The Yankees, on April 26, were in a weird spot.
The Hospital Yankees were in full force. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks were all already out, as were Greg Bird, Luis Severino and Dellin Betances. The team, however, had started to win, overcoming an early-season malaise to win eight of 10 going into a cool evening by the bay in San Francisco.
The pitching matchup that night was exquisite: James Paxton, coming off back-to-back scoreless outings, was facing Madison Bumgarner. Both team’s best (healthy) starters, a pair of lefties, dueling in the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball.
On paper, if the Giants were going to steal a game in this series, this is probably the one to win, even with Paxton on the hill. Just look at the Yankees’ lineup and put on your April 2019 glasses for a moment:
- DJ LeMahieu, 2B
- Luke Voit, 1B
- Gleyber Torres, SS
- Gio Urshela, 3B
- Cameron Maybin, RF
- Austin Romine, C
- Mike Tauchman, CF
- Thairo Estrada, LF
- James Paxton, P
Let’s go to a few key points here:
- Cameron Maybin had just been traded to the Yankees the day before. The 32-year-old had posted a .663 OPS in Triple-A with Cleveland after hitting little for the Giants that spring. The veteran outfielder seemed fried, and it would have been no surprise if he’d done nothing.
- Gio Urshela was batting cleanup. The former Indians glove-first third baseman who was a well-below-average Major League hitter over the course of multiple stints dating back to 2015. This was wild at the time.
- Thairo Estrada had never played the outfield before. Not just in the Major Leagues, but ever. So, of course, that means toss him into left field at Oracle Park. Brett Gardner needed the day off.
- Outside of that top three, can you expect a hit all series?
Yet the Yankees cruised in that game. LeMahieu, Torres, Urshela and Maybin picked up hits in the first inning to give New York a lead it would never relinquish. Paxton was only so-so. The bullpen walked five batters, gave up no hits and struck out six. Still, every position player in the lineup (plus a pinch-hitting Mike Ford!) got a hit en route to a 7-3 win.
In the grand scheme of things, the April 26 game between the Yankees and Giants was just 1 of 162. It’s interleague. San Francisco was mediocre at best for the season.
But that was the type of game that made the 2019 Yankees special and gave the appearance of a team of destiny. They were a few more injuries from starting the entire Railriders, and both LeMahieu and Urshela would suffer minor injuries during the series, as would Gleyber. Gary Sanchez was making his way back from his first groin issue.
At the time, we didn’t know Maybin, Urshela and Tauchman would become cult heroes. It was just a matter of surviving the spate of injuries, one game at a time, which the Yankees did with aplomb. For a breezy April night, that was about as good as it gets.