There are times it can look so easy. This was one of those times.
(It helped, of course, that the opponent was the Minnesota Twins, a team that grows weak in the knee at the mere mention of the word “Yankees,” no matter the context. Pop in a DVR of “Damn Yankees” and 15 Twins will dive under a desk before the first verse of “Ya Gotta Have Heart” is over.)
But this was more than just one overpowering team having its way with one profoundly overmatched one. There are times in a baseball season when you can just sense that things are starting to click. Hitters who weren’t hitting start hitting. Guys who already were hitting keep hitting. Pitchers who looked like tomato cans now look like Walter Johnson.
And the wins start to pile up. Slowly at first. But the pile grows. The modest pile for the Yankees now sits at four wins in their past five games, and the record is now 12-9 following this 14-1 emasculation of the Twins at Yankee Stadium on Monday night.
The Red Sox are still Out There somewhere, still sitting at 17-4 even after losing two in a row to Oakland, but suddenly the Yankees have shaved 2 ½ games off their lead the past three days. The Yankees still have lots of swings and misses in their lineup. They still throw Sonny Gray out there every five days, and even Carnac the Magnificent couldn’t predict what that’s going to mean.
But you can hear the click now.
“Tonight,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, “was a great night.”
You can see the swagger that fills this team when it is on a roll, and it is on a roll now, pounding the ball, pitching the ball, overwhelming the Blue Jays three times over the weekend and simply cauterizing the Twins on Monday night.
(Honestly, it’s not like the Twins are a dreadful operation. Since 2002 they’ve made the playoffs seven times. They play quite well against just about every other team in baseball. But they are now 31-79 against the Yankees since 2002 — and it’s even worse in October, where they’ve lost 10 straight games and five straight series, dropping 13 out of 15 overall. This is vintage hammer-and-nail stuff.)
Monday was one of those rare games you get in a baseball season when everything went well and everyone played well and everyone in the park, especially the 39,249 who paid their way in, felt awfully good about just about everything.
Giancarlo Stanton had four hits, including a home run that threatened to shatter the Bank of America sign about 600 feet away from home plate beyond left field. Didi Gregorius hit a grand slam. Miguel Andujar had his nightly supply of two extra-base hits (including a bomb of his own. Masahiro Tanaka, entering the game with a 6.45 ERA (8.27 in his past three starts) was his vintage self, dismissing Twins hitters as much as retiring them.
And Gleyber Torres got into the act, lacing a clean single in the bottom of the eighth for the first of his 3,215 career hits (give or take), which was the real highlight of a six-run eighth inning even more than Gregorius’ slam.
It’s an easy game when it flows like this, and it won’t always be this easy, but for now the Yankees do have the look of a team starting to understand itself, starting to realize all it is capable of being.
“Guys kept having quality at-bats and grinding their way through,” Boone said. “And [Tanaka] took it from there.”
Nothing makes the Yankees feel more dangerous than when Stanton looked as he did Monday. It was a good night for the slugger who has had too few of them at Yankee Stadium early in his career. His first at-bat he rallied from an 0-and-2 hole to draw a walk and extend the first inning for Gary Sanchez, who obliterated a fastball with such might it nearly bore a hole through the outfield fence before settling for a two-run double.
“We’re going to hurt you 1 through 9,” Stanton said “Once we’re all clicking, going to be a fun sight.”
Tanaka? After allowing 12 earned runs in his past 10 innings, he was masterful, working off his fastball and teasing the Twins across 6 ²/₃ innings.
“My command was better than any other game this season,” Tanaka said, and the Twins weren’t about to argue. Neither were the Yankees. Right now, there’s not a lot to complain about for the local nine. Life is good when things start to click.
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