In taking two of three games from the Tampa Bay Rays, the New York Yankees sewed up home-field advantage in the Wild Card game. While it appeared as though the pinstripes would be well on their way to a series sweep and closer to realistically taking the division, the team seems to be taking a tune-up approach heading into October.
Elevating his status on the Yankees postseason roster, Aaron Hicks didn’t have much time to impress and didn’t waste any either. Back from the disabled list, the Yankees outfielder made a game-changing grab in center, helping demoralize and down the Rays 6-1. In the process, New York ensured it would host the AL Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium.
ALL RISE AARON HICKS
Ordinarily, the Brooklyn Nets don’t start playing basketball on the YES Network until October and the “All Rise” moniker is typically reserved for Aaron Judge. Yet, it was Hicks rising to the occasion and bringing the Bronx faithful to its feet.
With the bases loaded and one down, Jordan Montgomery was looking to find his oats in the first inning. Rays catcher Wilson Ramos sent a deep fly to center, where Hicks on his horse made a running leap and full extension grab over the wall to rob a would-be grand slam. What would’ve been four was limited to a sacrifice fly and the lone Rays run on the evening.
During the second, the Bronx Bombers offense used every way possible to score against Blake Snell and the Rays.
Starlin Castro led the charge with a solo bomb to left-center. The equalizer was No. 15 for Castro on the campaign.
Ensuing hitters Todd Frazier, Clint Frazier and Ronald Torreyes all collected three consecutive singles to load the bases. Hicks and Judge followed with consecutive RBI-walks.
After Gary Sanchez lined into a double-play, Chaz Roe was brought on to pitch. Following a Judge steal of second, a wild pitch by Roe enabled Torreyes to score from third.
New York would tack on two more runs in the eighth inning against Austin Pruitt, on consecutive RBI-singles by Sanchez and Matt Holliday.
Working himself back with an economical outing was Dellin Betances in the ninth. Betances worked a flawless frame on only seven pitches.
It was lights, camera, action in a star-studded off-Broadway production in the Bronx. The Bronx Bombers bats were out in full force in another 6-1 victory.
There’s a new Twitter handle called “Past Fangraphs,” which I’m sure will have a field day with this in about 10 years. Did I miss something? When this “unclutch” narrative thing start with Judge anyhow?
It certainly did not apply Wednesday night. Trailing 1-0 in the fifth, the pinstripes began to rally back against Matt Andriese. Jacoby Ellsbury coaxed a walk and with Ellsbury in motion, Hicks was able to rip a single to right, setting up runners at the corners. After Brett Gardner lined out to shortstop, Judge deposited the seventh breaking ball he saw from Andriese for a two-run double to left.
THE TOE-NIGHT SHOW
When you play in the big city you have to answer to the media. Reporter Didi Gregorius and photog Ronald Torreyes made sure to hold the rest of the Yankee lineup accountable in the dugout.
During the sixth inning, Castro went yard to left for the second time in as many days, squaring the contest at one.
Ensuing batter Greg Bird followed with his second homer in three games, launching one into the upper deck in right.
After Chase Headley singled to left and advanced to second on an Ellsbury groundout, Hicks stroked a two-run tater to left.
Luis Severino threw an almost effortless tune-up to cap off a top-three Cy Young worthy season. Severino fanned nine batters through six and notched win No. 14. The lone blemish was a solo homer to left by Adeiny Hechavarria in the fifth.
Sevy is now tied for 3rd on our all-time single-season strikeout list!
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This marked the 17th outing of one-run or less by Severino, tops in MLB and the best by a Yankees hurler since Ron Guidry in 1978. His 2.98 ERA is the first sub-three ERA by a Yankees qualifying starter since David Cone (2.82) and Andy Pettitte (2.88) did so in 1997. Severino’s 230 K’s are tied with CC Sabathia’s 2011 mark for third-most in a single season by a Yankees pitcher.
BETANCES KEEPS IT 100
Betances also made history on the mound. Building himself back up, nine of his 13 pitches were strikes and he picked up a strikeout in a flawless eighth inning. In doing so, Betances became the fifth relief pitcher to record four consecutive 100-strikeout seasons, joining Chapman, Duane Ward, Rob Dibble and Dick Radatz.
For a time it appeared as though the Yankees were well on their way to a convincing sweep of the Rays and gaining ground on Boston in the process. While the offense was there in the early going, the pitching and defense fell apart in a 9-6 loss.
BRONX BOMBERS BROADCAST
It was another evening of must-see TV offensively for the pinstripes. Gardner, Judge, Bird and Hicks all went yard for New York. Consecutive home runs by Gardner and Judge against Jacob Faria posted the club to a 2-1 lead in the first inning.
A solo bomb by Bird off Chih-Wei Hu in the fourth gave the Yankees a 4-1 advantage and it appeared as though Sonny Gray would finally get some solid run support.
GRAY GOES GUUUH
If the Yankees advance to the ALDS, they’ll begin their series on the road, which is where Gray should start. It almost seemed like he tried to be too fine with his pitches and the wheels fell off in the fifth.
A one-out wild pitch allowed Mallex Smith to score and a throwing error by Sanchez enabled Corey Dickerson to advance to third. With two down, a passed ball by Sanchez allowed Dickerson to score. I’m not going as far as some outlets out there suggesting Sanchez should DH in the playoffs but it probably didn’t help Gray in trying to be extra careful by aiming instead of throwing his pitches.
The frame continued to unravel after a two-run homer to center by Ramos gave the Rays a 5-4 edge. After Hechavarria singled and Daniel Robertson was hit by a pitch, Gray was done, issuing six runs, five walks and two home runs.
LOSING THE BATTLE TO WIN THE WAR?
As scoreboard watchers saw the Houston Astros pounding the Boston Red Sox 9-2, Girardi decided to go to Jonathan Holder, citing the unavailability of Green and Betances.
Holder was rocked around and didn’t record an out, yielding a RBI-single to Cesar Puello and a two-run triple to Peter Bourjos.
Girardi then went to Chasen Shreve, who gave up a homer to Trevor Plouffe in the sixth.
To be fair to Girardi, it can be difficult to make decisions to go all in when you don’t control your own destiny. That said, it makes one wonder why one would rest guys with three-plus games left in the regular season with a chance to win the division as the team ahead of you is getting smoked?
Maybe the expression “sleep in November” is old hat in today’s game but no one had better use the excuse of being “rusty” when the Yankees host the Minnesota Twins Tuesday night in the Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium.
At 89-70, the Yankees will host the Toronto for a three-game series starting Friday afternoon, the final series of the regular season.
Pitching probables Joe Biagini vs. Masahiro Tanaka, Marcus Stroman vs. Jaime Garcia, Brett Anderson vs. Jordan Montgomery.