NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge took his time taking his base, ambling slowly enough up the first-base line to deliver a message of disapproval to Alek Manoah, but not to make mayhem. His teammates trickled out of the home dugout, the stragglers awaiting Judge’s cue. Then he waved them off.
Judge wasn’t pleased that Manoah’s fastball drilled his left elbow, after the Blue Jays righty came high-and-tight on him earlier in the Yankees’ 4-2 win on Sunday. But cooler heads ultimately prevailed.
Later, in the dugout, Judge would tell his teammates that the “game was too close” to risk those kinds of fireworks, even if the dustup signaled a burgeoning rivalry between the AL East rivals. Emotions may be bubbling up in The Bronx, but they’re not spilling out onto the field just yet.
“He was playing the diffuser, I guess,” said Gerrit Cole, who had the Yankees’ strongest reaction by far to Judge’s fifth-inning plunking.
That’s about where the Yankees are right now, intent on persevering through, not panicking at, their perplexingly frigid August. No further contact was made amid that tense situation, and when the dust settled, Andrew Benintendi delivered a go-ahead two-run home run in the seventh to help the Yankees avoid a sweep with a much-needed victory over Toronto.
The win was only New York’s third in its last 12 games, boosting its lead atop the American League East back to eight games and sending the Yankees into this week’s Subway Series on a slightly less apocalyptic note.
“I think it definitely was one of those moments,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s no secret what we’re going through.”
A day after Boone made headlines for emphatically discussing his team’s performance following its sixth-straight series loss, Benintendi hooked his first home run in pinstripes into the second deck in right field off Adam Cimber, sending the sold-out crowd of 46,958 that filled Yankee Stadium for Paul O’Neill Day into a frenzy. Nestor Cortes contributed six innings of one-run ball and Lou Trivino secured the final seven outs after Benintendi’s big swing, one the Yankees feel like they’ve spent the entire month searching for.
“Hopefully this can kick-start a little streak here,” Benintendi said. “Obviously, it's not ideal, but we’re still in a great spot. We just need to get out of this funk and move forward.”
Acquired from the Royals ahead of the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline to replace a struggling Joey Gallo, Benintendi was an All-Star this season and arrived in New York with a .320 average and a reputation as a professional hitter. But he hit .192 without a homer in his first 22 games in pinstripes, while the Yankees’ offense that has been without Giancarlo Stanton since shortly after the All-Star break vanished alongside him.
The Yanks had scored 2.9 runs per game and hit .219 as a team in August entering Sunday, both third-worst in the AL, while their once-enormous division lead shrank and talk of doomsday scenarios began cropping up like delays on the Major Deegan.
Boone was talking about the Yankees as a whole when he said he hoped Sunday’s victory turns into “something that gets us moving,” but he could have very well been talking about his new left fielder as well.
“This start here hasn’t been great, personally, a lot worse than I wanted it to be,” Benintendi said. “Today was obviously a good day for the team.”
Said Boone: “Benny is a hitter. He’s going to hit. I don’t worry about him so much. But still, he’s coming to a new team at the Deadline, getting settled, and we’re going through this as a team. Even though he’s very low-key, it’s still a complete change in environment. Everyone takes some settling in. The at-bats have really started to pick up here.”
Perhaps that will be true for the Yankees’ lineup, too. Stanton’s return is imminent, which should bring a major jolt. Benintendi also walked, doubled and scored a run Sunday, providing a spark out of the leadoff spot. And considering Judge’s comments Saturday about the club needing “a different energy” in the dugout, this four-game series with the Blue Jays provided it -- from Boone’s postgame outburst to Cole’s punching of the dugout ceiling to Sunday’s nearly benches-clearing kerfuffle.
As the Yankees prepare to host the crosstown rival Mets, the sky over the Bronx remains right where it always was, contrary to what the forecasts might have suggested. Even if the Yanks didn’t exactly roar back to life Sunday, the sputtering first-place club showed it at least has a heartbeat.
“Sometimes, we get caught up in this intentional thing, like if it's not intentional, it’s fine,” Boone said. “Sometimes we have a different take on that. Whenever your guys get hit, it gets your attention.”