ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Aroldis Chapman gave as good a synopsis as any of the 2019 Yankees.
“At the end of the day,” the closer said through his translator late Thursday night, “this team has a tenacity that just finds a way to get it done.”
About 45 minutes earlier, Chapman had blown a save opportunity for only the third time this season, throwing a pair of wild pitches that helped the Rays rally for two runs in the ninth and send the game into extra innings.
But any momentum gained by Tampa Bay quickly dissipated. Gio Urshela and pinch hitter Aaron Judge worked walks to start the 10th and Brett Gardner bunted for a hit to load the bases. DJ LeMahieu did what he’s done all season with runners in scoring position, knocking in two runs with a single to left against a drawn-in infield. That improved him to 36-for-75 with runners in scoring position this season, including an astounding 9-for-11 with 20 RBIs with the bases loaded.
Gary Sanchez then hit a tape-measure shot into the second deck in leftfield — estimated to have traveled 461 feet, which many players, led by LeMahieu, found a laughable estimate — to make it 8-3.
“You saw some big-time at-bats there [in the 10th],” Aaron Boone said. “Chappy has been about as good as you can possibly be. He finally showed he was human. Then the guys go up there and threw up some great at-bats. Big-time at-bats and a great job of not letting the ninth-inning comeback define the day. Those guys went out and took it back.”
It would not be accurate to say that Thursday night’s victory — and others like it this season — was a game the Yankees would have lost a year ago. That team, after all, went 100-62. But the 2018 team didn’t always demonstrate the “we’re never out of it” characteristic of this year’s club, which extended its AL East lead to a season-high 7 ½ games over the second-place Rays on Thursday. The Red Sox, even with their comeback victory that night in Toronto, remained 11 games back.
“I think we just have confidence that we’re going to win, no matter the circumstances,” LeMahieu said. “That doesn’t happen too often to Chappy but it was great the way we responded.”
LeMahieu’s performance with RISP stands out, but it’s far from the only number that does for the 2019 Yankees.
They have a .307/.381/.526 slash line with RISP this season, the highest batting average and on-base percentage in that situation in the majors.
The Yankees entered Friday night having won 15 of their last 17 games and were an MLB-best 38-15 since May 5. Thursday night’s victory improved the Yankees to 28-7 this season against the AL East, including 17-3 since May 19.
The club has a plus-111 run differential, which ranks the Yankees second only to the Dodgers, who are plus-134.
“It’s not a secret what kind of team we have,” Sanchez said through his translator.
One that Boone said from the start of spring training had a chance to be “special.” It has honored that to this point despite being plagued by an injury bug that hit in March and hasn’t let up.
“The major league season, it’ll take you down if you let it,” Boone said. “You just have to be able to roll with the good times and the adversity and deal with it all, not only from day to day but even sometimes within the course of a game. You have to continue to just play. The next play is the most important and our guys do a really good job of that.”