Yankees flash postseason grit, stage comeback

Stanton Judge celly 9/26 cropped
Stanton Judge celly 9/26 cropped

Who knows where this will all go, what with the way the Yankees’ fortunes have veered so wildly this season. But the Yanks, who currently are rooted in one of their good streaks, perhaps offered evidence Sunday night that they can absorb an embarrassing mid-game wallop and still thrive, a quality that could come in handy in October.

How’s this for a gut punch? After Aaron Boone ignited second-guessing by lifting a reliever who had been dominant, two sure-handed Yankees bungled easy pop-ups in the seventh inning at Fenway. In the same at-bat! The errors helped give the Red Sox a lead and the whole mess threatened to taint what had been a terrific weekend of Yankee ball in Boston.

No matter. The Yankees took advantage of their own second — and third — chances in the eighth. They blew open the game with power — Aaron Judge had a two-run double and Giancarlo Stanton smashed another homer — in what became a 6-3 victory. The Yankees swept the three-game series from the Red Sox and now own the top spot in the AL Wild Card race by one game over the Red Sox.

Maybe this series and the way the Yanks handled its wild conclusion are signs we should start looking at the Yankees a little differently. Perhaps this topsy-turvy squad is tough enough to be an October factor, after all.

“The story of our season is getting punched in the face and coming back,” DJ LeMahieu said. “We’re used to it at this point.”

We’ll find out, of course, if it’s a plan for navigating October’s pitfalls. Most likely starting with a win-or-die Wild Card date against these same Red Sox following the final week of the season. Film study of Sunday night might be a smart way to prepare for that matchup, if it arises.

Asked to describe the range of emotions during the game, Boone started like this: “Um … Man … Um.” It was that kind of game. He went on to praise his team for “surviving a couple of mistakes.

“You can get bogged down by a mistake that inevitably happens and can seem huge at the time. Move on quickly. These guys are in that mode right now.”

Here’s how it all went down: Clay Holmes had thrown an overpowering sixth inning, striking out the side on 11 pitches and the Yankees held a 2-1 lead. But Boone took out Holmes for Joely Rodriguez when Boston was going to use Travis Shaw to pinch-hit. Instead, Rodriguez faced a different pinch-hitter, Jose Iglesias.

Two hits and a wild pitch later, Christian Vazquez hit a sac fly to tie the score at 2. Chad Green came in and got a strikeout and then coaxed the dangerous Kyle Schwarber to hit a foul pop. LeMahieu, who had made two outstanding defensive plays at third earlier in the game, saw the ball glance off his glove.

It appeared LeMahieu’s gaffe was going to be harmless, though, when Green got Schwarber to hit a fly to left field. But Joey Gallo, generally considered a terrific outfielder, bungled it. The go-ahead run scored.

“A little bit stunning, right?” Boone said. “You can’t make that stuff up.”

They could’ve flattened out then. They could have squandered their final six outs and convinced themselves they were happy to win the series and hold the second Wild Card spot in what could’ve been a treacherous weekend.

Instead, the Yankees rallied. With one out in the eighth, LeMahieu walked and Anthony Rizzo doubled. Former Yankee Adam Ottavino came in to face Judge and that’s when the Yankees took advantage of extra chances.

Judge hit a pop near the Red Sox dugout, but Bobby Dalbec was tentative moving toward the rail. He had room to get closer to make the catch, but he did not. The ball dropped. Judge had another chance.

Then Judge fouled a two-strike pitch that Vazquez, the catcher, appeared to hold. But in moving the ball to his throwing hand, Vazquez dropped it. It went as a foul tip not caught, a play that is not reviewable, Boone said.

It gave Judge a third chance and he crushed the Red Sox with it, lashing a two-run double clocked at 118 miles per hour into the left-center gap for a 4-3 lead. Stanton followed with another home run, a blast that soared over the Green Monster and onto Landsdowne Street and was measured at 116 mph. And the Yankees had a 6-3 lead.

Stanton had a remarkable series, bashing three home runs and knocking in 10 runs. The Red Sox themselves scored only nine runs the whole weekend.

“Love the fact that he’s in such a good place,” Boone said of Stanton.

The Yankees have played in an incredible number of close games this season, something Boone referenced as an explanation for his team’s grit. They have played in 86 games decided by two runs or fewer, second-most behind the Mets, and are 54-32 (.628) in those games.

“I’ve felt all year long, even when we’ve had the toughest losses or exhilarating victories, I know we’re comfortable when it’s close, when it matters,” Boone said. “I know we’re not going to scare at all and we’re not going to back down. I think everyone is keenly aware of what we’re playing for.

“I love the frame of mind they’re in. The fight they’re in. Just the way they’re competing. I think everyone in that room understands we haven’t done anything yet.”

Can they? Maybe fighting back on Sunday suggests that, yeah, they can.