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Aaron Hicks could be Yankees' difference-maker in pursuit of Red Sox

From ESPN - August 11, 2017

NEW YORK -- With three showdowns in four weeks against their closest pursuer for the division title, the Boston Red Sox jiggered their starting rotation to make sure ace Chris Sale will pitch in all three series. But the New York Yankees might have a secret weapon of their own.

Get to know Aaron Hicks.

Or at least get reacquainted with him.

Though he was largely overshadowed by another Aaron -- you know, the power forward-sized slugger who hit gargantuan home runs and inspired his own rooting section in right field at Yankee Stadium -- Hicks was having a breakout season when he checked a swing in the third inning June 25. He strained an oblique muscle in his right side and sat out the next 39 games, during which the Yankees were 19-20 and went from being tied for first place to four games behind.

But Hicks finally returned this week and was in the lineup for Friday night's series opener against the Red Sox. And he wasted little time making an impact. Not only did Hicks hit a two-run homer that brought the Yankees to within one run in a five-run eighth inning, but he made a one-hop throw from left field to third base to double up Eduardo Nunez on a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning. The play bailed out erratic closer Aroldis Chapman and helped preserve a had-to-have-it 5-4 victory for the Yankees.

"Big-time -- I mean, big-time -- throw," fellow outfielder Brett Gardner said. "If he's safe right there, I think the next play is a sac fly and the game is tied, right? Who knows how it would play out? Just a game-changer on both sides of the ball. We are glad to have him back."

For any number of reasons, ranging from Hicks' 11 homers in 210 at-bats to his .909 OPS and his strong outfield arm. But then there's this: The switch-hitting 27-year-old is batting .292 with a .395 on-base percentage against left-handed starting pitchers this season. He has always hit lefties better than righties, and the Red Sox's rotation is chock-full of lefties, from Sale and injured David Price to Friday night's starter Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz, who will take the mound Saturday.

The Red Sox can rest assured, then, that they will get a heavy dose of Hicks over the next few weeks. He's 7-for-21 (.333) in five games against them this season but was absent from a four-game series at Fenway Park last month when the Yankees scored only 11 runs in 43 innings.

"It definitely sucked not being able to play with my team. It did not feel good," Hicks said. "But now that I am back, it feels good to be around the guys and see their smiling faces again."

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