The Yankees could have hardly scripted the start to this season any better.
With Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Red Sox, they’ve won five straight and their lineup looks to be as good as advertised.
Now, they just have to see if this crazy, 60-game season will actually be played.
In the meantime, they’ll go for the series sweep over Boston on Sunday in The Bronx.
Aaron Judge’s first-inning homer and Gio Urshela’s grand slam an inning later sparked the offense with five early runs for Masahiro Tanaka, who made his debut after returning from a concussion suffered last month when he was hit in the head by a Giancarlo Stanton liner in a simulated game.
And then Aaron Boone left it to some lesser-known names in the bullpen to protect the lead.
As pitchers drop around the league, Boone said he’s being careful with his high-leverage bullpen arms, which is why Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino weren’t available.
“We’re trying to be smart here early on and build them up,’’ Boone said. “We know we have to lean on some other guys from time to time.”
Especially with Tommy Kahnle gone and Aroldis Chapman still out.
After Boston cut the lead to 5-2 in the third when Tanaka gave up a double to Xander Bogaerts, Boone went with left-hander Luis Avilan to face the lefty-swinging Mitch Moreland. Avilan responded by getting a strikeout to keep it a three-run game.
The Yankees squandered a chance to pad their lead in the fourth when Gleyber Torres flied to left with the bases loaded to end the inning.
While Avilan was the first of the lesser bullpen arms Boone turned to on Saturday, the most notable may have been Nick Nelson, who made his MLB debut and delivered three scoreless innings to earn the victory.
A starter in the minors, the 24-year-old was a fourth-round pick and finished last season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He could play a variety of roles this season, according to Boone.
He got some help from Urshela, who showed off all facets of his game.
In addition to the homer, Urshela caught the Red Sox napping after his walk in the fourth and stole a base. Then Urshela displayed his defense.
Nelson got the final out of the top of the sixth when Christian Vazquez hit a grounder down the third-base line. Urshela fielded it and while going into foul territory, fired a perfect throw to Voit at first.
“He’s a good player,’’ Boone said of Urshela. “We’ve seen that since the beginning of last year. He had the big blow tonight.”
It was Urshela’s first career grand slam and his second homer in as many games as his success against the Red Sox continues.
Since joining the Yankees last season, Urshela is 22-for-57 (.386) with eight doubles, five home runs and 16 RBIs in 18 games versus Boston.
The lead provided by Judge and Urshela stood up, in part, because David Hale — who replaced Nelson to open the eighth — pitched two shutout innings to close it out.
At 6-1, the Yankees and 4-3 Orioles (the Orioles!) are the only teams in the AL East with a winning record and the Yanks are set to face reeling Boston again Sunday before they are scheduled to play a Phillies team for four games starting Monday that hasn’t played since last Sunday due to coronavirus concerns.