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Game 35: Gary Sánchez, Aaron Judge, and Jordan Montgomery Dispatch the Rays 3-1

That was a very nice baseball game. I rate it 1o out of 10, and I would watch it again. Luke Voit returned. The Yankee pitching staff was excellent. Gary Sánchez was good. The Yankees beat the Rays 3-1. What more could you ask for in a game?

The Yanks started off their 10-game road trip on the right foot, and they are now 12-5 in their last 17 games and 8-2 in their last 10. They are 19-16 overall and they are only 2 games out of first place in the American League East. The first two weeks of the season feel like a long time ago. Anyway, let’s get to today’s takeaways.

1. Montgomery Shows Up: That was the ideal Jordan Montgomery performance right there. The lefty threw 6 innings of two-hit ball, allowing just 1 run on a homer to Mike Zunino while striking out 9 Rays. That was a career high for Montgomery, but it makes sense. Look at the MLB K% leaderboard coming into tonight’s game:

  1. Detroit Tigers: 29.6%
  2. Philadelphia Phillies: 27.8%
  3. Tampa Bay Rays: 27.3%
  4. Milwaukee Brewers: 27.2%
  5. Miami Marlins: 26.6%

The Rays strike out a lot, if you couldn’t tell. (The Yanks, for what it’s worth, are middle of the pack, with a 23.8% rate that ranks 14th.) That is not to take anything away from Jordan Montgomery, though. He was basically perfect on the mound. Not many opposing lineups, let alone an anemic one like Tampa’s, can do much with this:

Again, that is basically perfect aside from one or two sinkers that were up in the zone a bit. Otherwise, the colors on that chart are exactly where you want them to be. It’s even more impressive when put into the context of his usage, though. Check it out:

  • Four-seam fastball: 27%
  • Changeup: 27%
  • Curveball: 26%
  • Sinker: 19%

That is a true four-pitch approach. It kept the Rays off balance all night. But I want to talk specifically about Montgomery’s use of the changeup, as has often been the case so far in 2021. I wrote last week that the Yankees are using changeups a lot and highlighted Montgomery as an example of a pitcher who has increased their usage. His 27% usage tonight was higher even than his season average – and it makes sense why, since the pitch was virtually unhittable.

Rays batters swung at 15 of them and whiffed 9 times, or 60%. The change was electric, and it’s easy to see why:

That is great location right there, and it mapped pretty cleanly against his curveball as well. Anyway, that was one of the best starts of Montgomery’s career. (According to FanGraphs’ WPA, it was 5th, ranking behind 3 2017 starts and his April 5 start against Baltimore this year.) More like that, please. A good Monty makes the Yankees so much more dangerous.

2. The Yankees’ Power will Play: Look, I know that we’ve all been frustrated with the Yankees’ offense this year. Whether that’s fair or not – amazingly, it really isn’t, given the overall run environment – is a different story. What I am here to say is that their power will absolutely play. That’s especially true if the pitching is going to keep going at this pace. But two home runs, plus an assist from the bad Rays’ defense, won the Yankees this game.

Aaron Judge got the party started in the 1st inning, absolutely obliterating a pitch to dead center.

That ball is absolutely crushed. It was especially nice to see from Judge, who was mired in a pretty gross-looking slump last week. He struck out in seemingly every at bat, but he jumped on this high fastball and deposited into dead center. Love to see it.

That was somehow the least impressive home run of the night for the Yankees, though. Gary Sánchez, who I noted the other day looked really rough at the plate, turned this pitch:

Into this:

At the risk of sounding cliche, it is nice to see Gary go to the opposite field on that pitch. Anecdotally, it feels like his timing is off when he slumps and that he is trying to pull everything 5,000 feet. On this pitch, at least, Gary stayed with the ball, took what was given, and utilized his rare power skill to drive it over the fence. It’s not something you see often from Gary, as demonstrated by his career HR spray chart:

More on Gary’s value below, but it’s worth noting that Gary is up to .178/.333/.356 on the season. That sounds bad, but it’s actually a 102 wRC+, meaning he’s been above-average this year. Honestly, that’s pretty incredible.

3. I love the Yankees’ Bullpen: God, do I love the Yankee bullpen – especially, as all of you know, Jonathan Loaisiga. Aaron Boone turned to Loaisiga in the 7th – much to Michael Kay’s consternation, as it meant Kevin Cash would use Joey Wendle. It did not matter who Cash used, though. As has been the case mostly all year, Loaisiga made short work of the opposition. Loaisiga allowed just 1 hit and 1 walk in 2 innings of work, striking out 1. (Predictably, the strikeout came on a perfect changeup.) It wasn’t his absolute best performance, but it was more than enough.

Aroldis Chapman was up next. As we all know, he has been probably the single-best reliever in baseball in 2021. He was not perfect in this one, though. After Austin Meadows reached on an error from Gleyber Torres, Chapman threw a very wild pitch. It didn’t matter, though. Gary Sánchez was here to save the day. Check out this incredible cannon of a throw:

Does Kyle Higashioka make this out? I don’t believe that he does. In fact, I am not even convinced that he makes the throw period. Listen, Gary is tough to watch when he’s not right, but he possesses incredible skills. He can be so, so valuable for the Yankees.

Anyway, let’s get back to the bullpen. Aroldis Chapman wasn’t right, and it was obvious. His velocity dropped from 101 to 96, and the Yankees came out to check on him. It was alarming. How could it not be?

