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Yankees show they can beat a solid pitcher as they defeat Rays' Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches

Charlie Morton of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches  against the Yankees in the second game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium on July 18, 2019.  Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Postseason play means having to deal with pitchers who don’t afford offenses many chances.

Charlie Morton, the righthander who’s performed like that kind of pitcher in his first season with the Rays, is the type of hurler the Yankees will need to beat in the playoffs. What the Yankees showed Thursday night at the Stadium should instill some confidence that they can do it.

Morton cruised through four innings but allowed a leadoff home run by Luke Voit in the bottom of the fifth that tied the score at 1.

Austin Romine doubled in the sixth, and after Brett Gardner grounded out to shortstop, Aaron Judge and Edwin Encarnacion walked to load the bases. Morton balked home Romine and Didi Gregorius singled home two runs. Gleyber Torres singled and Gio Urshela walked to re-load the bases before Mike Tauchman walked against Andrew Kittredge to make it 5-1.

Entering Thursday’s doubleheader, 48.66 percent of the Yankees’ runs this season have come via a home run, the eighth-highest in baseball, per Baseball Prospectus. A majority of the time, making pitchers work has been how the team has scored.

“Just grinders,” Romine said about the makeup of the lineup. “We’ve got a lot of guys that grind out at-bats. You saw there, Judge and Edwin grinding out really good at-bats. Didi coming through with a big hit. I keep saying it, but a product of good at-bats. Good things happen when you grind it out against really good pitchers.”

Morton allowed five runs, five hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings. In his last start against the Yankees (July 7), he allowed  one run in 5 2/3 innings and struck out 10.

“When you’re up against a great pitcher, it’s not going to be easy,” manager Aaron Boone said. “You’ve got to make him work, and we were able to do that in that inning.”

Morton was a thorn in the Yankees’ side in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS while with the Astros, shutting out the Yankees for five innings before yielding to Lance McCullers Jr. for the final four frames. This after Morton was crushed by the Yankees in Game 3, in which he allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings.

To varying degrees, Morton, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander baffled the Yankees in that series. Verlander could be a playoff nemesis again, as could other aces such as Gerrit Cole (Astros), Trevor Bauer (Indians), Corey Kluber (Indians), David Price (Red Sox) and Chris Sale (Red Sox). And if the Yankees happen to meet the Dodgers in the World Series, they’ll be dealing with perhaps the most formidable starting rotation in baseball.

But games such as Thursday’s demonstrate that the Yankees' offense — although structured heavily around the long ball — is not reliant on the home run. It can wear down a pitcher to grind out some runs, too.

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