Yankees’ Ben Rice packing leadoff punch felt by Red Sox

The New York Yankees were hoping for improved production from the leadoff spot when rookie Ben Rice was moved up on Thursday.

A three-homer game probably wasn’t anticipated, but after Rice accomplished that feat on Saturday, the Yankees are in position to win their first series in over three weeks and hope to get rolling again when they face the Boston Red Sox on Sunday night in the Yankees’ final home game before the All-Star break.

After Rice homered three times in New York’s 14-4 rout on Saturday, New York is seeking consecutive victories for the first time since winning the first three games of a four-game series at Kansas City on June 10-13.

“Hopefully, it’s something that is a jump-start (for) us because it’s obviously not easy for us right now,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Rice was moved up to the leadoff spot to replace a struggling Anthony Volpe when the Yankees took an 8-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. He hit his first career homer in that game and drove in seven runs on Saturday.

Rice was 1-for-9 in his first two games at the top of New York’s order before helping the Yankees win Saturday for just the fifth time in their past 19 games. He hit a leadoff homer, capped a seven-run fifth inning with a three-run homer, and added another three-run homer in the seventh to become the first Yankee rookie with three homers in one game.

In 17 games since being called up to replace injured first baseman Anthony Rizzo (fractured right forearm), the 25-year-old Rice is hitting .294 with four homers and 12 RBIs.

“Obviously, we’re going through it and we’ll take any kind of success, really,” New York ace Gerrit Cole said. “I think it’s a little bit greater than that. It’s an historical day, a magical day.”

The Red Sox allowed their most runs this season and saw a five-game winning streak stopped.

Rafael Devers became the 33rd player in team history with 1,000 career hits and also hit a homer that briefly gave the Red Sox the lead Saturday, but Boston saw its relievers allow 11 runs while hoping to get through the game with Chase Anderson and, when needed, Zack Kelly, who didn’t pitch.

“We were walking a tightrope today pitching-wise,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “The thought process was kind of like, ‘Let’s keep the game in check.’ We had Zack for two (innings of availability) late in the game, but it was going to be Chase in the middle of the game. It just didn’t happen.”

In the wake of Rice’s monster day, the Yankees hope to get a strong performance from another rookie when Luis Gil (9-4, 3.41 ERA) starts on Sunday.

Gil is tied with Gavin Stone of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the most wins among rookies and leads all first-year players with 102 strikeouts. The right-hander also is 0-3 with a 14.90 ERA in his past three outings after going 9-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his previous 11 starts from April 21 to June 14.

Gil’s struggles continued Tuesday in a 5-4 loss to the Reds when he allowed four runs in four innings.

Gil is 1-0 with a 0.93 ERA in two career starts against the Red Sox.

Boston’s scheduled Sunday starter, Kutter Crawford (4-7, 3.47 ERA), is 2-1 with a 3.44 ERA in his past three starts since losing five straight decisions from May 13 to June 11. Crawford yielded one run or less for the seventh time this season when he allowed one run on three hits in six innings in an 8-3 win over the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.

Crawford registered a season-high nine strikeouts on June 16 against the Yankees when he pitched six innings in a 9-3 win at Boston. The right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA in seven career appearances (five starts) against the Yankees.

–Field Level Media