The Yankees put together a powerful performance Thursday afternoon at the Stadium, the convincing 8-1 win over the Royals serving as a fine tuneup for a run at the Red Sox. It felt like a warmup for what was to come, the sort of intense rivalry series that has seemed to define both franchises for decades.
Does this feel familiar?
It was early in the season when the Yankees were 5-10 and it was probably best for them not to tune into sports radio or open a newspaper. But they recovered, lifting themselves to five games over .500 and just 4 games out of first place in the American League East when the Red Sox came to Yankee Stadium earlier this month. When it was over, a three-game sweep by the Red Sox, all of the early doubt returned and even the Yankees were admittedly asking some of those questions themselves.
Now, with the walk-off win Wednesday night and the one-sided victory just hours later, they are back in the mix, six games over .500 with seven wins in their last nine games. And they are bound for Fenway Park where the Red Sox await them.
"It’s going to be fun," Giancarlo Stanton said. "We’re ready to go. It’s always high tension when we’re playing them, so it’s going to be good."
High tension is good. Three- game sweeps that set you back are not. But the Yankees, with good reason, feel like this time the uptick in their performance is not an illusion. Even they need proof, though, and there may be no better test than a trip to Boston.
"You’re not going to play well over 162," Gerrit Cole said before the Kansas City series. "At some point you’re going to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Man, I’ve got to make an adjustment.’ So it’s not uncommon for those things to happen. But I think over the greater picture, we can play good for two or three games, but the season is 162. So in that respect, things have been trending well since maybe we’ve looked in the mirror most recently.
"But we’re looking for something that’s consistent and deliberate and methodical over the course of the season so that we can continually say that we get better and better and better and better, and not take one step forward and two steps back. So it’s too early for me to tell you if it’s worked."
The Red Sox seemed to provide that first wave of introspection. So avenging that last series could certainly go a long way to a psychological boost the rest of the way this season.
"Look, I think we’re finding our way a little bit," manager Aaron Boone said. "I still don’t think we’re where we think we’re going to be as a team. It’s certainly been a grind this year, but I don’t think there’s any question that over the last couple of weeks the offense is just starting to slowly but surely get a little bit better."
It isn’t just that the Yankees are 9-5 and have won four of the five series they have played since they were swept by Boston. They have started to get healthy and offensively find all of the pieces falling into place. The lineup has that imposing look, the pitching has picked up and even the intensity — if Aroldis Chapman’s glove-throwing episode Wednesday is an indication — is at a fever pitch.
Domingo German gets the first shot on the mound and he was solid in that last series against Boston, throwing 5 2/3 innings and allowing just one run before the bullpen lost the game in extra innings.
"It’s a really important series, there’s no doubt about that, every time we face a team that’s ahead of us in the standings," German said through an interpreter. " . . . They’ve been playing very good baseball and are ahead of us right now, so you definitely see the possibilities and how important those three games are over there in Boston. We’re looking forward to the game, the series, tomorrow. Hoping to win all three games there.
"We’ve been positive. We’ve got to have a positive mind. We understand they came here and were able to win those three games against us here at home. But that doesn’t mean what happened in the past is going to happen again."
What happened in the past does not always predict the future. But the Yankees have to prove it — to the Red Sox and to themselves.