The Yankees showcased plenty of drama on Opening Day in the Bronx, walking things off in an 11-inning classic against the archrival Red Sox. The hero of the day turned out to be Josh Donaldson, making his team debut at third base, but to get there the team needed some support from the middle of their lineup and the ever-stalwart bullpen.
The game began with some fireworks, mainly centered on the first inning. Gerrit Cole took the ball as the Opening Day starter with around 70-80 pitches in his arsenal thanks to the shortened spring, and he used a good amount of them right off the bat. Cole walked Kiké Hernández on just four pitches before serving up a home run ball to Rafael Devers, putting the Red Sox up immediately. Xander Bogaerts singled to left and J.D. Martinez doubled to right to plate another run before Cole finally managed to put away Alex Verdugo for the fist out of the frame (with an accompanying mock cheer from the crowd for the effort). Cole got the next two batters to evade further trouble, but this was not the clean start that he or the Yankees wanted.
Nathan Eovaldi must have felt bad watching Cole get rocked out the gate, however, because he followed suit in the bottom half of the inning. Aaron Judge found a one-out single to right that set up Anthony Rizzo’s two-run blast, cutting the deficit right away. In the fourth inning, Giancarlo Stanton led off with a rocket solo home run to tie things up at three apiece:
Stanton’s shot was one that only he could hit out, a flick of the wrists that shot out of the park at 116.3 mph — without that velocity, this is a double off the wall at best for other hitters.
Cole’s day ended after just four innings, but it was a solid rebound to make it that far, given the circumstances. Chad Green got a double play in the fifth to post a clean frame, and Eovaldi closed out his afternoon by stranding a pair in the bottom half of the inning.
Clay Holmes would come on for the start of the sixth inning, but he was not in the sharp form that he displayed in the second half of 2021. Bogaerts doubled down the line to lead off, and after a Martinez groundout moved him to third, Verdugo singled home the run to give the Red Sox a 4-3 lead. Holmes got one more out and allowed another hit before handing the ball off to new Yankee Miguel Castro, who walked a batter but managed to escape further trouble with a strikeout of Christian Vázquez.
Meanwhile, another old friend entered the game: Garrett Whitlock. Boston’s surprise bullpen ace last year was back to torment his former organization, and for two innings he did just that. Whitlock struck out the side in the sixth inning, and in the seventh, he induced two weak outs from Judge and Rizzo after getting great defense out of Verdugo to rob Donaldson of a hit.
The Red Sox tried to stretch Whitlock out for a third inning, however, and DJ LeMahieu made him pay with a solo shot to the short porch. In doing so, LeMahieu managed to break through his robotic persona and showcased a little fire going around the bases:
LeMahieu brought us back to a tie, and that summoned Aroldis Chapman from the ‘pen for the ninth inning to preserve it. He started his first at-bat shaky, throwing a pair of pitches well out of the strike zone, but managed to get Bobby Dalbec to pop out before striking out a pair of batters with 100-mph heat. Hansel Robles made things interesting by giving up a double to Judge with two outs, but the Yankees couldn’t capitalize and the game went off into extra innings.
Thanks to some last-minute negotiating after the CBA was signed and spring training opened up, the ghost runner indeed made its way back into baseball as a regular season safety procedure. Thus, the Red Sox started the 10th off with a runner on second, and it would play a factor in this game. Michael King was called on to handle the inning, and he got a quick out from Hernández before intentionally walking Devers. Bogaerts flared a soft single to left field that allowed the extra runner to score, and then King shut the door on any further scoring with an inning-ending double-play.
The Yankees’ first crack at things with the ghost runner would prove fruitful as well. LeMahieu started things off by getting hit by a pitch, and after Joey Gallo grounded a ball to second that moved up both runners, Aaron Hicks was intentionally walked to load the bases. Gleyber Torres — who was surprisingly benched to start the year after all the talk of having to find playing time for LeMahieu’s starts — was brought up to pinch-hit. He came through, delivering a sacrifice fly to tie things at five. Isiah Kiner-Falefa couldn’t get the winning run in, and we went to the 11th.
Here at last, the Yankees conquered the ghost runner. King was excellent in his second inning of work, striking out Verdugo and new Boston second baseman Trevor Story (who went 0-for-5 in his Red Sox debut) before inducing a groundout out of Dalbec. The stage was set for a walk-off to end this debacle, and Donaldson wasted no time in jumping on a pitch to lead off the bottom half of the frame. Donaldson’s single landed right in front of Hernández in center, but Kiner-Falefa was off to the races on contact and made it home easily to secure the victory. The duo secured a highlight moment in their first game wearing the pinstripes, and the Yankees secured their first extra-inning walk-off on Opening Day since 1908 (and first of any kind since 1957).
After such a disastrous start to the season, picking up a win in this game is a great boost to the morale. It’s just one of 162, but getting a win when everything does not go your way already feels like the team has turned the page on 2021.
Let’s see what the rest of the weekend has in store. Luis Severino will get the ball for his first start since the 2019 ALCS tomorrow afternoon, and he’ll face Boston right-hander Nick Pivetta. First pitch is at 4:05pm ET.