CLEVELAND -- He is probably destined to go down as the worst free-agent signing in New York Yankees history. He is still in only the fourth season of a seven-year, $153 million contract. He has been relegated as the team’s fourth outfielder, and there is question whether there will even be room on the roster when Aaron Hicks soon returns.
But there was Jacoby Ellsbury in the sixth inning with the Yankees’ offense struggling, the score tied, two outs and the bases loaded. There was Ellsbury with a chance to make an impact, a chance to push his season RBI total to more than 20.
Ellsbury turned on Indians starter Carlos Carrasco’s 94-mph high fastball, sending it high and far, where Cleveland’s right fielder Abraham Almonte had trouble tracking it. It landed at the base of the wall. The triple cleared the bases.
“It is a huge hit from Ells,” manager Joe Girardi said after the Yankees’ 8-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday.
It was a huge hit for the Yankees and a huge win. The Yankees, after losing the first two games of the series to the defending American League champions, took the final two contests, holding off a barrage a negativity that was beginning to weigh on the team. The Yankees showed they could take a punch ... or three.
Ace Luis Severino threw 6⅔ innings of one-run, two-hit ball while striking out nine batters and walking one. Aaron Judge, who has struggled since the All-Star break, nailed his 35th homer of the season -- an opposite-field, three-run, tack-on laser to right in the seventh inning. It was another gem.
It washed out the fact that starting catcher Gary Sanchez was benched for the game, as Girardi is demanding better defense from that position.
So, the Yankees have to feel good, now heading into an off day in Toronto followed by a three-game slate with the Blue Jays and the back-to-back weekend series with the Boston Red Sox that are sandwiched around the four games of the Subway Series with the New York Mets.
The Yankees are a team with some issues, but with some possible positives that could work in their favor down the stretch. It begins with Severino, who looked as dominant as ever Sunday, making Girardi believe his ace could match anyone’s in baseball. Still just 23 years old, Severino is the undisputed Game 1 starter if the Yankees make the playoffs and can set up their rotation.
While Judge struck out three times, going the opposite way and deep is often a good sign. But it was just one swing; doesn’t mean he is about to go on a tear. However, No. 35 was the type of shot that has made Judge’s swing such a spectacle all season.
While Ellsbury is still a very expensive spare part, teams that make it to October and play through it receive production from all parts of their roster. Hicks could be back from the disabled list in the next week or two, which will prompt the Yankees to decide about the 22-year-old Clint Frazier whose average has dropped to .243, but hit a double on Sunday. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has said Frazier would be sent down when Hicks was ready. This was always hard to believe if Frazier was shining. He has shown he has a future, while the Yankees have to decide if they want to commit to the future being now.
The Yankees’ offense, which had scored only eight runs in the previous five games, has missed Hicks more than has probably been acknowledged. The same could be said for All-Star second baseman Starlin Castro. Castro is still just starting to ramp up his rehab. First baseman Greg Bird could join Castro by the end of the month.
If you add their return to the pitching from Severino, newcomer Sonny Gray and possibly a revitalized Masahiro Tanaka to go along with a strong bullpen, the Yankees might have the roster to challenge the Red Sox in the AL East. Currently, they trail Boston by three games.
The win allowed the situation around Sanchez to cool a bit. Girardi never criticizes players, but it is abundantly clear that he is losing patience with Sanchez’s inconsistency behind the plate. With Matt Holliday on the disabled list, it seems easy to imagine that Sanchez will have a lot more DH days.
The Yankees clearly have a better roster than the Rays and the Mariners and all the other teams that could possibly vie for the second wild-card spot. The Yankees want much more as they sprint to October. Their goal is the Red Sox and the division. They have taken some blows. Yet, while no championships were won this weekend at Progressive Field, the Yankees showed they can absorb a punch.