The decisive moment came in the sixth inning, when Indians right fielder Abraham Almonte, the former Yankees minor leaguer, neared the outfield wall and shied away from catching a fly ball hit by Jacoby Ellsbury with two outs and the bases loaded. When the ball hit the base of the wall and kicked away, three runs scored, breaking a 1-1 tie. Ellsbury ended up with a triple, after which he scored on Ronald Torreyes’s single.
Aaron Judge, who entered Sunday with a .178 batting average since the All-Star break, hit his American-League-leading 35th home run in the seventh, cushioning the Yankees’ lead with three more runs.
Almonte’s gift was a welcome one not only for Ellsbury, who despite his $153 million contract has lost his starting job to the rookie Clint Frazier, but also for a Yankees offense that has floundered for much of the last week and that lost its scuffling designated hitter, Matt Holliday, to the disabled list on Sunday because of a sore back.
“It’s time for us to catch a break like that,” said first baseman Chase Headley, who had pulled the Yankees even by delivering a one-out sacrifice fly.
The Yankees have not needed many breaks with Severino on the mound. After going to the All-Star Game, Severino has returned in All-Star form: In five starts, he has allowed just three earned runs over 32 ⅓ innings. On Sunday, he allowed just two hits and a walk in six and two-thirds innings, striking out nine to improve his record to 9-4 and lower his earned run average to 2.91. The only blemish was a first-inning home run allowed to Michael Brantley.
The Yankees have gotten stout starting pitching since the All-Star break — Sunday was the ninth time in 24 games they have held an opponent to two runs or fewer — and the addition of Sonny Gray should bolster the rotation. (Jordan Montgomery, despite pitching five strong innings Saturday, was optioned to Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after Sunday’s game, leaving his spot in the rotation to the recently acquired Jaime Garcia.)
But some Yankees — be it Judge at the plate or Sanchez behind it — have been slipping in their habits. Judge, who struck out three times around his home run, acknowledged losing focus on the pitches or zones he was looking for at the plate.
“The past couple weeks, I’ve been getting off my approach, and when you get off your approach here in the major leagues, people expose you,” Judge said.
Girardi discussed the poor situation hitting with the batters before Friday’s game.
“You’ve got to pick up easy R.B.I.s, and we weren’t doing that very well,” Headley said of the offense in the previous five games — a stretch when the Yankees scored a total of eight runs, as many as they did on Sunday. “When you execute those plays, sometimes the floodgates open.”
Headley added: “As a group, we got sloppy. It’s not just a lack of focus; over the course of a season, you’re going to have ruts. Every team does. But you have to get those cleaned up if you’re going to be a good team.”
Clearly, Girardi is hoping for a similar tidying up from Sanchez, who made an array of defensive mistakes on Friday — poor positioning that made him late for a tag at the plate, two wild pitches he was late trying to block, a bounced throw and his major-league-leading 12th passed ball. All of that explained why Sanchez was in the designated hitter’s spot Saturday and on the bench Sunday.
That caught Sanchez by surprise. And perhaps it emphasized the points that Girardi had made in their conversation, which Sanchez said was about how to do a better job blocking errant pitches and eliminating passed balls.
“To be 100 percent correct here, I have to improve on defense,” Sanchez said in Spanish, through an interpreter. “I’m not perfect, and I understand that. The bottom line is that I need to improve on defense.”
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