There are two ways to win baseball games and win over your fan base.
There’s the way the Yankees thought they were going to do it when the season started: by out-talenting and out-muscling the opposition.
Then there’s the way the Yankees are doing it now: by the seat of their pants.
Which do you prefer?
That’s a trick question because fans always fall in love with scrappy underdogs.
That’s who the Yankees are right now after they came back for the fourth straight game on Saturday and beat the Mariners at Yankee Stadium, 5-4, for their fifth straight victory.
With the Yankees trailing 4-1 in the sixth, the big hits came from Rougned Odor and Kyle Higashioka. The Mariners helped with two defensive blunders, one physical and one mental. The Yankees took advantage to score four runs and take the lead for good.
Then there was the pitching side of the Yankees’ story. With 60% of their starting rotation on the shelf (COVID-19 list or injured list), deadline-day acquisition Andrew Heaney made his second Yankees start.
Heaney’s first start didn’t go well — four solo homers in a six-batter span in a loss to the Orioles — and the second one didn’t look as if it was going to be much better.
Heaney allowed two runs in each of the first two innings and was in danger of being taken out in the second, an inning in which he threw 40 pitches. Manager Aaron Boone, who used nine pitchers in an 11-inning bullpen game victory on Friday night, said he half-expected to have to put first baseman Anthony Rizzo on the mound in this one.
"[Heaney] was a hitter away from going out," Boone said. "But with our situation . . . ''
Heaney stabilized and lasted six innings. He punctuated his 109-pitch outing by striking out the side in the sixth and ended up with his first Yankees victory.
The rally started when Odor golfed a pitch toward the short porch in right and sank to one knee on his follow-through to watch it. If the ball hadn’t gone over the fence near the 314-foot sign for a two-run homer, Odor would have committed an unforgivable blunder by not running. But because it was a home run, it’s an adorable expression of joy for the game, right?
One batter later, pinch hitter Gleyber Torres lofted a fly ball toward the rightfield line that Mitch Haniger overran and let fall behind him. Torres made it to third and Haniger was charged with a three-base error.
Higashioka then picked up his first career pinch hit, a ground-rule double to left to tie the score. DJ LeMahieu moved him to third with a LeMahieu-esque line single to right.
Rizzo then grounded one to first base. Ty France stepped on the bag for the second out and then either forgot there was a runner on third or forgot that once you step on first, you remove the force. Or perhaps he thought even a non-continuous double play would end the inning without a run scoring.
Higashioka was off with the crack of the bat and scored the go-ahead run before Seattle completed the double play by tagging out LeMahieu, who had alertly stopped between first and second to get into a rundown.
France never looked home. The Yankees never looked back, but they still had to get nine outs from their bullpen. Before the game, closer Aroldis Chapman went on the injured list with elbow inflammation, and Boone didn't want to use Chad Green or Zack Britton.
In came Clay Holmes, a righthander the Yankees picked up from Pittsburgh on July 26. He struck out the side in the seventh, all looking, and recorded the first out of the eighth before turning it over to lefthander Joely Rodriguez, whom the Yankees got from Texas in the Joey Gallo trade.
Rodriguez got out of the inning just fine and Jonathan Loaisiga closed it out in the ninth easy as 1-2-3 for his fourth save.
"We didn’t know how we were going to necessarily do it today," Boone said. "But a really good job by everyone."
The crowd of 35,165 was delighted. The Yankees have drawn 111,556 to the first three games of this series. It can’t be the opponent; the Mariners are not a marquee matchup. Could it be the way the team is playing that is drawing in the paying customers? What a concept.
Some fans might have been saying "who’s that?" when they saw that Heaney was starting and Holmes and Rodriguez were the first two men out of the pen.
"Who’s that?" is an easy question to answer now: It’s the scrappy, lovable, seat-of-their-pants Yankees, a team that is winning over their fan base one improbable victory at a time.