It made sense for Aaron Boone to be hot on Wednesday. The broiling temperatures in Kansas City caused Yankees pitcher Lucas Luetge to say, "Everybody was sweating their butts off out there."
Boone, though, also appeared to be a little hot under the collar even after the Yankees beat the Royals, 5-2, at Kauffman Stadium.
A day after committing four errors in a loss to the Royals, the Yankees committed three more on Wednesday.
Second baseman Rougned Odor nonchalantly threw a potential game-ending double play ball away in the ninth, forcing Zack Britton to face the potential tying run.
Britton, who has been struggling as the fill-in for injured closer Aroldis Chapman, could barely look at Odor as the two coincidentally met behind the mound. Britton had to retrieve the ball from Odor’s errant no-look flip that whizzed past a diving shortstop Andrew Velazquez.
Britton recovered to throw another potential game-ending grounder – this one to third base – and this time the Yankees completed it with Odor as the middle man.
Maybe it was the high-90s heat that made Boone seem a little grumpy after the victory. Or maybe it was the seven errors in two games, a reminder of the way the Yankees played earlier in the season when things were going poorly.
"There's a lot of good things that happened today," Boone said. "Overall, though, we didn't play very well today and we're fortunate to get out of here with another win. You know we’ve got to make sure . . . we need to play a little bit better than that."
Left unsaid by Boone – so we’ll say it – is that the Yankees escaped with their ninth series win in their last 10 because they were playing the lowly Royals. The Yankees scored five runs, but they had 16 baserunners. They let Kansas City hang around in the heat and almost paid for it in the ninth.
Starting Thursday with the "Field of Dreams" game in Iowa, the Yankees will play their next three against the AL Central-leading White Sox.
That’s why it was super important for Britton to nail down his first save of the season after Odor’s second error of the game. (The first was an air-mailed throw on a routine grounder to third base in the seventh. Velazquez also booted a grounder in the fifth. Boone shuffled his defense in the eighth to move Odor to his natural position.)
Britton takes pride in being a bulldog reliever, but he hasn’t been healthy or right this season. First, it was a bout with COVID-19 in January during which he lost 18 pounds. Then it was surgery for bone chips in his elbow during spring training. Then it was a hamstring injury suffered on June 25 that cost him three weeks.
Britton was one of four Yankees relievers to blow a save when he gave up a run in the ninth inning of Monday’s wacky 11-inning victory over the Royals. He came into Wednesday with a 5.65 ERA.
Still, with no known timetable for Chapman’s return from an elbow injury, Britton is going to get the bulk of the Yankees’ save opportunities for the foreseeable future.
"I thought he threw really well," Boone said. "His stuff really ticked up. It looked like his sinker was really, really good. And then he puts three guys on the ground – unfortunately, he had to do it the last time to get another double play -- but encouraging to see him throwing the ball like that."
Britton’s 17th appearance started ominously when he hit Ryan O’Hearn in the back with a 3-and-2 pitch.
After Michael A. Taylor grounded into a 3-6 force, Emmanuel Rivera hit the ball to second that should have sent the Yankees to much-needed showers.
But Odor’s gaffe gave the Royals life. Britton snuffed it out when he got pinch hitter Carlos Santana to bang a second consecutive potential game-ending double play ball, this one to Tyler Wade at third. Boone had moved Wade in from leftfield as part of his defensive changes in the eighth.
After the final outs, Boone exhaled and shared some sweaty fist bumps. If he smiled, it probably wasn’t until the Yankees were on their way to Iowa.