Saturday afternoon started with a wonderful ceremony celebrating the 1996 World Series champion Yankees, and it ended with the 2016 Yankees winning their fourth straight game. This one was an 8-4 victory over the Rays. The Bronx Bombers are back and suddenly loaded with young, exciting players.
The Kids Shall Lead Them
After it was announced last Sunday that Alex Rodriguez would play in his final game Friday, we spent a week wondering who would get called up to replace him. Aaron Judge or Tyler Austin? Both guys had strong cases, and really, there was no wrong answer. As it turns out, both guys got the call. The Yankees promoted Judge and Austin to the big leagues on Saturday morning, and holy cow, did they made a strong first impression.
The game started with Judge making a nice running catch for the final out of the first inning, so right away he showed off his athleticism. The kind of athleticism you don’t normally see from a dude listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds. Then, in the bottom of the second, Austin and Judge showed off their power, the power that got them to the big leagues. They swatted back-to-back solo home runs off Matt Andriese in the first at-bats of their careers. To the action footage:
Even more awesome? Judge following Austin’s homer with his first career hit, run, and RBI a few minutes later. Austin took advantage of the short porch. Judge hit the ball damn near over the restaurant in center field:
Statcast measured that at 446 feet, making it the second longest homer of the season by a Yankee. (Brian McCann hit one 450 feet.) The Yankees say Judge is the third player to hit a home run off the windows of the restaurant — it looks like the ball hit above the windows though, right? — joining Russell Branyan and Carlos Correa. I could have sworn Robinson Cano once did it against Clay Buchholz, but nope. The homer I was thinking of hit just below the windows. (Here’s the video.)
Aside from the obvious, my favorite part of Judge’s home run was Didi Gregorius picking up the 5-foot-6 Ronald Torreyes so he could high-five the 6-foot-7 Judge in the dugout afterward. Pretty funny. You can kinda see it here:
Austin and Judge are the first teammates in baseball history (!) to hit a home run in their MLB debut. Forget about back-to-back or first at-bat or anything like that. No two rookies had ever gone deep in the same game in their MLB debuts before Saturday. Crazy. This is also the first time the Yankees had two players making their big league debuts in the starting lineup since 1969. My goodness. What a ridiculously fun inning that was.
The Return of #TooManyHomers
For the first time in Yankees franchise history, five players age 26 or younger hit home runs Saturday. It’s the only the fifth time that’s happened in baseball history. (The Cubs did it earlier this year.) The home run hitters: Austin, Judge, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, and Gregorius. All five home runs meant something too.
After Austin and Judge gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead, Castro swatted a fourth inning solo homer to tie the game 3-3, then Hicks crushed a three-run homer to give the Yankees a 6-3 lead in the fifth. He destroyed that ball. It had the good sound off the bat and landed in the second deck in right field. That was Aaron’s second homer in the span of 24 hours. Fun fact: Hicks has gone 11-for-37 (.298) with a double and two homers in 12 games since Carlos Beltran was traded away.
Gregorius tacked on two big insurance runs in the seventh inning. The Rays had trimmed their deficit to 6-4, so while the Yankees had the lead, the ball was flying out of the park and some breathing room was appreciated. Especially since the back-end of the bullpen was a little short. Didi, the cleanup hitter du jour, pulled a ball out to right field for the 8-4 lead. The five homers tied the team’s season high. They did it May 9th against the Royals as well.
Seven & Fly
I have to admit, I was surprised Joe Girardi lifted Masahiro Tanaka after only seven innings and 79 pitches. You’d think he had a lot left in the tank, right? At least enough for one more inning, especially because Dellin Betances was presumably off-limits after pitching the last three days. But no, Girardi pulled the plug after 79 pitches, I guess because it was insanely hot on the field and he want to save some bullets for later.
Tanaka retired the first ten batters he faced before Kevin Kiermaier laid down a bunt hit in the fourth. Lame! I don’t have a problem with it though. It was only the fourth inning and it was a two-run game. It’s not like it was eighth or ninth inning or something. Evan Longoria followed with a single, then Brad Miller clubbed a three-run home run to left field to give the Rays a 3-2 lead.
Miller touched up Tanaka for another home run in the sixth inning. That was a solo shot to trim New York’s lead to 6-4. The two home run pitches were pretty much Tanaka’s only mistakes on the afternoon. He struck out eight, didn’t walk anyone, and retired eleven of the final 12 men he faced. The Miller solo homer was the one baserunner. Four runs in seven innings isn’t great, but on this afternoon, it was plenty good enough to win.
Tyler Clippard chucked a scoreless eighth inning before Tommy Layne recorded all three outs in the ninth. Anthony Swarzak started that ninth inning and faced just one batter; Longoria hit a ball off Austin’s glove and beat out an infield single. Adam Warren and Betances, the two big guys at the end of the game, got a much needed day off.
Five players had two hits and it was the 26 and under club: Austin, Judge, Castro, Hicks, and Gregorius. Gregorius had a homer and a double. Everyone else had a homer and a single. (Castro’s dinger was his career high tying 14th.) Austin and Hicks stole bases too. Austin is the first Yankee with a homer and a steal in his MLB debut and only the seventh player to do that in MLB history. He and Judge sure made for a fun afternoon, didn’t they?
And finally, the Yankees have won four straight games for only the fourth time this season. There haven’t been many extended winning (or losing) streaks this season. They’ve spent an awful lot of time hovering right around .500. I don’t know if the Yankees can make a serious run at a postseason spot, but I’m looking forward to watching them try.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights. I suggest watching them all. We have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. Here’s the up then down then up again win probability graph:
The Yankees will look to finish the series sweep and win their fifth straight game Sunday afternoon. Luis Severino and Jake Odorizzi are the scheduled starters. Hopefully Severino uses his changeup a little more often against Tampa’s lefty hitters. There are four games left on the homestand and, if you’re willing to brave the heat, RAB Tickets can get you in the door for all four.