What a difference a break makes
The Yankees have broken out splendidly in the post All-Star break period. They limped into the traditional midseason break with a .500 record at 47-47 and had concerns about an injury-plagued pitching staff and underachieving lineup.
Sunday’s 3-2 victory completed a three-game sweep for the Yanks over a Cincinnati club that is a contender in the National League Central but was without its star first baseman Joey Votto. Perhaps he might have caught the fly ball Brian McCann hit into shallow right field that fell among three fielders apparently blinded by the infamous late-afternoon sun at Yankee Stadium.
It became a walk-off single for McCann in scoring Jacoby Ellsbury, who was a one-man gang Sunday. Ellsbury had a perfect day at the plate with a double, three singles, a walk and two stolen bases.
The Yankees won the game against All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman, the hard-throwing lefthander whose fastball topped off at 102 miles per hour Sunday. Ellsbury fought off some tough pitches to open the ninth with a single to left field. Catcher Brayan Pena had trouble handling some of Chapman’s pitches, allowing Ellsbury to get to third base with none out on a stolen base and a wild pitch. Chapman recovered to strike out Mark Teixeira and get McCann on what appeared a popout that was not deep enough for even the super-swift Ellsbury to score — except nobody got a glove on it.
Before that moment, the Yanks seemed on the brink of letting this one get away. In one of his rare hiccups, Dellin Betances gave up a game-tying home run to Todd Frazier in the eighth inning. It could have been worse, but on the previous play Betances picked Skip Schumaker off first base. The Yankees left eight runners on base from the fifth to the eighth innings and finished with 13 left on in going 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
The Reds were miserable in that category during the series with only one hit in 22 at-bats in the clutch as Yankees pitchers came through at critical moments. That one hit was a two-out double by Schumaker in the fifth, the only run surrendered by Hiroki Kuroda in his 6 2/3 innings, and an unearned run at that. The runner who scored had reached base on an error by second baseman Brian Roberts.
The Yankees had taken a 2-1 lead in the fifth off Johnny Cueto, who had a shaky outing, on RBI singles by Derek Jeter and, who else, Ellsbury, but they stranded two runners after one out and the bags full in the sixth.
Kuroda’s effort was part of a strong showing in recent games by the rotation alongside Shane Greene, David Phelps and Brandon McCarthy, who were a combined 3-0 with a 1.03 ERA, five walks and 31 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings.
So what’s all this concern about Yankees pitching? The injuries to Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have created opportunities for other pitchers who to this point have stepped up and given the Yankees positive feelings about their chances the rest of the way.