Knockout Punches

Bronx, N.Y., September 1, 2019: Yankees 5, Oakland 4 — Fans waiting for the Yankees to bring the hammer down on the visiting A’s after the miserable way the Bombers were treated in Oakland last week needed two things to succeed: infinite patience, and faith in their big bats. The Yanks came from behind late on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, under clear and cool skies in the Bronx.

Two early home runs from catcher Gary Sanchez kept the home team in the Saturday game, but it was late life from Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu that carried them to victory in that one. Judge’s second-decker to right got it tied at 3-3 in the eighth, and DJ’s drive in the same direction walked it off on the first pitch of the home 11th. Six of seven runs scored on home runs, but that wasn’t the case Sunday, a sloppier contest with most of the action late.

This was due almost entirely to the superb six-inning pitching the teams got from their lefty starters. Sean Manaea, a crafty three-year vet making his return from the disabled list following late arm surgery in 2018, allowed but one [infield] hit, struck out six, and allowed all three of his walks in a 33-pitch fifth. At the time, it was the kind of game where it felt like whichever team scored would win, and Oakland first baseman Matt Olson made a fine play on Mike Tauchman with the bases loaded to prevent that from happening.

Surprisingly, struggling Yankee starter J.A. Happ held his own, also allowing just one hit through six. He got in a little more walk-caused trouble early (with four over six frames), but his teammates came through with nifty double plays the first two innings. Still, the long ball has been Happ’s downfall more often than not, and he did a solid job of keeping Oakland — a team that hits them up and down the lineup — in the ballpark.

The Yankees blinked first, big time, with the team debut of Ryan Dull, a four-year righty veteran of Oakland of all places, though the Yanks got him in mid-August from San Francisco once the A’s had given him his release. A September 1 callup to the expanded roster, Dull got the ball to start the top of the seventh. And he managed to sneak a called third strike past Mark Canha. But Erik Davis doubled to left, and Dull’s reaction disappointed. He walked the next two to load the bases. Sheldon Neuse’s double down the right field line turned a scoreless duel to 3-0. The more familiar Chance Adams, also added this day, walked no one upon relieving in the eighth, and actually whiffed two, after having surrendered a bomb to Olson for 4-0.

Oakland lefty Jake Diekman emulated Dull in the bottom of the eighth, walking two around a LeMahieu single. Gleyber Torres’s sac fly to center not only got the Yanks on the board, all three runners advanced, so when Did Gregorious’s hot smash up the middle got past Marcus Semien at short, we had a 4-3 game.

Righty closer Liam Hendricks, with impressive numbers, finished the eighth and started the ninth. With Brett Gardner off to a three-strike-out game, most were hoping he could get himself on, to be driven in with the tying run. But sitting on 18 long balls on the season, Gardy had other ideas.

A quick look at the list of all-time September 1 birthdays reveals that heavyweight boxing champion “Gentleman” Jim Corbett, who owned the title in the mid-1890s, was followed in this aspect some 60 years later by fellow heavyweight Rocky Marciano. Born September 1, 1866, and 1923, respectively, these two guys knew something about ending a contest suddenly. On Sunday, so did Gardner, who tied it up 4-4 with a 1-2 drive to right; and pinch hitter Mike Ford, who followed with a full-count fly that cleared the Yankee bullpen in right center.

So on a left coast trip fraught with season significance, the Bombers were swept in Oakland, then won two of three that felt like a sweep against the Dodgers in LA. They even returned with a winning record, having vanquished Seattle in three. And it’s true that their record vs potential playoff rival Oakland stands at just 2-4 following Friday’s disappointing loss.

On the other hand, I submit that these last two games were not just wins over the visiting A’s, a team that would also be visiting in October. Not just wins, these were,

Knockout Punches