This was the anti-Murderers Row lineup for the Yankees, one that featured Kyle Higashioka behind the plate, Shane Robinson in center field and Neil Walker as a starting right fielder for the first time in his 10-year big league career.
That’s kind of what happens when Aaron Judge is on the DL; Giancarlo Stanton is limited by hamstring issues to designated hitter duty; Gary Sanchez has been out with a groin injury; Clint Frazier is still suffering from post-concussion symptoms; Jacoby Ellsbury is as out for the season following hip surgery as he has been out of sight and mind; Aaron Hicks is deemed in need of a day off after starting 12 straight games; and the price for a supporting bat at the non-waiver trade deadline was apparently too expensive for general manager Brian Cashman’s liking.
Still, the Yankees managed to score five runs, marking the 13th straight home game in which they scored at least that many. That represents their longest such streak in 80 seasons and the third-longest in franchise history. The third-longest anything in Yankees franchise history is kind of a big deal. Who needs Mantle, Maris, Berra, Howard, Skowron and Blanchard when you can run the 2018 group out there?
Most impressive, though, is that the Yankees won the game 5-3 over the Rangers on Saturday afternoon before, after and during intermittent rains. In the miracle department, getting in the game and without delay rates slightly higher than the victory itself that was evaluated fittingly by Aaron Boone.
“It’s not always going to be easy,” the manager said after Aroldis Chapman saved it with a scoreless ninth inning despite loading the bases. “It’s hard for us right now. But we found a way to win a game when it was hard.”
Everything might have come easy for the Yankees as it did for Hubbell Gardiner when they were healthy and flexing their muscles — say, the way they were in May — but now every nine innings presents a challenge. Starters aren’t giving the team consistent length. The overburdened bullpen has been somewhat flighty. The lineup has holes that can be exploited.
Still, the team has rebounded from last weekend’s abomination, winning five of six following the terrible adventure in Boston. Even when wobbly, their underpinnings have been sturdy enough to prevent a collapse. There was a home run early from Stanton and one late from Miguel Andujar, whose two-run blow in the seventh broke a 3-3 tie. There were strong outings in relief from David Robertson and Dellin Betances after Lance Lynn’s one-run, five-hit, eight-strikeout performance through five innings.
“He’s a pro, man,” Boone said of Lynn, the trade deadline acquisition from Minnesota who has replaced Sonny Gray in the rotation. “There’s kind of a fearlessness to the way he attacks.”
The manager displayed a fearlessness of his own by deploying his unique lineup that also included the drowning Greg Bird (1-for-28) hitting in the 5-hole against right-hander Drew Hutchison. On Friday, Bird sat against a lefty in favor of journeyman Luke Voit. On Saturday, the first baseman delivered a pair of ringing doubles.
“That’s what he’s capable of,” Boone said of Bird, whose slash line is a ghastly .216/.305/.408. “He balances out our lineup when he’s right. We need him. We have to get him back and rolling.”
The Yankees’ circumstance, in which they are ensconced in the first wild-card spot, grants the manager all sorts of patience. It also allows him to experiment with Walker, whose entire professional experience as a right fielder consisted of three innings in a pair of late-game appearances this season and who had not started a game in the outfield since 2010, when he played 13 games in left for the Pirates’ Triple-A Indianapolis affiliate.
Walker, who missed Friday’s game with a sore neck, handled himself just fine on two plays. He just missed on a lunging try for Joey Gallo’s double toward the line in the second inning before neatly tracking down Shin-Soo Choo’s fly in front of the right-center scoreboard in the fifth inning. Plus, Walker’s revived bat delivered a run-scoring double in the sixth.
“He looked the part,” an apparently bemused Boone said of his new right fielder. Then, when asked if No. 14 had become a legitimate option to play out there while Stanton and Judge are on the mend, the manager said: “Absolutely … heck, yeah.”
Necessity, as they say, is the mother of all lineup cards.