Yankees' Aaron Hicks hits a three-run home run to tie...

Yankees' Aaron Hicks hits a three-run home run to tie the score 6-6 against the Houston Astros during the ninth inning of an MLB baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Aaron Hicks said it felt amazing — contact so solid that he barely felt the ball come off the bat. And as the ball soared through the air Thursday, a tying three-run homer into the bleachers in right-centerfield in the ninth inning of a game the Yankees would win on Aaron Judge’s walk-off single, there must’ve been a few other feelings in the Bronx, too.

It had to feel like relief, maybe even a little bit like hope.

The Yankees may seem close to unstoppable this season, but it’s been less than a charmed few months (or few years, really) for Hicks, who ended May with a .200/.326/.233 slash line. But there appears to be a glimmer of something resembling a turnaround for the switch-hitting outfielder, who came into Friday with a  .300/.391/.450 slash line, a double, a triple, two homers, 11 RBIs, nine runs, seven walks and two stolen bases in 19 June games. He had only two extra-base hits before that. He has 10 RBIs in his last 10 starts after recording only eight in his previous 42 starts this year.

“I think it’s a product of a guy just getting back, a guy that’s worked really hard, and hopefully that’s something he can continue to do,” Aaron Boone said. “When he’s going like he’s capable of, he’s a difference-maker, with his ability to control the strike zone and this athleticism, and he just adds that kind of weight to our lineup.”

The Yankees don’t necessarily need an offensive dynamo — Hicks is a career .233 hitter — but they do need his versatility, his defense and his ability to get on base. But injury and ineffectiveness at the plate have marred his last few seasons, and though he’s healthy this year, it’s taken time for him to find his footing.

Hicks' saving grace, Boone said, has been his ability to get on base (a .347 on-base percentage going into Friday), which certainly has its value when there are so many other hitters in the Yankees' lineup who can do damage.

Thursday “was a good moment for him to really step on a ball from the left side of the plate, that was really good to see,” Boone said. “This month, I feel like he’s slowly but surely started to get some results, gaining traction. He’s worked really hard. He’s done so much extra work and extra hitting to kind of get himself in that position.”

Chapman rehabs, Holmes still in play

Clay Holmes hasn’t officially pitched Aroldis Chapman out of a role, but he does seem to have pitched him out of a full-time role. Chapman (Achilles) began his rehab assignment with Double-A Somerset on Friday, but with the way Holmes has dominated, Boone reiterated that the duo will split time in the closer role.

“I kind of laugh at the continued questions of Chappy and Holmes,” Boone said. “I’m excited about getting Chappy back and healthy and another impactful reliever. We’ve been banged up out there with Greeny [Chad Green] going down, with Lo [Jonathan Loaisiga] going down, with Chappy going down. Obviously, not having Brit [Zack Britton]. It’s just going to make us better. You know, Clay Holmes has become an absolute beast, and hopefully Chappy is healthy and gives us another guy that can really help shorten the game.”

Holmes has a 0.53 ERA  with 12 saves, one blown save, seven holds, 35 strikeouts  in 33 2/3 innings and a 0.71 WHIP. He recently went 29 straight appearances without allowing a run (in 31 1/3 innings). Chapman, meanwhile, was struggling before going down with the Achilles injury on May 24, pitching to a 3.86 ERA.

Walk it off

Thursday was the Yankees' major league-best ninth walk-off victory of the season and 21st comeback win. They’re also 16-6 in one-run games, also the best in baseball.

“It’s been fun,” Boone said. “It’s been exciting [to see] just the level of confidence that the guys are playing with, and I think each time you’re able to do that, it adds to that confidence and you get comfortable playing in those close games or on the nights where we do kind of have to work our way back into it. The guys always have that confidence that they can come through, and last night embodied that.”

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