Two-thirds of the Yankees' version of the Big Three, signed as free agents in the offseason to ignite a sagging offense, were busts in the season's first half.
Jacoby Ellsbury mostly lived up to his big contract, but that was far from the case for Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
On Friday night, however, the trio provided a glimpse of what could help the Yankees make a second-half push, driving in all four runs in a 4-3 victory over the Reds in front of a sellout crowd of 47,372 at the Stadium.
"Those guys are good hitters. They've been great hitters for a long time," Ellsbury said of McCann and Beltran. "I never worry about those guys."
That comment would have put Ellsbury, whose two-run homer in the fifth off Mike Leake gave the Yankees a 4-2 lead, in the minority during the first half.
Though he came on strong heading into the break, McCann finished the first half hitting .239 with a .294 on-base percentage, 10 homers and 39 RBIs. Beltran, battling a bone spur in his right elbow since mid-May, hit .216 with a .271 OBP, nine homers and 28 RBIs.
But each contributed a critical two-out RBI hit Friday night, and Beltran, Ellsbury and Derek Jeter each went 2-for-4. Jeter, coming off his two-hit performance in Tuesday's All-Star Game, also scored two runs.
"If we're healthy and we have good at-bats, we're going to score runs," Beltran said of the trio.
McCann's two-out RBI double in the first gave David Phelps a quick lead. "I've been feeling pretty good at the plate for the past 10, 12 games," said McCann, hitting .356 (16-for-45) in his last 11 games. "Hopefully I can keep that up and drive in some runs."
Said Jeter: "Those guys are going to get hot because they have a pretty good track record of swinging the bat."
Phelps gave the Yankees the kind of distance that wasn't provided by their starters in much of the first half, allowing three runs (two earned) and six hits in 61/3 innings. "He's been really important to us," Joe Girardi said of Phelps, who has allowed two or fewer earned runs in six of his last seven starts and has gone 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA in that stretch.
Phelps (4-4, 3.87) struck out seven -- five looking -- and walked one. Both earned runs came on homers by Brayan Peña.
"My command was good tonight, especially with my fastball," Phelps said. "I didn't have my best off-speed stuff but was able to put guys away with my fastball."
Of his caught-looking strikeouts, Phelps said: "I try and throw pitches that look like balls and end up as strikes. That's something I've been doing all year. A lot of it goes to Brian, the game he was calling, and keeping guys off balance."
Dellin Betances, well-rested after not being used in the All-Star Game, picked up where he left off in a brilliant first half in which he posted a 1.46 ERA and struck out 84 in 551/3 innings. He struck out three in 12/3 perfect innings. David Robertson then allowed a two-out single in the ninth but improved to 24-for-26 in save chances.
It wasn't a breakout game by any means, but for a team that ended the first half with a surprisingly poor home record (18-23), the Yankees were happy to take it.
"It's important. Especially after the break, you want to come out here and play well," Jeter said. "We didn't play our best game but we were able to get a win, and this point of the season, wins are important, regardless of who you're playing. We need to continue to play well."