PHILADELPHIA — The Yankees had to be happy with the change of scenery Monday after a lost weekend in Tampa Bay, but Aaron Boone was especially giddy to be back on Broad Street, a place that conjured up sporting memories from his childhood.
Boone’s dad, Bob, played for the Phillies when Aaron was in his pre-teen years, so that forged loyalties to the area’s teams, including the Eagles, and the Yankees’ manager beamed before Monday’s game when a friend handed him the monstrous Super Bowl ring to try on.
As for Boone’s current club, there’s a long way to go before such things get within reach, and the Yankees’ relentless march to 50 wins slowed some in the days leading up to this interleague clash with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Falling back into a virtual tie atop the AL East with the Red Sox, followed by Monday’s news of Gary Sanchez landing on the disabled list, was a sobering reminder of how quickly the tide can turn.
That’s why Monday became such a pivotal June test, and one the Yankees seemed up for, thanks to a bounceback performance from Jonathan Loaisiga, a laser-shot homer by Aaron Judge, and another key hit from Stanton, who delivered a two-run single in the eighth that put them ahead, 4-1. Loaisiga in only his third start, allowed one hit over 5 1⁄3 scoreless innings, striking out eight to put any concerns about his youthful inexperience on hold for another five days.
For the Yankees, it was one less thing to worry about. They got their first taste of adversity in a while over their weekend, courtesy of a three-game sweep by the Rays at the Trop, then arrived Monday at Citizens Bank Park to hear that Sanchez had been placed on the DL with a Grade 1 groin strain. Stuff happens. Losing Sanchez, however, is not something that is easily shrugged off.
“Gary Sanchez out of your lineup is a big deal,” Aaron Boone said before Monday’s series opener against the Phillies.
Say what you want about Sanchez’s .190 batting average, but the 14 home runs is an attention-getter for opposing staffs, and his rocket arm from behind the plate is enough to keep runners in place. The Yankees are fortunate to have a solid backup in Austin Romine, but there is a price to paid in elevating him to the top spot and promoting Kyle Higashioka — .191 BA at Triple-A Scranton — to be his understudy.
The eternally optimistic Boone put his best spin on the Sanchez injury. Shortly after saying the slugging catcher would likely be out three to four weeks, Boone described how it could be a “positive” in one sense: now Sanchez could use the time to reboot, both physically and mentally. The manager hinted that Sanchez had been bothered by some other nagging ailments -- nothing major enough to be revealed, apparently -- and could focus on conditioning during his absence.
It’s a demanding position, and catchers get banged up. That’s part of the job. With that in mind, any sort of a breather can be helpful. The timing was not great, however, for a Yankees’ offense that took a two-day sabbatical in St. Pete before ultimately breaking out in Sunday’s 7-6, 12-inning loss. Switching over to an NL park, minus the DH, didn’t figure to help in that regard, either.
Rather than reset themselves with another position player Monday, the Yankees went the opposite direction, boosting their roster to 14 pitchers with the addition of Giovanny Gallegos while dropping Clint Frazier back to nearby Scranton. Boone said it was a difficult decision to go with a three-man bench, but after deliberating with Brian Cashman, they opted to go for the pitching protection.
Part of that reasoning had to do with the probables for the Phillies series, which featured a pair of fill-ins, Loiasaga and Luis Cessa, tabbed for two of the starts. Getting length from either one was hardly assured, although the Yankees do have Luis Severino for the middle game, the best bullpen-saver in the rotation. And if they did require additional help at some point, Scranton is playing even closer this week at Lehigh Valley, whose ballpark is just an hour’s drive away.
For the first night, however, Boone wasn’t the only one feeling comfortable in Philadelphia. The rest of the Yankees seemed fine with being there, too.