The Yankees and Royals started playing baseball on Tuesday night at 8:15 Eastern time. Five hours and change later, they finally wrapped it up around 1:25 in the morning with a man who wasn’t even on big league roster at the start of the series saving the ballgame with the bases loaded. So how did the Yankees get to that point, and how the hell did they even win?
The game started normally enough. Masahiro Tanaka retired the first eight batters in order while Edinson Volquez looked like he had absolutely nothing on the mound for Kansas City. Brett Gardner walked to start the ballgame, and Jacoby Ellsbury singled him to third. Then in a development that set the tone for the rest of the night, the Yankees blew a perfect scoring opportunity, as Gary Sanchez struck out, Didi Gregorius hit into a fielder’s choice at the plate, and Starlin Castro grounded out.
Aaron Judge mercifully did not waste time when he was given a chance in the second inning with Brian McCann on first after an opposite-field single. The imposing righty batter launched a Volquez pitch over 400 feet, well beyond the fence in left-center field. A few batters later, Gardner worked a two-out walk, and Ellsbury smoked a liner just fair down the right field line for an RBI double, putting the Yankees up by a score of 3-0.
The Yankees did manage to push a fourth run across, but they wasted countless chances to turn it into a blowout. They had the bases loaded with no one out thanks to three straight singles from Gregorius, Castro, and McCann. Chase Headley lifted a very deep fly ball to center that scored Gregorius and moved the other runners up. However, both Judge and Tyler Austin struck out to end the inning.
Tanaka’s streak was interrupted by a base hit up the middle from Raul Mondesi, Jr. Jarrod Dyson then launched a pitch into the right-center field gap for a triple that put the Royals on the board. While Lorenzo Cain struck out to strand Dyson, Kendrys Morales blasted a solo homer in the next inning to make it a 4-2 game, and Kansas City was only kept off the board in the fifth thanks to nice plays by Gardner. He threw out Alcides Escobar trying to stretch a single into a double and retired Christian Colon with a leaping catch at the left field wall.
The next hour was a wash, as the rain on the field made the conditions unplayable with more in the forecast. By the time the teams resumed at 11:05, the Yankees were handicapped since they couldn’t justifiably send Tanaka back to the mound after such a long wait. They completely squandered a chance for insurance runs with runners on second and third, no outs, and old friend Chien-Ming Wang on the hill in the sixth. Then, their faulty middle relief got them in trouble.
Adam Warren entered with Girardi hoping that he could bridge the gap to Dellin Betances. Instead, he failed to retired a single batter. Dyson hit a slow grounder toward second for an infield single, and Cain doubled him in to cut the deficit to one. Girardi played the matchups with southpaw Tommy Layne, who retired Eric Hosmer on a grounder but plunked Morales on an 0-2 count. Desperate for outs, Girardi turned to setup man Tyler Clippard early. Salvador Perez hit a rocket, but right at Headley, who turned a 5-4-3 double play to escape.
Clippard narrowly wiggled out of trouble in a long seventh, so Girardi tried to get just a couple batters out of him to cut some of Betances’ workload. It didn’t work, as he issued a leadoff walk to Cain, forcing Girardi to call on Betances for six outs anyway. Cain exploited his weakness by bolting for second base, and Gregorius couldn’t handle Sanchez’s short-hop throw, allowing Cain to move to third on the error.
One out later, Morales lifted the game-tying sacrifice fly, seemingly sentencing the Yankees to a grim fate. Betances could give them one more inning (and he did), but beyond him, the remainder of the bullpen was a sea of rookies and shaky options. If the Yankees wanted to win this game, they would really have to do so in a hurry.
Thankfully, Joakim Soria opened the door for them. Headley and McCann notched back-to-back singles to begin the 10th, presenting yet another scoring opportunity. Girardi pinch-hit for Judge and Austin in a late situation on Monday to no success, so he let them hit. Both rookies struck out. Soria was determined to let them score though, and he then uncorked a wild pitch and walked Gardner. At last, Ellsbury came up with the big hit (his fourth), a comebacker that deflected off Soria toward third. It was slow enough to score a run to put the Yankees in front, 5-4.
The adventure was far from over though. Although the Yankees scored, they continued the frustrating trend of the night by failing to bring home any more runs (Sanchez flew out with the bases loaded). Betances had already thrown two innings, so Girardi decided to gamble on the nerve-wracking middle relief. PSA Slack was doing well:
things going well on PSA slack pic.twitter.com/mHHYLzdq7t— Pinstripe Alley (@pinstripealley) August 31, 2016
In came rookie Ben Heller for his third career appearance. He got ahead of the leadoff man Mondesi, but with a chance to strike him out, he hit him in the foot. A few pitches later, he stole second on a pitch in the dirt, moving into scoring position. Dyson promptly smacked a single up the middle, though due to a stroke of luck, the fleet-footed Mondesi had to pause to make sure it went through, keeping him at third.
Nonetheless, Dyson swiped second uncontested, as the Yankees couldn't risk throwing through to let the tying run score. Heller surprisingly managed to strike Cain out, so Girardi decided to intentionally walk Hosmer with Morales due up next. That was a heart-palpitating experience on its own, Heller flirted with wild pitches on two of the tosses.
Heller managed to finish the walk, and Girardi replaced him with Chasen Shreve, who was just recalled earlier that day. It has been a struggle for Shreve in the majors all year long, as he had a 5.33 ERA and 6.26 FIP on the season in 29 games. Suddenly, he was back in the Show and staring down a slugger who had already gone deep once on the night. The bases were loaded, and there was no margin for error.
This whole sport is a funny game, though. Shreve struck Morales out on three pitches and after jumping ahead of Perez with a strike, the defending World Series MVP could only lift a fly ball to Ellsbury. The center fielder squeezed it, and somehow, some way, the Yankees won the ballgame. It was Shreve’s first career save, and his first at any level since 2014 with the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves.
So the Yankees survived and miraculously didn’t lose any ground in the Wild Card race. At least there isn’t a day game tomorrow. Luis Cessa will face former farmhand Ian Kennedy at 8:15 EST as the Yankees go for a series victory.