In their final chance this season to take matters into their own hands, the Yankees grabbed tight and squeezed the daylights out of the first-place Red Sox. They still will need help to win the division, but they do have the better part of a month left. And they have kept the team ahead of them within arm’s length.
Starting with Luis Severino thoroughly outpitching Boston ace Chris Sale and capped with a mammoth home run by Aaron Judge, the Yankees earned a 9-2 victory at Yankee Stadium in the last head-to-head meeting between the rivals this season. The third win in four days against the frontrunner moved the Yankees within 3 1⁄2 games of the Red Sox, with a better shot at the title than they had four days ago.
“This club is going to fight. It’s resilient,” Joe Girardi said. “You know we had a bad three games against Cleveland where we didn’t score very many runs. Then they bounced back and came up big. It’s a group that fights.”
It’s a group that also hits long balls, producing four home runs Sunday night. And it is resourceful, keeping the sixth inning going on a successful replay challenge that ruled Gary Sanchez was safe at first with a hit rather than out on an inning-ending grounder. That was the difference between zero runs in the inning and six.
All told, the Yankees had at least as much at stake Sunday night as they have had in any game this season. A loss would have left them 5 1⁄2 back, no better than they had been after a dispiriting three-game sweep by the Indians. Plus, they knew they would have no more chances to gain ground face-to-face.
“You have to rely on someone else and you have to continue to play extremely well. You could win the rest of your games, and if they win the rest of their games, it doesn’t matter,” Girardi said. “Yeah, it makes it more difficult.”
Facing Sale, arguably the leading candidate for the Cy Young Award, usually is difficult, too. He entered with solid numbers against the Yankees in four previous 2017 starts: a 2.12 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings. But there also was this statistic: 0 wins, 2 losses.
This time the Yankees had their own top starter going. This marked the second time in a row that Severino (12-6) went up against an ace, having lost to Cleveland’s Corey Kluber last Monday. Even though it was the opposing team’s batters whom he was facing, he also was up against the other pitcher’s aura.
“I’m getting used to pitching against those guys,” Severino said after allowing two hits and no earned runs with nine strikeouts in six innings. “I just want to go there and compete. I’ve got to give 100 percent every time they give me the ball.”
No contest. The fifth inning was most illustrative. Severino, 23, had the crowd roaring by striking out Rafael Devers, Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon. The latter was his 200th strikeout of the season, making him the youngest American Leaguer to reach that plateau since Seattle’s Felix Hernandez in 2009.
Sale (15-7) didn’t make it through the bottom of the fifth. He was lifted with one out and one on after 109 pitches., trailing 3-0 on a homer by Chase Headley in the third and back-to-back blasts by Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier in the fourth.
The Yankees broke open the game with the six-run sixth, which featured Sanchez’s pivotal infield hit, a three-run double by Starlin Castro and a two-run blast by Judge against Addison Reed — the slugger’s first homer since the moonshot to the upper deck at Citi Field on Aug. 16 against Reed’s former team.
“We’re playing good,” Severino said. “We’re only 3 1⁄2 games back. We’ve got Baltimore now and we’ve got to keep winning.”
What they held by the end of the night was greater hope that they still can win the race.