This series began miserably for the Yankees. With Masahiro Tanaka again more batting practice pitcher than ace. With a one-run loss abetted by 10 hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position. With the Red Sox winning Tuesday to move within one game of first place.
That merely made what followed more revealing. The Yankees closed this series outscoring the Red Sox 17-1, including 9-1 Thursday night. They moved their division lead back to three games.
But it was more than that. This was another series in which the Yankees accentuated they are no fluke. That they can take a punch and counter. Had the Red Sox generated momentum from the series-opening win to sweep, they would lead the AL East. Instead, the Yankees are back to three ahead.
“I think we have been pretty resilient all year,” manager Joe Girardi said.
They have, not letting bad mushroom to something worse. The Yankees have yet to have even a four-game losing streak this season, and the notion they are merely holding first until the division-favorite Red Sox hit their best gear is not as strong after the Yanks improved to 4-1 against Boston this year.
For here are the Yankees winning with their ace struggling, with closer Aroldis Chapman on the disabled list and with little production from the corner infielders.
It is even more than that, though. Whatever the concerns with Tanaka, they pale to what the Red Sox are enduring with David Price, who is warring with the media off the field while continuing to be unable to tame the Yankees on it — all at the bargain price of $217 million.
And in the series finale, these Yankees raised the possibility that perhaps the best is still to come. That Gary Sanchez can join Aaron Judge to power the Yankees through the summer — emphasis on power.
“I hope to see it,” Chase Headley said. “They can be as good a 1-2 punch in the middle of a lineup as there is in the majors. They have game-changing type talent and power.”
The first out of this game came when Sanchez used his cannon arm to nail Mookie Betts trying to steal. He continued his personal ownership of Price with two homers accounting for five runs.
Though Judge did not homer, his three-hit game included a 119.8 mph single in the sixth — the hardest-hit ball of 2017. In fact, Judge has hit three balls this year 119 mph or harder. The rest of the majors is currently stuck on zero.
“That is why I call him ‘The Animal,’ ” Sanchez said of Judge, his longtime minor league teammate. “He’s amazing.”
Before “The Animal” there was “The Kraken,” Sanchez taking on a mythical nickname with his 20-homer, two-month barrage to end last season. To just equal that in 2017 would have meant a 60-homer season. Instead, he has eight. Which doesn’t sound like much. Except it ties him with Houston’s Brian McCann and Kansas City’s Salvador Perez for the most by an AL catcher. And Sanchez missed a month earlier with a biceps injury.
Sanchez entered just 4-for-25 (.160) without an extra-base hit against lefties this year. But Price brings out the best in the Yankees catcher. He is now 4-for-7 off the southpaw — all four hits homers.
Price has allowed six runs in four of his six starts as a Red Sox against the Yankees, going 1-4 with an 8.31 ERA. You want to be unpopular in Boston? Just sign a huge contract, fail against the Yankees, react poorly about it all. Rinse, repeat.
For Sanchez, it was his fifth two-homer effort in 87 career games and as Jeff Quagliata of YES Network pointed out, only Mark McGwire in 1987 has done that as well.
The Yankees’ hope was over the next few years, Sanchez, Judge and Greg Bird would evolve into a middle-of-the-lineup force. It may be arriving earlier than expected. Bird is currently hitting third at Triple-A trying to work back from a bone bruise in his right foot.
Sanchez recently was dropped from second in the lineup to sixth. Girardi said the priority was to get Aaron Hicks more at-bats. But even Sanchez conceded, “I wasn’t doing my job hitting second.”
He did it hitting sixth Thursday. It helped reinforce that the Yankees are not merely a feel-good story in the AL East. The Red Sox were viewed as having the most talented roster in the division, perhaps in the whole AL, when this season began. And the Yankees have more than stood toe to toe with them.
As a series in June that did not begin well has reemphasized, these Yankees have many powers, including resilience and, well, raw power.