NEW YORK — The thing about the moment Aaron Boone slammed that table — a dramatic move from a manager who prefers equanimity to drama — was that the shock of his anger overshadowed the truth of his words.
“We have to play better – period,” Boone said last Saturday, moments before his right hand hit Yankee Stadium furniture. “And the big thing is? It’s right in front of us. It’s here. And we can fix it. It’s here. We can get away with this thing. And we have the guys in there to do it.
It may have sounded a bit hollow over the weekend. A few days and a few victories later. . . well, it can still ring like a bell without a clapper. But Boone’s words sounded a little more prophetic, if only a little, after the Yankees won 4-2 over the Mets in Game 1 of the Subway Series second leg. The Yankees used to win games like this every night. Remember?
Like the momentum, a prophecy in baseball is only as good as tomorrow’s starting pitcher. But if the Yankees are ever to recapture the magic of the early days of summer, they’ll need to rack up nights like this, in which the roster knocked down an ace and the pitching staff quieted down a quality offense. If you had only watched this game, if you had followed the full Rip Van Winkle in August, you could see why, before Monday, Baseball-Reference was still giving the club almost a 20% chance of winning the World Series, a better hit than any baseball team except the Dodgers and Astros.
“The group has my faith,” general manager Brian Cashman said hours before the game. “I firmly believe in them. I think they are still capable of everything we have always hoped and dreamed of.
For one night, at least, the team reversed the schedule until June. The batters taxed Max Scherzer for four runs. Andrew Benintendi scored a run in the first inning with his legs and delivered a pair of RBI hits later in the game. Aaron Judge ended a nine-game homer drought with a solo shot at third.
And the pitching staff survived a stomach-turning streak in the seventh when miscommunication in the outfield allowed a pop-up to snap the glove of rookie second baseman Oswaldo Cabrera, and the designated hitter of the Mets Daniel Vogelbach followed with a two-run outburst. The homer stained the line of Domingo German, who otherwise kept the Mets scoreless for 6 1/3 innings. The paddock held firm after the gaffe. In the aftermath, the Yankees (75-48) won back-to-back games for the first time since July.
Over the weekend, Judge painted a picture of a roster troubled by self-absorbed batsmen and a dugout silenced by persistent failure. Over the past two days, he explained on Monday evening, that mood had changed. The Yankees, he said, “were going back to what we were doing at the start of the year, bringing the intensity on the first pitch. You can just feel a bit different energy in the dugout throughout the at-bats.
Judge provided some of that energy in his second at bat. It was the rare occasion he didn’t enter the batting box as a perceived favorite. Scherzer had handled Judge well when they first met in July; Judge struck twice, unable to connect with Scherzer’s cursor. Scherzer hit it again in the first inning Monday, continuing a recent slip by the Yankees slugger.
In the nine games leading up to Monday, Judge had hit .133 and hit just .167. He knocked more than twice as often as he walked. The crisis only seemed more pronounced because the rest of the roster, with Giancarlo Stanton on the injured list as well as DJ LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo struggling with minor ailments, had become all the more vulnerable.
After terrorizing American League pitchers for the first four months, Judge’s prey had learned to avoid it. Boone suggested opposing teams started treating Judge like pitchers did Barry Bonds in the 2000s and refused to throw strikes. Judge, like Bonds, thrived despite being cautious walking around and spraying the occasional mistake. The spraying, Boone explained, had slowed down over the past two weeks.
“I don’t think he’s that far off at all,” Boone said. “There are a handful of pitches he had to hit, to do damage, that he was fouled on. There were a few that he grounded, where he hit a very hard ground ball instead of setting that ball on a line or elevated. It seems really close to me.
Boone added, “You’re going to have a week where you’re not Superman.”
The judge handed the cape to the third. Scherzer fired a 1-1 fastball. The terrain recorded just under 96 mph. He came low in the strike zone but close enough to the center of the plate to meet Judge’s barrel. His 47th home run of the season went over the right field fence.
“That’s one of the reasons I love this game, the little chess game that you can play with the shooter and the catcher,” Judge said. “When you have a future Hall of Famer like that, and you can do it, it’s electric.”
The night was far from perfect. But those are the kinds of games the Yankees won day after day when the future looked so much brighter in the first half. Maybe it will clear up once again.
Clouds may continue to part. A few injured players are approaching a comeback. Luis Severino (straight lat) will face hitters in a live batting practice on Tuesday. Stanton (Achilles tendinitis) will stand up in the box against him. “In a perfect world,” Stanton said before the game, he could join the roster as early as Thursday in Oakland.
After the match, Boone passed on the opportunity to pound his chest.
“The statement will be made if we stand at the end,” Boone said. “We know what we are capable of. We think we are capable of being the best team in the world. That’s what we’re working on. »
The Yankees are not back. Go on. Not yet. But if they come back, if they can play in the fall like they did earlier this summer, it will look a lot like this.
(Judge Aaron Photo: Wendell Cruz/USA Today)