Gerrit Cole overpowered the Royals early and DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton provided late power at the plate as three of the Yankees’ biggest stars led the way in a 5-2 victory Saturday afternoon.
LeMahieu lifted a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning that proved to be the difference, breaking a 2-2 tie in the Bronx and continuing a second-half surge for the two-time batting champion.
LeMahieu’s .232 average this season is .61 points below his career mark, but he has 10 hits in 29 at-bats since the All-Star break, which he attributes to an adjustment involving “a little bit of everything” in his approach.
“Some stuff I was working on right before the break, I kind of took it into the break and just was really excited to get back after the break and get after it,” LeMahieu said after Saturday’s game. “Now I feel like I’m on the right track.”
Stanton added a two-run blast in the eighth inning to complete the Yankees’ scoring and give them their second consecutive win over Kansas City.
Cole was pitching to a new catcher Saturday, but the results were largely the same for the red-hot Yankees ace. Working with Ben Rortvedt for the first time, the right-hander picked up 10 strikeouts over 6.1 innings against the young Kansas City lineup and allowed two runs.
Saturday marked Cole’s second consecutive game with double-digit strikeouts and fourth overall this season. He has not allowed more than three runs in any of his last nine starts — a stretch in which he’s hurled at least six innings in all but one outing.
The Yankees called up Rortvedt on Friday to replace catcher Jose Trevino, who is set to undergo season-ending surgery to repair a tear in his right wrist. Trevino, who won the Platinum Glove Award last year as baseball’s best defensive player, had operated as Cole’s primary catcher, starting 18 games with him this season.
Rortvedt and Cole spent extra time together Friday preparing for Saturday’s start, and both said Trevino helped with their game plan as well.
Cole, who started this month’s All-Star Game for the American League, boasts a 9-2 record, a 2.78 ERA and 144 strikeouts over 129.1 innings, putting him squarely in the discussion for his first Cy Young Award. Manager Aaron Boone praised Cole as a “constant” for a Yankees rotation that’s experienced prolonged injury absences by Luis Severino, Carlos Rodon, Nestor Cortes and Frankie Montas.
“As a player, the team aspect of this is about taking care of your business and showing up to play every single day,” Cole said Saturday. “No one else is going to do that for you, so your preparation has to be at a high level and you have to be really diligent in how you go about your business. Regardless of the situation of the roster or the record, that’s my job and I just take it seriously.”
The Yankees (52-47) manufactured offense early Saturday against the Royals, who, at 28-72, are the second-worst team in baseball. Stanton began the scoring with a first-inning RBI single against Kansas City starter Brady Singer. In the third inning, Anthony Volpe doubled, stole third base and scored on a Gleyber Torres sacrifice fly.
The Royals’ runs against Cole came on a Nick Pratto third-inning home run and a Maikel Garcia RBI single in the fifth.
Wandy Peralta (3-1) picked up the win for the Yankees after retiring two batters in relief of Cole. Tommy Kahnle tossed a scoreless eighth inning and Clay Holmes closed out the ninth for his 13th save. Royals reliever Carlos Hernandez, who surrendered the LeMahieu homer, took the loss to fall to 0-6.
Saturday’s win clinched the first series victory of July for the Yankees, who won Friday’s game, 5-4. New York had lost nine of 11 games coming into the Royals series and was fresh off a 1-5 road trip against the Rockies and Angels.
“The last two nights, [the offensive] contributions are spread around a little bit,” Boone said after Saturday’s win. “We just got to keep doing it.”
The Yankees will go for the sweep Sunday with Luis Severino pitching against Kansas City’s Jordan Lyles, who is 1-11 with a 6.05 ERA this season.