If you’re the Yankees, you don’t prove yourself in May. Or June, July, August and September, for that matter. October provides the proving ground for this franchise.
Nevertheless, the Yankees are proving something pretty much every day they take the field. Their 7-6 victory over the Indians in The Bronx on Friday in an exhilarating mess of a game that was played with summer in the air and the postseason on the brain, proved for the second consecutive game they can take a punch.
They lost a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh on Thursday in Houston, fell behind 5-3, and won with three runs in the ninth. On Friday, they flushed a 5-0 lead in the top of the eighth after CC Sabathia had provided six spotless innings, could not hold a 6-5 lead in the ninth when Aroldis Chapman threw a wild pitch to allow the tying run, and still won it in the bottom of the inning on Miguel Andujar’s walk-off, two-out single.
And this surge, now extended to 13-1 since April 21 that includes seven out of eight against quality opponents in the Angels, Astros and Indians proves in the larger sense the Yankees are capable of being the sort of powerhouse on the field they were projected to be on paper.
“This team is special,” said Aaron Judge, who drew a bases-loaded, full-count walk to put the Yankees up 6-5 in the bottom of the eighth. “When we all start clicking, it’s going to be fun.”
That seems to be the tag line to the show: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.
“I’m proud to be associated with them,” manager Aaron Boone said. “They’re really good at turning the page on yesterday’s events no matter good, bad or indifferent. They grind away. That’s a trait I really appreciate.”
Two weeks ago, the Yankees were sputtering at 9-9. The Red Sox were already 7 ¹/₂ games ahead at 17-2, threatening to run away. In the interim, the Yankees have gone 12-1, Boston 6-7 after Friday’s win at Texas. That yesterday seems so far away, with the Yankees turning the theoretical into practice. You don’t have to be a seer to see the possibilities. You just have to look onto the field.
Yes, it was another terrific night for the kids, with Andujar driving in the winner to cap a three-hit night and Gleyber Torres socking his first big league homer, a three-run job in the fourth. But the most meaningful takeaway of the evening was provided by Sabathia, who was simply masterful in limiting the Indians to three hits while striking out seven without walking a batter.
It has become cliché to laud Sabathia for making the adaptation from power pitcher who could blow you away to, well, a pitcher who knows how to pitch and out-thinks you. The cliché almost overshadows the 37-year-old’s renaissance into a top-of-the-rotation arm. That is exactly what the Yankees, overloaded everywhere else, require on a starting staff that can be finicky.
“Great,” Aaron Boone said of Sabathia, who reduced his ERA to 1.39 over six starts and 32 ¹/₃ innings. “He really knows how to pitch with what he has. He knows what the heck he’s doing. He has a great game plan and knows how to execute it.”
Sabathia mixed his cutter, slider and changeup in keeping the Indians off balance throughout. Cleveland had two men in scoring position, one with one out in the fourth and one with two out in the sixth. The veteran seemed to get stronger the longer he went. Of the seven swings-and-misses he induced, five came in his final two innings.
Thus, at only 92 pitches, 61 of which were strikes, he wanted to come out for the seventh. Boone decided otherwise.
“I toyed with it, but it was his third time through on regular rest and we need to make sure we take care of him,” Boone said of the lefty who came off the disabled list on April 19 after suffering a hip sprain. “We’re trying to balance the long game. It was the right thing to do.”
Sabathia’s value exceeds his work on the mound. He is the club’s spiritual leader.
“And my reverence for him has probably grown, if that’s possible. He’s an all-time teammate from my couple of years with him,” said Boone, who played two seasons with Sabathia in Cleveland. “He’s a Hall of Fame caliber player who provides leadership by example. He’s one of the drivers of the culture in the clubhouse. There’s no one better to look to as a model.”
In other words, the anti-Matt Harvey. That has been proven.
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