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Yankees' big guns start flexing their muscles

May 21, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Just as he was turning to leave his locker late Monday night, Luke Voit fielded one final question that he started answering with a smile before the reporter could even get all his words out.

The query was about how Voit felt the New York Yankees' latest dramatic, come-from-behind win -- this one a 10-7 triumph Monday over the host Baltimore Orioles -- differed from some of the Bronx Bombers' other recent victories that were sparked by late-game rallies.

"Right," the smirking Voit interrupted, "because it wasn't Gio for once?"

Indeed. This win was different. This win looked and felt a lot like the scrappy, gritty, gutty victories the ragtag, injury-riddled Yankees have clawed their way to in recent weeks. But at the same time, it had a flair for some of the power-hitting bravado of a year ago.

"It was also the epitome of a team win," said Yankees newcomer, and 13-year major league veteran, Cameron Maybin.

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Yes, it was certainly that. But as Voit ultimately deduced, this was in fact different. This win was unique specifically because of who its heroes were. Gio Urshela? No. Thairo Estrada? No. Clint Frazier? No. Mike Ford and Mike Tauchman are at Triple-A now, so clearly it wasn't them, either.

For the first time in what seems like forever, the stars of a Yankees victory were, in fact, their stars. Instead of those little-known Bombers delivering the big blows, the key plays came from players who have become household names the past few years: Gleyber Torres, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner.

And Gary Sanchez.

Baseball world, brace yourself. The cavalry is coming back to the Bronx. The Yankees' previously beat-up bashers are starting to return from injury, and they're beginning to have the type of tangible impact their replacements have enjoyed all year.

From the time he came off the injured list April 24, Sanchez has been leaving his mark on the Yankees' lineup, crushing seven home runs in the 19 games he's played. But now he's coming through in the clutch, too.

Sanchez's three-run, 385-foot blast to left in the ninth was the hit the Yankees needed to cap a miraculous final-inning comeback. Down 7-6 entering the ninth, it took a series of deep at-bats, a misjudged foul ball behind home plate and a well-earned hit-by-pitch to Voit to bring up Sanchez in the key spot.

"When Gary goes up there and throws a good at-bat, he's as dangerous as anyone in the world," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "So that's always my cry to him: Just go out and have a good at-bat, and the results will take care of themselves."

The big blast was the third career go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later for Sanchez. He had two such homers last year, and his total of three over the past two seasons is the most on the Yankees.

"Situations like that, I try to stay as calm as possible," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "That's the key, just staying calm in a high-pressure situation like that."

Gary Sanchez had his third career go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later. AP Photo/Nick Wass

Prior to Sanchez's knock, the Yankees got a rally going when No. 8 hitter Gardner led off with a single to left. That was quickly followed by a single to right from Maybin.

As Maybin's hit traveled into right field, Gardner motored past second and hustled hard on a first-to-third sprint. With Gardner advancing to third, Maybin smartly moved up to second on the back side of the play, putting two Yankees in scoring position with no outs.

"You know, Gardy and myself down there, I feel like we're not your typical 8, 9 guys," Maybin said. "Those are some tough outs down there. Gardy did a great job of getting it started, and it kind of upped my focus a bit to try to get the job done.

"You play for those moments. Game on the line, ninth inning, you're trying to get the big boys back to the plate and trying to turn that lineup over."

Part of the reason Maybin and Gardner are currently bottom-of-the-order hitters in the Yankees' lineup is because of the depth that has begun to return from the injured list.

First it was Sanchez, who returned late last month from a calf strain. Then, earlier this month, Hicks -- who delivered a sacrifice fly to bring in Gardner with the tying run just before Sanchez's homer -- came back from a back injury that sidelined him in spring training.

On the horizon, Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius are expected back sooner rather than later, and given his resumption of baseball activities this week, Aaron Judge might be returning sometime in the not-too-distant future as well.

"Looking forward to all of them getting back," Boone said. "They've all been a part of what we do. Most of our guys have been involved in our preparation every day, our helping each other along, being part of the camaraderie of the group. Over the long haul of the season, 162 games, you want to get your dudes back in there, so I look forward to getting them all back at some point."

ESPN's Buster Olney leads the discussion of the latest news and notes around baseball with the game's top analysts. Listen

Since the biggest Bombers have been gone, the Yankees have been more of a small-ball operation, using their speed, bunts, hit-and-runs and aggressive baserunning to rack up runs. That's been the philosophy of the replacement-filled 2019 Yankees.

The 2018 team was a considerably healthier bunch built with boppers who hit their way to a major league home-run record. Often throughout the season, that team was criticized for living by the homer and dying by the strikeout.

Monday's win showed the two philosophies -- at least with this current form of the Yankees' roster -- can coexist.

In addition to the savvy baserunning Gardner and Maybin showcased, along with Sanchez's clutch home run, Torres had a multihomer day, going deep twice to push his total to 10 for the season. Eight of those have come against the Orioles, five in the teams' past three meetings alone.

New York's 10-run outburst followed a lackluster outing from starting pitcher J.A. Happ, who left in the fourth after having surrendered six runs and nine hits. An inning after Happ's departure, the Yankees trailed 6-1, and looked destined for a loss at Camden Yards, where they have yet to lose this season.

"I heard the guys saying, 'We got a lot of game left,' as I came out of the game," Happ said. "So we never lost faith, and I could sense that."

That faith might have started with the manager.

"Boonie came on the mound when he took out Happ and was like, 'Hey, let's put your hitting shoes on and let's go to work,'" Voit said. "We did."

The bullpen allowed only one run across the final five innings, keeping the Yankees in it just enough to chip away at the Orioles' lead. Certainly facing the lowly Baltimore squad and its inferior talent was a help, but the Yankees still earned this latest win.

So whether it is fighting through injuries or adding new pieces, why does it seem like this year's Yankees are always in ballgames late?

"We are the Yankees. We have a history, you know what I mean?" Torres said. "We just like to compete. We have a goal. We want to go to the World Series.

"We have 27 [championships], and we want a 28th."

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