Lucky breaks go Boston's way . . . until they don't
A handful of Yankees along with their manager tried to explain what happened Sunday night at Fenway Park, and it was DJ LeMahieu who probably came closest to nailing the essence of yet another bizarre victory over the Red Sox, this time by the score of 6-3.
"The story of our season is getting punched in the face and coming back," he said, "so we’re used to it at this point."
Surfing through the adversity hasn’t always been as thrilling — or rewarding — as this weekend’s three-game sweep at Fenway Park, the Yankees first in September since 2001 and one that allowed them to leapfrog the Red Sox into the top wild-card spot.
The fact that they easily could (should?) have lost Sunday’s finale makes them appreciate whatever supernatural forces chose to side with them on this particular night, and exceedingly glad that a superhero named Giancarlo Stanton is in their dugout.
Lucky? Sure, if you want to focus on that eighth-inning at-bat by Aaron Judge, who came to the plate with one out, two on and the Yankees trailing 3-2. Facing former Yankee Adam Ottavino, Judge was almost retired once — when first baseman Bobby Dalbec let a foul pop drop near the photographers’ well — then absolutely was out the second time when he tipped a third strike into the glove of catcher Christian Vazquez.
The ball clearly was in Vazquez’s mitt, but he fumbled it on the transfer to his throwing hand. And when umpire Joe West finally noticed the ball in the dirt, he threw up his arms, signaling what he believed was a muffed catch. Because the play was not reviewable, there could be no challenge.
"I felt like a cat," Judge said. "Felt like I had nine lives up there."
Turns out, Judge needed only three. He smoked the very next pitch, the eighth of that at-bat, for a two-run double that put the Yankees ahead to stay.
Dalbec sprouting alligator arms. The gift from Cowboy Joe. All of it lucky, no doubt, although Judge did dislocate his left pinkie sliding into second base (he said he’s OK).
But to dismiss the hurting the Yankees put on the Red Sox as a few fortunate breaks would be a big mistake. Not when they literally handed Boston its only lead on a pair of dropped pop-ups. In the same inning. Five pitches apart.
To put this in context, it is extremely rare to see one botched pop-up in any major-league game. Two? That’s Sasquatch-sighting frequency.
But with two outs in the seventh inning, DJ LeMahieu and Joey Gallo — two Gold Glovers — had harmless, routine pops clang off their gloves.
LeMahieu’s in foul territory kept Kyle Schwarber alive long enough to punch a floater into shallow left-center, where a running Gallo somehow simply let it kick off his webbing, allowing Alex Verdugo to score from second base.
"A little bit stunning, right?" Aaron Boone said. "I mean, you can’t make that stuff up. But it’s one of my messages to the guys all year long: Mistakes are going to happen and you can’t get bogged down by it. You’ve got to move on. It’s not something you’re going to see very often — two pop-ups dropped like that, especially by two really good defenders — but it’s part of the ride right now."
The Yankees also are lucky to have Stanton riding shotgun for them in September, a month that he’s absolutely wrecking with nine homers and 22 RBIs in 22 games. Maybe Judge got a few extra outs to help drive in those go-ahead runs, but Stanton is simply an irrepressible force at the plate. He homered in all three games — putting two of them on Lansdowne Street, behind the Monster, for a total of 900 feet — and drove in 10 runs.
"I’m just ready to go," Stanton said. "There’s a lot on the line for our season. This is big-time right now, so I just got to make sure I’m the most prepared I can be."
Stanton is the first Yankee to have 10 RBIs in a three-game series at Fenway Park; Joe DiMaggio and Hideki Matsui each had nine. He also became only the fourth Yankee to have three homers and 10 RBIs during any three-game span against the Red Sox, joining Mickey Mantle (1954), Lou Gehrig (1931) and Babe Ruth (1927).
These are strange times around the Yankees. One minute, multiple players can’t catch a baseball. The next, they’re leaving tire tracks on the bewildered Red Sox, who now have to be freaking out over potentially playing the Yankees in a wild-card playoff game, regardless of where it takes place.
"We aren’t afraid to make it interesting, that’s for sure," Stanton said.
With a week left, buckle up.