The way Yankees manager Aaron Boone saw it from the start of spring training, Austin Romine was going to be important for the Yankees. He liked what the backup brought to the game behind the plate. Still, he knew that if Romine produced more while standing next to it, the benefits could be widespread.
Romine has been the player that Boone hoped he’d be. After going 1-for-2 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Cleveland at the Stadium, he is batting .286 with a .375 on-base percentage. And on a day when the Yankees scored five runs despite managing only four hits, he was involved in two of the most important at-bats of the game.
With the Yankees down 1-0 in the fifth, Romine won an eight-pitch battle with Trevor Bauer, drawing a bases-loaded walk that tied the score and opened the door for a four-run rally. In the seventh, he doubled off the right-centerfield wall and scored an insurance run on Brett Gardner’s single.
Romine’s contribution looms even larger given that his work with Sonny Gray has had a role in helping the righthander turn the page on a bad start to become effective. Said Gray, “I trust that guy completely. Whatever he puts down, you [nod] your head ‘yes’ and throw it with conviction.”
“We feel he does impact the game when he’s back there behind the plate,” Boone said. “We feel like there’s more in there offensively and we really challenged him to be that because we want to get him in more games.”
Strong play by Romine, Boone explained, would allow All-Star catcher Gary Sanchez to serve as the DH more often and “not run him into the ground night in and night out behind the plate.”
Bauer retired the first 13 Yankees he faced but got out of sync in the fifth, loading the bases on a pair of walks and a single. Romine fouled off a pair of full-count fastballs before a 98-mph heater was inside for ball four, tying the score at 1-1.
“That guy has got some really good stuff. I think I looked up after I fouled a ball off and he was throwing 97 [or] 98. He really wanted to hump up and get me out there,” Romine said. “He’s got a good curveball and a good slider, so it was just a pure battle. I was battling for my life right there and I was able to zone him in there . . . I was waiting for a good pitch and I was lucky to foul a couple of the good ones off and work a walk.”
“He’s taken a lot of pride . . . in controlling the strike zone,” Boone said.
Romine’s one-out double in the seventh produced a scary moment. Cleveland centerfielder Bradley Zimmer tried to catch the drive and hit the bullpen wall at full speed. He stayed down for a minute but was able to walk off the field. Two batters later, Romine hustled home from second on Gardner’s single for a 5-2 lead.
“I put my head down and started running. I know Zimmer goes real hard — I’ve seen him in other games and on replay — and I knew he’d make a play on the ball,” Romine replied when asked if he thought the drive might go for a home run. “I never know if I get it all. I just tried to make sure I got extra bases and got into scoring position.”