BALTIMORE — It took 29 pitches for Isiah Kiner-Falefa to find the one he liked, and his well-executed, relentless approach, which manager Aaron Boone called “one of the best at-bats of the season,” was rewarded.
The Yankees utility man first wore out and then wounded Orioles pitching, using a barrage of good at-bats and finally a three-run double to break open an eventual 8-3 win at Camden Yards on Saturday night.
The double Kiner-Falefa ball splintered fair to left field was significant, but so were the 12 balls he fouled off on the night.
“I haven’t been playing much, so I was just trying to see as many pitches as I can,” said Kiner-Falefa, who ended up seeing 36 pitches in five plate appearances. “And after the first at-bat, I felt pretty locked in for the whole day.”
In his first plate appearance, he drained opposing starter Tyler Wells during a 10-pitch at-bat that ended in a walk.
In the back-and-forth fight, Kiner-Falefa got two strikes against him and proceeded to foul off four pitches before he earned his way to first base.
After a second-pitch ground out against reliever Mike Baumann — who replaced Wells after just 2 ²/₃ innings largely thanks to the Yankees’ plate discipline — Kiner-Falefa saw seven pitches during a fifth-inning walk.
In the sixth, with the bases loaded, two out and the Yankees up two runs, Kiner-Falefa stepped up against Bryan Baker.
Manager Aaron Boone could have turned to Jake Bauers or Billy McKinney, lefty bats to counter the righty reliever, but he stuck with a contact hitter who clearly was seeing the ball well.
Boone gave Kiner-Falefa a chance, and he stayed in the at-bat long enough to take advantage.
He fell behind 0-2.
After Baker threw a ball, Kiner-Falefa fouled off four straight pitches to stay alive.
Two more balls brought the count full, and Baker couldn’t leave the strike zone again.
Finally, Kiner-Falefa got a four-seamer in the middle of the plate and turned on it, smacking the bases-clearing double to left field and punctuating it with a shout from second base.
Kiner-Falefa could yell, and the Yankees could exhale.
“Awesome,” Boone said.
“That was a big-time moment for me,” said Kiner-Falefa, who started just his second game of the past eight, and is now primarily used against opposing lefties and as a late-game sub.
“That’s what it’s about,” Aaron Judge, who scored from third base on the double, said of the at-bat. “That’s why I want him in there every single day. He competes. He’s the type of guy you want up in that situation.”
New Yankees hitting coach Sean Casey has instructed Kiner-Falefa and the rest of the club to see the ball deeper, providing as much time to decide whether to swing.
The tweaked approach — as well as Kiner-Falefa continuing to focus on doing damage rather than strictly making contact — has appeared to work thus far.
In his past seven games, Kiner-Falefa is 4-for-11 with six walks and a .579 on-base percentage.
He finished 1-for-3 with the pair of walks on the night, striking out in the ninth inning for his final try.
Of course, the strikeout came on a full count.
Even when Kiner-Falefa’s approach did not technically work, the opposing pitcher was worked.
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