The Yankees had a three-run Gleyber Torres home run off the board in the third inning that led to an ejection of Aaron Boone on Saturday. However, at the two-thirds mark of this session, this was becoming one of the best days of its 2019 season.
Before the game, Boone mentioned that Gary Sanchez could return from the disabled list on Wednesday, starting a trickle that caused the Yankees manager to say, "You start to expect the cavalry to come back a little." Reals, approaching .500 and the feeling that they were resisting this early storm of injuries.
And then, with one out in the bottom of the sixth, Aaron Judge lined up a single to the right and instinctively reached the pain in the left rib cage. He ran cautiously to first base. In this rinse / repeat cycle that is the Yankees' 2019 season, it was a step forward, a step toward the disabled list.
The judge had a left oblique injury and was sent for an MRI exam, and Boone acknowledged after a Yankee 9-2 defeat that the batter will almost certainly go on the disabled list. That would be the 14th position already this season, and Judge would become the 13th man in the IL. And let's be honest, he's not just another man. He is the man.
Masahiro Tanaka called the batter "the heart and soul of our team." Brett Gardner referred to Judge as "indispensable". And even as he continued with his inspiring Tony Robbins tone, Boone said, "Look, it's Aaron, Judge, he's one of the great players in our game, one of the key players in our club." Not just between the lines, obviously, but also what it means to us in the room. "
Boone and Brian Cashman and all the Yankees players have expressed the correct resolution that injury means an opportunity for others and there will be no alibis and expectations will not go down. The term "the next man above" has been used a lot in the last three weeks. But the following men have essentially turned this into Scranton Wilkes-Barre 2.0.
It's never good to have more plays in the IL than victories. The top five Yanks hitters of last season, Giancarlo Stanton, the Judge, Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks, are out. The Yankees' injured lineup continues to outperform the healthy version: Sanchez (C), Greg Bird (1B), Troy Tulowitzki (2B), Gregorius (SS), Andujar (3B), Jacoby Ellsbury (LF), Hicks (CF), Judge (RF) and Stanton (DH), with Luis Severino as headline and Dellin Betances for closure.
A few weeks ago there were doubts about how DJ LeMahieu would get enough at-bats. Now, the Yankees are just wondering who the hell it is their turn at bat. Thairo Estrada is the only player of undamaged position left in the list of 40 players, and they plan to call him for the game on Sunday. But he is an infielder. The Yankees need gardeners. Veterans like Jose Bautista, Austin Jackson and Denard Span are still free agents, but it's not like you can connect and play with currently unemployed players.
Expensive veterans such as Jay Bruce of Seattle, Shin-Soo Choo of Texas and Alex Gordon of Kansas City could get to this point so early. But the Yankees have hesitated to increase their payroll, especially if it is a temporary balsam. Maybe the Cubs would move Ben Zobrist for a piece of bullpen, and if the Yanks got healthy they could use the versatile Zobrist in multiple ways. But this is not usually a time when teams make exchanges.
"Obviously it's going to hurt us, there's no doubt about that," Tanaka said of the loss of the judge. "But the bottom line is that every person who can play must go out and do their job. I'm not different If we can stay strong and continue to play good baseball, then once we recover the list of our injured players, I feel we can explode and be in a good place. So stay firm for now and just move on. "
Tanaka, again without his best division, did exactly that Saturday with seven innings of a race. The Yankee rotation has a 1.95 in its last turn of five men. The bullpen is tending toward its expected dominance. Clint Frazier has seized the opportunity, showing the tools that have been so exciting. Mike Tauchman is implying that this is another small acquisition of the Yankees that could produce big, like Luke Voit, who came to the base for the 31st game in a row and becomes increasingly vital now.
"I really feel that it will make it sweeter after going through all this," Boone said. "We have a tough group. We receive a lot of good news with the players who are making progress on their way back. We will find our way through this. As I told Aaron before he left, this will make everything sweeter when we get where we want to go. "
Perhaps the weakened state of the American League or the depth of the Yankees and the culture of winning allow them to endure. But surely the degree of difficulty is increasing in April 2019. They are running out of men to be next.