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Despite some truly awful circumstances, the Yankees should be pretty happy with their first second-half series.

Josh Benjamin

The New York Yankees were feeling great heading into the All-Star Break.

They took two out of three each from the Seattle Mariners and their new rivals, the Houston Astros. It didn’t matter that Houston came back from a 7-2 deficit to deny New York a sweep. At long last, the Yankees finally had some momentum heading into a series with the Boston Red Sox, who they hadn’t beaten all season.

Then, in the cruelest twist of fate, six Yankees players wound up on the COVID-19 injured list, including spark plug Gio Urshela and star slugger Aaron Judge.

Cue every Yankees fan hearing that news and then considering the rest of the season:

And who can blame them? Save for 2019, these New York Yankees largely don’t know what to do when Judge is injured. The quiet, soft-spoken, almost Jeterian leader is that much of an impact player from his powerful bat to his defense in right field. New York struggled mightily without him last season, so why would 2021 be any different despite his only missing a short time?

Well, it must have been Opposite Weekend. After the outbreak canceled Thursday’s game, the short-handed New York Yankees picked back up on Friday with their heads held high. Forget the shorthanded roster. This was the time to turn the page with the season on the line!

They were shut out 4-0 and managed just three hits.

But that was a teaser. The rest of the series was a love letter to Next Man Up, the injury philosophy the New York Yankees seemed to have forgotten from 2019.

Rain-soaked Saturday

After Friday’s poor performance, there were surely a small group of Yankees fans praying for a Saturday rainout. After all, thunderstorms were in the forecast all day. In fact, New York had a freakin’ thunderstorm advisory. Why send Gerrit Cole to the mound when, at some point, Captain Billy Tyne might come to take the ball from him instead of manager Aaron Boone?

Okay, so maybe the rain wasn’t that bad on Saturday, but even so. It forced a shortened six-inning game because it was that intense.

As for the game, it was typical of most Gerrit Cole starts. He pitched/stood on his head to keep the New York Yankees in a close game. The score was tied 1-1 headed into the bottom of the sixth inning, and cue the fireworks.

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo tossed a ball into the stands, and was hit by it when it was thrown back by a fan. He was so upset while arguing with the fans that Sox manager Alex Cora pulled everyone off the field.

This proved to be the spark the Yankees needed. Not only were the Red Sox cold after such a delay, but also unfocused after arguing with home plate umpire Jeff Nelson’s zone. Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres hit back-to-back home runs to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead, the tarp came out at the end of the inning, and the game was called around midnight.

A great grind-it-out win, but would the Yankees do the same on Sunday night?

Sunday night success

First, let’s take a look at the lineup the New York Yankees put out on Sunday against Red Sox lefty Martin Perez.

That’s not exactly inspiring. Remember, Tim Locastro tore his ACL on Saturday night on top of the team being without Judge, Clint Frazier, or Miguel Andujar to help in the outfield. Now, consider Trey Amburgey exited early with a hamstring before Brett Gardner took over, and Ryan LaMarre had a scare in the outfield himself.

None of it mattered. Torres got New York on the board early with a solo home run, and homers by both Rougned Odor and LaMarre padded the lead. Jameson Taillon continued his dominant stretch with 5.1 scoreless innings despite poor curveball command. He’s now 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA in July and shrunk his season ERA to 4.60.

Was Sunday night a possible sign of Next Man Up’s return? Maybe so, but Boston just looked frazzled and lost at the plate too. Verdugo was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Save for a pair of Xander Bogaerts doubles and Hunter Renfroe’s late RBI single, the Red Sox lineup looked lifeless.

Is this finally the start of the New York Yankees turning things around? Who knows for sure, but we’ll wrap the recap with this. Even with the one loss in the series, the Yankees posted a 2.25 ERA against a Red Sox team that ranks fourth in MLB in runs scored.

Now, let’s see them do that the rest of the season.

Looking ahead

Monday might be an off day, but the New York Yankees have no time for complacency. The Philadelphia Phillies visit the Bronx for a brief two-game set starting Tuesday, then it’s right back in the Octagon with Boston. This time, however, the Yankees will need to survive four rounds Fenway Park’s unfriendly confines.