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Yankees 8, Rays 7: Josh Donaldson’s signature moment

A walk off grand slam could be everything this team needs.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Donaldson hit a walk off grand slam to beat the Rays in the tenth inning. The Yankees win, 8-7. The win probability chart resembles a roller coaster that would likely be illegal to build. Baseball is fun again.

It is the most improbable outcome. We sat through an hour-long rain delay that bisected the seventh inning. Aroldis Chapman set this game on fire after the Yankees battled back to tie the game. He allowed three runs in the top of the tenth. The Yankees are fresh off some of the most uninspired extra innings games in recent memory. Donaldson himself has looked dreadful lately, with just one good game in August, coming against the Mariners.

And yet, after Gleyber Torres singled and Anthony Rizzo walked, none of that mattered. I’ve talked before on this site how Donaldson belongs in the avant garde of hitters, that elite group of sluggers who, a decade ago, rediscovered that the best outcome of your at-bat cannot be a hard hit ground ball up the middle. The one thing he could not do in that moment was hit a ground ball.

And he didn’t.

We are cancelling the baseball apocalypse.

The first sixish innings of the game were a drag. Domingo Germán was solid, but unspectacular, having issues with José Siri and Yandy Díaz, the latter of whom drove in three runs with a pair of RBI doubles. Germán’s six strikeouts in just 4.2 IP raised some eyebrows, in a positive way, and he’s seemingly embraced the “just throw the ball over the plate” approach we’ve seen other pitchers lean into over the past couple years.

Oswaldo Cabrera is a very aesthetically pleasing baseball player. High socks, nice stain on the bat, uses a Wilson glove and not a Rawlings, I’m a fan. The newest Yankee infielder of course made his major league debut tonight, in front of his parents, and although he didn’t quite get into the hit column, the one batted ball he produced had an exit velo of 104.4 mph.

His swing looked quick and compact, and I imagine any issues he has will be with timing and pitch identification, not swing plane or mechanics. And, of course, he had a terrific reaction to his first roll call:

The Yankees were really unable to do anything for the first five innings, a disconcerting trend lately. Corey Kluber had come into play with an ERA above seven since the All-Star break, and his command wasn’t really that great tonight, but the club just couldn’t make contact on pitches they should:

This is every pitch from Kluber the Yankees whiffed on tonight, and we know that his breaking ball still has some crazy movement. But here’s the thing: none of these pitches are breaking balls, and those five over the middle of the plate are all cutters. Kluber’s got the lowest walk rate of his career, you know the ball is going to be over the plate and that he doesn’t have the velo he used to. Contact is the name of the game against a pitcher like this, especially on pitches over the middle like that.

Now, they were able to scratch across a couple against the Klubot. In the sixth, Aaron Judge lucked out on a double when Randy Arozarena dove for a ball he shouldn’t have, and Gleyber Torres made them pay:

An inning later, Judge and Gleyber were the center of attention again, when Judge walked with the bases loaded on four pitches to make it 4-3. Unfortunately, Torres swung at the first pitch of his AB, bouncing into a double play and ending the threat.

This team has become so reliant on the top third of the lineup that it feels like, when they’re not due up, there’s not a lot of hope. Anthony Rizzo has been struggling since battling on-and-off back issues the last two weeks, but he injected some hope that other spots in the order could be counted on:

And then there were the non-fun things, the things that reminded us all that the deal we struck with the Baseball Devil to get Joey Gallo off the roster was perhaps not a deal that was in our best interests. Scott Effross was dealing in the ninth, and got the first out in the tenth, before Aaron Boone made an ... interesting decision to go to Chapman. The hit that hurt Chapman wasn’t really the problem — it was a weak little squirt down the right field line, more luck than anything else.

What got Chapman in trouble, and necessitated such a dramatic ending from Donaldson, was the two walks he allowed to a pair of hitters who both had OPSs below .600. It was clear right from the moment he took the rubber that he didn’t have it:

Nothing close, nothing tempting. Every relief pitcher has bad nights, but I can’t think of relievers so frequently trusted in big spots who can just lose everything, so quickly, from pitch number one.

I’m going to post the Donaldson home run one more time, because it’s immediately on a short list of the best moments of the season.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is the location of the pitch:

That’s 97 mph. Up and on the outer third. If you try to pull this ball, you wrap around it and probably hit into a double play. Donaldson, even if he’s lost some of his bat speed, he’s one of the most cerebral and self aware hitters in the game. Get the ball in the air, to right field, game’s over.

This is exactly what the Yankees needed. Two comebacks capped off by one of the most dramatic moments of the season. Two rookies in the lineup, counted on to make real impacts — we didn’t even talk about Estevan Florial’s terrific, run-saving shoestring catch in center. The AL East lead is back to double digits, and if the Yankees can capitalize on this momentum against the Jays this weekend, they can bury Toronto’s already floundering division chances. José Berríos will take on Frankie Montas, with first pitch from the Stadium coming at 7:05pm Eastern.

Box Score