Yanks sweep Jays, 'start punching back'

June 18th, 2021

Giancarlo Stanton was just trying to fight off a 94.2 mph fastball from Blue Jays reliever Anthony Castro on the third pitch of his seventh-inning at-bat. But for a 6-foot-6 and 245-pound mountain of a man, any contact has a tendency to carry.

With an exit velocity of 104 mph according to Statcast, Stanton's hit landed an estimated 352 feet away -- over the wall in right field. The go-ahead two-run homer pushed the Yankees to an 8-4 victory and a series sweep of the Blue Jays on Thursday at Sahlen Field.

"Look, we've gone through some tough challenges already this season, clearly, but this is a big series for us," said manager Aaron Boone. "This is a good team we're playing over there, obviously a division rival, a team that's beaten us a little bit already this year. … To come up here and really bounce back and have some gut-check wins -- we had to come from behind a little bit, a lot of people contributing, guys coming off the bench, it was exciting to pull this out tonight."

The Yanks have lived and died by the home run this season, but their defense is what put them in position to claim their third sweep out of eight opportunities. It started with a 1-3-6-2-5-6 triple play -- the first in baseball history -- to escape a two-on, no-out jam to keep the game scoreless in the opening frame.

Then in the sixth, Aaron Judge showed off his glove in right field with one of the most impressive home run robberies of the season. Judge tracked a fly ball off the bat of Cavan Biggio all the way to the wall, then used all of his 6-foot-7 frame to make a leaping catch and pull the ball back with surprising ease, keeping it a one-run game.

Stanton hit that pivotal homer in the next half-inning, with the momentum shifting the Yankees' way.

"It was big," Boone said. "He hit one like not many guys hit, where [it was a] good pitch, looked like down and away, and just -- line drive the other way. G's one of those few guys that can do it."

Chris Gittens made it a four-run frame with a two-out, pinch-hit single to right field, providing two key insurance runs on just his second Major League hit. His first was a solo homer in the Yankees' 6-5 win on Tuesday.

It was the third time in the series that a pinch-hitter made all the difference late, after Clint Frazier's eighth-inning RBI double in the opener and Gary Sánchez's seventh-inning two-run homer in the middle game. While Boone certainly deserves credit for pushing all the right buttons, he took none of it after the finale.

"That's them being ready, getting into situations where they had a chance to do something, and they're the ones coming through in that spot," Boone said. "So kudos to them for being ready for whatever the situation called for. But, obviously, in all three of those cases, those guys were a big part of why we won these games."

It was an important result for a Yankees team that was reeling entering the series, sitting in fourth place in the American League East on the heels of a weekend sweep in Philadelphia. With the sweep in Buffalo, the Yanks dropped the Blue Jays below .500 and put 2 1/2 games of distance between them in the standings.

With noise of a "make-or-break week" surrounding the team from the outside, the Yankees stayed focused and maintained their confidence, believing that a turning point was just around the corner. The next test of that mentality will be a showdown with the AL West-leading A's when they return home to Yankee Stadium on Friday.

"There's only so long all of us can underperform or take this beating inside and out. It's not a fun environment in the clubhouse or going out there not play to our abilities," Stanton said. "So it's time we got to step up and start punching back. That's what we've been doing. One or two series ain't gonna cut it; we've just gotta keep rolling."