Derek and Didi
Thursday’s game in Cleveland not only marked the Yankees’ final series before the All-Star break, but was also the start of a crucial, season-defining 14-game gauntlet against the AL’s cream of the crop: three first-place squads (Indians, Orioles, Rangers) and a wild-card team (Red Sox).
If their performance over the next few weeks is going to dictate whether they declare themselves as contenders or pretenders in this year’s playoff race, then at least the Yankees began this critical stretch with a bang.
Despite this matchup looking like a complete mismatch on paper — the AL’s best pitching staff (3.61 ERA entering Thursday) versus the AL’s second-least productive offense (.707 OPS entering Thursday) — the Yankees somehow rallied from an early deficit and held off a late comeback bid by the Indians to escape with a 5-4 win.
Didi Gregorius sparked the rally in the fifth inning with his 10th homer of the season, setting a new career-high and further cementing himself potentially as the team’s next superstar infielder. The list of Yankee shortstops (guys who played at least 75 percent of games at the position) to hit double-digit homers before the All-Star break is a short one: Derek Jeter (six times), Roy Smalley (1983), Frankie Crosetti (1936) … and now Sir Didi.
In a season filled with inconsistency, it was only fitting that the Yankees failed to build any momentum following their exciting win on Thursday and were clobbered by the Indians the next night, 10-2.
The game was essentially over after the first inning as Cleveland battered Chad Green for three homers and four runs before he could even get three outs. Carlos Santana led off the game with a homer to right field, and then three pitches later Jason Kipnis took Green deep to put the Yankees in an early 2-0 hole.
Green became just the fourth Yankee pitcher in the last 75 years to give up back-to-back homers to start a game. The last guy to do it was Hiroki Kuroda on Sept. 25, 2014 vs. the Orioles, and the others were Ted Lilly (June 6, 2001 vs. Orioles) and Catfish Hunter (June 17, 1977 vs. Red Sox).
The Indians weren’t done crushing Green’s batting practice fastballs, though. Lonnie Chisenhall went yard later in the first inning, giving Green the honor of being the sixth Yankee since 1930 to allow three homers in the first inning of a game. The rest of this illustrious list: A.J. Burnett (2010), Ron Guidry (1987), Catfish Hunter (same as above), Wade Blasingame (1972) and Hank Johnson (1932).
And Mike Napoli put an exclamation point on Green’s miserable night when he smoked a 3-2 pitch to deep left center field that nearly hit the scoreboard. It traveled 459.6 feet per Statcast, the second-longest home run allowed by a Yankee pitcher since 2008 (when Statcast began measuring batted ball distance).
Green’s final line was seven runs, five hits and four homers allowed in 4 1/3 innings. The last Yankee to surrender at least four homers against the Indians was Scott Sanderson on April 17, 1992, and the last guy to do that in Cleveland was Dennis Rasmussen in 1987.
For the second time in three games the Yankees rallied to beat the Indians, 7-6 in 11 innings, stealing another thrilling victory on Saturday afternoon against the AL’s second-best team.
It was the Yankees’ first extra-inning win of the season, making this the latest into the season by date that the Yankees recorded their first win in extras since 1940, when they didn’t get one until July 17 … also against the Indians.
Brian McCann ripped the game-winning hit in the decisive frame with a booming RBI double off the wall in right field to break a 6-6 tie. He earned our ridiculous #Funfact Yankeemetric of the series: The last Yankee catcher with a extra-inning, go-ahead hit in Cleveland was Elston Howard, who belted a tie-breaking solo homer in the 11th inning off Luis Tiant on Sept. 23, 1964 in a 4-3 Yankees win.
Brett Gardner capped off the Yankees second rally of the game with a go-ahead, bases-clearing triple in the sixth inning to stake the Yankees to a brief 6-5 lead. Gardner entered the game with just 10 RBI in 60 at-bats with runners in scoring position this season; his rate of one RBI every six at-bats with RISP was the worst among the 199 players that had at least 50 at-bats with a man on second and/or third heading into the weekend.
Hey there, .500
The Yankees will head into the All-Star break on a winning note, riding the momentum of an impressive — and improbable — series win over the AL Central-leading Indians. By taking of three of four against one of the best teams in the league, the Yankees improved to 44-44, a fitting mark at the mid-point given that they’ve danced around the .500 mark for much of the season.
This is the 24th straight year the Yankees will enter the second half of the season with a .500 or better record, dating back to 1993. In that span no other team has even posted 20 non-losing first-half seasons, with the Cardinals, Braves and Red Sox each at 19.
Carlos Beltran was undoubtedly the Yankees’ first-half MVP, thanks to his tremendous power and consistency at the plate, leading the team in homers, doubles, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. He is just the second Yankee in his age-39 season or older to finish the first half with a slugging percentage of .550 or better. The other was Babe Ruth, who slugged .562 before the break in 1934.
Andrew Miller has been arguably the most valuable pitcher on the Yankees staff thus far, featuring video game-like stats that haven’t been duplicated by anybody before this year. He is the only player in major-league history to pitch at least 35 innings in the first half and post an ERA below 1.50, a strikeout rate of at least 15.0 per nine innings and a WHIP below 1.00.