Yankees look unbeatable even when far from best against Tigers

Yankees look unbeatable even when far from best against Tigers

Contrary to popular perception of the Yankees’ exceptionalism, which is perpetuated almost daily in this space, they are not a perfect team.

Contrary to what it sometimes seems, they’re not threatening to make history with a no-hitter every game (although they’ve done it three times in a row this week). MVP favorite Aaron Judge doesn’t rotate every day. And they don’t destroy all comers day after day.

They make mistakes (occasionally), they fail to get the key hit (once in a while), and they don’t win by rout every time. It only seems so.

But even when they’re not at their best, they’re usually pretty good. It’s the mark of a truly great team, and it’s becoming clearer every day that this Yankees team qualifies for it.

On a day when a rare loss could have been excused for a variety of reasons, including the unique 11:30 a.m. start time that reminded players of minors or even prep days, the Yankees won 5-4 innings in 10 Sunday. The Bronx Bombers swept an overmatched Tigers team, finished their six-game homestand unbeaten and maintained their best major league record at 39-15.

They are the fifth team in 38 years to start well. And they give you all the indications that they are marching towards more history.

These Yankees often scare opponents into submission. But sometimes it’s the little things. Slugger Anthony Rizzo, whose 13 homers could threaten the league lead if the judge wasn’t on pace with Roger Maris, instead contributed with one hit per pitch (a Rizzo specialty), one stolen base (more a Rizzo specialty than you’d suspect), and a hit to the infield on the game-winning rally against southpaw Gregory Soto.

The Yankees celebrate their victory over the Tigers on Sunday.
michelle farsi

“He does so many little things in the game that help you win,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Rizzo. “Three or four of them turned into big things.”

The $250 million team, of course, has more power and more throwing power than anyone in its league. But if they’re in a hurry, they can scratch and scratch with the best of them.

It wasn’t an easy day from the start – not just the start time. Yankees fans were far more upset with the premium Peacock game and its monthly price of $4.99 for morning baseball than players, who seemed more perplexed than unhappy about playing at brunch time. They all smiled or laughed about it, but MLB players have their routines. Boone called the early start time “not the most ideal”, summing up the feelings of the players perfectly. (And at least they weren’t responsible for the $4.99 fee.)

And while the Yankees seemed a bit sleepy early on against another little-known Tigers pitcher, Rony Garcia, they came back from two deficits and posted their sixth MLB-high all-time victory. They rally.

The Yankees’ lone homer came courtesy of beleaguered Joey Gallo, who earned a brief reprieve and some cheers before later hitting with the bases loaded and being replaced by a pinch hitter. Their starter was Jordan Montgomery, the “weakest link” in a rotation that’s shaping up to be baseball’s best (and by weakest, I only mean a little worse); the Yankees are 5-6 in his starts to 34-9 in all others.

To win that day, the Yankees had to do these little things. Beyond all of his offensive exploits, Rizzo appeared to bully Tigers youngster Derek Hill into committing three bunts to start 10th in a big miss to bring their ghost runner to third. A returning Rizzo may have been the fans’ second choice after Freddie Freeman, but he’s also a real winner among many here.

Josh Donaldson hits the game-winning sack fly for the Yankees.
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Michael King
michelle farsi

“Everyone has joined… We are trying to find a way. It’s pretty cool,” said Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

Conversely, the Tigers find a way to lose. For one thing, they seem to start swaying as soon as they get off the bus in Manhattan. Which explains why two-thirds of their lineup came at bat under .200.

They nearly made mistakes around the horn that day, starting with shortstop Javier Baez giving a mental hiccup trying to get Gleyber Torres in second when he was already there on an offense routine trail run from Kiner-Falefa. Not only did Baez mistakenly think he could beat Torres into a sack he had already reached, but inexplicably reached out to try and get him around the sack as Kiner-Falefa reached first.

Later, Jonathan Schoop dropped a pitch to second on Rizzo’s first steal (yes, he had two) and allowed him to take third base, and third baseman Harold Castro threw high home as Rizzo slipped in with the tied run in the eighth. The Tigers come with plenty of freebies, which the Yankees eagerly accept.

The winning run came home when ghost runner Judge scored on Josh Donaldson’s sacrificial fly to the de Soto wall, a 100 mph sinker. So hitting a deep fly on a very tough pitcher was a great accomplishment in a tough week for Donaldson. Almost everyone contributed, another mark of a champion.

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