Well, this could have been disaster from the word go. It started with a lineup that looked like it was drawn out of a hat: Brett Gardner, DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Mike Ford occupying the first four spots with Kyle Higashioka in for Gary Sánchez is... unorthodox to say the least. But as they say, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over and man am I glad I stuck around.
The Yankees gave us a glimmer of hope in the top of the first. Gardner drew a leadoff walk and Judge followed suit, with the pair displaying a noticeably patient approach in the early going, particularly in two-strike counts. Gleyber Torres scrapped that trend, whiffing on a 3-2 cutter at chin-height, though thankfully, his night got better from there.
Domingo Germán’s first inning of work picked up right where his previous start left off. He surrendered a one-out single to Cesar Hernandez, a double to José Ramírez, and a single to Eddie Rosario that plated Hernandez. A shaky defense compounded his problems, as Hernandez’s single bounced off Gardner’s sliding catch attempt, Rosario’s sharp grounder caromed off Mike Ford’s glove, and Germán was unable to field a Franmil Reyes comebacker. Josh Naylor singled to the right side, scoring Rosario from second. Four hits, one error, and 26 poorly-located pitches later, Cleveland owned a 3-0 first inning lead, with fears already beginning to creep in that such a deficit would be insurmountable given the state of the Yankees offense.
Germán’s fastball velocity was down two-to-three ticks in the first. Other than that, it was same story as his previous two starts — missing spots and getting punished. He could do nothing with a particularly generous strike zone from home plate ump Will Little, and it appeared this one could get ugly the longer he pitched.
The Yankees notched their first run in the third. Higashioka doubled to right and was singled home on a LeMahieu single to left. *Gasp* a hit with RISP, imagine that! But wait, they weren’t finished yet. Ford walked to put runners on first and second, and Torres came through with a clutch single punched out to right-center. Josh Naylor must’ve been feeling in a giving mood, because he booted the ball all the way to the center-field wall, allowing LeMahieu and Ford to score and Torres to advance to third. Just like that it was 3-3. Was this the kind of jolt a scuffling offense needed to get them heading in the right direction? I hope so.
After the Yankees went 1-2-3 in the second, Germán managed to settle down, navigating around a leadoff single by Andrés Giménez. In the third, Reyes crushed a long fly ball off the left-center field wall which Aaron Hicks misplayed, allowing Reyes to advance to third. Naylor continued with his generosity by striking out on a pitch over his head, allowing Germán to escape the inning unscathed.
The Yankees went quietly in the fourth and fifth, but the Cleveland offense matched them step-for-step. Hicks singled in the sixth knocking Civale out of the game and... I’m not sure I can recall the last opposite-field hit for Hicks batting left-handed. Frazier and Higashioka worked back-to-back walks to load the bases for Brett Gardner, but he grounded out to strand three ducks on the pond.
Germán retired seven in a row starting with Ramírez to end the fourth, and became only the third Yankees starter after Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery to go at least six innings this season. He didn’t pitch much better than the disastrous first innings, but rather got bailed out by Cleveland batters who were no longer punishing his mistakes. His final line: six innings, seven hits, three runs (two earned), one walk, and six strikeouts.
The Yankees once again loaded the bases in the seventh with walks from Judge and Hicks sandwiching a Torres single (notching his first multi-hit game of the season). Odor notched the second clutch hit of his Yankees career, grounding a single up the middle to plate Judge and Torres and give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. Unfortunately, Frazier decided to take a James Karinchak 3-2 fastball right down Broadway to end the threat. Boone brought Mike Tauchman in as his defensive replacement and honestly, I don’t blame him.
Jonathan Loaisiga came in for the seventh trying to preserve the Yankees’ hard-fought two run lead. He continued his quietly-dominant start to the season — the only blemish on the card being Hernandez’s third hit of the game. I hope to have more on his development into a high-leverage arm at the end of the week. For now though, I’m happy to commend his scoreless inning.
I’m also happy to admit that Higashioka proved my early doubt wrong, as he pummeled a solo shot to dead center field. The fact that he left the yard to straight away when noted sluggers Reyes and Rosario saw their own blasts fall short of the mark boggles the mind. The 420-foot tater left Higgy’s bat at 105.6 mph, giving him his third of the year and the Yankees a 6-3 lead. Chad Green worked a clean, ten-pitch bottom of the inning to hold serve.
In the ninth, Torres collected his third hit of the night in a perfect response to his detractors and their unnecessary criticisms of his effort. The Yankees loaded the bases for the third time in the game with Odor’s second single of the game and a Tauchman infield single. However, a Higgy strikeout and Gardy pop out left them juiced.
Aroldis Chapman came in to try and secure the save, and boy does it feel good to say that. He was his usual filth-sauce self, striking out the side on a putrid slider to Perez, and overpowering 100 and 101-mph fastballs to Luplow and Hernandez. That gives Chapman six strikeouts on ten splitters thrown, which is absurd, and bumps his overall strikeout rate over 70 percent. Video game stuff.
Aroldis Chapman, 3Ks.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 23, 2021
16Ks in 6IP this season. pic.twitter.com/yE5SUIhgC9
Boy, did the Yankees need this one! As I said above, this could be just the offensive breakout needed to spur the bats out of the team-wide slump. We’ll see if they can carry that momentum over to tomorrow’s matchup. Jordan Montgomery is set to face Logan Allen, first pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET so be sure to join us in the game thread.