The game started with a focus on the entrance of Giancarlo Stanton, who returned after missing 68 games to injuries. It ended with a Yankees victory and questions about the possible exit of Cameron Maybin.
Stanton went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts and Maybin had his fourth straight game with a home run as the Yankees topped Tampa Bay, 6-3, before 40,479 at the Stadium, extending their winning streak to four. The Yanks are now 6-2 against their closest pursuer in the AL East, have pushed the Rays to 2½ games back and can sweep the three-game series Wednesday afternoon.
Edwin Encarnacion, acquired in a trade with Seattle over the weekend and playing in his second game, also had a solo homer for his first hit in pinstripes.
The Yankees came back from a 2-1 deficit for the win and Maybin’s homer into the second deck in leftfield in the seventh and Encarnacion’s moon shot to right in the eighth were key insurance runs. The Yanks grabbed the game with a three-run fifth inning that featured five singles.
Stanton’s absence started with a biceps strain that led to a shoulder injury; he suffered a calf strain while rehabbing, slowing his return. He got warm applause before he popped out in his first at-bat but after a pair of strikeouts, there were some boos. Asked about the crowd’s quick turn, he replied, “That’s how it goes.”
He grounded out to first base in his final turn at the plate, but also made an excellent catch in the second inning when he reached over the rightfield wall in foul territory.
Manager Aaron Boone described Stanton as “finding his way” and the slugger confessed, “I didn’t swing at the best pitches tonight but I had OK at-bats.”
Stanton is the second of three huge bats the Yankees are adding this week. Encarnacion joined the team Monday and Aaron Judge is expected back from the IL before the end of the week. Each addition has meant a subtraction to the 25-man roster: Clint Frazier and Mike Tauchman were sent down for the first two moves and there is some expectation that Maybin will have to come off when Judge gets back, leaving Brett Gardner as the extra outfielder on a three-man bench.
Maybin isn’t making this easy. He was 3-for-4 and has three straight multihit games and six in his last nine. Picked up in late April to buoy an outfield thinned by injury, he is batting .315 with 12 RBIs and 24 runs scored.
Boone was asked about Maybin’s ability to block out concern for the future and replied: “Yeah, it’s been awesome. He’s been so awesome to have and to have in that room, and what he means to those guys already, and just how well he’s performed for us. I love the player.”
Encarnacion, Stanton and Judge will bring plenty of home runs, but the Yankees took control of this game with five singles in the fifth to plate three runs. Gleyber Torres’ flare to left-center found turf and Maybin followed with a single to left to set the table for DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu ripped a single to left-centerfield to tie the game; he is 29-for-62 on the season with runners in scoring position, driving in 35 runs.
Luke Voit singled to left to score Maybin from third and put the Yanks up 3-2. Gary Sanchez’s two-out single through the right side of an overshifted infield scored LeMahieu for a 4-2 lead.
Starter J.A. Happ gave the Yankees five innings of two-run pitching and the bullpen allowed just a run over the final four. Happ (7-3) has pitched seven innings only once in his last eight games, but is 6-0 over that span. Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman finished the job. Chapman struck out the side in order in the ninth for his 19th save of the season.
The bullpen has been the cornerstone for so much of the Yankees’ success. Would the club do the unlikely and shorten it by one player to keep Maybin as a fifth outfielder?
“Obviously those decisions are getting [close],” Boone said. “We don’t have to make any tonight or tomorrow, so we’ll just keep working through it.”