If you had been living under a rock or stationed in some outpost on Mars before watching the Yankees on Friday night, you would have been hard-pressed to believe what the American League East standings said was the truth going into their game against the Red Sox.
Not only are these two teams keeping pace with each other, step by grueling step, but going into Friday, the Red Sox — yes, the same Red Sox who were stymied by CC Sabathia — had the better record. The rivalry is alive and well, and despite a breezy 8-1 win by the Yankees, it’s very likely that the fight for AL East superiority will extend into late September.
That said, it’s probably some sort of testament to this Yankees team that they could make a club that good look this mortal, even for a day. In exchange, the Yankees took ownership of first place in the AL East and unseated the Red Sox for the best record in the major leagues — they’re 53-26 (a .671 winning percentage) to Boston’s 55-28 (.663) — in front of a sellout crowd of 47,120, their highest paid attendance number this season.
“I think everyone in that clubhouse thinks we’re capable of that kind of performance,” Aaron Boone said. “We’ve got a good club. We’re creeping up on the halfway point and there’s a long way to go, but we’re a confident group. We know we can play with anyone, but we also understand there’s work to be done.”
They did some of the work Friday on the backs of two rookies, a veteran pitcher, a Judge and the wings of a Bird. Gleyber Torres scored the first run and drove in the second, Miguel Andujar (two-run shot) and Greg Bird hit back-to-back homers in the fourth, and Bird added another homer in the eighth. Aaron Judge hit a two-run shot in the seventh.
Judge is impressed by Andujar and Torres “every day,” he said. “Not just what they’ve done in the field but how they are in the clubhouse . . . They come here to work and they come here to learn every day . . . and they’re continuing to produce on the field and it’s fun to watch both those guys.”
Meanwhile, Sabathia (5-3, 3.02 ERA) continued his defiance of time and physics, allowing one run in seven innings.
Torres got things off to a rollicking start in the third, barely missing a home run on a ball that bounced off the centerfield wall and temporarily evaded Jackie Bradley Jr. for a triple. Two pitches later, Andujar blooped one to no-man’s land in center to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
In the Yankees’ four-run fourth, Torres hit a sacrifice fly before Andujar put a charge into Eduardo Rod riguez’s 90-mph fastball, blasting it to left for his 12th homer and a 4-0 lead. Six pitches later, Bird hit an opposite-field homer to left, only his second hit in 16 at-bats against lefties this season. It was the sixth time the Yankees have hit back-to-back homers this year.
“Today, he jumped on the other way, to leftfield — that’s a really encouraging one; that’s not easy in this ballpark to do — and rode it out there with some ease and added another one,” Boone said of Bird, who entered the game hitting .191. “I’m excited for him.”
With two outs in the fifth, back-to-back doubles by Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi made it 5-1. But with one out in the seventh, reliever Justin Haley did the unadvisable, serving up a 92-mph fastball dead center and at the letters to Judge, who blasted it to right for his 21st home run, a two-run shot. Judge is 12-for-25 with three homers and eight RBIs in seven games against the Red Sox this year.
Bird hit a solo homer to right an inning later, also off Haley, for his second career multi-homer game and first since 2015. It was the 15th time a Yankee has had a multi-homer game this year.