ANAHEIM, Calif. — The day before making his first major-league start, Luis Cessa said having a familiar glove behind the plate could only help.
That glove belonged to Gary Sanchez, whom Cessa pitched to, successfully, for much of this season for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
For one night at least, that success translated to the big leagues for the rookie battery.
Sanchez flexed his muscles with yet another home run and Cessa displayed a refined slider during his six shutout innings on Saturday night, helping the Yankees to a 5-1 victory over the Angels in front of 44,129 at Angel Stadium.
The Yankees (63-59), winners of seven of their last 10, matched their high-water mark at four games over .500 and climbed within four games of the Orioles for the AL’s second wild-card spot.
Cessa, who had been 2-0 with a 5.30 ERA in eight relief appearances with the Yankees, allowed three hits and a walk in six innings-plus. The 24-year-old righthander struck out five and controlled the Angels (51-72) throughout, allowing only one runner to reach second base.
“He was as good as we’ve seen him,’’ Brett Gardner said. “The same guy we saw in spring training, just really, really dominant. It was a lot of fun to play behind him.”
Said Joe Girardi, “I thought he used his fastball extremely well on both sides of the plate. I thought he pitched inside effectively. I thought his slider was good. I thought he threw some early curveballs in counts to where he was able to show them two different breaking balls.”
Tyler Clippard replaced Cessa after Jefry Marte led off the seventh with a single. Clippard retired Andrelton Simmons, then gave up a long drive to left off the bat of C.J. Cron. Gardner, who missed five of the previous six games with a bruised right ankle, drifted back and, with much of his body over the short wall in left and in the crowd, robbed Cron of a two-run homer with a catch that electrified the Yankees’ dugout. “Off the bat, I thought it was a home run,’’ Girardi said.
Said Gardner, “I wasn’t sure off the bat. The closer I got to the wall, I knew I was going to be able to get to the ball. It was just a matter of if I was going to run out of room or not.”
Gardner couldn’t do anything about Albert Pujols’ drive in the ninth, though, as Pujols homered on Dellin Betances’ first pitch of the inning to make it 5-1.
Sanchez saw his streak of multi-hit games end at four, but the 23-year-old catcher hit his sixth homer in his last nine games. His two-out solo shot ignited a three-run frame that gave Cessa a 3-0 cushion before he threw his first pitch.
Brian McCann had a two-run single in the first and rookie Aaron Judge contributed a two-run single in the sixth off Ricky Nolasco to make it 5-0. The Yankees scored all of their runs with two outs.
Said McCann, “These guys aren’t coming up just to fill spots, these guys are coming up to be impact baseball players. Hitting in the middle of the order, starting big games. It’s great to see. These guys, this is the best young group I’ve seen.”
Nolasco retired the first two batters he faced before Sanchez stepped in. The catcher, 10-for-his-last-14 and 16-for-his-last-31 entering the night, hammered a hanging 2-and-2 slider to left for his sixth home run. The blast gave Sanchez 11 extra-base hits out of 22 hits total.
Didi Gregorius followed with a single and Starlin Castro doubled to bring McCann, the DH, to the plate. McCann, who has lost the starting catcher’s job to Sanchez, grounded a hard single to right to make it 3-0.
Castro and McCann singled with two outs in the sixth and, with Castro on third, an alert McCann swiped second for his first stolen base of the season. Judge, a California native with plenty of friends and family in the stands this weekend, punched a single to right to make it 5-0.
That was more than enough for Cessa. He said of working with Sanchez: “It’s amazing. We worked really fast and we were on the same page. Sometimes I want to throw a fastball and maybe he knows that and we just worked really, really fast. The rhythm, the tempo was really good.”