To make the playoffs this year, the Yankees’ season needs to be about Gary Sanchez. Perhaps Miguel Andujar. Maybe Clint Frazier.
Disappointment, then recovery. Something left for dead, that isn’t.
There were many reasons why the Yankees rallied from a three-run deficit to beat the A’s, 7-5, Saturday.
Nestor Cortes Jr. took over from Domingo German with runners on the corners, no out and the Yankees down 4-1 in the fifth inning. He didn’t let Oakland score again en route to three shutout innings of stabilizing relief that earned him the championship belt presented by teammates for the star of the game. DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela constructed one meaningful at-bat after another. In striking out the side in the eighth, Chad Green had what Aaron Boone called his “best outing of the season.”
But as vital as anything in allowing the Yankees to win for the fourth time in five games — all after entering the seventh inning trailing — were at-bats by a couple of players who have lost starting jobs at some point this season.
When Sanchez led off the sixth, the Yankees trailed 4-1. They had one hit in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. They were mostly being unplugged by Oakland starter Chris Bassitt.
But Sanchez hit the first pitch of the bottom of the frame for his fifth homer in the past 10 games. For an even longer period, three weeks, Sanchez has resembled the force Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia once proclaimed would be the best hitter on the team. He hasn’t appeared overwhelmed by velocity or befuddled by break.
Sanchez is a player who wears his confidence overtly — you often can see his body slump before his statistics do in bad times. This version is playing confidently again (on both sides of the ball). After falling into a timeshare with Kyle Higashioka when his 2020 slump ebbed into 2021, Sanchez’s bat is having such impact again that there is wonder if he should even catch Gerrit Cole rather than Higashioka, Cole’s security blanket.
“He is turning back into that offensive dominant catcher that we believe he can be,” Boone said.
Still, the Yankees trailed 4-2 when Frazier led off the seventh with a bullet double. He had done the same to open the fifth and was stranded at second. But here he scored on Judge’s RBI single and Judge scored the tying run on an RBI single by Stanton, who had previously been 0-for-11 against Yusmeiro Petit.
Frazier has seemingly wasted his last best chance to start for the Yankees. He struggled for two months, but with Mike Tauchman traded, Aaron Hicks out injured and Brett Gardner also ineffective, he kept getting at-bats. Until Andujar began to hit like the near Rookie of the Year from 2018. And with the Yankees’ offense miserable most of the year, Boone could not ignore that.
Frazier’s play has become more sporadic in June, yet he had a walk-off homer against the Rays and a huge pinch-hit double last week against the Blue Jays amid his continued slump. Most concerning, a hitter with a lightning bat was not striking the ball consistently hard. But the doubles Saturday were 100.7 and 105.3 mph, plus he walked and scored in the go-ahead eighth.
Frazier said he and a few others who have “not performed the way we know we can” have been operating with a “chip on our shoulders.” He noted that in recent weeks — coinciding with greater concentration of getting illegal sticky substances that favor pitchers out of the game — the Yankees’ offense has stirred closer to anticipated form. The Yankees have scored five runs or more in eight of their past 11 games, after doing so eight times in 29 games before that.
“It’s been bumpy, it’s been smooth,” Frazier said of this Yankees’ season. “It has been all of the above. To my knowledge no one said this was going to be easy. We’ve been characterized as a great team and as a bad team at times … It is a matter of doing what we know we can do and consistently.”
Still, a third-place team and on the outside looking in toward a playoff spot, the Yankees need this season to be Sanchez, perhaps Andujar, maybe Frazier. Something left for dead, that isn’t.
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