The days are dwindling and the standings are unforgiving, so when the Yankees had a chance to feed on a bottom-dweller, they didn’t let it go to waste (this time).
A week after losing two of three to the pitiful Orioles, the Yankees were able to dispatch another bad team Monday night, holding on for a 4-3 win over the Rangers at Yankee Stadium — a near-necessity as they fight for a wild-card spot with 11 games remaining and a more challenging schedule ahead of them.
They have two more games against the Rangers (55-95) before the difficulty level gets pushed to hard: series against the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays, all of whom are ahead of them in the AL East.
The Yankees (84-67) moved within two games of the idle Red Sox (86-65) and within a half-game of the Blue Jays (84-66), who lost to the Rays, 6-4. Boston and Toronto currently hold the two wild-card spots. The Yankees are 1 1/2 games ahead of the A’s (82-68) and 2 1/2 ahead of the Mariners (81-69).
Yankees relievers Chad Green, Clay Holmes, Joely Rodriguez and Aroldis Chapman combined for 4 2⁄3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits, walking none and striking out six. Chapman pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two, to record his 28th save.
"It was huge," said Nestor Cortes Jr., who pitched out of a second-and-third, none-out jam with three strikeouts in the first inning and was cruising before a rocky fifth shortened his night. "As a starter, the goal is always to go five-plus, and unfortunately, I couldn’t do it, but it’s going to take those outings by the bullpen to get the W sometimes."
The Yankees had lost 15 of the previous 22 games after their 13-game winning streak and looked like a team thoroughly unprepared for October. But that, after all, is why they play all 162.
"We’ve got to go play well," Aaron Boone said. "That’s my biggest thing right now is I want to play well, and if we play well, the results will take care of themselves, and they’re obviously all really important right now. It’s about us going out and playing well behind Monty [Jordan Montgomery] tomorrow.’’
Gary Sanchez, who’s been dogged with complaints about his defense, especially after a few high-profile gaffes in the last few weeks, managed to turn the narrative a touch in the second, blasting A.J. Alexy’s fastball — a 90.7-mph mistake right down the middle of the plate — into the leftfield seats to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. It was his 22nd homer.
"I’ve gained some admiration for him over the course of the year," Boone said of Sanchez’s ability to drown out the noise. "He’s continued to work really hard behind the plate. The biggest thing is that I’ve just gained a lot of respect for the man . . . Even though he’s had a tough week leading up to this, he’s done a good job of blocking things out and moving on."
In the third, Alexy issued a one-out walk to DJ LeMahieu and singles by Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Judge produced a run. Giancarlo Stanton’s sacrifice fly and Gleyber Torres’ RBI single to rightfield made it 4-0. Sanchez walked to load the bases, but Brett Gardner struck out.
The Rangers scored three runs in the fifth, beginning with Charlie Culberson’s homer off the foul pole screen in left. Leody Taveras and Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit back-to-back doubles to make it 4-2 and, one out later, Cortes’ night was done. Green came in to get the final two outs, but not before a wild pitch and Adolis Garcia’s sacrifice fly made it 4-3.
Cortes allowed three runs, five hits and two walks in 4 1⁄3 innings, striking out seven. Then the relievers finished the job.
"The good thing about our bullpen is that we can throw a lot of different looks at you," Green said. "Clay has been as good as anybody in baseball for the past two months, I feel like, and Joely has been great, obviously. Our goal down there in that bullpen is to give the ball to Chappy, and we were able to do that successfully, so that’s always good."
For one night, it was enough. But there has to be a whole lot more of where that came from.