Turns out it was just a fingernail issue, though. The velocity came right back, obviously, and this is how the game ended:

That is beautiful stuff. Just beautiful. The point of all of this is that I love the Yankee bullpen. Neither Loaisiga nor Chapman were truly on their game today. It did not matter even in the slightest. The Rays did not have a chance. All in all, it was another dominant night for the Yankee pitching staff. Ho-hum.

Leftovers

  • Zunino Passed Balls: Rough night behind the dish for Mike Zunino. Back-to-back passed balls, both of which should have been stopped in my opinion, led to the other Yankee run. He looked like 2018 Gary Sánchez back there. He made up for it, though, launching a 472-foot missile off Jordan Montgomery. Like I said – he was Sánchez-esque.
  • Enough of the Contact Play: I am so sick of the contact play. I think it took a run away from the Yankees today. With runners on first and third and one out, the Yankees sent Giancarlo Stanton – literally Giancarlo Stanton – on contact. The ball was hit directly at the infielder, and Stanton was out by about 47 feet. The stat I’m about to share is ugly. It has a lot to do with some boneheaded decisions from Yankee runners. But it also has to do with the contact play. Enough. I’ve had enough. End it.
  • Giancarlo Stanton Keeps It Up: Giancarlo is absolutely on fire. I know he was “just” 1-3 with a walk tonight, but he hit the ball harder than 95 mph in every single AB in which he put the ball in play. The dude is an absolute machine.
  • Gleyber Torres’ Rough Night: Brutal night for Gleyber Torres. He was 0-4 with 3 strikeouts. Sunday’s homer felt nice, but as they say, momentum in baseball is only as good as the next day’s pitcher.

The Yanks and Rays will play the second of the three-game set tomorrow at 7:10 pm, also at the Trop. Gerrit Cole (4-1, 1.61 ERA) will try to keep his hot start going against a yet-to-be-announced Tampa Bay starter. Enjoy the rest of your night, everyone.

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14 Comments

  1. JG (Brendan Ryan)

    yeah contact play has to go

    Great pitching night.

  2. Brian

    That Sanchez HR… The at bat right before Fleming tried to fast-pitch Voit, and caught him a little off on his timing, and he just missed a HR. Sanchez took note, and was able to get time called right before Fleming tried to do it again, and took the very next pitch over the oppo wall. Hell of a heads up play on his end.

  3. Meadows K’ed looking on a fastball.
    Adames swung and missed for strike 3 on high heat.
    Arozarena also swung and missed at high heat for strike 3.

  4. Wire Fan

    I am usually up for letting the starter go the extra inning and Monty had a pretty reasonable pitch count, but I thought it was a good pull. He gave up some decent contact in the 6th and looked like his command was starting to falter a bit. Plus Cole is going tomorrow, who should hopefully give some innings.

    Judge looked good, he hit the ball hard 4 times.

    Nice to see Frazier hit the ball hard to center… Maybe that gets him going?

    • Bobby

      Agreed, and it was a few deep fly balls. Playing with fire at that point, and the ‘pen is rested. I was fine with it, despite the same preference as you.

  5. I felt like at least two of the Ks we’re on high fastballs.
    Gonna have to go back and check now.

    • Wire Fan

      I definitely remember one on a high fastball (in one of the page for innings he pitched) and it may have been a 2nd or 3rd.

      • Wire Fan

        *one of the later innings he pitched (4th on)

        • Meadows K’ed looking on a fastball.
          Adames swung and missed for strike 3 on high heat.
          Arozarena also swung and missed at high heat for strike 3.

  6. Jake

    I am definitely not a hitting expert, but something I’ve been thinking about kind of happened on accident in this game. Randy (and the reset of V314) have said countless times how Gary gets in slumps when his timing is off. He has a relatively big kick with his step that at times seems he doesn’t get down in time. So I’ve wondered if he cut down on it if it would help the timing issue he has. Well, when Fleming “quick pitched” him and hit the HR to right he had a much more abbreviated kick and looked to be in a great hitting position and “balanced” as O”neil would say. I’m not advocating for the Judge no step experiment from a few spring trainings ago, but I would love to see if that’s an adjustment he could make to get some better timing. Once again not an expert, could be way off, just a thought.

    (I wrote this comment ^ in my notes directly after the home run. It looked like in the 9th he went to the abbreviated leg kick but on his swinging strike three he had the bigger swinging kick, not as big as usual but bigger than the abbreviated one……all this to say is I dont know if this was intentional and I didn’t notice until the homer or he found something and was trying it again but fell into an old habit on strike three.) Anyone else see this?

    • Bobby

      Randy did. He mentioned it in the Slack. Good eye.

    • Jake

      As I scroll through twitter I see Randy picked up on this adjustment by Gary.

    • stevecwang13

      I’m no hitting expert either, but I agree that Gary seems to have a lot of motion in his swing, not just in his leg kick but also in his hands (similar to Dave Winfield, although not as much). Compare Gary with Stanton, for instance, who has little wasted motion in his swing.

      • DZB

        I wonder if Gary would do a lot better working on a stance more like Soto. He has a lot of natural power and does well with a low and wide stance to start with, so reducing the number of moving parts could make a huge difference (yes, this is basically saying the same thing!). I always think about the work Granderson did on his swing, where he shortened his bat path (and got it flattened out a bit) and reduced the motion in his body and then hit 40 HRs in back to back seasons.

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