TORONTO — Anthony Rizzo welcomed the errant slider that hit him on the left thigh to lead off the fifth inning. It was the beginning of something spectacular for him and the Yankees.
Entering the frame with a narrow lead against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Rizzo started it with the hit-by-pitch and capped it off with a grand slam in an eight-run inning that propelled the Yankees to a crucial 12-3 win over Toronto on Friday.
“When I get hit by pitches, I feel like it really locks me in more,” said Rizzo, who went 2-for-3 and delivered four RBIs in the Yankees’ eighth consecutive win. “The way I take pitches and see them is just different when I’m getting hit. That’s what I said the last few weeks: ‘I just need to get hit.’”
Whether there’s some truth to the playful remark, Rizzo certainly looked locked in when he returned to the batter’s box later in the fifth inning.
Back-to-back home runs from Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu put the Yankees (48-16) in a comfortable position. A couple of doubles, a single and an intentional walk to Aaron Judge brought Rizzo back up with the bases loaded. He proceeded to smash the second pitch he saw from Blue Jays reliever Trevor Richards a Statcast-projected 435 feet to right field, blowing the game wide open for the Yankees, who have won 15 of their last 16 games.
“Just to be able to come through for our MVP,” said Rizzo of hitting the grand slam after Judge was intentionally walked. “We all kind of want to just make them pay, at all times, when anyone intentionally gets walked. But with the year he’s had, we just want to always have his back.”
Judge is certainly the Yankees’ MVP, but Rizzo seems to be at the center of everything lately.
Fresh off a walk-off homer to complete the sweep of the Rays on Thursday, the first baseman has homered six times in his last 13 games to push his season OPS up to .830, with 18 of his 47 RBIs coming in June.
All of this after an ice-cold stretch in May.
“He was grinding there for that month,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “He was still having some big at-bats, but he was grinding through it, and it’s nice to see him over the last week or 10 days really start to [improve]. The quality of his contact is getting really good.”
Rizzo hit .167 with a .581 OPS last month, a significant drop in production following a strong start to the season.
“It’s just the ebbs and flows of the season,” said Rizzo. “I’m just working through kinks and trying to find the right position to be in.”
Rizzo’s first of two runs scored on Friday night was the 800th of his career. The second was a product of his sixth career grand slam. And as the 32-year-old gets back into the swing of things, the Yankees look unstoppable from top to bottom.
This is New York’s second-longest win streak of the season, now three short of its 11-win stretch in late April and early May. The victory over the Blue Jays brought the Yankees to 23 wins in 33 games against AL East opponents and increased their division lead to 11 games.
“I think playing teams in the division and teams that you know are going to be there competing for a division title, these kind of have double meaning,” said Boone. “So, yeah, I think [these games] are more important.”
But the Yankees aren’t getting too carried away.
“I understand where we are, I understand the kind of start we’re off to and the kind of position we’re in and I’m thrilled about that, obviously,” Boone said ahead of the opener in Toronto. “But we also understand, as a team and as a group, we ain’t done nothing yet. We’re starting another big series against a really good team. … It’s probably boring, but that’s how we’re rolling.”
There was nothing boring about Friday’s barrage offensive.
The Yankees’ four home runs and 14 hits provided starter Jordan Montgomery with plenty of support in another strong outing en route to a win. The southpaw pitched six innings of two-run ball with three hits, one walk and five strikeouts against a Blue Jays lineup stacked with some of the best right-handed hitters in the game.
“That’s a tough lineup for him,” said Boone. “And he was in command.”