LOS ANGELES — If you believe in “statement” games at this time of the season, the Yankees certainly made one Friday night.
After looking nothing like the title contender they’re supposed to be in a three-game sweep at the hands of the A’s to kick off this three-city trip, the Yankees rebounded with an impressive start in a series that received plenty of hype as a possible World Series preview.
Behind five home runs, including a game-wrecking grand slam by Didi Gregorius, and 6 2⁄3 brilliant innings by James Paxton, the Yankees took out the Dodgers, 10-2, in front of a charged-up crowd of 53,775.
“Oakland left a sour taste in our mouth and we just wanted to come out here and go back to our game plan,” said Aaron Judge, who went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and seems to be heating up again. “Staying aggressive in the zone and getting that big hit when we needed it. We needed a rebound game and this is what we got.”
Gregorius hit a second homer in the ninth inning, giving him five RBIs. Judge, Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres also hit solo home runs as the Yankees outhit the Dodgers 16-6.
The outburst by the Yankees (84-46) came against a Dodgers team that has the best record in the majors (85-45), including an MLB-best 51-17 at home, and was throwing lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu, the heavy favorite to capture the NL Cy Young Award.
But Paxton, 4-0 with a 3.80 ERA in his previous four starts, badly outpitched Ryu, who came in 12-3 with a 1.64 ERA, including 8-0 with a 0.80 ERA at home.
“Came out pumping early,” Aaron Boone said of Paxton. “I thought all three pitches [fastball, cutter and curveball] were really good. I feel like he’s been on the verge of having this [kind of] outing for a while. I feel like he’s been in a good place. It was really good to see him go out, in this environment, coming off of a tough series [in Oakland], he really set the tone for us in a big way.”
Paxton, general manager Brian Cashman’s headline offseason acquisition, allowed two runs and five hits in improving to 10-6 with a 4.43 ERA. He struck out 11, the fourth time he has struck out at least 11 in a game this season, and did not allow a walk. His line would have been a bit better if Tommy Kahnle had not allowed an inherited runner to score in the seventh.
“Just pounded the strike zone,” Paxton said. “I thought Gary did a great job mixing our pitches back there. Used the curveball really well, used the cutter to the lefthanders and did a good job executing those pitches.”
Three of the Yankees’ homers — including Gregorius’ fifth career grand slam, a blast that highlighted a five-run fifth that made it 7-1 — came off Ryu, who entered the night having allowed 12 homers all season and only three at home. Ryu allowed seven runs and nine hits — tying season highs in each category — in 4 1⁄3 innings.
Judge (No. 14) and Sanchez (No. 28) homered in the third for a 2-0 lead, with Sanchez’s blast giving him 100 career homers in his 355th game. He reached that plateau faster than any other catcher in MLB history — surpassing Mike Piazza, who did it in 422 games with the Dodgers -- and is second only to former Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who did it in 325 games.
Torres extended his team-leading homer total to 32 with his third in two games, making it 8-1 in the sixth.
Paxton had some of the best stuff he’s had all year, recording a season-high 29 swings-and-misses, and was particularly pleased with the curveball, an inconsistent pitch much of the season. He demonstrated that early; after bringing an 11.05 first-inning ERA this season into the night, he retired the Dodgers in order on 10 pitches.
“Using that pitch for me is huge,” Paxton said.
The Yankees got on the board in the third. Judge tattooed a 1-and-2 changeup to left-center for his second homer of the trip. One out later, Sanchez blasted a 1-and-1 cutter to left, with his back knee actually brushing the ground on the swing.
The Dodgers got one back in the bottom half. Kike Hernandez led off with a double and Ryu’s sacrifice bunt put him on third. With the infield in, leadoff man A.J. Pollock ripped a single to left, making it 2-1.
The Yankees blew it open in the fifth, sending nine to the plate. DJ LeMahieu picked up his second hit of the game, Judge added the second of his three hits and Torres’ groundout put runners on second and third. After Ryu intentionally walked Sanchez, Gregorius was ready, launching a first-pitch fastball deep to right for his 12th homer and a 6-1 lead.
“He went up there very aggressively looking to get after a fastball first pitch,” Boone said. “Got it right there and didn’t miss it.”
Back-to-back doubles by Gio Urshela and Brett Gardner later in the inning made it 7-1.
Judge added an RBI single in the eighth. Gregorius’ homer in the ninth gave him 35 RBIs in his last 32 games.
The five homers gave the Yankees 237 in 130 games, which projects to 295 -- 28 more than the MLB record they set last year. (The Twins have 248 in 128 games, which projects to 314.)
“These guys have been hearing about this series and know the excitement around this series and coming to play a big interleague series at Dodger Stadium,” Boone said. “I think our guys relished that. To have those kind of at-bats, impact at-bats with slug, against a guy like Ryu up and down the lineup, it was really nice to see.”