PITTSBURGH — The Yankees have pounded opponents throughout the first half of the season, never more so than on Wednesday, when they pummeled the Pirates, 16-0, at PNC Park.
They used six homers — including two grand slams — and got six shutout innings from Luis Severino.
They next will be tasked with facing an improved Red Sox team that had nearly been left for dead after a 10-19 start to the season. But Boston has moved into a second place tie in the AL East with Tampa Bay — albeit a whopping 14 games behind the front-running Yankees, who improved to 59-23 with the win over the Pirates.
“They seem to be playing a lot better than they did at the start,” Gerrit Cole said of the Red Sox, who will host the four-game series beginning Thursday. “We seem to keep doing our thing. They have a lot of talent and a lot of savvy. Regardless of their record of late, they’re always gonna be a dangerous club and fight us hard. It should be a good battle this weekend.”
The Yankees looked sharp after losing to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, and they finished with a season-high 22 hits Wednesday night.
Joey Gallo, Josh Donaldson and Kyle Higashioka — all slumping — each hit solo homers to spark the offense, with Donaldson and Gallo going back-to-back with two outs in the sixth.
Aaron Judge made it a rout with a grand slam in the eighth inning off former Yankee Manny Bañuelos, making his Pirates debut, and Aaron Hicks added a grand slam off second baseman Josh VanMeter, who pitched the ninth.
Judge’s homer was his MLB-leading 30th of the year.
“I’m glad it came in a win,” Judge said. “The team has been rolling with a good lead in the [AL] East.”
That’s putting it mildly.
“It gives us some flexibility,” Judge said of the lead. “In our minds, whether [the lead] is 14 games or four games, it’s still the same.”
After the start of the game was delayed by more than an hour due to rain in the area, Severino pitched out of trouble in the first inning.
He allowed a leadoff single to Ke’Bryan Hayes and a double to Bryan Reynolds before falling behind Jack Suwinski, 3-0. But Severino got Suwinski to pop to second and Daniel Vogelbach to strike out looking before Yoshi Tsutsugo grounded to first to keep the game scoreless.
Severino went on to retire 12 straight batters before Oneil Cruz’s infield single in the fifth.
The Yankees broke through in the fifth.
Gallo walked to start the rally. Isiah Kiner-Falefa singled through the left side of the infield, sending Gallo to third. With Higashioka at the plate, Kiner-Falefa stole second before LeMahieu delivered a two-run single up the middle with the infield drawn in.
Judge then doubled off the wall in right-center, but third base coach Luis Rojas ill-advisedly sent LeMahieu home and he was thrown out at the plate for the second out. Matt Carpenter then whiffed to keep it a two-run game.
Donaldson took Mitch Keller deep with two outs in the sixth inning for his first homer since June 19 and Gallo followed with his first since June 17. Higashioka, leading off the seventh, hit a shot out to center- his fifth of the season. The Yankees left the bases loaded later in the inning, with Donaldson fanning to strand three.
Wandy Peralta replaced Severino following a lengthy top of the seventh. Severino had struck out three and allowed just four hits in his 88-pitch gem.
Now, the Yankees move on to Boston, where the game Thursday will be the first of 16 remaining between the two rivals. It also will be the Yankees’ first trip to Fenway Park since they lost the wild-card game there last October.
“It’ll be an electric atmosphere,” Cole said.