Judge, Sanchez break out and the Yankees are suddenly much more dangerous in ALCS

NEW YORK — If the Yankees rally to win the ALCS — a tall order with Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander lined up for Games 5 and 6 — the Game 4 come-from-behind win will be remembered as the series turning point. It was the comeback within the comeback. The Inception comeback.

Down 4-0 through six and a half-innings Tuesday, the Yankees put two runs on the board in the seventh and four runs on the board in the eighth to earn a 6-4 win and even the ALCS up at 2-2. They were down 2-0 after two games, just like the ALDS against the Indians. Now it’s back even.

“I mean, that’s always in the back of your head. You know he’s pitching tomorrow. When he pitched Game 1 I knew he was pitching Game 5,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi following Game 4, when asked if he started thinking ahead to the possibility of facing Keuchel down 3-1. “I was focused on trying to keep it as close as we could.”

Tuesday’s comeback win was fueled by two players who came into Game 4 as the series goats: Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Judge did hit a home run in the Game 3 blowout win, but combined, those two went 2 for 21 in the first three games of the ALCS. Then, in Game 4, Judge started the comeback with a seventh inning home run. He tied the game with a double in the eighth.

With a home run and a double in Game 4, Judge  is now 3 for 5 with a double, two homers, and two walks in his last seven plate appearances of the ALCS. More importantly, he’s started laying off all those breaking balls the Astros (and Indians in the ALDS, for that matter) have been feeding him. Judge is no longer biting on pitcher’s pitches.

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“Just trying to get something up over the plate,” said Judge after Game 4. “They’ve thrown a lot of sliders down the zone, that fastball down the zone, just the whole series trying to wait and be patient and get one up in the zone I can do some damage on and be able to do that.”

The Judge double tied the game 4-4 and also put a runner in scoring position with out one for Didi Gregorius, the No. 3 hitter. During the pitching change, Sanchez told him to keep the line moving and to get the run home.

“He came shaking me, ‘You’ve got to drive ’em in,'” explained Gregorius after the game. “I was like,’ Relax, you’re going to be up with guys in scoring position.’ That happened and it came up big. That’s what you want from guys. Everyone contributing.”

After a Gregorius single moved Judge to third, Sanchez turned a 4-4 tie into a 6-4 Yankees lead with a booming go-ahead double into the right-center field gap. Yankee Stadium was shaking like the old ballpark across the street. The October ghosts had returned to the Bronx. 

“Gary has been getting pitched tough this whole series in the postseason,” said Judge. “He’s been battling, he’s been in the cages doing his work, getting prepared to the right way. Sometimes it won’t show up in the first or second game. But sometimes it shows up in the ALCS in a big situation like that. For Gary, nothing’s changed with him. His attitude has never changed, he’s always the same guy. He came up in a big situation for us.”

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“It’s big. He laid off two sliders right before that that were huge. He was swinging at them earlier in the series,” added Aaron Hicks. “He was able to get himself a fastball there and he didn’t miss it.”

Sanchez went into Game 4 riding an 0 for 15 slump that dated back to the ALDS, though there were indications the hits would soon fall in. His outs had gradually progressed from ugly strikeouts to weak contact to loud contact. Sanchez’s final at-bat in Game 3? A 98.1 mph line out the center field. He was getting closer.

“He’s a really good hitter,” said Girardi. “And I think we’ve witnessed that for five plus two months, seven months we’ve witnessed how good of a hitter he is. I’ve seen Hall of Famers struggle in a series or series or two in the playoffs. It’s just part of it. But eventually it’s going to turn for him and it did in a big way tonight.”  

After going three games and getting very little from Judge and Sanchez, their two best hitters and marquee young players, the Yankees won Game 4 because both of them snapped out of their slumps with incredibly clutch hits. We’re talking about hits that turned a potential 3-1 series deficit with Keuchel and Verlander looming into a 2-2 tie. Series-changing hits.

The ALCS is now effectively a best-of-three series. And going into that best-of-three series, the Yankees know they have their two best pitchers (Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino) lined up to start the first two games, and their two best hitters suddenly looking locked in at the plate. The ghosts have returned to Yankee Stadium and Judge and Sanchez have got that youthful swagger back, and that’s what the Yankees needed to see to have a chance to win this series.

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“It just continues giving them confidence,” Girardi said. “And I look up and down the board in other series and you see guys are struggling. It’s such a short sample size, that I think our guys have done a good job not getting caught up in it. You’re seeing the best pitching staffs. You’re seeing good starters, strong bullpens. And I think it’s one day at a time, it’s one at-bat at a time. And those guys came up big for us today.”