BOSTON — It took nearly until late September, but the Yankees are finally just about where they want to be.
With Friday night’s win over the Red Sox, the Yankees slid by the Twins for the fourth seed in the American League and would host Minnesota in a wild-card series. They also had won nine straight and, after another regular season filled with injuries to key players, are fairly healthy with a week left until the playoffs.
The returns of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, as well as Gio Urshela, have given the Yankees added confidence — as has the recent resurgence of Gary Sanchez, who keyed their comeback Friday with a two-run double and a game-tying homer.
“It’s big,’’ DJ LeMahieu said of the lineup looking like the Yankees expected it to before the season began.
It’s resulted in their longest winning streak of the season going into Saturday night’s game at Fenway Park against the last-place Red Sox.
“It feels like we’re playing like we should be playing, like how we showed up in spring training,’’ LeMahieu said. “This is kind of team, the kind of competitiveness and clicking on all cylinders, we knew we were capable of. And we’re playing that way right now.”
Even after being shut down for six innings by left-hander Martin Perez, the Yankees were able to chip away against the Red Sox bullpen to tie the game in the ninth courtesy of a Sanchez homer and win it with LeMahieu’s RBI double in the 12th.
“Offensively, we feel very relaxed [and] confident,’’ LeMahieu said. “It’s a good feeling.”
A lot of that is due to the recent play of Sanchez.
In his previous four games going into Saturday, Sanchez was 6-for-18 with two doubles and three homers. He’d also had his first two multi-hit games of the season Thursday and Friday.
So there are signs that after seven weeks of mostly brutal performance at the plate, Sanchez is getting back to being the hitter the Yankees expect him to be — though in those four games, he’s hit eighth in the lineup three times and seventh once. That’s not the middle-of-the-order bat Sanchez has been in the past.
He’s also rediscovered his ability to hit the ball to all fields, with his two-RBI, ground-rule double Friday going down the right-field line and his laser homer in the ninth pulled to left.
Of the game-tying blast, Sanchez said through an interpreter he went to the plate “thinking, ‘Put the ball in play and take a good swing.’ I never go out there looking for homers. For me, it’s about making contact.”
It paid off with two of the biggest hits of the night.
“It’s not the year he wanted, probably, statistically,’’ LeMahieu said of Sanchez’s 2020 season. “He’s had some huge homers and a couple massive hits for us [Friday].”
Despite his struggles, LeMahieu said he’s been impressed by Sanchez’s approach.
“I didn’t know much about him before [I got to the Yankees],’’ LeMahieu said. “He’s extremely talented. The attitude he brings everyday is always positive. He competes, works hard and wants to win. I respect guys like that.”
Aaron Boone is confident Sanchez can get even better. The manager called Sanchez’s recent breakout “encouraging to see.”
“More competitive swings [and he’s] not chasing,’’ Boone said. “It’s considerably better. He’s a different guy in the box right now and I don’t think he’s even all the way to where he can get to.”