With Robbie Ray pitching for the Blue Jays in their game against the Rays, this game became even more of a must-win scenario for the Yankees, and that’s exactly what they did. Gary Sánchez’s home run set the tone early, the bullpen pitched lights-out, and Aroldis Chapman locked down the save.
Things got off to a shaky start with Néstor Cortes Jr. on the mound. He allowed back-to-back singles to Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Andy Ibáñez followed by a wild pitch to put runners on second and third with no outs before fans could even settle into their seats. However, he lived up to his “Nasty” moniker by striking out the next three batters to escape unscathed.
Nestor Cortes, 3Ks in the 1st. pic.twitter.com/XoSGszZLI3— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 20, 2021
Gary Sánchez opened the scoring in the bottom of the second. He yanked a middle-up 3-1 fastball just over the porch in left to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. For those who have witnessed Sánchez’s periodic offensive struggles over the last couple years, the fact that he is able to pull an elevated fastball with power is a welcome sign.
In a departure from a trend we’ve seen in far too many games this season, the Yankees were able to hang a crooked number on the board by cashing in with runners on base in the third.
DJ LeMahieu walked and Anthony Rizzo punched a single to left to put two on with one out. Aaron Judge lined a single to center, scoring LeMahieu, and Leody Taveras’ sailed throw home allowed the runner to move up. Giancarlo Stanton drove Rizzo home with a sacrifice fly, and after a Joey Gallo walk, Gleyber Torres singled Judge home to make it 4-0, Yankees.
Cortes’ outing hit a wall in the fifth, one that would ultimately knock him from the game. He surrendered a leadoff solo shot to Charlie Culberson that banged off the left-field foul pole, followed by back-to-back doubles by Taveras and Kiner-Falefa. Before fans had a chance to blink, the Yankees’ lead had been cut in half. After getting Ibáñez to lineout, Aaron Boone yanked Cortes for Chad Green.
Cortes was cruising through four, but the stuff and command degraded very quickly. He had lost two to three ticks off the fastball by the fifth, the breaking balls had flattened out, and way too many pitches were left in hittable spots. It looked like he had brought his wipeout stuff from the 11-strikeout gem against Baltimore, and it was alarming to see it disappear so suddenly mid-outing. His final line on the night: 4.1 innings, four hits, three runs, two walks, and seven strikeouts on 92 pitches.
Green came on and after a wild pitch, surrendered a sac fly to Adolis García to make it 4-3, Yankees. He otherwise had an encouraging five-out appearance after his string of allowing a home run in three straight outings. Clay Holmes entered for the seventh and repeated Green’s feat, retiring five of the six batters he faced. Joely Rodríguez cleaned up the end of the eighth by getting the final out.
With the Yankees’ lineup unfortunately calling it a day after the three-run outburst in the third and then going quietly in the home half of the eighth, it was up to Chapman to preserve the one-run lead. He handled the bottom of the Rangers’ order without much difficulty to nail down the save and secure the victory.
The Blue Jays eventually lost to the Rays, so the Yankees picked up a crucial game in the Wild Card race, plus a half-game on the Red Sox, who were off on Monday. Boone’s ballclub now sits a half-game back of the second spot.
Tomorrow, Jordan Montgomery will face Dane Dunning in game two of this series. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, so be sure to join us in the game thread.