All the Young Dudes

Bronx, N.Y., May 31, 2019; Yankees 4, Boston 1 — Second baseman DJ LeMahieu deserves accolades for his performance in the Yankees’ 4-1 win over visiting Boston Friday night. DJ knocked in the first and last Bomber runs of the night, and scored two himself as well. And he made an outstanding play on an Eduardo Nunez base hit bid up the middle in the second after the Red Sox had taken the early lead on a Rafael Devers home run off Jay Happ.

A Jackie Bradley single off the glove of Gleyber Torres followed, and Happ battled Sandy Leon to a swinging strike out to escape Boston’s only big inning, so DJ may have saved the day in more ways than one. What is undoubtedly true is that he put a screeching halt to what could have been a dominant Chris Sale start. The Boston lefty struck out the side in the first, making LeMahieu and Luke Voit in particular look hopeless whiffing at third strikes. He would retire three on strike outs in the home third as well, but not really in a good way. Gio Urshela’s first-pitch bouncer over the second base bag got the frame started and, following Sale’s fourth whiff of the night, wily Brett Gardner lofted a soft liner that landed in short center, and the Yanks had two on. Then DJ banged a 1-1 slider off the right center field wall, plating the tying run and putting two in scoring position.

Aaron “A-A-Ron” Hicks, struggling to find his baseball legs after a long IL stint, came up one strike out later, and battled Sale to 3-2. Following a foul, Hicks found the shortstop hole with a single that put the Yankees up 3-1, a lead they would not relinquish. Happ, who has of late been responding well following a dreadful early year, needed 45 pitches to navigate two innings; now he retired six straight to get to the fifth.

The wheels were turning, and Aaron Boone was getting within striking territory of calling on his superb four-headed closing team. But nothing in life — or baseball — comes easy, and one-time Yankee Eduardo Nunez singled up the middle to start the top of the fifth. Happ responded with a groundout and a second swinging strike out of Leon, this a seven-pitch battle. A 3-0 count to Mookie Betts became an intentional pass, and Andrew Benintendi stood in as the potential lead run. Tension built as Happ pounded a strike, then a ball, when Gary Sanchez propelled a bullet to Torres covering second, picking off a startled Nunez.

The temptation is to look on Yankee games after five the same way we became accustomed to viewing them with a lead after six in 1996, when setup guy (at the time) Mariano Rivera would come on for two, and John Wetteland would finish up. Boone has settled into managing a list of young replacement players, and a stellar band of plus relievers, into a team unlikely to be beaten with a late lead. And this on a team perhaps just weeks away from welcoming back arguably the best setup man over the last four years in Dellin Betances.

As it turned out, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, and Zack Britton would each allow a baserunner in the next three innings, on an infield single, a base hit, and a walk. They were pitching with an extra run of support once LeMahieu homered to right off Sale in the bottom of the fifth, forging the 4-1 final score. Aroldis Chapman posted the save on a 13-pitch, two-strike-out ninth, and the Yankees took game one of the series, pushing Boston 8.5 games back in the process.

That baseball teams win games is a cliche. But it’s more than that with this team, that has been winning series after series despite losing some of its best players to injury. DJ both knocked in and scored two, and flashed some leather as well. But Happ struck out five and surrendered just three hits over five. And Urshela’s and Gardner’s good at bats set up the third inning, which featured Hicks’s huge two-run single once LeMahieu had put them on the board. And DJ homered in the fifth, closing out the scoring. The biggest play of the game may have been Sanchez picking Nunez off in the fifth, ushering Happ to the bench and bringing on the four-headed closer.

So who won this one for the home team? We’re on record as favoring second sacker LeMahieu; as being awed by the continuing excellence of the bullpen; as pointing out Sanchez’s huge pick off, as appreciating Happs’s good enough start; and by key Urshela and Gardner hits. And Boone, derided for much of last year for what fans perceived to be rookie managing mistakes, is pushing all the right buttons, day in and day out.

On March 31, 1944, guitarist for rock bands Mott the Hoople and Bad Company Mick Ralphs was born. Now 75 years young, we look to the big hit he played on with the former band. Who won the game (and this includes still playing like a kid Brett Gardner, btw), the answer is the Yankees; that is,

All the Young Dudes