Carlos Rodon tosses gem as Yankees use small-ball to beat Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Yankees benched 19 feet, 4 inches of sluggers.

In a visiting dugout that certainly has seen more spacious days resided Aaron Judge (6-foot-7), who was afforded his first breather of the season, Giancarlo Stanton (6-foot-6), who took a seat with Juan Soto DH-ing and Anthony Rizzo (6-foot-3), who was given another day to sort out his struggles.

As has been the case all season, the Yankees found a way anyway.

Their height dashed, the Yankees instead rode small-ball and Carlos Rodon to a well-played, 4-2 win in a series opener over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Monday.

The Yankees (47-21) have won 10 of 12, 14 of 18 and 21 of 27, continuing to roll even if the manner of the roll changed. They entered play second in MLB in home runs, yet they turned nine singles into four runs, doing all their damage without an extra-base hit.

Carlos Rodon pitches during the Yankees’ win over the Royals on June 10, 2024. Getty Images

Aaron Boone’s bunch dropped down three sacrifice bunts and showed bunt three times in the first four innings, two of those executed well to lead to runs against an improved Royals club (39-28).

“Not that I expect us to be a team that’s bunting a lot or stealing bases a lot — it’s not necessarily our personnel,” Boone said after the Yankees reached a season-high-tying 26 games over .500. “But we have guys that can play that game. There are certain times you have to do little things on a diamond to help you win a ballgame.”

That would be more than enough for Rodon, who brought a no-hitter into the fifth inning and finished with seven one-run frames in one more start that put his miserable 2023 in the rearview mirror.

The Yankees laid out the bunt-print immediately. In the first inning, three singles (from a returning Soto, Gleyber Torres and Alex Verdugo) plated one run and put runners on the corners for DJ LeMahieu.

With one out, the team’s No. 5 hitter laid down a bunt that scored Verdugo and became LeMahieu’s first sac bunt since 2022 and second since 2020.

The bunt show was only just beginning. In the fourth, LeMahieu knocked a one-out single before Trent Grisham attempted to bunt but got plunked on the foot. The next batter, Jahmai Jones, successfully got the bunt down to set the table for Jose Trevino, who came through with a two-run single that helped the Yankees pull away.

Alex Verdugo hits an RBI single during the Yankees’ win over the Royals on June 10, 2024. Getty Images

“It’s more stress [on the opposing team] that helps you win a game that you’re not slugging your way to or it’s not just a dominant pitching outing,” said Boone, who saw Trevino put down another sac bunt in the ninth.

That was all the scoring the Yankees would do against Seth Lugo, the former Mets reliever who has reinvented himself and entered play 9-1 with a 2.13 ERA, but it was all they needed because Rodon is a vastly different pitcher than the last time he stepped on the Kansas City mound.

Rodon had not pitched in this stadium since last Sept. 29, when he allowed eight runs and did not record an out in a fitting way to end his disastrous first year with the Yankees.

“I knew this game was coming,” said Rodon, who lowered his ERA to 2.92 in a season of redemption. “It was circled on the calendar and I wanted to give the team the best chance to win after coming out of here last year, what happened. … I definitely remember that.”

Juan Soto returned to the Yankees’ lineup during their win over the Royals on June 10, 2024. Getty Images

Through four innings, Rodon only permitted one base runner — plunking a batter in the second — and had faced the minimum because that batter was erased on a double-play ball.

His no-hitter was spoiled in the fifth, when Nelson Velazquez lined a single through the left side, and his shutout bid was ruined in the seventh, when Freddy Fermin added an RBI single.

But Rodon escaped further damage and got a ground out from MJ Melendez to strand a pair of runners in the seventh, giving the ball to a bullpen that would hold the lead.

On a night the Yankees proved they could win another way, Rodon once again proved he is a world away from the pitcher who bombed last season.

“I tried to flush it early on, but it’s hard to get that one out of your head,” Rodon said of last season’s KC disaster. “It wasn’t just one start, it was the culmination of the whole 2023 season.”