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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees have a victory — and some issues they need to address

Yankees first baseman Matt Holliday follows through on

Yankees first baseman Matt Holliday follows through on his solo home run against the Angels at Yankee Stadium on June 21, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

“Wave of positivity.” In the Zen-like phrasing of Brian Cashman, it’s what the Yankees were searching for amid the past week’s travails, which included a seven-game losing streak that momentarily knocked them from first place in the American League East.

The general manager was referring specifically to his team’s thorny first-base situation, so it was only appropriate that Matt Holliday — the desperation fallback to a badly slumping Chris Carter — grabbed his mitt for another turn at the position before delivering the tiebreaking home run that led to the Yankees’ 8-4 victory in the Bronx.

To the outside world, Cashman’s crew appeared to be in serious trouble before Holliday’s heroics, along with Chad Green’s huge bridge role in protecting a 3-2 lead for four outs and then getting the ball to Dellin Betances for the eighth inning. Inside the Yankees’ clubhouse, however, reports of their demise rang premature.

“We’ve won quite a few games,” Holliday said afterward, “and we’re in first place.”

There’s no disputing that, as the Yankees’ win puts them back into sole possession of the top spot after spending a mere 24 hours looking up at the Red Sox. Holliday quieted the first-base hullabaloo for a night, but the recent tempest surrounding that piece of real estate has been an interesting study of the cracks evident among the pinstripes.

Carter had been the canary in the coal mine, the first warning sign of perhaps greater danger ahead, as the Yankees grappled with a failing Tyler Clippard and a rotation that is threatening to give back its early-season gains. Cashman spent most of Wednesday’s 11-minute chat with reporters detailing the rehab process for Greg Bird’s worrisome ankle. But the trouble spots gnawing at the GM had more to do with the Yankees’ pitching staff, which had looked vulnerable during the team’s longest losing streak in a decade.

Joe Girardi apparently got antsy with trying to fix Clippard and rushed him right back for mop-up duty Wednesday in the ninth inning, to disastrous effect. Backed by an 8-2 cushion, Clippard immediately surrendered a pair of hits, including a two-run blast by Martin Maldonado that brought not only boos, but chants of “Take him out!” before Girardi mercifully did just that.

“I’m going to address what I need to address to help the team win and we should just move on from there,” Clippard said afterward. “That’s the best thing for tonight.”

That left a bitter taste. But the Yankees don’t need to hurry with Clippard, not after what Green did in relief of Jordan Montgomery. Called on to protect a 3-2 lead with two outs in the sixth, and after Andrelton Simmons stole second, he whiffed Maldonado en route to 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Chapman and Betances get all the attention, but Green entered Wednesday ranked third in the majors (min. 20 innings) among relievers with a 0.70 WHIP in nine appearances. After the bullpen meltdowns during the seven-game skid — a few because of Clippard malfunctioning — Green’s performance was a refreshing change. Now Girardi has to see if Green can repeat it on back-to-back days, which hasn’t been tried with him before.

“It’s something I’ll have to experience first,” Green said.

The win also was a nice breather from the ongoing first-base debate, which earlier revealed some friction between Cashman and Girardi. The manager was wary of risking the health of the 37-year-old Holliday, but he clearly is no fan of Carter, and Girardi sounded like he didn’t appreciate being backed into a corner as Cashman refuses to summon Tyler Austin from Triple-A Scranton.

That’s never emerged as a problem before, but a seven-game skid can have a corrosive effect on a team’s patience. Cashman did lay down the law, however, in his back-and-forth with Girardi, citing what the front office had in mind at first base, regardless of any resistance from downstairs.

“I think he’s in line with it,” Cashman said. “I think he’d like to come up with a better option if we had one — and we don’t.”

But the Yankees did find a few crucial upgrades for Wednesday’s badly-needed victory, to reclaim first place, and their sanity, for an evening.


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