KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Home runs? They’re all special for Luke Voit, who was an afterthought for much of his professional career before taking over everyday first-base duties for the Yankees late last August.
Still, the tiebreaking two-run homer the hulking first baseman hit in the seventh inning Saturday afternoon — a 470-foot shot to leftfield that helped the Yankees beat the Royals, 7-3, in the first game of their split-doubleheader sweep at Kauffman Stadium — was extra meaningful.
Voit grew up a little more than three hours away and had his first professional tryout in this stadium in 2009 while at Lafayette High School in Wildwood, Missouri, which is 25 miles west of St. Louis. He was drafted by the Royals, instead played four years for Missouri State University and then was drafted by the Cardinals before being traded to the Yankees.
Needless to say, he has a lot of local connections. Many of them — he said about 60 — were at Kauffman Stadium to see the massive home run by Voit that gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead.
“It’s pretty cool coming back here, being in the Midwest,” said Voit, who entered Game 2 having hit 27 homers in 81 games (298 at-bats) beginning last Aug. 24. “My wife set up a patio for those 60 people out there, so it was pretty cool for my family and friends and guys I played with in college . . . To hit probably the farthest home run I’ve ever hit in front of them, it was pretty surreal. I was on cloud nine that at-bat.”
The AL East-leading Yankees (34-17) made it seven straight victories, 11 of 12 and 16 of 19 with a 6-5 win in Game 2 that put them three games ahead of the Rays and 7 1⁄2 games ahead of the Red Sox.
“A long day,” said Aaron Boone, whose team is 28-8 since a 6-9 start. “Obviously, not a perfect night for us, but to hang on and pull out another victory is big.”
Austin Romine had three hits, including a two-run single to spark a five-run second. Cameron Maybin added a two-run double and scored on DJ LeMahieu’s single later in the inning, then singled home another run in the third to give the Yankees a 6-1 lead.
Chance Adams, the “26th man” for the game, pitched better than his line — three runs and five hits in four innings — after replacing opener Chad Green. He was hurt by his fielders, with Brett Gardner misplaying one fly ball he lost in the twilight and Clint Frazier misplaying another, furthering his reputation among talent evaluators as a below-average fielder.
Jonathan Holder, Tommy Kahnle and Zack Britton each pitched a scoreless inning before Aroldis Chapman, mostly utilizing his slider, earned his 14th save in 15 chances. He allowed an unearned run on a sacrifice fly after making a wild pickoff throw but still recorded career save No. 250.
“Definitely a little more interesting than I wanted,” Chapman said through his translator.
With the score tied at 3 in the afternoon game — the result of a three-run homer by Whit Merrifield off a mostly brilliant J.A. Happ in the sixth — Voit stepped in against Scott Barlow. After Voit fouled off a slider, Barlow went with the same pitch and hung it.
“To see where it ended up,” Boone said, “that was quite a blast.”
Thairo Estrada’s two-run double off Barlow in the eighth made it 7-3.
Gardner tripled and singled twice. Frazier had a two-out, two-run double to rightfield in the first inning.
The offense to a degree overshadowed a bounce-back afternoon by Happ, whose performance in some ways might have been the most encouraging part of the long day overall. “Man,” Boone said. “He was so good.”
In Happ’s most recent start last Monday in Baltimore, he had allowed six runs and nine hits in 3 2⁄3 innings, which lifted his ERA to 5.16. But on Saturday, with the best four-seam fastball he’s had all season, Happ (4-3) struck out 10 and allowed four hits and no walks in six innings.
Merrifield’s homer was the 14th Happ has allowed in 58 1⁄3 innings. “You tip your cap,” Happ said. “He hit a ball at his shoulders.”