NEW YORK -- Gary Sánchez has been described as the “lightning rod” of the Yankees’ roster by no less an authority than his manager, with Aaron Boone believing that the increased scrutiny can often be unfair. After a challenging week-plus behind the dish, the catcher delivered some thunder.
“I felt good tonight,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “I’ve got to say, it’s been a couple of games where I’ve felt really good at the plate. That’s what I’m looking for, that consistency. It’s something I’ve been chasing all year long.”
New York (84-67) trails the Blue Jays (84-66) by a half-game for the second Wild Card spot. The Red Sox (86-65) are two games ahead of the Yankees.
“It’s all in our hands,” Aaron Judge said. “If we go out there and take care of business, do what we need to do, we’re going to be where we want to be in October.”
As that battle continues, the 28-year-old Sánchez has endured a trying stretch in which a smattering of key defensive miscues have drawn attention.
Over the past week-plus, Sánchez failed to tag a runner at home plate against the Mets, saw two ninth-inning wild pitches on his watch in Baltimore, then let a foul popup drop against the Indians that opened the door for a seven-run inning.
“Sometimes because Gary is the lightning rod that he seems to be sometimes, a play or two torpedoes some of that or changes that narrative,” Boone said. “I think it’s important to acknowledge the strides that he has made in every facet on the defensive side while also acknowledging a couple of big mistakes this week.”
Sánchez opened the scoring in the second inning with a solo shot to left field, his 22nd homer of the year, as the Yanks pounced on Texas rookie A.J. Alexy. New York batted around for three runs in the third inning, a frame that featured run-scoring hits from Judge and Gleyber Torres, plus a Giancarlo Stanton sacrifice fly.
“The biggest thing is him showing up, ready to work, ready to learn every single day,” Judge said of Sánchez. “Especially a guy that I feel has gotten beaten down and kind of abused over the years, he’s a guy that continues to show up every day, works hard. He always wants to learn. He always wants to improve.”
Pick me up
Nestor Cortes has been a breakout surprise as one of the Yanks’ most reliable starting pitchers. The deceptive lefty blanked Texas over the first four innings before wobbling in the fifth, permitting three consecutive extra-base hits.
Charlie Culberson homered off the left-field foul pole, while Leody Taveras raked a ground-rule double and scored on an Isiah Kiner-Falefa double. Cortes allowed three runs and five hits over 4 1/3 innings, striking out seven and walking two.
“As a starter, the goal is always to go five-plus [innings],” Cortes said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it. It’s going to take those types of outings by the bullpen to get a ‘W’ sometimes. It was huge for us.”
Adolis García greeted reliever Chad Green with a sacrifice fly that drew the Rangers within one run. The quartet of Green, Clay Holmes, Joely Rodríguez and Aroldis Chapman combined to hold Texas to two hits over 4 2/3 scoreless innings. Chapman pitched a perfect ninth for his 28th save in 32 chances.
“The good thing about our bullpen is we can throw a lot of different looks at you,” Green said.
In the hunt
The Yankees haven’t outright admitted to doing some scoreboard watching during their games, but the changing scores on the right-field screen are difficult to miss. Toronto’s 6-4 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field allowed the Yanks to gain ground.
“If you start worrying about what other teams are doing, it can become pretty taxing,” Green said.
Maybe so, but the Bombers need no reminder that their final nine games of the regular season will feature showdowns against playoff contenders in Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay.
“We feel great,” Judge said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I like where we’re at. I wish we were in a different spot, but that’s where we’re at right now.”