Neil Walker must have understood; he’s been a professional too long not to have figured it out.
He must have seen Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres and known that their success might not necessarily bode well for his own career. Brandon Drury is on the mend, and Greg Bird is too, and here he was, a free agent signed at the very cusp of the season, struggling at the plate and playing out of position in an infield that suddenly was very crowded.
But “when it wasn’t going great with him, nothing changed,” Aaron Boone said Saturday. “He’s a professional.”
That’s part of the reason Walker didn’t let those nagging thoughts get to him. It’s the reason the 10-year veteran was able to come out of his hitting funk and, by extension, the reason he was able to win the game for the Yankees on Saturday.
With runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the 11th, Walker lined a game-winning single to left-center off Chris Hatcher as the Yankees outlasted the A’s, 7-6, at Yankee Stadium. They trailed 6-2 after 4 1⁄2 innings but rallied to earn their fourth walk-off victory of the season.
Walker, who had a .163/.209/.188 slash line on May 2, is 9-for-25 with eight walks in his last nine games.
A.J. Cole, who had not pitched since April 28, was pivotal in relief, tossing two innings of no-hit ball. An inning after Aroldis Chapman walked the first three batters but escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam, Cole walked the first two batters in the 10th but settled down, striking out four and setting the stage for Walker.
“He’s just a professional, the definition of it,” Aaron Judge said of Walker in a common refrain in the clubhouse. Boone and Brett Gardner also referred to Walker as a professional at various junctures.
“He comes in here and works his butt off every single day,” Judge said of Walker, who has played mostly second base in his career. “It doesn’t matter if you need him at third base, DH, first base. He could probably play some outfield, too . . . [When] we need someone to get things going, we need a clutch double, a base hit, anything, that’s the guy we turn to. He’s been doing it the past couple weeks, especially on this homestand. He’s been coming through in big situations.”
The Yankees jumped ahead 2-0 in the second on back-to-back homers by Gary Sanchez (off the facing of the second deck in leftfield) and Aaron Hicks (into the Yankees’ bullpen) but faltered in the fourth. Domingo German, who pitched six innings of no-hit ball in his first major-league start last Sunday, retired the first seven A’s but struggled in the fourth, giving up a three-run homer by Khris Davis and a two-out, two-run single by Mark Canha. Jed Lowrie’s sacrifice fly in the fifth gave the A’s a 6-2 lead.
The Yankees tied it at 6-6 in the bottom of the fifth, though, on Judge’s towering two-run homer to leftfield and two-out RBI singles by Walker and Andujar. It was Judge’s 11th homer, breaking a tie with Sanchez and Didi Gregorius.
The A’s nearly scored the go-ahead run in the ninth against Chapman, who was battling a broken fingernail. He walked the first three batters he faced, struck out Canha, and then allowed a shallow fly ball to leftfield by Jonathan Lucroy.
When Matt Olson tried to score, Gardner fired a one-hop throw home and Sanchez managed to just nick Olson high on his back as he slid by. Olson originally was ruled safe, but the call was overturned after a review.
Said A’s manager Bob Melvin, “We’re on the wrong side of that every single time, it seems like, so the call was out. They said they saw some sort of touch there, so not much we can do about it.’’
Two innings later, Walker came through.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and get caught up in the way things are going,” he said of his own slow start. “The fact of the matter is that I’ve played this game a long time, so I know that good things are on the horizon for me. I try not to put too much pressure on myself, and when I get opportunities like today — whatever the case may be, a game-winning situation or whatever — I try to do what I can to put together a good at-bat.”
It’s an optimistic approach, and on Saturday, it was effective — and very professional, too.
With Steven Marcus