CHICAGO — Where would the Yankees be without Clarke Schmidt and Isiah Kiner-Falefa?
It’s not a question many expected to be asking in August before this season began.
And even though the Yankees, with 48 games left, still are not where they want to be, their plight might be even worse without the important contributions of Schmidt and Kiner-Falefa.
Schmidt delivered another strong outing and Kiner-Falefa provided the key hit in a four-run fourth inning that lifted the Yankees to a 7-1 win over the White Sox on Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.
A night after they suffered a brutal 5-1 loss to the reeling White Sox (46-69), the Yankees (59-55) rebounded to get back within 4 ½ games of the final AL playoff spot.
It was still not a perfect night for their offense, which left 10 men on base and struck out 17 times.
But after the Yankees had stranded 28 runners over their previous two games combined, Kiner-Falefa’s two-run double was the big hit they had been missing.
The hit sparked a four-run fourth inning that proved to be more than enough to give the Yankees a chance to win the series on Wednesday.
“That was big,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I was telling [hitting coach] Sean Casey before the game, getting these runners on, I just want to see a ball roll to the wall, and that happened. That was big and to throw a four-run inning up there was nice. Close to even being a bigger breakout night for us, but certainly pleased with overall the amount of production we got from a lot of guys.”
Harrison Bader added a three-hit night, while Kyle Higashioka hit a two-run home run and Aaron Judge crushed a solo homer in the eighth inning to create some breathing room.
For Judge, who also drew three walks, it was his second home run in 11 games since his return from the injured list.
That was plenty of support for Schmidt, who gave up just one run across 5 ¹/₃ innings, while continuing to give the Yankees consistency at a time when their thinning rotation needs it most.
Schmidt has now allowed three runs or fewer in 14 straight starts and his 19 overall starts of that variety are the fourth-most in the majors this season.
“Being able to be consistent down the stretch is something that I want to hold tight to my chest,” Schmidt said. “Especially after the adversity in the beginning of the year, taking some shots on the chin and being able to answer the bell a little bit was big for me. It feels good to be able to go on this run.”
When spring training began, Schmidt was not expected to have a spot in the Yankees’ rotation.
Six months later, amid injuries, unavailability or ineffectiveness from among Carlos Rodon, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes, Domingo German and Frankie Montas, Schmidt has been the Yankees’ second-best starter behind ace Gerrit Cole.
“He’s been, after Gerrit, that guy we’ve been able to kind of hang our hat on,” Boone said. “It’s been two-three months now of really consistently good starts. It’s been fun to watch his growth.”
Schmidt left the game in the sixth inning with runners on the corners, but Michael King came in and struck out Yoan Moncada and Andrew Vaughn to end the threat.
King went on to punch out five over 2 ²/₃ innings, looking as good as he has all season, before handing it off to Jonathan Loaisiga in the ninth.
Loaisiga, in his first appearance since April 5 following elbow surgery, hit 99 mph during a perfect frame to close out the win.
Kiner-Falefa, who said he was still mad at himself for flying out to leave the bases loaded as a pinch-hitter in the loss Monday, found redemption on Tuesday.
The valuable utilityman, who started at third base, came to the plate in the fourth inning after back-to-back singles by Giancarlo Stanton and Billy McKinney and roped his double to the gap.
That hit put the Yankees up 2-0 and sent them on their way.
“It felt good to just break the ice right there and start things up,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I feel like those are opportunities I thrive in and I wasn’t able to get the job done in that situation [Monday]. For me, it was getting another opportunity in that situation with guys on and I was ready for the opportunity this time.”