BALTIMORE — More than a few times this season, Aaron Boone has been asked to recall the first time he saw Miguel Andujar in the batting cage.
And one phrase, every time, has been a part of Boone’s answer.
The first-year Yankees manager knew from early spring training that Andujar with a bat in his hands is “something special.”
That didn’t translate into consistent playing time until Brandon Drury had to go on the disabled list early this season, but once he replaced the since-traded third baseman, Andujar seized the opportunity. And he hasn’t let up, establishing himself as the front-runner for American League Rookie of the Year honors.
The march to that award continued in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Orioles. Andujar had two hits, including a game-turning three-run homer, and four RBIs as the Yankees earned a 10-3 victory in front of 32,445 at Camden Yards.
In the nightcap, Sonny Gray, much to the surprise of Yankees fans and maybe even the Yankees themselves, threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 5-1 victory that was played at breakneck speed as both clubs seemed in a hurry to get to Sunday night’s series finale.
There was far less offensive excitement than in the first game, when the Yankees homered four times, but Andujar still managed two of his club’s 12 hits, raising his season slash line to .300/.330/.526.
Austin Romine homered in the ninth inning of the second game to make it 5-0. The Yankees (82-47) moved within seven games of the AL East-leading Red Sox (90-41), six in the loss column, and are 35 games over .500 for the first time this season. They have won seven of eight (and 14 of 19) and Boston has lost five of seven, making things a bit more interesting.
Gray (10-8), demoted from the rotation because of his performance and the emergence of Lance Lynn, allowed three hits and a walk in picking up his first win as a starter since July 26. Helped by terrific breaking stuff, the righty struck out seven.
“If I can go out and throw the ball like that, I think I can get anybody out,’’ Gray said. “I know I can get anybody out. I’m one of the best starting pitchers in this league and I truly believe that. it’s the belief that will keep me moving forward.”
He added, “I talked to Ro [Romine] before the game and just said, ‘Let’s just fill up the zone as much as we can. Whatever happens happens. Let’s just go out there and fill up the zone and pound and attack these guys.’ It worked out pretty well tonight.”
It was a pair of easy wins for the Yankees, somewhat of a surprise given the trouble they’ve had this season with the Orioles (37-93), against whom they’re 9-6. Before Friday, it was 6-6.
Boone said of sweeping the doubleheader: “We’re in a tough stretch right now, a little beat up, and guys are just grinding away. To rack up a couple of wins today is huge for us. Hopefully we can finish off a great series tomorrow.”
In Game 1, J.A. Happ lifted his record to 5-0 since the Yankees acquired him and 15-6 overall, allowing two runs and five hits in six innings. He walked one and struck out nine.
Andujar hit his 21st homer, a three-run shot to left-center off Jimmy Yacabonis that snapped a 2-2 tie in the third inning. He has seven homers and 22 RBIs in his last 18 games.
“I mean, he’s a special kind of talent, it looks like to me,” Happ said between games. “The production has been huge for us.”
Andujar came into the day leading all MLB rookies in average (.297), extra-base hits (58), doubles (36) and multi-hit games (41).
“The thing is, there are more important things right now overall,” Andujar said through his translator, referring to the Rookie of the Year talk. “It’s important to win games. We have a bigger goal in mind, that’s the focus right now. If it happens, it happens. But we’re trying to accomplish something bigger here than an individual award.”
“Being banged up, we’ve needed guys to step up and he’s gone right into the middle of that lineup,” said Boone, who used the phrase “the total package” to describe Andujar as a hitter. “And he’s a guy you feel good about when he comes up to the plate, especially in a big spot, no matter who’s on the mound. It has been nice that he’s continued to evolve the way he has.”
The Yankees had four homers and 11 hits in the first game. Three were by Aaron Hicks, who hit his 21st homer and finished a triple shy of the cycle. Andujar, Shane Robinson and Gleyber Torres, who hit his 19th homer, added two hits each. Brett Gardner added a two-run homer that made it 7-2.
In the second game Romine had three hits, including his ninth homer, and Andujar, Hicks and Torres each added two.