Whoever first observed that baseball is a funny sport may have been envisioning games like the Yankees’ 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees, who had rolled up 29 runs and 34 hits against the Twins over the first three games of the series, were struggling to manage even a single off Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson, who in his six previous starts against them was 1-4 with a 9.21 earned run average.
The Yankees did manage to end Gibson’s bid for a perfect game, with Brett Gardner’s walk in the fourth inning, and stop his no-hitter, with Gardner’s single in the sixth inning. But even when they finally got him out of the game, they had scarcely more success against a pair of middle relievers, Addison Reed and Zach Duke.
The Yankees were still behind, 3-1, in the bottom of the ninth, when they came up to face Twins closer Fernando Rodney, who had given them fits in his previous incarnations with the Tigers, Angels and Rays.
Then some really strange things began to happen. Didi Gregorius, the hottest hitter in a red-hot lineup, hit a bullet at third baseman Miguel Sano. He fielded it cleanly — and threw wildly past first baseman Logan Morrison, putting the leadoff hitter at second.
Then Giancarlo Stanton, perhaps the most powerful bat in the Yankees’ order, hit a soft bouncer toward the shortstop. Sano cut off his shortstop and collected the ball — but this time he held his throw, putting runners at first and second.
That brought up Gary Sanchez, who hit two home runs on Tuesday but had been hitless on Thursday. He came to bat with a .193 average and had not faced Rodney before.
Two pitches later, the game was over. Rodney tried to come inside with a 96 mile-an-hour fastball, but the pitch tailed back over the plate, and Sanchez launched it in a high arc down the left-field line. It curled inside the foul pole and landed several rows deep in the lower stands.
It was Sanchez’s sixth home run of the season. And just like that, what seemed destined for a sleepy defeat turned into a rousing victory, a rare four-game series sweep and an 8-2 homestand for the Yankees, who have now won six straight.
“I always feel like that’s possible,” Manager Aaron Boone said. “If we can get traffic on the bases, we’re always one swing away with our guys.”
For five and two-thirds innings, the Yankees could get no traffic against Gibson, who struck out 10 batters, a career high, and stifled them with a sinking fastball that ran in on the hands of right-handed hitters.
But after Gardner singled and Aaron Judge followed with a walk, Twins Manager Paul Molitor removed his starter before the seventh and replaced him with Reed. The Yankees got a run that inning on a double by Stanton and a sacrifice fly by Aaron Hicks, but could do nothing in the eighth against Duke.
In the home dugout, Boone chose to gamble by sending Dellin Betances, who was yanked after three batters in a disastrous seventh inning on Tuesday night, to pitch the ninth. Showing flashes of the four-time All-Star reliever he has been, Betances struck out the side on 13 pitches, keeping the game close enough for the Yankees to mount their game-winning rally. Betances got the win, his first of the year.
It was also a first for Sanchez, who had never hit a game-ending home run in the major leagues and could remember only one previously in his career, in Class AAA. But he knew what went with a game-winner at Yankee Stadium — a drenching at home plate with a Gatorade cooler.
“I don’t know who did it,” he said. “But I can tell you it was very cold.”
The win sent the Yankees off on a stretch of 13 games against four teams — the Los Angeles Angels, the defending world champion Houston Astros, the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians — all of whom are at or near the top of their divisions.
“Our approach doesn’t change whether the team we’re playing is in first place or last place,” Sanchez said. “Our focus is to win every day.”
Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin, who was involved in a brawl with Boston Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly at Fenway Park on April 12, had his suspension reduced to four games from five. He will begin serving the suspension with Friday’s game against the Angels in Anaheim. In his absence, second baseman Neil Walker will move to first base.
An earlier version of this article misstated the player who hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. It was Aaron Hicks, not Aaron Judge.
Published at Fri, 27 Apr 2018 00:05:05 +0000