BOSTON -- The challenge that prompted widespread soul-searching in how the Yankees approach on-field operations was made here at Fenway Park last October, when Aaron Boone announced in a pin-drop silent visiting clubhouse that the American League had “closed the gap on us.”
The manager’s candid remarks came in the wake of an AL Wild Card Game loss to the Red Sox. Some 275 days later, Boone proudly proclaims that his team is “better in every way” than last year’s vanquished squad. They’ve proved it over the past two nights, routing the Red Sox, 12-5, on Friday evening.
“It just shows you how talented this clubhouse is, the players we’ve got in here, and what we’re able to accomplish,” Matt Carpenter said. “This is a really good division. To have the lead that we do is a testament to the guys in this room.”
It is the earliest in games and by calendar date that the Yankees have held a 15-game division lead, coming on a night when they posted a double-digit run total for the Major League-leading 14th time this season.
Donaldson homered for a third consecutive game, launching a three-run shot in the first inning. Carpenter cleared the fences in the fourth inning for his ninth homer as a Yankee, helping the Bombers overcome a spotty outing by left-hander Nestor Cortes, leaning on their lineup thunder and reliable bullpen.
“I think we’ve been pretty consistent all year with everybody,” Cortes said. “A lot of guys have been coming up in big opportunities, making good at-bats and giving us that support as pitchers. I think our baserunning and defense has also put us in there, so it’s a combination of a lot of things.”
Joey Gallo tripled home a pair of runs with a third-inning fly that eluded right fielder Christian Arroyo, who lost the ball in the twilight as Gallo attempted to race around the bases for an inside-the-park homer. Carpenter (making his first start in left field since 2012) and Gleyber Torres each had three hits.
Though the Yanks thumped Connor Seabold for seven runs in 2 2/3 innings, Cortes didn’t last much longer, knocked for four runs over 3 2/3 frames. Christian Vázquez cracked a two-run double in the first inning before Trevor Story and Bobby Dalbec hit fourth-inning homers off the lefty, who walked two and struck out four.
“I want to be out there for the fifth or sixth inning, possibly to get the win,” Cortes said. “But as long as we’re winning, nothing else matters.”
And so, by the ninth inning, the Yanks were taking hacks against their third position player of the week -- outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. showing off his fastball, joining Josh VanMeter of the Pirates and Ernie Clement of the Guardians in having taken the mound during a lopsided New York win.
What is so different about this Yankees team compared with the one that trudged through Fenway’s concrete and red-brick corridors last autumn? It isn’t easy to pinpoint just one thing.
Boone reflected upon that 2021 team and remarked that he thought “winning 92 games was a pretty good feat for all the things that we went through.” Suffice it to say, after winning 61 of their first 84 contests in 2022, a 92-win Yankees season would be a nearly unfathomable disappointment.
The upgrades have come on the margins, Boone said, after the team moved to re-evaluate how it approached “all the little things.”
That investment of thought and focus into areas like running the bases aggressively and defensive value, he believes, has created the difference between last year’s good team and the World Series favorite that is showing up hungry each night.
“Ultimately, the players’ investment from Day 1 of Spring Training has been noticeable,” Boone said. “I feel like it’s a group on a mission to be the best in the world, and that’s what we’re trying to be. It’s a group with a single-mindedness -- we want to win, and that’s been palpable every day.”