SEATTLE — Austin Romine has never set the bar particularly high for himself at the plate.
Behind the plate, yes.
Standing next to it, bat in hand? Not so much.
“I know why I’m in there,” Romine has said many times, referencing his defensive abilities.
But he also accepted a challenge thrown his way during spring training by new manager Aaron Boone, who essentially said this: Don’t be an automatic out. Romine has been anything but in what has been a breakout season offensively.
Romine slugged a tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning in the Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Mariners on Saturday night in front of 38,733 at Safeco Field. The game ended when Dellin Betances wriggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth without allowing a run.
“I’ve sold out for my approach from the beginning and it seems to be working,” Romine said. “So if something’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s an approach, he said, that has him keeping things simple: “Staying up the middle the other way, making sure I’m swinging at good pitches.”
That showed in the seventh when Romine stepped in against righthander Nick Vincent with one out and drove a 2-and-2 fastball the other way to right for a 3-2 lead. He became the 10th Yankee to hit the 10-homer plateau this season. Previously, the most homers for Romine in a big-league season was four.
“That at-bat he had, it’s one thing to go opposite-field with a home run, but what was just as exciting to me was getting to that pitch,” Boone said. “Some of the pitches he was able to lay off and spoil. The quality of that at-bat got him, finally, to a pitch he could drive, and he didn’t miss it.”
The Yankees (89-53) climbed within 7½ games of the AL East-leading Red Sox and stayed 3 ½ games ahead of the A’s for the top wild-card slot. They moved 11 games ahead of Seattle for the second wild card and lowered their magic number for clinching a postseason berth to 10.
Andrew McCutchen, off to a 1-for-17 start in his Yankees career before homering Friday night, led off Saturday night’s game by driving a 1-and-2 changeup from Felix Hernandez down the leftfield line for a home run. Hernandez, who came in 8-13 with a 5.55 ERA, left the game with tightness in his right hamstring after back-to-back walks to start the fifth. The former Cy Young Award winner allowed two runs (one earned) and six hits in four innings-plus.
Lance Lynn, who had allowed 19 earned runs in 18 2⁄3 innings in his previous four starts, pitched well, allowing two runs and three hits in six innings. Mike Zunino led off the third with his 19th homer to tie it at 1-1 and Dee Gordon blooped a two-out RBI single to left in the fifth to tie it at 2-2.
“The homer was really the only bad pitch I made all night,” Lynn said of the first-pitch fastball Zunino hit out. “Other than that, can’t complain.”
Zach Britton struck out one in a perfect seventh and David Robertson struck out the side in a perfect eighth. After Gleyber Torres’ sacrifice fly in the ninth made it 4-2, Betances — who again saw a slow-healing cut on the ring finger of his pitching hand open up and pour blood — escaped big trouble in the bottom of the inning.
The Mariners loaded the bases with one out on a leadoff double by Mitch Haniger, a hit batsman and a walk, but Betances struck out Denard Span and Kyle Seager to preserve the victory. The righthander, who extended his AL-record streak for a reliever to 38 straight games with at least one strikeout, had fanned Jean Segura earlier in the inning.
Betances called the bleeding “annoying” but not something that affects his pitching. “Once I got bases loaded,” he said, “I just tried to bear down and make pitches.”