Who would have imagined a week ago at the Trop in St. Petersburg Florida when the Rays trailed the Yankees 6-0 in the fifth inning. They mounted their comeback against Gerrit Cole and the AL East was beginning to resemble a mismatch between two fighters.
The Yankees, though, with all of their scoring and starting rotation issues said they would be in a fight. The Rays would not be handed the AL East and the Yankees knew the season was one-fifth in the books. So the past two ball games in the Bronx, the Yankees kept on fighting. They lost the first game of a four-game series against the Rays, by far the best team in baseball, and leading 29 other teams in offensive categories.
Friday evening in the Bronx, Cole did not have his best fastball. The Rays got to him, but the fighting Yankees made their comeback and won 5-4, It was their eighth come from behind win of the season. Saturday afternoon, how about the Yankees turning the tables on what the Rays did to them last week? Not possible is it? As they say, this is baseball and you play everyday. The Yankees kept fighting and recorded another comeback, 9-8, and the notion that the AL East was not in a surrender mode.
Too early to surrender, then again, Yankees manager Aaron Boone never stated the Yankees were in a better position to settle for an AL Wild Card instead of the division title, this as the Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays continued to win.
In a matter of seven days later, those invincible Rays showed they can lose in the late innings. The fighting Yankees showed they can win in the late innings.
Then again, Aaron Judge has worked around his mechanics and is hitting home runs again, a pair of two-run homers against the sudden and incapable Rays pitching, a stigma causing issues for a team that leads baseball with 30-wins.
“Wow, it’s crazy,” said Boone. “It’s such a long season. This was a really good win for us. I like where we are at.”
It’s how the Yankees are scoring runs that is making a difference. In the sixth, Anthony Volpe reached base on a bunt to the left side. He stole second and third. When an ensuing slider went in the dirt, the rookie rushed to the plate to score. Volpe is 13-for-13 in stolen bases, a total that was last seen from a Yankees rookie named Joe DiMaggio. “Those are energy plays,” Boone said. “Any time I get on, I want to try and push the envelope,” was how Volpe described it.
The fighting Yankees were in their comeback mood. Yankee Stadium with capacity crowds, had that aroma of October baseball being played in mid-May.
The reality is, a week ago Boone and his team were 9-½ games behind the Rays, sitting last in the Al East. The Yankees are seven games behind and conclude the series this afternoon.
In April and May, the winning is important because losing will also come back and haunt you in September, but with the expanded wild card format, the Yankees were never out of that picture.
“We’ve got a lot of grinders in this clubhouse,” Judge said. “This was one of the most fun games we’ve played all year. We’re facing the best. They’re bringing it every single night, we’re bringing it every single at bat.”
Home runs, 23 of them in May, winning eight of their last 11, and the Yankees in this series have never been ruled out. They were confident that 6-0 deficit would not last long. It’s a sign that things have rapidly turned around.
“We feed off the energy of the crowd,” Boone said about the fight also of the Yankees fan base. “ Feels like it becomes a good home advantage.”
A fight to the end. Wandy Peralta challenged Brandon Lowe with sinkers in a 10-pitch at bat and got a game ending fly ball to left, leaving the tying run at second. The fight of these Yankees wasn’t scoring knockdowns like this a week ago.
“That’s what this team is trying to do,” Judge said. “All we can control is the next game, that next at-bat, that first pitch.”
Yes, the fight has just started. The Yankees will look for the series win Sunday afternoon and that bad start to the season will be in the distance. The AL East has many more hotly contested battles to anticipate in the months ahead.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter @Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso