Aaron Boone wasn’t around for Friday’s series opener against the Rockies, but the Yankees took advantage of their savage lineup in The Bronx again and made easy work of Colorado.
With their manager serving a one-game suspension for his profane tirade directed at home plate umpire Brennan Miller on Thursday, the Yankees got a third-inning grand slam from Edwin Encarnacion, key hits from former Rockies Mike Tauchman and DJ LeMahieu and terrific defense by Tauchman and Aaron Judge in an 8-2 win on a steamy night at the Stadium.
“It just doesn’t stop with this lineup,’’ said Judge, who added a two-run homer. “We’ve got a lot of guys that get on base at a high clip. When guys get on base and guys have some pop, it leads to a lot of runs. There’s no real letdown in this offense.”
The victory was the Yankees’ fourth straight, as they pulled away late after falling into an early two-run hole against Colorado, which came in after being swept in four games at home by the Giants and had lost 11 of 13.
Coupled with the Rays’ loss to the White Sox, the win gave the Yankees a season-high nine-game lead in the AL East. It’s their largest advantage in the division since they were up by nine games exactly seven years ago.
J.A Happ gave up two runs in the second, which would have been worse had Tauchman not thrown out Garrett Hampson at the plate as he tried to score on Charlie Blackmon’s fly to left to end the top of the second.
Happ was aided by his outfield again in the third, when Judge caught Nolan Arenado too far off second base on Desmond’s single to shallow right. Arenado couldn’t get back to the base before Judge’s throw and the Rockies ran themselves out of a second straight inning.
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The Yankees didn’t trail for long against Kyle Freeland (2-7), who has had a terrible season, posting a 7.62 ERA.
They loaded the bases against the lefty with one out in the bottom of the third before Encarnacion got enough on a one-handed swing to line a grand slam into the left-field seats to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead.
“When he gets hot, it’s like not too many I’ve ever seen,’’ Happ said of Encarnacion, who was his teammate in Toronto. “It was a huge hit. It reenergized me, too.”
He needed a bit of a bump. Happ felt a cramp in his left cramp while warming up for the fourth and got a visit from trainer Steve Donohue and fill-in manager Josh Bard.
After a few more warmup pitches, Happ remained in the game and tossed two more scoreless innings. Happ (8-5) ended up giving up two runs in five innings.
“Coming off a doubleheader [on Thursday], we needed the innings,’’ Bard said.
They got them, not only from Happ, but also with a perfect sixth from Adam Ottavino — another ex-Rockie — and Stephen Tarpley, who finished the game with three scoreless innings.
“We were up against it a little bit,’’ Bard said of the bullpen. “We would have been a lot of guys down [on Saturday]if we needed them. For Tarpley to come in and do that, there’s something special going on in that room, for sure.’’
Tauchman’s emergence is part of that, as well.
Picked up in a minor trade at the end of spring training, Tauchman has been valuable for much of the season and played his best game of the year on Friday, with a career-high three hits to improve to 8-for-16 over his last six games.
Bard called Tauchman “a diamond in the rough.’’
At the end of a long night for the Rockies, it was their manager, Bud Black, who was tossed for arguing with home plate umpire Doug Eddings about a called third strike to Chris Iannetta in the ninth.