The Yankees went 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position, with both of those hits coming in the ninth, when Didi Gregorius singled off Royals closer Kelvin Herrera to bring home Castro.
The rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery, meanwhile, struggled for a second consecutive outing with the Yankees. Montgomery never allowed more than four runs in any of his 61 minor league appearances, with 57 starts. But on Thursday, he gave up five in five innings, three of them on a home run to Mike Moustakas in the fifth, a fat slider that Moustakas blasted through a gusting wind into the bullpen in right.
“He didn’t have command of much,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said.
The Yankees entered Thursday on an offensive tear, leading the American League in runs, run differential and batting average and tied with Tampa Bay for the lead in home runs. Wednesday night was the seventh time the Yankees scored 11 runs this season, matching their 2016 total, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. They had scored at least seven in each of the previous four games, their longest such stretch since 2010.
Duffy was one of the least likely candidates to break up the hot streak. This season, he has not struck out batters at the rate he did last year (9.21 per nine innings), but he had his slider working Thursday. Duffy struck out five of the first six batters. Strikeout No. 6 was Chris Carter to end the third.
He needed it against the Yankees’ lineup. Castro, a three-time All-Star with the Cubs, entered Thursday leading the majors in hits and tied for second in runs scored, while batting .351. A more patient Aaron Hicks (.326 average, seven homers) essentially gives Girardi a fourth potential starting outfielder to go with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Judge. Girardi started Hicks in left field on Thursday and in center the night before.
The Royals grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second, taking advantage of Montgomery’s two walks and a bounced throw by Castro trying to turn an inning-ending double play. Whit Merrifield and Drew Butera, the eighth and ninth batters, singled in the runs.
“I didn’t grip the ball very good,” Castro said. “I didn’t want to try to flip it over the target. I tried to put the ball in the ground, bounce it, see if we have a chance. That’s a play that I usually make.”
Duffy seemed so unhittable that Ellsbury tried to bunt his way on leading off the fourth and was initially ruled out on a close play. The Yankees challenged, and the call was reversed, giving the Yankees their first hit and base runner. One out later, Duffy walked Matt Holliday. But Duffy dropped down to strike out Castro on a low, sweeping breaking pitch, frustrating Castro so much he lifted his bat as if to break it over his knee. Judge also stranded both runners, flying out to right.
Montgomery made two critical mistakes in the fifth. The free-swinging Alcides Escobar is difficult to walk, but Montgomery managed to do it, just the fifth base on balls that Escobar has drawn in 40 games. Then Montgomery hung a slider to Moustakas.
“I never walked people in the minor leagues,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know where this is coming from. Maybe giving the hitters a little too much credit. That, and home runs. I never had a problem with the long ball, in the system, high school, college, wherever. I know the fans expect more from me, and I expect more from myself.”
Said Girardi: “He’s a young kid. He’s going to go through some growing pains, and we’re going to have to go through them with him. Tonight, he didn’t have command of much. He could have gotten away with some things. He didn’t get away with the slider. He hung a slider, and Mousakas crushed it.”
The veteran Duffy, meanwhile, figured out how to shut down a hot lineup.
JOE GIRARDI, named to the major leagues’ new Competition Committee on Thursday, said he would offer the novel timesaving idea he discussed in spring training — providing certain players earpieces for direct communication with the manager, eliminating the need for signs. “That’s the reason most catchers go to the mound, trying to protect your signs,” said Girardi, a former catcher. “That’s really hard today with all the camera angles and everything that goes on. And every game on TV. When games weren’t on TV, it wasn’t so hard.” … Girardi said GREG BIRD had jogged figure eights at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, the next step in his recovery from a bruised right ankle. Girardi said he hoped Bird could begin baseball activities early next week. … TYLER AUSTIN (broken left ankle) is almost ready to begin a rehabilitation assignment, probably in Tampa, Girardi said.
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