This is what Aaron Boone was talking about during those long nights of the soul, nights in the spring and early summer when the Yankees were playing pedestrian, borderline indifferent baseball. Maybe he couldn’t envision quite how this was all going to come together.
Maybe, some nights, the Yankees manager would look at the field and wonder if his words really squared with his eyes. But he kept saying it anyway. He kept believing. Better days were ahead, he said. Better baseball was ahead. You’ll see.
Now, we see.
There is still work to be done, to be sure, with 55 games left in the season. There is still one team to jump in order to get both feet in wild-card position, still a sizable gap between themselves and Rays in the AL East. But that stuff is just numbers. That good baseball that’s been ahead of the Yankees all year? It’s here. It’s present. It’s accounted for.
“We keep grinding away,” Boone said after the Yankees’ 10-3 blasting of Baltimore at the Stadium Wednesday night. “The bottom line is, we keep our nose down and keep after it.”
It was the seventh series win in their past eight. It moved the Yankees nine games over .500 (58-49) for the first time since May 23, and nine over is the high-water mark of the year.
Better: they are simply way more on point now than at any time in the season. Even when they spotted Matt Harvey and the Orioles a 3-0 head start Wednesday night there was never a real question as to whether they’d be able claw back.
For one thing: the O’s are terrible. And that’s being kind. They are managed poorly. They play poorly. They kick the ball around. They are 38-69 and you wonder sometimes how in the world they’ve won that many.
But it was more than just having a patsy to pile-drive. So much of what the Yankees look like now is because of the arrival of Anthony Rizzo to the lineup, because every day he seems to make a winning play. In that way he’s become as must-watch a player as we have in New York.
In the first inning he put together a 13-pitch at-bat that had to be seen to be believed. He sent a few rockets out toward the right-field porch that bent just foul. He took a few borderline strikes that Harvey wanted badly, benefit-of-the-doubt strikes Rizzo has earned across his career thanks to a sharp batting eye.
He drew a walk.
Three innings later, having seen every weapon in Harvey’s arsenal, he smoked a no-doubter home run to right-center that not only got the Yankees on the board at 3-1, it seemed to loosen the rest of the batting order. Harvey was gone by inning’s end. From there it was a matter of time.
“That at-bat was definitely a grind,” Rizzo said. “A lot of times when you have an at-bat like that, when you hit a few foul home runs, the pitcher wins it in the end. Just wanted to keep battling.”
Said Boone: “Just a great at-bat Hope can manifest itself and lead to really long inning or a big inning. He saw a ton of pitches, all he had. And later on he had a home run.”
The Yankees are picking a good time to elevate their game. The Mariners arrive now for four games, and while Seattle seems to have settled into a seismic fade they are still a formidable team. The White Sox loom next week, the Red Sox the week after. It’s a good time to rediscover how to make winning an organizational habit.
“Our best days,” Boone said, “are still ahead of us.”
He’s been saying that even when best days were hard to define and even harder to conjure. They are upon the Yankees now. Now all they need is to keep it up. Winning is the best kind of muscle memory.