This really is not as easy as the Yankees are making it look. For instance, Masahiro Tanaka and Gary Sanchez have to try hard to communicate when they meet, pitcher and catcher, on the mound during games. When Tanaka was asked which language they speak, he laughed and said, “English,” in English.
Then he was asked whose English is better. Tanaka, again without waiting for translation into Japanese, said, “Sanchez.”
Starlin Castro, the second baseman who is privy to those conferences on the field, said, “They work at it.” He added, “And it works.”
It all is working now for the Yankees, who have won seven in a row and amazingly put themselves into the race for first in the American League East as well as the chase for one of the two wild-card spots. Saturday was a good time to reflect on the Yankees’ temperature —“caliente” in Sanchez’s Spanish, “atsui” in Tanaka’s Japanese and “hot!” in the Bronx — because it was exactly four weeks since the climate abruptly and dramatically changed.
Four weeks ago Saturday, the Yankees pounded the Rays on successive home runs by Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, both of whom had been promoted that day after the club said goodbye to Alex Rodriguez a night earlier. The team has not been the same since. They pounded the Rays again Saturday, with Sanchez, Austin’s and Judge’s fellow rookie, following Jacoby Ellsbury’s home run with one of his own in the sixth inning and adding a remarkable sacrifice fly — on an attempted intentional walk—in the eighth.
The point is, four weeks ago, it looked as if the Yankees were fully committed to focusing on tomorrow, and now they have a huge today on their hands. The influx of young players, including a couple of pitchers such as Luis Severino, has transformed everything about the Yankees. It is like when a hockey team adds an enforcer and everyone on the ice all of a sudden feels six inches taller. The veterans on the Yankees look five years younger.
“We’re winning ballgames and having fun doing it,” said Ellsbury, whose on-base plus slugging percentage has risen from .699 to .723 since Aug. 13.
Tanaka, speaking through a translator, said, “The atmosphere is good. That’s not to say the team atmosphere wasn’t good early in the season. We have younger guys up, obviously. The new guys are providing positive energy into the clubhouse and onto the team. I think that has a lot to do with it.”
Counting Saturday’s 5-1 win, Tanaka is on a 6-0 run, which is reflective of his own good work and the fact that the rising tide has lifted just about everyone. That includes Sanchez, who came up earlier but hit only one of his phenomenal total of 13 homers before Aug. 13.
It is more than just coincidence. Since Aug. 12, the Yankees have no longer had the burden of explaining what they were going to do with Rodriguez (whose finale was that night, in a victory over Chris Archer, Saturday’s losing pitcher). Plus they no longer had the yoke of expectation, probably for the first time since the early 1990s.
On top of that, they received a wave of energy and ability. An American League scout at the game Saturday said the Yankees’ surge is a simple matter of “good players playing well.”
Joe Girardi feels the youth-drenched vibe in the dugout every day. “When I think back on some of the success we’ve had, in 2009, it was Melky Cabrera that seemed to bring a lot of that. When I was here as a player here, it was Derek [Jeter]. He was the one who brought that youthful enthusiasm and some goofiness to it, a lot of laughter,” the manager said. “And I think that’s important during a long season. These kids have seemed to bring that — plus a lot of talent.”
Which is not to say that this is permanent. Among those who, like Sanchez, have hit at least 13 home runs in his first 35 games was Kevin Maas (apologies to the poor guy for using his name in yet another negative context).
Caution notwithstanding, Sanchez, Austin, Judge and the rest are here because they have kept trying, and the Yankees are much better because they are here.