Yankees look unbeatable even when far from best vs. Tigers

Contrary to the popular perception of Yankees exceptionalism, which is perpetuated in this space almost daily, they aren’t quite a perfect team.

Contrary to the way it sometimes seems, they don’t threaten to make history with a no-hit bid every game (though they did that three times in a row this week). MVP front-runner Aaron Judge doesn’t homer daily. And they don’t destroy all comers day after day.

They do make mistakes (occasionally), they do fail to get the key hit (once in a while) and they don’t win by rout every time out. It only seems that way.

But even when they aren’t at their best, they usually are good enough. That’s the mark of a truly great team, and it’s becoming clearer by the day that this Yankees team does qualify there.

On a day when a rare loss could have been excused for a variety of reasons, including the once-in-a-lifetime 11:30 in the morning start time that reminded players of the minors or even prep days, the Yankees prevailed 5- 4 in 10 innings on Sunday. The Bronx Bombers swept an overmatched Tigers team, completed their six-game homestand without a loss and continued their major league best record to 39-15.

They are the fifth team in 38 years to start this well. And they give you every indication they are marching toward more history.

These Yankees often scare opponents into submission. But sometimes it is the little things. Slugger Anthony Rizzo, whose 13 homers could be threatening the league lead if Judge wasn’t on a Roger Maris pace, instead contributed with a hit by pitch (a Rizzo specialty), a stolen base (more of a Rizzo specialty than you’d suspect), and a key infield hit in the winning rally off lefty Gregory Soto.

Yankees
The Yankees celebrate their win over the Tigers on Sunday.
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“He does so many little things within the game that help you win,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Rizzo. “Three or four of ’em turned into big things.”

The $250 million team of course features more power and pitching than anyone in their league. But if they are in a pinch, they can scrap and scrape with the best of them.

This wasn’t an easy day from the start—not just the start time. Yankees fans were way more upset about the Peacock premium game and its $4.99 monthly price tag for morning baseball than the players, who seemed more bemused than unhappy to be playing at brunch time. They all smiled or chuckled about it, but MLB players have their routines. Boone called the early start time “not the most ideal,” neatly summarizing the players’ feelings. (And at least they weren’t on the hook for the $4.99 fee.)

And while the Yankees looked a little sleepy early facing yet another little-known Tigers pitcher, Rony Garcia, they came back from two deficits, and posted their MLB-high sixth walk-off win. They do rally.

The Yankees’ only homer came courtesy of the beleaguered Joey Gallo, who won a brief reprieve and some cheers before striking out later with the bases loaded and being replaced for a pinch hitter. Their starter was Jordan Montgomery, the “weakest link” among a rotation that’s shaping up as baseball’s best (and by weakest I only mean slightly less great); the Yankees are 5-6 in his starts compared to 34-9 in everyone else’s.

To win on this day, the Yankees needed to do those little things. Beyond all his offensive heroics, Rizzo seemed to intimidate Tigers youngster Derek Hill into fouling off three bunts to start the 10th in a big fail to get their ghost runner to third. A return for Rizzo may have been the fans’ second choice to Freddie Freeman, but he’s also a real winning player among many here.

Josh Donaldson hits the game-winning bag fly for the Yankees.
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Yankees
Michael King
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“Everyone’s bought in… We try to find a way. It’s pretty cool,” Isiah Kiner-Falefa said.

Conversely, the Tigers find a way to lose. For one, they seem to start swinging as soon as they get off the bus from Manhattan. Which explains why two-thirds of their lineup came in batting under .200.

On this day they nearly made errors around the horn, starting with shortstop Javier Baez committing a mental hiccup by trying to get Gleyber Torres at second when he was already there on a hit and run on Kiner-Falefa’s routine grounder. Not only did Baez mistakenly think he could beat Torres to a bag he had already reached, inexplicably he reached back to try to get him rounding the bag as Kiner-Falefa reached first.

Later, there was Jonathan Schoop dropping a throw to second on Rizzo’s first steal (yes, he had two) and allowing him to take third, and third baseman Harold Castro throwing high to home as Rizzo slid in with the tying run in the eighth. The Tigers come with a lot of gifts, which the Yankees eagerly accept.

The winning run came home when ghost runner Judge scored on Josh Donaldson’s sacrifice fly to the wall off Soto, a 100-mph sinkerballer. So hitting a deep fly off a very tough pitcher was a nice accomplishment in a rough week for Donaldson. Nearly everyone chipped in, another mark of a champion.

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