It’s a testament to the Yankees’ depth and ferocity that two opposing things can simultaneously be true. They are by far the best team in the AL East. And they have accomplished that despite sending a record-breaking 29 players to the injured list.
Friday was another painful day in Yankee Land. They started the morning by putting Gio Urshela on the IL with a left groin strain, and by the end of the third inning, CC Sabathia was pawing at his surgically repaired right knee, a sign that he was about to become a casualty.
Friday night’s game against the Athletics, though, was a little different for a few reasons. First, the Yankees were unable to compensate for the carousel of players headed toward MRI machines, losing to the A’s, 8-2, in the opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. And secondly, because Sabathia’s injury could permanently change the tenor of his final season.
He met with doctors Friday night and will have the knee drained Saturday. His future is shrouded in uncertainty, thanks to his impending retirement: Will he recover, or was this the final start of his career?
“It was hurting all night tonight, for sure,” he said, describing his pain level as a “10.’’ “I hope [I can pitch again]. I mean, that’s the plan. I hope I can just get enough rest where it can calm down and I’m able to get back out there and throw 90 to 100 pitches.”
Aaron Boone said it was pretty obvious to him early on that Sabathia was trying to gut it out through pain. “The warrior he is, he pitches as effectively as he did. Even in that third inning, it felt apparent to me, and then when I told him ‘that’s good,’ he knew [he had to come out],” Boone said.
Sabathia allowed only one hit — a solo homer by Jurickson Profar — before giving way to Luis Cessa, who pitched two scoreless innings. After five innings, the Yankees led 2-1. But Tommy Kahnle allowed three runs in the sixth, Cory Gearrin gave up two in the seventh and Nestor Cortes Jr. allowed two in the ninth.
Seth Brown entered the game as a pinch hitter in the sixth and wound up going 3-for-3 with three RBIs for the A’s. Profar had three RBIs and Marcus Semien homered. Meanwhile, the final 16 Yankees batters were retired.
In the three-way battle for the best record in the majors, the Yankees and Astros are tied at 88-48, a half-game ahead of the Dodgers (88-49).
The Yankees tied it at 1 in the third on Didi Gregorius’ forceout after loading the bases with one out against Brett Anderson. Meanwhile, Cessa was warming up, an early indication of Sabathia’s departure.
He threw 46 pitches in three innings and has pitched only 10 innings in three starts since returning from his third IL stint of the season. “It’s frustrating for sure, especially since I feel I can still get outs and help the team,” he said. “That’s the hardest part.”
The Yankees went ahead in the fourth thanks to two well-timed challenges, both on the same play. With runners on first and second and none out, Austin Romine hit a slow ground ball up the middle that appeared destined to be a double play. Both he and Brett Gardner were called out, but the replay indicated that Profar never touched the bag at second and that his throw to first was a hair late, courtesy of Gardner’s clean takeout slide. That loaded the bases with none out, and Mike Tauchman’s double-play grounder made it 2-1.
Kahnle has had an excellent year, but not this time. After he gave up a leadoff single by Matt Olson and hit Mark Canha, pinch hitter Brown doubled to center to tie it at 2-2. One out later, Profar doubled into the rightfield corner to make it 4-2.
With two outs in the seventh, Canha tripled home a run and scored on Brown’s single. In the ninth, Semien homered and Brown added a two-out RBI single.
“We pretty much haven’t seen that outing” from Kahnle, Boone said. “I don’t think he really had his fastball command. It really wasn’t a factor for him tonight. Overall, just not very sharp, which he’s been as much as anyone on our club. He’s been so efficient and really so sharp time after time, and tonight was really just an off one for him.”