Two walk-off wins end Yanks’ first half at home

In a game in which there were 25 strikeouts, it was probably not surprising that the winning rally Thursday did not contain a hit. It was that kind of no-contact game. The Yankees used a couple of walks between a sacrifice bunt, a ground ball to the right side that advanced the runners and a passed ball to beat the team with the best record in the American League.

The Yankees’ 2-1 victory over the AL West-leading Rangers put a nice finish on a 5-4 homestand that could have been a disaster if not for three “walk-off” victories, including each of the final two games.

At the center of the two last-inning victories over Texas was Didi Gregorius in different roles. Wednesday night, he unlocked a 7-7 score with a game-winning, two-run home run. Thursday, he followed a leadoff walk by righthander Tony Barnette (5-3) in the ninth to Chase Headley with a well-placed bunt to sacrifice him to second base. After a walk to Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro made the second out on a squib to first base.

Now at third base, Headley alertly sped for the plate when a pitch from Barnette to Jacoby Ellsbury was not handled by catcher Robinson Chririnos, a passed ball that got the Yankees back to .500 at 39-39.

If not for the weird occurrence of Monday night when Texas won after a lengthy rain delay, the Yankees might have won the series. Still, a split with the league’s winningest team is nothing to be ashamed of.

Michael Pineda got off to a rough start. He gave up a leadoff home run to Shin-Soo Choo, retired Ian Desmond on a hard liner to right field and yielded a single to Nomar Mazara. Three batters into the game, and Pineda looked as if this could be a long afternoon. Turned out it was, except it was for Rangers’ hitters. They struck out 12 times against Pineda, who was lifted after the sixth with a 92-pitch count, and did not get another hit until Mitch Moreland’s two-out single in the seventh off Dellin Betances.

Yep, Yankees manager Joe Girardi went to the late-inning No Runs DMC formula in a tie game. Who tied it? Who else? Gregorius smoked a 3-2 pitch from A.J. Griffin to right in the fifth for his eighth home run. Griffin, who has never lost to the Yankees, was strong again with eight strikeouts but was limited to five innings also because of a relatively high pitch count (88).

The Yankees posed threats in the sixth and seventh against the Rangers’ weary bullpen but could not push across a run. Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman (2-0) pitched a shutout inning apiece, but it took help from a pitcher who could not throw strikes and a catcher who could not glove one to lift the Yankees into the air before their charter plane did.

The Yanks are off to San Diego for an inter-league series against the Padres, then head to Chicago for a three-game set against the White Sox and to Cleveland for four games against the red-hot Indians. The Yankees do not return to Yankee Stadium until after the All-Star break when the schedule gets even dicier.

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