PHILADELPHIA — Nearly a week later, I thought Aaron Boone had cooled down about the homer-reliant narrative that occasionally haunts these Yankees, a perception the manager dismissed earlier this month as a “silly argument.” But even when an attempt was made to actually praise his team’s situational prowess inside the fences, Boone wound himself up again.
“They’re good hitters,” Boone said from behind his office desk at Citizens Bank Park. “They have a good approach. That’s what they’re able to do.”
No need to convince us, Aaron. As for the rest of the baseball-watching world, they shouldn’t need any more evidence, either. Granted, when your lineup features two linebacker-sized sluggers, and the team is on pace to smash the single-season home run record — Aaron Hicks’ leadoff shot Tuesday night combined with Didi Gregorius’ solo blast pushed the total to 127 — there’s a temptation to overlook the Yankees as bullies that can be knocked down if the power goes absent.
But that’s a mischaracterization of how this offense operates, and with Tuesday night’s 6-0 rout of the Phillies, the Yankees again featured some resourcefulness, this time against the former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. While it was Hicks’ 11th homer that gave Luis Severino all he really needed, the Yankees used five singles — with an error wedged in the middle — to keep piling on with three more runs in the third inning.
After these two wins in Philly, the Yankees don’t seem to be fretting the loss of Gary Sanchez. And that’s not meant to be a knock on him — only pointing out how they have plenty to fill that void, especially if Greg Bird starts looking comfortable at the plate. Bird’s ego got a desperately-needed boost Tuesday when he punched a two-out, RBI single to leftfield in the third, then later drew a walk in the fifth. Those were more than baby steps for the struggling Bird, who snapped an 0-for-15 funk, and the Yankees for now are content to ride out his glacial transition back from ankle surgery.
“He’s healthy,” Boone said, “But I still think there’s things he’s working through.”
The manager didn’t specify what those were, but probably nothing that a few timely knocks can’t cure. As for the others, once Boone pencils those names in, all he has to do it sit back and enjoy the show — even if there’s no fireworks. Entering Tuesday, the Yankees were 7-8 in games they didn’t go deep in (second-best to the Angels’ 11-10), and that number tells us two things.
For one, it’s not very often the Yankees don’t leave the yard. And two, they can still win when it doesn’t happen. In Monday night’s 4-2 victory, which snapped a three-game losing streak, the Yankees did get a solo homer from Aaron Judge. But two of the night’s biggest hits came from Gleyber Torres, who reached down to golf a low fastball to rightfield for an RBI double, and Giancarlo Stanton’s two-run single in the eighth.
Digging further, it was Gregorius who set up that bases-loaded situation for Stanton by laying down a beautiful bunt single — something rarely seen, if ever, from a team’s No. 3 hitter. But that was Gregorius’ fourth bunt hit of the season already after zero last year, and his personal best was five in 2016. Of course, the versatile Gregorius can flex some muscle as well, and Tuesday night’s homer was No. 15, still good for third on the club behind Judge and Stanton.
As for Sanchez’s replacement, Austin Romine has been better than adequate, and he helped generate a run with his leadoff double in the fourth — along with some fancy footwork on a slide into third base. Hustling to advance on a wild pitch, Romine should have been dead at third, and the throw arrived well ahead of him. But Romine avoided Maikel Franco’s tag with a pop-up slide, then duped him by stepping around his glove with his right foot. It was a clever baserunning trick, but not the type you tend to expect from a backup catcher.
Romine’s crafty slide turned out to be important when Hicks delivered a deep drive to the warning track, scoring him easily to put the Yankees ahead, 5-0. It was their 26th sacrifice fly this season, matching the Astros for tops in the American League. And reminding us again that the Yankees can do damage on the grassy side of the wall, too.