By Chad Jennings

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New York Yankees Carlos Beltran and Brett Gardner head to the dugout after Gardner and New York Yankees Jacoby Ellsbury, not shown, scored on Beltran’s game-winning, eighth-inning, three-run, home run off Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Jose Alvarez in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Monday, June 6, 2016

When Carlos Beltran arrived at Yankee Stadium two years ago, he hit five home runs and nine doubles in his first 21 games. He had an .899 OPS through nearly 100 at-bats, and the gamble on a late-30s outfielder was showing early promise. Then the numbers began to quickly decline. Then he went on the disabled list. Then he tried to play through an elbow injury.

And just like that, he was a waste. A bad April last season sealed it, and Beltran became easy to dismiss.

From May 1 through the end of last season, though, Beltran hit .295/.357/.505, and this season, he’s been the Yankees’ best hitter by a mile. His .540 slugging percentage ranks 23rd in all of baseball, ahead of Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo and even Bryce Harper. Sure, he doesn’t get on base nearly as often as those three, and he doesn’t move well in right field, but Beltran has been the one bright spot in this Yankees lineup. Hard to imagine how bad they would be without him.

“He’s been that one constant all year long,” Brian McCann said.

Tonight, the Yankees finally got something going in the late inning. They rallied behind back-to-back home runs in the seventh, and both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner put together good at-bats to give Beltran a chance in the eighth. The home run was Beltran’s team-leading 14th of the season — seven more than any of his teammates — and it was also the Yankees’ first home run with at least two runners on base since April 7.

“In that situation, when he comes to the plate, I think we got a really good chance to win the game,” Starlin Castro said. “He’s a really good hitter. We’re in scoring position and that’s what happens.”

Last season, Beltran didn’t hit his 14th home run until September 2, in his 104th game. He reached that total in nearly half as many games this season. Mark Trumbo is the only American League outfielder with more homers this season.

“That’s not the plan,” Beltran said. “The plan is to just to try to put together good at-bats. Hopefully everyone in the lineup is capable of putting together good at-bats. The plan is not to go up there and try to hit homers. That’s a terrible plan, but today it worked out for us.”

It worked kind of the way the Yankees thought it would work when this season started. They didn’t expect Mark Teixeira to be a total non-factor, or for Alex Rodriguez to become such an all-or-nothing hitter, or for McCann and Castro to be quite so inconsistent. They thought they would be team with top-of-the-order guys getting on base like Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner did tonight. The thought the the lineup would have some depth to it, with a guy like Castro providing some punch in the bottom half. And they thought some middle-of-the-order guys would hit for difference making power.

Beltran has done that.

“I mean, there’s power in this offense,” Joe Girardi said. “It hasn’t come out the way that it’s capable of, but tonight’s kind of a reminder what they can do, and they can do it quickly.”

Bad stuff, solid start

By his own admission, Masahiro Tanaka wasn’t very good tonight. Or rather, his stuff wasn’t very good tonight, and he knew it from the very beginning.

“Actually started off in the bullpen,” Tanaka said. “I didn’t particularly have a good bullpen going into the game, and the score says it — I gave up a run quickly — so I just said to myself, that I really need to sort of get it together, hold them, and keep on grinding. … I really didn’t have much today. It just comes down to right here (pointing to his chest), and I think I was able to really grind it out and hold the opponents to minimal damage.”

McCann said the fact Tanaka’s slider wasn’t sharp made it tough to pitch to both sides of the plate, but Tanaka found a way to get through it with seven innings and only two runs. He said pitching on normal rest had nothing to do with it — he doesn’t think that’s a factor, and was quick to point out that his past two seasons, he’s pitched well on normal rest — but for whatever reason, Tanaka just wasn’t very good and still gave the Yankees a game they could win.

“I thought he battled his butt off,” Girardi said. “I didn’t think he had his great split tonight. I didn’t think he had his real good slider, but he found a way to get it done.”

Three in a row

Before tonight’s game, Girardi said he expected to use Andrew Miller as his closer tonight. He didn’t expect to use Aroldis Chapman three days in a row, even though his pitch count was relatively low last night. It seems Chapman actually convinced Girardi otherwise, and so he was able to go straight from Tanaka to Miller to Chapman.

“We talked to him today,” Girardi said. “He’s been used five days in a row before, so he is a little bit different than most guys that I’ve had. I won’t do that, I don’t think, but he said he was good.”

Tanaka got his 10th save, while Miller got his third win while striking out the side.

“He’s just been great,” Girardi said. “He’s been a treat to have. He’s really easy to manage, and he always wants the ball, and we have to shut him down. He’ll take it every day if we let him. Besides that, he does a fantastic job wherever we put him, so it’s been a real treat.”

Back to back

Before Beltran hit the game winner, Brian McCann and Starlin Castro went back-to-back to tie the game in the seventh. It was the fourth time the Yankees hit back-to-back homers this season. For McCann, it was a good moment at a time when he’s been struggling at the plate.

“We’ve been kind of working on some things,” McCann said. “I’ve been seeing the baseball, it’s just when I go to make the pass at the ball, it’s getting popped up or not going where I think it should go. So it’s not a matter of me not seeing the baseball. It’s just a matter of making the pass at it and putting good barrel on it.”

For Castro, it was his 19th extra-base hit in 55 games. He did not hit his 19th extra-base hit last season until his 118th game.

“You just try to come to the plate looking for one pitch to hit, especially against a guy that throws strikes,” Castro said. “He’s going to pitch. He’s going to give you something to hit, and that happened with me. He threw the split in there, and leave it middle of the plate, and I drove it.”

Odds and ends

  • With his team-leading 16th extra-base hit of the year, Jacoby Ellsbury is now hitting 333 with two doubles, three triples and a home run in his past 19 games. Although it wasn’t overturned, replay did look like his caught stealing in the first inning might have been successful but without conclusive evidence to overturn.
  • Girardi used Aaron Hicks to pinch hit for Rob Refsnyder against a right-handed pitcher in the eighth inning. Refsnyder hadn’t had much success against Matt Shoemaker.
  • Richard Bleier was warming up in the late innings, but after the Yankees tied it, Girardi went to Miller instead to pitch the eighth.
  • Scranton/Wilkes-Barre put left-handed starter/long man Phil Coke on the disabled list today.
  • The Yankees have won 12 of their past 14 HOPE Week games.

Final word

We’ll give the final word to Beltran:

“When I look at the top of the lineup, if the top of the lineup is able to get on the base paths, we’re going to have more chances of scoring runs and winning ballgames. Some days we face good pitchers. Today, their pitcher was pitching a great game. He made a couple mistakes and we capitalized on those. McCann hit a solo homer, then Castro; we tied the game with two swings. … We felt good about ourselves. Thanks God I got another opportunity to hit with guys in scoring position and I was able to come through.”

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