When the A’s Tony Kemp rudely interrupted Saturday’s roll call with his second home run against the Yankees in roughly 16 hours, the crowd of 23,985 was stunned into a collective groan.
Really? This is how it’s going down again, huh?
Domingo German’s fourth pitch wound up in the seats, and already the somewhat jaded fan base was on edge. The sweep of the Blue Jays in Buffalo suddenly was tilting the other way at the Stadium, and the A’s soon were crafting a script we had watched way too often with these Yankees.
"It’s been bumpy, it’s been smooth," Clint Frazier said. "It’s been all of the above. To my knowledge, nobody said this was going to be easy. And obviously we’ve been characterized as a great team, we’ve been characterized as a bad team at times. In the end, we know what kind of team we are."
The team the Yankees wish they were is the one that eventually showed up Saturday, shook off that Kemp homer and another by Matt Chapman, and rallied late for a stirring 7-5 victory over the A’s, previously known as the hottest team in baseball.
Another homer by Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela’s tiebreaking blast into Monument Park, the three-inning Houdini act by reliever Nestor Cortes Jr., Chad Green striking out the side in the eighth, clutch small-ball singles by DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton for crucial tack-on runs.
Two doubles by the discarded Frazier. A sacrifice bunt by Brett Gardner! And for the exclamation point, Aroldis Chapman climbed off the ropes to whiff the other Chapman with a 103.4-mph heater.
That came not long after manager Aaron Boone was ejected for standing up for his closer by trashing the strike zone of plate umpire Sean Barber.
Where have these Yankees been? Their fans have been desperate for the guys in the pinstriped uniforms to give them something, anything to feel good about. A reason to show up in the Bronx and cheer rather than heckle their heroes.
And that moment arrived Saturday, after the Stadium had been cleared for full capacity but with people still looking for some momentum to grab onto. While it’s true the first two games failed to crack 30,000, the Yankees, like other clubs, probably are going to need a little time for the group sales to kick in and fill more seats.
But that’s also going to require more of what we saw from them Saturday, as the Yankees picked up their seventh victory when trailing after six innings — tied with the Angels for the most in MLB. The team that beat the A’s, winners of seven straight, the longest active streak in the sport, performed like a team worth investing in.
Urshela delivering in a big spot was nothing new. But doing it after taking a shard from his broken bat in the right eye made this two-RBI afternoon more unusual.
"I’d never seen that before," said Urshela, who has hit 16 homers (out of 36 with the Yankees) that have either tied the score or given them the lead. "Wood coming into my eyes."
Fortunately for the Yankees, it was not Urshela’s defining AB of the day. That came in the eighth, with the score tied at 4 and A’s reliever Jesus Luzardo attempting to split the plate with a 99-mph fastball. Urshela put it on the netting above the monuments.
Two other ABs caught our eye during this comeback. With two outs in the seventh, Stanton left the strike zone to punch an 0-and-1 fastball by diving first baseman Matt Olson for the tying RBI single. The next inning, LeMahieu also reached beyond the zone to hook Sergio Romo's slider into leftfield for a two-run single that made it 7-4
Nothing spectacular. Rather than waiting for the perfect do-damage pitch, the Yankees attacked with men in scoring position, putting the ball in play in a manner we’ve witnessed too sparingly this season.
There was action. The good kind. Not rolling into double plays or racking up the Ks. The Yankees struck out only seven times all afternoon. Stunning for 2021.
"Those are winning at-bats right there," Boone said. "Over time, we’re going to slug our way to a lot of things. But you’ve got to do things in tight ballgames against leverage guys, usually, in the pen, and those are just really good at-bats, kind of taking what the game gives you."
Bingo. The Yankees have needed to come back in five of their last six wins and seven of nine. You could say digging an early hole isn’t the optimal way to do business, but at least they’re displaying some life, an energy that felt missing for much of the season’s first 2 1/2 months.
It was there Saturday in the Bronx. When the enraged Boone got ejected in the ninth, the crowd roared in his defense. The Yankees felt worth fighting for.
"I think there’s a lot of guys playing with a chip on their shoulder," Frazier said. "There’a a lot of people that haven’t performed the way we know that we can."
The Yankees have plenty of season left to prove it. Saturday was another step in that direction.