Yankees thump Royals as Red Sox test looms

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When general manager Brian Cashman showed up in Buffalo last week after the Yankees had dropped three straight and looked lost, he said the team needed to “become relevant again.”

This weekend, they’ll get their chance.

And that’s thanks to having won seven of nine since Cashman’s harsh words about his team, when it seemed Aaron Boone’s future might be up in the air.

On Thursday, the Yankees got homers from Aaron Judge, Luke Voit and Gary Sanchez and pounded the Royals, 8-1, to close out a homestand in The Bronx — giving them some momentum as they head to Boston to play the Red Sox on Friday night.

While the Red Sox and Rays battle for the top of the AL East, the Yankees have frequently found themselves more in a fight with the Blue Jays for third place.

They have an opportunity to change that with three games at Fenway Park and their offense gave them more reason to believe Thursday afternoon, teeing off on some miserable Kansas City pitching.

Behind Jameson Taillon, who pitched into the seventh inning, the Yankees pounded the Royals early and often against right-hander Brad Keller.

Judge opened the Yankees’ scoring with an opposite-field homer with one out in the first. It was his first homer since June 9. He reached base four times on Thursday

Sanchez followed with a single through the vacated right side of the infield and Giancarlo Stanton did the same to bring up Luke Voit. Voit skied one to center and the rejuvenated Sanchez got to third on the play. That paid off when Rougned Odor reached on an infield single, allowing Sanchez to score to make it 2-0. 

The Yankees added on in the second with back-to-back one-out walks by Tyler Wade and DJ LeMahieu followed by an RBI single by Judge. 

Voit hit his second homer in three games since returning from his IL stint, a solo shot in the third that made it 4-0.

Taillon held the Royals scoreless until the fifth.

Nicky Lopez started the inning with a single to center and Sebastian Rivero followed with his first major league hit — a double into the left-field corner that scored Lopez. Taillon walked Whit Merrifield to draw a visit from pitching coach Matt Blake.

Taillon then got a fly ball from Santana and a line drive to second from Perez that Odor turned into an unassisted double play to keep it 4-1. He allowed one run in 6 ⅓ innings and Nestor Cortes finished the game.

After the Yankees loaded the bases against Keller with one out in the fifth, Brett Gardner popped out and Wade struck out looking.

That was it for Keller, who needed 114 pitches to get through five innings.

Ex-Yankee Anthony Swarzak started the sixth and the Yankees wasted no time in increasing their lead.

LeMahieu opened with a single, Judge doubled and Sanchez blasted a three-run homer into the visiting bullpen in left-center.

Before the game, Aaron Boone said of his team, “I think we’re finding our way a little bit.”

“It’s certainly been a grind this year,’’ Boone continued. “There’s no question we’re digging out of that. We’re getting better and it’s really encouraging. I think the fight and character the guys have shown, especially late in games, they’ve found ways to win games.’’

To take that next step, though, they’ll have to figure out how to beat teams like the Red Sox, who swept a series at Yankee Stadium in June — part of a stretch of games that led to Cashman’s concern.

“We have not been that relevant powerhouse in the American League,’’ Cashman said in Buffalo. “We’ve been everything but.”

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