The hottest team in the American League are, in fact, the New York Yankees and their current play suggest that the sky is the limit.The New York Yankees entered play against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on April 9 looking as egregious as last year’s team that knocked themselves out of contention by the second month of the year.
New York was 1-4, was struggling in every facet of the game and even had fans shaking their heads at how long 2017 could be for these Baby Bombers. And things didn’t look better as they fell behind 3-0 entering the sixth inning on that Sunday afternoon.
Then, something clicked. The Yankees scored seven unanswered runs en route to a 7-3 victory and since then, they haven’t looked back.
Entering play on Friday, the Yankees had gone 12-3 (.800) over their last 15 games since falling to 1-4 and were the hottest team in baseball thanks to stellar starting pitching, timely hitting and a team-effort seemingly every contest.
However, Buck Showalter took his first-place Orioles to the Bronx for a weekend series looking to rain on their parade. Throughout the beginning portion of game one of the series between two of the best teams in the American League, torching his former team was exactly what he was doing.
Manny Machado, one of the brightest stars in today’s game, struck a two-run double and then a 470-foot mammoth home run to dead center off Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who left with seven earned runs on nine hits on his stat line. 2016’s AL leader in home runs, Mark Trumbo, then obliterated a grand slam off right-handed reliever Bryan Mitchell to dig the Yankees into a fatal hole.
How monumental would this comeback have to be? Considering New York’s win expectancy of 0.9 percent following Trumbo’s slam to make it 9-1, it would defy the laws of physics to complete a come-from-behind win.
In case you haven’t learned anything from 2016, though, these Baby Bombers are simply too naive to recognize long odds. Somehow, they pulled off a ludicrous comeback incomparable to that Sunday afternoon in Baltimore and pulled themselves into a first place tie for the AL East for the first time since August 24, 2015.
25-year-old Aaron Judge made two more baseballs wish they were never thrown by Kevin Gausman, including an 119.4 mph line drive that made its way into monument park, the new cleanup hitter Jacoby Ellsbury lifted a grand slam and later Starlin Castro tied it in the ninth with a home run from his knees to avoid sure defeat.
They weren’t quite done, as 37-year-old Matt Holliday capped off the against-all-odds victory with a walk-off three-run jack in extras to lift the Yankees to a pandemonium-filled 14-11 win at Yankee Stadium.
The comeback is COMPLETE. #Yankees win off the bat of Matt Holliday. pic.twitter.com/M8oFIJlkvx
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) April 29, 2017
“It’s hard to envision coming back from 9-1 in the major leagues,” Holliday said following his first walk-off home run since September 18, 2009. “But as far as hitting some home runs and having a good offense, I thought we had that.”
The eight-run comeback, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was the first time the Yankees won a game in which they trailed by eight since turning around a nine-run deficit against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in 2012.
“It’s hard to describe,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s an amazing feeling. We’re down 9-1 and then we were down 11-4 and our guys just, you know, this group is resilient, they never quit. We have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, and that’s what we did.”
“We’re a team that fights and battles,” Judge, who joined Mickey Mantle as the second Yankee aged 25-year-old or younger to hit nine or more home runs through the team’s first 21 games of a season, said. “The whole game I felt we were in it, to be honest.”
Shortstop Didi Gregorius, who made his return to the majors after missing time with a strained shoulder, added a little Yogism after the contest saying “it’s never over.”
Folks, that’s what makes this team so special and is the reason why they’re currently displaying their ceiling. Ever since they made the transition into a new era at last year’s trade deadline, these new-look Yankees have refused to bow down and accept defeat.
After completing the fire sale of Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller (the team’s three best players at the time), the Yankees went 32-26 including a near-perfect August that brought them from within one game of a postseason spot. For some perspective, their chances at the playoffs sat at 2.5 percent on July 31.
Factoring in this April, in a three-month span that was presumed to be filled with mediocrity rather than flourishment, New York has gone 46-33, the second-best record among AL teams.
It’s easy to shout “there’s no way they can keep this up.” Justified, as we’re talking about a team that had more question marks that can be counted on two hands entering 2017. However, for every one of those worriers, there’s an even ground for confidence.
This is still a team without two cornerstones of its roster: Gary Sanchez and a Greg Bird performing at the level we all know he can. Yet, they have defied the odds thanks to valuable contributions from backups, veterans and rookies all across the board en route to the best record in the league.
This was also a team that took many shots from writers, like myself, that a crunched up AL will be too much to overcome. Well, the Toronto Blue Jays are stinking up the joint and other potential wild cards contenders like the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals are floundering as well.
Yes, the fact that their offense is leading the league in home runs, wRC+ and runs scored, their rotation is third in the league in ERA over the last two weeks and they own a 10-0 record with a lead after seven innings has a lot to do with this surge, but there is no number for heart or the will to believe — as corny as it may sound. And boy, do these Yankees have heart.