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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

In Yankees' win over Rangers, Kyle Higashioka and Gary Sanchez show two catchers are better than one

Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka runs on his two-run

Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka runs on his two-run double against the Rangers during the fifth inning of an MLB game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For once, the Yankees didn’t have to defend, justify or explain their catcher deployment for Wednesday’s crucial series finale against the Rangers.

The solution? Use both of them.

Any criticism of Aaron Boone’s decision to start Kyle Higashioka for Corey Kluber’s benefit soon was wiped out by his two-run double in the fifth inning, a critical spark for the napping Yankees at that point.

And when Higashioka was through, replaced by pinch runner Tyler Wade after his seventh-inning single, on came Gary Sanchez in the eighth. All he did was cut down the potential go-ahead run on an attempted steal of second, then crush a 420-foot two-run homer to cap a four-run rally that sealed a 7-3 victory and a desperately needed sweep of lowly Texas.

Why choose? In this case, two catchers proved way better than one, and Boone didn’t have to deal with any controversy afterward. If only every night could be as easy involving the Yankees’ backstops.

"It’s going to take both of them for us to get to where we want to go," Boone said. "And we’ll do what we have to do each and every day to try and piece it together. Both guys were obviously huge in allowing us to win a ballgame.''

Boone hasn’t really committed to either catcher for this final stretch, other than saying he’ll pick the starter on a game-by-game basis. That’s the only sure path to avoiding the position becoming even more of a lightning rod than it already is, thanks to Sanchez’s recent defensive struggles.

Sanchez’s defensive shortcomings are nothing new. The debate always seems to be rekindled once we reach this stage of this season. Occasionally, the simmering discussion boils over much earlier. And it’s the same talking points. Can Sanchez produce more runs than he ultimately costs the Yankees? Or is Higashioka’s stable presence behind the plate better for the pitching staff and a more reliable route to victory?

None of this is going away, of course. It’s just a matter of minimizing the distraction for now, and as long as the Yankees can get the sort of performances they did Wednesday, it’s all good.

"Any time the catchers are producing on offense and defense, we do take a lot of pride in that," Higashioka said. "We’re just extra, extra happy tonight."

Higashioka went 2-for-3 and came within a few feet of hitting a two-run homer in his first at-bat, backing up Rangers centerfielder DJ Peters to the wall. Next time up, Higashioka jumped on Taylor Hearn’s first pitch, drilling a two-run double that trimmed the Yankees’ deficit to 3-2 and woke up the Stadium.

In the seventh, Higashioka delivered a leadoff single and was pulled for the speedy Wade, who stole second and third but ultimately was stranded. That opened the door for Sanchez, who immediately made an impact by throwing out Adolis Garcia attempting to swipe second with the score still tied at 3.

It was a pivotal moment in this game, especially for Sanchez, who in the previous week had come under fire for defensive miscues that led to Yankee losses, some more directly than others. There was the baffling matador fake tag against the Mets, the failure to block wild pitches in Baltimore and the dropped pop-up against Cleveland.

But if Sanchez avoids those blunders from here on out and continues to play as he did Wednesday, people will have short memories. Just as the boos quickly change to cheers in the Bronx, Sanchez can reverse the narrative, if only for the next two weeks — and maybe beyond, if the Yankees can seize a wild card.

"It’s all hands on deck," Boone said. "Credit to him for being ready for any situation. That was big for him to contribute on both sides of the ball."

While gunning down would-be base-stealers is a badge of honor for catchers, few can punish a baseball the way Sanchez did in the eighth when he hammered a two-run shot onto the netting above Monument Park. He knew it was gone as soon as he hit it. It was his second homer in three days and sixth in his last 16 games after going 20 games without one — the longest drought of his career.

Afterward, I asked Sanchez which he enjoyed more — the laser throw to second base or the tape-measure blast, which seemed to have some pent-up frustration fueling its flight. But he added a third choice.

"It’s simple," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "Winning the game. Especially now. But I’m not going to lie to you — I liked them both."

On this night, the Yankees could unequivocally say the same about their catchers.

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