Are the Yankees feared once again?
We wouldn’t go quite that far.
But Luke Voit, who supplied a leadoff sacrifice fly — yes, you read that correctly — in the 10th inning to deliver a 2-1 victory over the Orioles on Saturday, can rest easy in one regard.
The Yankees are winning again. Consistently. And now with a newfound lightness that helps turn even C-plus performances into Ws nonetheless.
Exhibit A was Saturday in the Bronx, where the Yankees committed three errors — including Brett Gardner’s soccer-style kick in the sixth inning that led to the Orioles’ only run — and survived an 0-for-8 afternoon with runners in scoring position to win for the third time in a 24-hour span (four straight overall).
Not long ago, during their 5-15 tailspin, it took the Yankees weeks to win three games. And it seemed like months.
"I feel like we can take a big, deep breath as a team," Voit said. "Last week, we felt like we couldn’t do anything right. Nothing was going to happen in order for us to win. Now I feel like — any time, any moment — guys are coming up with big hits . . . It’s nice to win a close game, too, because that makes you get ready for what the postseason is about."
Playoffs? The mere mention of the word last week, amid the hot-take hysteria, would have sparked a Jim Mora-type eruption.
The Yankees didn’t dare. They had switched to survival mode, stuck in a demoralizing nosedive that included three losses to the O’s last weekend at Camden Yards and two more to the Blue Jays in Buffalo.
The Yankees had fallen so far so fast that on Wednesday morning, they were clinging to the eighth (and final) playoff spot by a mere half-game over the Orioles. At that low point, it was no longer insanity to suggest Aaron Boone & Co. might be home watching the postseason rather than playing in the tournament.
The Yankees haven’t clinched anything yet. But if opponents are no longer scared of them, as Voit boldly suggested during the slide, at least they’ve earned back a significant measure of respect. With Jordan Montgomery’s nine-strikeout effort Saturday — and no earned runs allowed in 5 2/3 innings — the Yankees’ rotation now has a 1.45 ERA and 0.68 WHIP in its last five starts.
On Saturday, the Yankees scored both runs on sacrifice flies, hardly what we’re used to seeing in their short-porch Stadium. And if DJ LeMahieu, the 10th-inning ghost runner, doesn’t scamper to third base on a wild pitch to set up Voit, maybe things break differently.
But the Yankees aren’t entertaining such fatalistic thoughts anymore. Because the only way clear of the psychological dungeon they were in had to be carved out on the field.
Brian Cashman’s rare road pep talk in Buffalo may have "checked boxes" for the general manager himself, but it never had a chance of magically pulling the Yankees from their funk. The same was true for Boone’s ego-boosting chats, which is all a manager can really do.
Ultimately, the players have to fix themselves. And in baseball, a game built on failure, the only solution is grabbing two fistfuls of success.
Strangely enough, it was Deivi Garcia — the 21-year-old rookie making only his third start — who snapped the five-game losing streak Wednesday. Following up with Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka for Friday’s doubleheader sweep was a fortuitous scheduling bounce, and then the Yankees stumbled upon a brilliant Monty.
"When you’re going through a tough stretch, you want to have a play or a game that kind of gets you moving a little bit — even when you have a really good team," Boone said. "But big picture, I haven’t been too concerned about us turning the page and finding that confidence and finding our groove. You just kept waiting for it to happen. Hopefully now it feels like the guys are starting to feel it and build that confidence and come to the field now expecting to get it done."
Also, with only 14 games left, the Yankees can pretty much leave the O’s for dead if they’re able to complete the sweep Sunday. They have a 4 1/2-game lead over the Orioles, Tigers and Mariners for the eighth spot, which means they can begin looking up for a change and try to catch the Blue Jays.
When Toronto held off the Mets on Saturday night, the Yankees dropped from a virtual tie to a half-game behind. After Sunday, seven of the Yankees’ final 13 games will be against the Blue Jays.
The Yankees again will be looking to the Mets for some help on Sunday. And after the humbling ride Boone’s crew has endured, they’re not too proud to grab whatever someone hands them.
On Saturday, the Yankees were gifted a ghost runner and a wild pitch before Voit batted with a man on third and none out in the 10th. He just made sure to hit a fly ball far enough.
"It’s 2020, man," Voit said. "Things are weird. And you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities you get. We did it today. It’s a big momentum thing for us."
Finally, in the right direction.