The opening came this way:
Miguel Sano, more nose tackle than nimble, was for some reason moved from first to third base for the final two innings Thursday and stumbled slightly on a Didi Gregorius grounder to open the ninth. His throw short-hopped the new first baseman, Logan Morrison, and Gregorius was on with a two-base error.
Giancarlo Stanton, hitless in five career at-bats against Fernando Rodney with two whiffs, then hit a slow roller that perhaps no third baseman could have turned into an out, certainly not Sano, who fielded, pumped toward first and looked to second, where smartly Gregorius had held.
Two on. No out. Bottom of the ninth. That was the opening. Two balls that collectively traveled about 150 feet on the ground and suddenly the Yankees — shackled all game — had the tying runs on base in a 3-1 game. It was like introducing matches to a dynamite factory. Maybe nothing will happen. But would you want to stick around to find out?
“If we can get traffic on the bases, we are always one swing away with our guys,” Aaron Boone said.
The swing came when Rodney tried to work an 0-1 fastball inside and Gary Sanchez was just too quick, just too strong. He walloped a ball that stayed true inside the left-field foul pole that gave the Yankees a sixth straight victory and the latest sense that they are flexing the new Murderers’ Row or Judge and Fury or Mount Crushmore or whatever you want to label this frighteningly long lineup that has so far been good with the chance to be even more special.
Consider that Sanchez just recently escaped a frosty start to his season, yet still leads all catchers with six homers and 21 RBIs despite batting only .202.
“I don’t think I have ever pitched against a lineup like this one,” CC Sabathia said.
Kyle Gibson, channeling prime-aged Bob Gibson, did as good a job as possible for this order. He leaned on a devastating slider to no-hit the Yankees for 5 ²/₃ innings and shut them out for six. Addison Reed yielded a run in the seventh. But still. The Yanks had just three hits, one run and were hitless in six at-bats with men in scoring position through eight innings.
But the game is not eight innings. It is not 24 outs. And with this Yankees lineup, it is going to be very difficult to get to 27 outs and limit the damage. Especially in The Bronx. Especially if an opponent is going to provide openings.
“You can’t make mistakes,” Dellin Betances said. “You give a free base or an error, you have a lot of power in this lineup. You got to be on top of your ‘A’ game every day.”
The final was 4-3 and maybe something should be said about the competition. The Minnesota Twins used to be the Washington Senators, but for the purposes of playing the Yankees they may as well be the descendants of the Washington Generals, especially on the Yankees’ home court. The Twins have lost 29 of 38 at the new Yankee Stadium (opened in 2009) and now eight in a row with last year’s wild-card game included.
The Yanks took the first three games of this series by bludgeoning the Twins, amassing 29 runs on 34 hits with the two-through-five of Aaron Judge, Gregorius, Stanton and Sanchez teaming to hit .444 (20-for-45) with six homers and 19 RBIs. In the finale, they saved their best for b-last.
The Yanks lead the majors in runs and homers, and are on pace with 39 homers in 24 games to hit 263. The record is 264 by the 1997 Mariners of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner. We may look back at some point and say the Yankees of Judge, Gregorius, Stanton and Sanchez.
We will know a lot more about the Yankees and this lineup after a stretch of 13 games that begins Friday against the Angels, Astros, Indians and Red Sox. Excluding the Yanks, those teams have the AL’s four best records, and the Astros, Indians and Red Sox lead the majors in ERA.
Conversely, the Yanks are just getting Sanchez hot and have yet to see Stanton fully settle in. Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have high ceilings. Brandon Drury is nearing a return and Greg Bird is beginning to ramp up work. The Yankees at some point soon may have too many hitters for not enough spots — a worry Boone would surely love to endure daily.
Because the bigger problem is going to be for opponents, especially if — like the Twins on Thursday — they provide an opening. If they throw the matches into the dynamite factory.
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