LOS ANGELES -- Try to picture an autumn evening in which James Paxton makes the long walk across the outfield from the bullpen to the dugout, assigned to set the tone in the first game of a postseason series. After the left-hander's most dominant effort of the season, the Yankees definitely are pondering that scenario.
Rising to the challenge of a hyped Interleague series between the clubs owning the best records in the Majors, Paxton struck out 11 Dodgers to win his fifth consecutive start as the Yankees snapped their four-game skid with a 10-2 victory on Friday evening at Dodger Stadium.
"I was just pounding the strike zone," said Paxton, who wore “Big Maple” on his jersey for the Players’ Weekend opener. "I thought Gary [Sanchez] did a great job mixing up pitches back there, using the curveball really well. We used the cutter to the left-handers and did a good job executing those pitches. The guys did a great job playing 'D' and putting some runs on the board."
The Yankees hit five homers, including three off Hyun-Jin Ryu as they dispatched the National League Cy Young Award front-runner to an early exit.
Aaron Judge and Sanchez belted solo third-inning homers and Didi Gregorius cracked his fifth career grand slam as part of a five-run fifth in support of Paxton, who improved to 5-0 with a 3.56 ERA in August -- numbers that have manager Aaron Boone pondering Paxton's viability for the first game of a postseason series.
"I feel like he's been on the verge of having this outing for a while now," Boone said. "I feel like he's been in a good place. It was really good to see him go out in this environment, coming off of a tough series. He really set the tone for us in a big way."
Most of the offensive damage came off Ryu, who had permitted just seven earned runs and three homers through his first 11 home starts.
The Yankees doubled those totals, taking out any remaining frustrations from a three-game sweep in Oakland by boosting Ryu’s ERA from 1.64 to an even 2.00 while handing him his first home loss. Gleyber Torres added a solo homer off Yimi Garcia in the sixth and Gregorius hit his second home run of the game off Casey Sadler in the ninth.
"Oakland left a sour taste in our mouth," Judge said. "We came out here with our game plan and stayed in our zone, getting that big hit when we needed. We needed a rebound game, and this is what we got."
The display helped build a healthy advantage for Paxton, who generated 29 swings and misses with his 109 pitches, equaling the Astros' Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander for the most in the Majors this year. Twelve of those swings and misses came on Paxton's knuckle curve.
"On top of him being really good, I don't think too many of our guys have seen Paxton," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "There was a lot of swing and miss out of the zone at the breaking ball down below. We typically don't do that. Hopefully, we'll get another crack at him at some point this season."
A.J. Pollock knocked in a run with a third-inning infield hit, and an inherited run scored against Tommy Kahnle in the seventh as Paxton held the Dodgers' powerhouse lineup to two runs on five hits over 6 2/3 innings.
"From my point of view, I’ve thought he has always had a good curveball," Sanchez said through a translator. "For me, if he is able to command the curveball and the cutter, it's a great combination. If he’s able to do that, he’s going to be great out there."
Gregorius said that he did not take it personally when the Dodgers elected to intentionally walk Sanchez in the fifth inning, with Ryu loading the bases to face Gregorius.
"Just go out there and try to put the ball in play," Gregorius said. "You want to come through for the team. [I thought,] 'Do not hit into a ground-ball double play.'"
He did much more, parking a grand slam to right field that busted the game open.
“Didi is one of those guys that likes these environments,” Boone said. “Usually he puts his best foot forward in these bigger environments. He came up big for us tonight."
For the second time on this road trip (and the second time this season), Judge pulled a home run over the left-field wall, connecting on a line-drive laser that landed in the bleachers to open scoring in the third.
Judge also singled and scored in the fifth, then knocked in an eighth-inning run with a hit as he appears to be busting out of a three-week slump.
"Feeling good. Just getting some good pitches to hit," Judge said. "If I get it over the plate, I try to do some damage. Sometimes you don’t get too many pitches to hit, start to chase and go after some stuff. I just tried to stay in my zone, and you get rewarded for that."
Judge was 12-for-81 (.148) with one homer, four RBIs and 31 strikeouts in 21 games from July 25-Aug. 15. Since then, he is 10-for-25 (.400) with two homers and four RBIs in five games.
"He's completing his move in his load, then getting off his good swing and making good swing decisions," Boone said. "I feel like he's getting started properly and getting on time. That's what he is. When he's on time, it's hard to keep greatness down. I'm excited that he's really starting to move like the guy we know he is."