The Yankees knocked various Royals pitchers around Saturday afternoon en route to a 9-2 victory and their fourth win in the last five games, yet none of that seems to matter. Aaron Judge exited the game with an oblique injury. That would be devastating even if the rest of the Yankees were healthy, which they most certainly are not. Whoever has the 2019 Yankees voodoo doll, please stop.
The Home Run Robbery That Didn’t Matter
The Yankees wasted no time getting to Heath Fillmyer on Saturday afternoon. Judge hit Fillmyer’s seventh pitch into the short porch for a first inning 1-0 lead, and Clint Frazier hit Fillmyer’s 19th pitch into the short porch for a second inning 2-0 lead. It’s early, I know, but man is it awesome to watch Frazier do what he’s doing after the injuries last year and his Spring Training struggles.
For a brief moment in the third inning, the Yankees led this game 5-0. DJ LeMahieu walked and Luke Voit singled, setting up Gleyber Torres for the three-run home run. Except it was not a home run. The play was reviewed and MLB’s central replay crew determined the fan interfered with Alex Gordon, and called Torres out. Here’s the video:
No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.
The call on the field was home run, which means the replay crew in Chelsea saw clear and convincing evidence the fan reached over in to the field of play to interfere with Gordon. That’s what allowed them to call Torres out and send the runners back to first and second bases. That is … questionable. Questionable and also a high-impact call at that point in the game:
- Win probably after three-run homer (5-0 lead): 94.3%
- Win probability after call was overturned (2-0 lead): 75.8%
Aaron Boone predictably stormed out of the dugout and gave the umpires the business even though the call was out of their hands. It was MLB’s central replay crew. Still, gotta stick up for the team there, even in a no-win argument, and Boone did that. Frazier popped up as the next batter to end the inning and strand the two runners. Gah.
Fortunately, Gleyber’s non-homer ultimately did not matter. In the very next inning Mike Tauchman socked a three-run homer — Tauchman is capitalizing on an opportunity in a way Greg Bird was unable to the last four years — and LeMahieu followed with a solo homer, his first as a Yankee and the 50th of his career. Tauchman and LeMahieu combined for the Yankees’ first set of back-to-back homers this season. Why’s everyone so surprised?
LeMahieu’s homer snapped his 0-for-15 skid and Tauchman now has three home runs in the past five days. Not too bad for a guy who hit one (1) homer in 129 Triple-A games in 2016. Tauchman embraced a launch angle approach two years ago and the Yankees had him on their radar for a while — earlier this week Boone said the Yankees were eyeing Tauchman last year — and now things are working out for everyone. Also, fun fact: Tauchman does not have a single this season. He is 6-for-29 (.207) with three doubles and three homers.
Weirdly, Masahiro Tanaka started his afternoon by walking two of the first four batters he faced. This is a dude with a 5.5% walk rate the last three seasons. He walked back-to-back batters before giving up the grand slam in his last start, then walked two of the first four batters he faced Saturday. Huh. That’s unusual. Fortunately Tanaka was able to strand the two runners and the walks led to nothing.
Following the second walk, Tanaka retired eleven of the next 14 batters he faced, and he stranded a runner at third with no outs in the third inning. Voit whiffed on Billy Hamilton’s grounder (78.5 mph exit velocity) and it rolled into the right corner, which gave Hamilton plenty of time to race to third. Tanaka bounced back to strikeout Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City’s two best hitters, before getting the inning-ending ground out.
It wasn’t until the Yankees had a 6-1 lead in the sixth inning that Tanaka gave up the #obligatoryhomer, and that’s not a big deal at all as far as I’m concerned. If you’re gonna give up a solo homer, that’s a good time to do it. The Royals were patient in the first inning, so Tanaka adjusted and started throwing his splitter and (especially) slider for strikes at the knees. They had little chance after that.
Tanaka’s final line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 HR on 94 pitches. Only the second time he’s walked three batters in back-to-back starts in his MLB career. That is three very good to great starts and one dud start for Tanaka so far this season. He’s sitting on a 2.76 ERA (3.31 FIP) with 23.9% strikeouts, 6.9% walks, and 53.8% grounders through 29.1 innings. Hard to expect Tanaka to pitch better than he has this season. What a stud.
The Yankees added insurance runs late in the game. Torres and Frazier singled in runs in the sixth inning and Austin Romine singled in a run in the seventh. Every starter reached base at least once and seven of the nine starters reached base multiple times. Torres went 1-for-5 with a single but had that homer taken away, and also had a single taken away when the pitch threw out his glove to snag a hard-hit grounder. Tough day.
Frazier was a triple short of the cycle — he already has four three-hit games this year, tied with Tim Anderson for the most in baseball — and is hitting .351/.371/.649 (169 wRC+) on the young season. Hell yeah. Between the injuries and his effectiveness, Frazier’s gone from cool story to indispensable in a hurry. Also, Gio Urshela had three hits as well. He’s hitting .321/.406/.464 (142 wRC+).
Jonathan Holder was the only reliever used and he labored a bit (2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HR), including giving up a solo home run to Chris Owings, who once upon a time I said I preferred to Didi Gregorius. True story. I figured Holder had some home run rate regressing coming his way this year. He allowed four in 66 innings last year. He’s allowed two in eleven innings so far this season.
And finally, Voit’s third inning single extended his MLB leading on-base streak to 31 games. It is the longest such streak by a Yankee since Judge had a 32-gamer in 2017. The longest prior to that was Derek Jeter’s 36-gamer spanning 2012-13. Voit can match Judge’s streak in the series finale Sunday.
The series finale and the homestand finale. The Yankees and Royals wrap up this four-game set Sunday afternoon with another 1:05pm ET start. James Paxton and Jorge Lopez are the scheduled starting pitchers. Hopefully no one else gets hurt.