Joe Girardi seemingly caught his former team at the right time in Tuesday night’s Bronx homecoming. With six players still on the shelf due to COVID-19, and even the replacements getting banged up, the Yankees have been in disarray at the most pivotal point of their season.
When the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup consists of Rob Brantly, Greg Allen, Tyler Wade and the newly recalled Estevan Florial — DJ LeMahieu was a very late scratch because of stomach issues (he tested negative) — this group wasn’t quite the intimidating crew Girardi had been used to seeing. Or even managing a few years back, during his own Bronx tenure.
"It’s a tough break with COVID and the injuries that they’ve had," Girardi said before the game from the top step of the visitors’ dugout. "But I also look at they put up nine runs Sunday night, too. It’s a different type of roster. There’s more speed to it, and they’ll probably do a little bit more differently. But it’s an offense that’s capable of scoring a lot of runs and I don’t take that for granted."
A lot of runs? That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But the Yankees will settle for enough, which is what they got in Tuesday’s 6-4 victory over the Phillies, thanks in large part to the "different roster" Girardi was talking about.
Remember when Brian Cashman described his team’s brand of baseball as "unwatchable?" Well, Greg Allen alone was worth the price of admission Tuesday, as the speedy, switch-hitting outfielder helped manufacture the first two runs by doing a few things rarely done by players wearing pinstripes.
Allen opened the third inning with a triple — the Yankees had a whopping total of five entering Tuesday — and hustled home on Estevan Florial’s groundout. In the fifth, Allen led off with a walk, stole second (not a misprint), took third on a flyout and scored when Didi Gregorius’ attempt to double him up sailed past Ronald Torreyes.
So Allen got lucky there. Straying too far off third was almost a costly blunder. But the way it turned out, we’ll chalk it up to putting pressure on the defense.
As for the rest of the offense, Aaron Boone & Co. got those in typical Bomber fashion, with Florial, Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton all supplying home runs — the solo variety, of course. These are still the Yankees. They’re not turning into the ’87 Cardinals overnight, no matter how many times Rougned Odor bunts for a base hit, as he did again Tuesday.
Regardless, the Yankees are now 3-1 since returning broken from the All-Star break.
Girardi can sympathize with what Aaron Boone is going through — and has reason to fear more uncertainty ahead, based on his own team’s reluctance to get vaccinated. The Phillies had to play without Alec Bohm, who remained on the COVID-19 list after being pulled from a July 10 game at Fenway Park for testing positive, and Tuesday was the first start for ace Aaron Nola since he had been placed in quarantine for contact tracing from that same weekend series against the Red Sox.
The resurgent Phillies had won 10 of 14 heading into Tuesdays’ series opener — tying the White Sox for the most wins this month — to close within two games of the first-place Mets in the NL East. But the Phillies remain one of only seven teams that haven’t reached the 85% vaccination threshold, and that makes Girardi uneasy as he attempts to stay in contention through the pandemic.
"It’s really strange," Girardi said. "Just when you think you can let your guard down, it pops up."
The Yankees have been plagued by a number of positives despite being among the 85 percenters, with a few of the infections happening to vaccinated personnel — or "breakthrough cases" as they are known. Fortunately, the majority have not caused severe illness, but Boone indicated Tuesday that Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela and Kyle Higashioka were not close to returning.
Revenge motives aside, Girardi’s primary focus is on the other New York team, and the Mets are right with the Phillies, below the 85% mark. The Mets’ recent run of bad luck has been more of the conventional sort, with Jacob deGrom (forearm tightness) and Francisco Lindor (oblique strain) on the shelf for non-virus ailments. But Girardi sees the potential for plenty of issues ahead as teams head into the second half.
"We’re not sure how pitching is going to handle a full season after only having 60 games," Girardi said. "You’re trying to be careful, but you’re also trying to win games, so there’s some things you have to overcome this year that you don’t necessarily have to do in regular years. But you just do the best you can."
With their season on the line, the Yankees are getting pretty good at that lately.