Losing a doubleheader to the lowly Royals was not an option, so the Yankees took a big sigh and expressed a degree of comfort in avoiding what would have been — in baseball terms, anyway — a disaster.
On a long day when not much went their way, the Yankees had to settle for a split. “We’re just going through one of those stretches,’’ Aaron Boone said, “but [I] love the way the guys just continue to fight, continue to compete. You’re going to have that bump in the road every now and again.’’
After struggling ace Luis Severino was knocked around during a 10-5 loss in the first game, the Yankees won the nightcap, 5-4, by scoring two runs in the eighth inning. Greg Bird homered to tie it at 4 and Aaron Hicks drove in what proved to be the winning run with a bases-loaded, none-out sacrifice fly.
“You never want to drop two in a doubleheader, so,’’ Bird said. Asked if his hit was big for him, he responded, “Whatever you want to call it, it was good.’’
With runners on first and third in the ninth, Aroldis Chapman struck out Whit Merrifield to earn his 27th save.
Bronx cheers aren’t meant to be pleasant, and for much of the day, they were directed at the home team — first Severino and then newcomer Zach Britton, who heard it in the seventh inning of the second game.
With the score tied at 3, Britton retired the first two Royals in the seventh before Hunter Dozier doubled and went to third on Brian Goodwin’s infield hit. Eight pitches later, Britton had walked Alcides Escobar and Drew Butera to give the Royals a 4-3 lead.
Starting in 2017, CC Sabathia was 12-0 in 19 regular-season starts after a Yankee loss. He brought a 3-1 lead into the fifth, courtesy of Shane Robinson’s solo homer in the fourth.
The Yankees scored twice in the first on Miguel Andujar’s RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Neil Walker, who went 5-for-7 in the doubleheader. KC’s Salvador Perez homered in the third.
Sabathia struck out eight in 4 2⁄3 innings. The Royals loaded the bases against him with one out in the fifth, and after Jorge Bonifacio struck out, Lucas Duda drew a walk to force home the second run. Jonathan Holder then struck out Dozier for the final out. Chad Green allowed a two-out RBI single by Rosell Herrera in the sixth.
There was an angst-filled moment in the fifth when Sabathia tumbled to the ground when the brace on his right knee got caught in the turf as he tried to field Herrera’s grounder between the mound and first base. He stayed down for a moment, returned to the mound to throw some test pitches and remained in the game. “It’s OK. I was just trying to make a play,’’ he said. “My brace got caught in the turf. I didn’t really know where I was at or what was happening. It’s good for the highlight reel.’’
The victory could not gloss over Severino’s rough outing in the afternoon game. Incredibly, Sonny Gray has been the Yankees’ most reliable starter since the All-Star break. That’s not supposed to happen on a staff that has Severino. But the ace is in a hole, and the implications extend far beyond his latest loss.
Severino has had four straight subpar performances — he allowed 16 earned runs and 28 hits in 14 1⁄3 innings in the last three — and the Yankees increasingly face the prospect of remaining in wild-card territory, a fate they fervently want to avoid. Talk of catching the first-place Red Sox has been muted. Beginning with the games of June 22, the Yankees have gone 16-15 to Boston’s 23-7, turning a two-game lead into a 5 1⁄2-game deficit.
Severino left with a 6-0 deficit and to boos as he failed to make it out of the fifth. He’s 14-4 with a 2.94 ERA, but he brought a 1.98 ERA into his July 7 start.
Boone knows the season may hinge on correcting whatever problems are plaguing him. “We gotta find the right adjustments in there to help him get back on track,’’ he said. “It seemed like he just kinda got a little out of sorts there and lost his command, especially with the fastball a little bit and got hurt with some pitches right on the plate.’’
Herrera’s two-run double in the third gave the Royals a 2-0 lead. A two-run single by Perez and a two-run homer by Lucas Duda in the fifth made it 6-0. “I guess it has to start with fastball command,’’ Austin Romine said. “I was trying to reiterate to him stay down in the zone.’’
With two outs in the fifth, Giancarlo Stanton hit a two-run homer off an awning well above the loading dock to the leftfield side of Monument Park. It was measured at 447 feet.
In the sixth, Walker singled home a run and Bird scored when Romine hit into a double play. The Yankees made it 6-5 in the seventh, but it also was the inning that took the air out of the rally. Didi Gregorius led off with a single and Gleyber Torres doubled, but Torres tried to advance to third on the throw to the plate and easily was thrown out by Perez. It broke a cardinal rule of not making the first out at third and sabotaged the rally.
Bird flied out to deep leftfield, and after Walker and Romine singled, lefty Tim Hill struck out pinch hitter Miguel Andujar to end the inning.
“Obviously, in that situation there with no outs and us kinda coming back in that spot, you know, that definitely hurt and definitely was a mistake,’’ Boone said. “I like the fact that he’s in position to make a read, but it wasn’t the right read.’’
Goodwin’s three-run homer off David Robertson gave the Royals a 9-5 lead and Duda added a sacrifice fly in the ninth.
With David Lennon
Luis Severino hasn’t had it in last three starts.
July 12 at Cleveland: 5 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 2 HR
July 23 at Tampa Bay: 5 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 2 HR
Yesterday vs. Kansas City: 4 1⁄3 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 1 HR
Totals: 14 1⁄3 IP, 28 H, 16 ER, 5 HR