TORONTO — Five weeks ago, Brandon Drury was in Arizona, Tyler Wade was fighting for a job and Billy McKinney was best known as the secondary chip in the Gleyber Torres trade.
Neil Walker? He was adrift in free-agent limbo.
Through a series of somewhat-related circumstances -- the latest being Aaron Hicks’ trip to the disabled list with an intercostal strain — all four wound up in the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup for Friday’s clash with the Blue Jays’ Aaron Sanchez.
Glance at those names as a group, and the first thing that comes to mind is probably not World Series champ. But if you stack them together in support of the larger Yankees’ framework, a muscle-bound bunch headlined by the Stanton-Judge-Sanchez triumvirate, they can help produce a positive result like Friday’s 4-2 victory at Rogers Centre.
Drury delivered a pair of two-out RBIs, Wade smacked a two-run double for the eventual winning margin and McKinney got a keepsake by slapping a single for his first major-league hit in his very first at-bat.
“It’s a deep lineup,” Drury said. “It’s a special lineup for sure, and one through nine, it’s dangerous all the way through.”
As for the previously mentioned Stanton, Judge and Sanchez? They combined to go 0-for-12, with Judge bouncing into a pair of double plays. Perhaps the mental grind of dealing with those heavyweights — along with Didi Gregorius, who had a double and triple — wore down Sanchez, one of the league’s best young arms.
But for a Yankees’ team already scrambling to patch a number of early leaks, their nimble roster came in handy Friday, and new manager Aaron Boone will test that flexibility in the coming days, now that he’s essentially down to one centerfielder in Brett Gardner. A possible solution? Asking Judge to slide over to center, a position he played for 11 games in the minors, which Boone suggested Friday.
“We’re very comfortable with him in centerfield,” Boone said.
The manager sounded hesitant of using the 34-year-old Gardner for all four games on the taxing artificial turf of Rogers Centre and that’s a legitimate concern. “We don’t want to run him into the ground,” Boone said. Despite Judge’s massive frame, he’s athletic and moves well. Plus, there are no sidewalls to collide with, unlike the corner spots, and Judge certainly seemed fine with it when the question was posed to him after Friday’s win.
“I’d be ready to go,” Judge said. “We’ve talked about it before and I always told him I’ll be ready when he needs me. There’s a lot of ground to cover, but the reads are easier than in the corners.”
The Yankees may look nearly invincible on paper, but they bruise and bleed like everyone else. So in a 24-hour span, after marveling at Stanton’s spectacular fireworks display on Opening Day, they were shaken by the loss of Hicks, who was placed on the DL with what the team describes as a minor Grade 1 intercostal strain.
As for how much his absence will affect the Yankees, that immediately landed in the lap of Boone, who suddenly was facing his first mini-crisis on Day 2. Losing a switch-hitting centerfielder of Hicks’ ability is significant, and the Yankees entered the season thin in the outfield department, with Jacoby Ellsbury (oblique) and Clint Frazier (concussion) already on the DL.
Brian Cashman did what he could by calling up McKinney, who immediately was put in Friday’s lineup, playing left and batting seventh. Maybe this wasn’t what we anticipated after everyone was drooling over Stanton a day earlier, but it’s part of the contingency plan Cashman crafted with Boone when this roster was assembled over the course of six weeks in Tampa.
That’s how games are won, and over the long haul, playoff spots ultimately secured. By being prepared, and resourceful enough to roll with the punches. Judge and Stanton are going to be the heavy artillery that can flatten teams on their own some nights. But that wasn’t the case Friday, and we’ll see if Boone calmly pilots the Yankees through these early bumps as Hicks recovers.
“It’s a blow,” Boone said, “but we feel like we can handle it.”
No reason to doubt that yet.