biggest outing of the season. The right-hander was pulled with one out in the eighth inning. He gave up three runs on six hits while striking out eight and exited to a rowdy standing ovation.
“It gave me chills walking off,” said Taillon. “I knew we needed a big game and the offense comes out and puts up six in the first, it made my job really easy to just cruise the rest of the way.”
Before Saturday’s start, Taillon only faced the Rays once this season, back on May 27 when he threw eight shutout innings at Tropicana Field.
Lou Trivino inherited a jam in the top of the eighth. With runners on second and third and one out, Trivino struck out Randy Arozarena and then allowed a two-RBI single to Harold Ramirez. Both runs were charged to Taillon. Jonathan Loaisiga was called on to pitch the ninth inning and retired the side in order.
The Bombers needed a laugher in the worst way and it came in the heat of a divisional battle with the cloud of a historic collapse hanging over their heads.