“I feel good, I feel healthy. I was ready,” Torres said without rancor. Instead, his only responsibility was to stay sharp over the next several hours, which meant stretching in the clubhouse between innings, taking sets of practice swings, then returning to the dugout to catch up on the action before starting the cycle all over again.
Staying ready proved wise once the ninth inning rolled around. Torres, batting for Thairo Estrada, drew a leadoff walk. Sanchez, batting for Romine, lifted a single to right and the Yankees were ready to break the Orioles’ hearts one more time. When Aaron Hicks drew a bases-loaded walk off Mychal Givens, it not only scored Torres with the decisive run but sent the Orioles to their 10th loss in 12 games against the Yankees this season.
Of course there are other challenges ahead of the Yankees; not every team is as undermanned as Baltimore. The Red Sox will be in town next weekend for a better measure of the balance of power in the East. But there are still signs of vast improvement between this year’s Yankees and the 2018 edition.
Their strikeouts, for instance, are down drastically: the Yankees whiffed at the third-highest rate in the American League in 2018. This year they rank 11th. Although some argue that strikeouts are merely outs and nothing more, Boone disagreed.
“Contact is important, it matters,” he said. “It’s something we talked about in spring training.”
Marcus Thames, the Yankees’ hitting coach, said that philosophy — patience and discipline — has become a near obsession that the team’s hitters are buying into.
“We talk about controlling the strike over and over in the dugout,” he said. “We talked about in the spring and now in every meeting, before every series. We keep stressing how important it is to get your pitch. We never stop having that conversation.”
The second half of the current makeover is more mental than physical: not relying nearly as much on Judge and Stanton. Or, more accurately, not feeling weaponless in their absences. The Yankees played .500 ball for most of the two months Judge was on the injured list in 2018. This year, they’ve actually flourished without him.
“The difference is the mind-set. No one in here has panicked,” said Judge, who is recovering from a severe oblique strain. “Guys are seeing the injuries as a chance to step up, not a setback. I’ve been saying it all along: this is a special group. I feel that way more than ever.”