NEW YORK — The Yankee Stadium pitcher's mound was a rocking chair for the first two hours of Sunday's game. By the conclusion, it was playing home to a pitcher that was anything but relaxed. Aroldis Chapman needed an improbable triple play, the Yankees' third of the season, to finish off the 2-1 win.
The home team's series clincher over the Oakland Athletics started as a back and forth pitcher's duel between two guys who appeared unbothered and totally in control. It began as a baseball game from a completely different era, one that looked like both pitchers would go deep into the late innings and the game would take less than three hours. When the sixth inning rolled around, though, the game's rapid pace became a crawl. Pitching changes by both team's killed the idea of dueling starters lasting into the game's final third, but more importantly for the Yankees, their conveyor belt back to the dugout was finally interrupted.
Gary Sanchez's two-run double gave the Yankees a lead in a game where they looked totally lifeless the first two times through the lineup. Aaron Judge's third plate appearance was a judicious walk, and he and Clint Frazier would rumble around the bases on Sanchez's double. With one crack of the bat, Sanchez changed the complexion of the game, both by supplying a lead and booting the previously un-hittable Manaea out of the game.
Both starting pitchers -- Manaea and the Yankees' Jordan Montgomery -- breezed through the first five innings. Montgomery threw one ill-fated pitch to Matt Olson in the first, resulting in the sweet swinging slugger's second home run of the series, but was otherwise brilliant.
The A's would only get two more hits off Montgomery, with another knock from Olson putting runners at first and second in the sixth inning, sending Montgomery to the showers after 85 pitches. His final line: 5.1 innings, three hits, six strikeouts, two walks, and the lone earned run from Olson's deep drive into Monument Park.
Manaea's rhythm was disrupted only after he reached a personal milestone. His 5.1-inning gem saw him match a career-high 10 strikeouts by the fifth inning and set a new high on the first out of the sixth. The lefty deployed his sinker early and often, expertly dotting it in and around the strike zone. That includes the 93 mile per hour one that Sanchez walloped for the decisive double, despite it being off the outside part of the plate.
Apart from Sanchez, the Yankees' bullpen was the most important ingredient in cooking up Sunday's win. Jonathan Loaisiga brought his scoreless streak to 14.1 innings, logging his eleventh straight appearance without conceding a run. Lucas Luetge got the eighth inning assignment, stranding a triple from Matt Chapman by getting two of the biggest outs of the day. That got the ball to Aroldis Chapman, who started things off with two walks before getting his fourth save of the week on the 5-4-3 triple play.
The win not only secured a series win for the Yankees, it also gave the A's their first road series loss of the season. The sub-.500 Kansas City Royals waltz into town next for a three-game stay, giving the Yankees a chance to fatten up on some wins before their highly anticipated, potentially season-reviving first trip to Fenway Park.
NATIONALS 5, METS 2
Not even the 90-degree heat in the nation's capital could thaw the Mets' ice-covered bats.
The Mets collected just nine runs and 21 hits in the four-game series at Nationals Park over the weekend, culminating in a loss to the Nationals in Sunday’s finale. They went 1-3, winning just Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader thanks to Francisco Lindor's 5 RBI game, and they headed back to New York following a dispiriting matchup against their division rivals.
Even though the Amazin's have sat atop the NL East since May 8, their next 12 consecutive games come against teams in their division. The Mets have the chance to expand their first place lead, or allow the Phillies and Braves to decrease the gap.
"This is definitely a tough stretch of our schedule with the amount of doubleheaders," Kevin Pillar said. "We're just going to keep fighting. We didn't play our best baseball here, but I don't think we played our worst."
Pillar added on the competition in the NL East: "It's going to be a dog fight right up to the very last series of the year in Atlanta."
Their schedule and competition only become more demanding when the Mets (36-29) return to Citi Field. Monday will begin with a doubleheader against the third-place Braves -- though the Mets should find some solace in the fact Atlanta also played a late-night doubleheader against the Cardinals on Sunday. And if Jacob deGrom (right shoulder soreness) is a go for the series opener (and all signs point to him making his Monday start) the Amazin's chances of shutting down the Braves only increase.
But that only leads us back to the subject of run support.
The return of Jeff McNeil (strained left hamstring) on Monday should help spark what has been a monotonous Mets lineup of late. Look no further than Jose Peraza leading off against Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin on Sunday to understand the state of the Mets offense. Peraza went 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Corbin, as the southpaw retired 10 consecutive batters in a stretch of yawn-worthy at-bats from the Mets.
"We should see McNeil potentially activated tomorrow," manager Luis Rojas said. "Whether that's Game 1, or I don't know if we're going to do only Game 2."
Pete Alonso and Pillar crushed solo home runs in the series finale. The pop helped keep the Mets afloat, but the inconsistency of their hitters ultimately drowned them in Washington. The Mets made it obvious why they have scored the second-lowest runs per game this season on an afternoon when their starting pitcher wasn't on his A-game.
Sunday was hardly Taijuan Walker's best performance of the year, but he gritted his way through 6.1 innings on an afternoon when a taxed Mets bullpen needed length from their starter.
Walker saw his ERA jump .30 points to 2.42 after he gave up 10 hits, his most allowed this season, to a Nationals team trying to crawl out of fourth place in the NL East. To that end, left fielder Kyle Schwarber led the charge. Schwarber enjoyed a three-homer day -- two off Walker and another against Jeurys Familia in the seventh. He crushed the Mets for five home runs through the weekend series.