The journeyman McKinney, who spent the season’s first two months at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, slugged a three-run home run in the fourth inning to put the Yankees up for good in their 5-4 home win over lowly Kansas City.
Filling in for the banged-up Harrison Bader in center field, McKinney also made a sliding catch in the third inning and a leaping grab against the wall in the 7th to rob the Royals of extra-base hits.
Kansas City had taken a 3-1 lead on a Michael Massey three-run homer in the top of the fourth before McKinney answered with his blast against Royals rookie Alec Marsh in the bottom of the frame.
“After we lose the lead there … for us to just answer back, and obviously Billy with the big swing there, I think was settling for us,” manager Aaron Boone said.
Yankees rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe also delivered a critical defensive gem. With the tying run at second base and two outs in the ninth inning, the Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr. pulled a hard ground ball against reliever Clay Homes. Volpe ranged deep into the hole, slid to collect the ball and fired a dart to DJ LeMahieu at third base.
LeMahieu tagged Drew Waters, who was called out after an umpire review to end the game.
“I knew I was going to have to be quick,” Volpe said. “I just saw him going, so I kind of reacted.”
The win over the Royals — who, at 28-71, are the second-worst MLB team — was much-needed for the Yankees, who were coming off a road trip in which they dropped two of three to the NL-worst Rockies before being swept by the middling, Mike Trout-less Angels. New York also lost series this month to the Cardinals, who were in last place in the NL Central at the time, and the Cubs, who are also below .500.
McKinney debuted with the Yankees in 2018 but only played two games with them before being traded to the Blue Jays that season. He also played with the Brewers, Mets, Dodgers and A’s before returning to the Yankees.
The 28-year-old McKinney continues to provide a spark for a Yankees outfield that’s missing reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge, as well as contributors Jake Bauers and Greg Allen. McKinney is hitting .247 — well above his .209 career average — since being called up in early June. His home run Friday was his fifth of the season.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind, but this isn’t my first kind of crazy season,” McKinney said. “I know it’s cliche, but the one-day-at-a-time [mantra], I really do take it like that.”
The Yankees are now 51-47 but remain in last place in the loaded AL East. Friday was the Yankees’ first home game since the All-Star break and their first time wearing Starr Insurance patches on their jersey sleeves in a corporate sponsorship.
Clarke Schmidt started for New York and retired the first nine Royals batters. The right-hander improved to 6-6 after hurling 5.2 innings and allowing three runs. Kansas City added a run in the eighth inning against Tommy Kahnle on a solo shot by Massey in his first-ever multi-homer game.
Franchy Cordero and Gleyber Torres hit solo homers for the Yankees. Their blasts also came against Marsh, who fell to 0-4 in his fourth career start.
Bader left Wednesday’s game against the Angels with bruised ribs after being hit by a pitch. Boone said before Friday’s game that Bader was doing well and could be an option off the bench, but he didn’t play.
The Yankees had dropped nine of their previous 11 games entering Friday. Another win this weekend would give the Yankees their first series victory of July.
All-Star Game starter Gerrit Cole, who is 9-2 with a 2.78 ERA this season, is scheduled to pitch Saturday afternoon against Kansas City’s Brady Singer, who is 6-8 with a 5.70 ERA.