Both of these were true about the Yankees offense Monday night — their lineup was performing wonderfully, yet hungering for a huge hit.
Through eight innings so much good happened with the Yankee attack from top to bottom and all in between. And through eight innings they could not pull away from the Rays in their division-series opener.
DJ LeMahieu led Monday night with a nine-pitch grind against Blake Snell that ended in a single and led to a run. Clint Frazier and Kyle Higashioka became the first Yankees Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to homer in the same postseason game. And Aaron Judge provided a 4-3 lead in the fifth with a blast that made these Yankees the second team in MLB history to hit at least three homers in three consecutive playoff games.
Yet, through eight innings, the Yankees were stuck on that 4-3 lead despite enduring just a single 1-2-3 inning. Because heading to the ninth they were hitless in 11 at-bats with runners on base. This was a tense, strategy-heavy game until that point. The key words — until that point.
The Yankees sent 11 men to the plate in the ninth inning and scored five runs, highlighted by a Giancarlo Stanton grand slam. Afterward Stanton would mention a few times that the Yankees are “wearing down” the opposing pitchers with so many good at-bats. The first eight innings were wearying body blows. The ninth inning was the knockout punch in a 9-3 victory that left little doubt that The Savages were back in full.
After all, the Indians and the Rays ranked 1-2 in AL ERA, combining top-caliber arms with as much quality pitching depth as any team. But so far both staffs have been overwhelmed in these playoffs by the Yankees’ power, patience and poise in this cauldron. Great pitching is supposed to beat top hitting, especially at this time of year. But these Yankees are defying that with an order that has no give, no weakness, no mercy.
Through three postseason games, the Yanks have 11 homers, 31 runs, a .333 batting average and an 1.100 OPS. In Round 1, they crushed the best starter in the majors this year in Shane Bieber, one of the best relievers in James Karinchak and inflicted Brad Hand with his first blown save of the year. Now, like adding mementos to their wall, the Yanks punctured Snell with three homers and put the game away against the deep Ray bullpen.
The three playoff games have left the Yanks at 12109. Nope, not a zip code. But 12 runs, 10 runs, 9 runs. They are the first team in major league history to score at least nine runs in each of their first three playoff games and have done so against the two best pitching staffs in the AL. And the numbers are not fully defining. You have to see the at-bats as Yankee hitters are following Aaron Boone’s first commandment — and second and third: control the strike zone. They have been brilliant this postseason shunning tempting pitches off the plate and crushing mistakes. Their 20 walks to 29 strikeouts against these arms is superb.
And the damage is coming from everywhere. Frazier did not play either game in Cleveland as Brett Gardner started and performed well. Inserted against Snell, Frazier homered. So did Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher, Higashioka. Aaron Hicks shed his normal patience and aggressively assembled one fine plate appearance after another.
There had been hints of this offense during this strange season. But nothing persisted. There was an internal belief if they could get healthy that the lineup would turn on in the playoffs. And they did heal and have flipped the switch.
“This is what we are capable of when we are whole, healthy and locked in,” Boone said.
The return of Judge and Stanton to health and the lineup has provided the Twin Tower look the Yankees have been craving for three years. Stanton, in particular, has reduced his hopeless hacks and the at-bats lacking competitiveness. He is not chasing. He is forcing pitchers into the zone, where his immense strength plays. Stanton has homered in all three Yankee playoff games.
“I am having good at-bats,” Stanton said. “That is what it is about. Wear these pitchers down and it will click eventually.”
The Yankees are collectively having good at-bats — actually great at-bats. They are wearing down pitchers on the best staffs in the AL. They are clicking 1-to-9 — and round and round. They are Savages in the box again with a current zip code of 12109.