Gio Urshela spent the first six innings of Friday's game shuttling between the trainers' table and the weight room at Camden Yards, trying to hush his barking left knee while sneaking peeks at video of Orioles relievers. He had at least one good swing in him, he thought.
He got his chance to show it in the seventh inning, when he grabbed a bat and ascended the dugout steps as a pinch-hitter. Urshela fouled off five tough pitches from Travis Lakins Sr., winning a nine-pitch battle with a go-ahead three-run homer in the Yankees' 5-4 victory.
"You’ve got to be ready, all the time, from pitch one,” Urshela said. “I was warming up in the innings before that, just trying to keep my body warm and be ready for every opportunity.”
Urshela injured his knee making a diving stop against the Astros during the club’s most recent homestand. The swelling subsided enough to let him dig in for that fight against Lakins; he wasted three cutters and two fastballs before connecting with a 93.3 mph cutter on the outer half of the plate.
The drive came after Miguel Andújar stroked a one-out single, snapping an 0-for-15 streak to begin his season, and Kyle Higashioka worked a walk that prompted Baltimore to make a pitching change.
“Off the bench or not, it was one of those really good at-bats,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It was a huge spot in the game, a couple of runners out there. To foul off [five] pitches and then absolutely get into one, it was just a big-time at-bat by a really good player. I’m glad I had that sitting over there tonight as a weapon.”
Urshela’s fifth homer of the season -- and the second pinch-hit shot of his career -- extended his on-base streak to 22 games, equaling his career high. He expects to be in the lineup on Saturday, when the Yanks will try for their sixth win in seven games.
“I’m just trying to bring that confidence every single day that I play,” Urshela said. “Today I felt more comfortable; I did some treatment and all that. I feel a lot better.”
All Rise, X 2
Before Urshela's heroics, Aaron Judge had comprised the Yankees' offense, enjoying a two-homer performance that made him the first Bomber to reach double digits in home runs this year.
Judge hit shots off Dean Kremer in the first and fourth innings, clearing the walls in left field and right-center field, respectively. Judge is 10-for-19 with five homers against the Orioles this season, and five of his 13 career multihomer games have been at Baltimore’s expense.
“Just trying to do my job,” Judge said. “Hitting in the three-hole in the middle of the lineup, I’ve got to try to get things going. I was just trying to do what I could if I got a ball over the plate, do some damage and get on base for my teammates.”
Judge’s warming bat is a positive development for a Yankees team that has been banged up over the last several days, with Urshela, shortstop Gleyber Torres, outfielder Aaron Hicks and designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton all missing time.
“We’ve got some tough guys in this room; guys playing through some things, dealing with a lot of COVID issues, late nights,” Judge said. “This is what makes it so much sweeter at the very end when we finally make it to that end goal.”
Good enough to win
Corey Kluber reached a milestone in the third inning by fanning Cedric Mullins for his 1,500th strikeout, then allowed four runs over six innings, applauding in the dugout when Urshela’s homer vaulted him into position for a victory.
Kluber surrendered a homer to Austin Hays in the first inning and was knocked for three runs in the fifth, including Pedro Severino’s game-tying double and a Pat Valaika single that put Baltimore ahead.
“All in all, that was probably the best kind of stuff that I've had so far,” Kluber said. “For the most part, I executed pitches pretty well throughout the course of the game. In the inning they got a few runs, some balls weren't hit very hard and didn't go our way. But I thought that overall, everything was pretty good.”
With closer Aroldis Chapman unavailable after being used in four of the last six days, Boone leaned on Chad Green, Wandy Peralta and Jonathan Loaisiga for the final nine outs. Loaisiga induced a Maikel Franco double-play grounder in the ninth, helping seal his second career save.