Baseball is such a stupid magical game. One moment, you’re grumbling to the cat about how the bullpen is driving you up a wall and that the Yankees are inexplicably about to lose their third game out of the four to the likes of the Brewers and Pirates. Then, in the span of just over 10 minutes, you’re screaming like Lucille Bluth seeing Gene Parmesan.
What caused this fit of madness? The Yankees were trailing the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth, 8-4, when Aaron Judge led off with his 60th homer of the season. The Yankee Stadium crowd was thrilled, but that merely raised the Yankees’ win expectancy (per FanGraphs) to 3.7 percent. In 96 out of 100 scenarios, No. 60 is a moment of delight to bask in Judge’s historic achievement, but only a brief respite before a Yankees loss. Blessedly, the Yankees had other plans, and they loaded the bases for the mostly-slumbering Giancarlo Stanton.
Big G erupted for a 118-mph missile that sailed over the left-field wall for a walk-off grand slam.
It’s now over half an hour later, and I can still hardly believe it. To properly capture this strange sensation, we must channel our inner Jack Shephard. We have to go back.
Despite making just his second career start, Pirates right-hander Luis Ortiz did his part by keeping both Judge and the Yankees off the board in the first four innings. No. 99 put the ball on the ground twice in his two initial at-bats, and the Yankees didn’t have a hit until Gleyber Torres singled in the fourth. Ortiz kept the Yankees off balance, striking out five and issuing only a walk to Stanton as the game entered the fifth.
On the other side, Nestor Cortes was solid if not spectacular, albeit while needing every inch of left field to keep the Buccos from putting up a crooked number. He threw a perfect first, but in the second, he had to strike out Greg Allen to escape a first-and-second, two-out jam. While the next inning was quiet, the fourth could have caused some serious damage. With one out, Diego Castillo and Kevin Newman got back-to-back singles, and Oneil Cruz battled Cortes to work his second walk of the ballgame.
The bases were loaded with one out, and this time, the former Yankee Allen caused a serious scare:
The 360-foot fly ball died in Oswaldo Cabrera’s glove on a nice leaping catch in his second professional start out in left. Although a run scored on the sacrifice fly, with just a little more oomph, it could’ve been a grand slam for Allen. Thankfully for Cortes, it wasn’t enough, and he got Jason Delay to fly out to end the frame.
Cortes stretched out for one more frame, tossing a scoreless fifth. The Yankees let him throw 87 pitches, by far his most since returning from the IL on September 8th. The final line: five innings of one-run ball with five hits, two walks, and four strikeouts. It was decent enough, but given the weak opposition, enough to raise at least an eyebrow for glass-half-empty fans.
The offense got Cortes off the hook in the home half of the fifth with a rally that was lent a key assist from the Pirates’ defense. Cabrera crushed a deep drive into right-center field, and though center fielder Bryan Reynolds and the right fielder Castillo converged, confusion ensued; the ball ticked off Reynolds’ glove for a three-base error. Making his Yankees debut, trade deadline acquisition Harrison Bader brought Cabrera in with a single through the left side.
Shortly afterward, Jose Trevino scored Bader on a single to center that Reynolds nearly caught. Much to Pittsburgh’s chagrin, it was a trap and Bader had a good read on the ball — he never hesitated and came around to put New York up, 2-1. A Judge walk put two on and one out for Anthony Rizzo and Torres, but neither player could plate Trevino.
So it remained a one-run game, and in what became a recurring problem on Tuesday night, the Yankees’ bullpen was not up to snuff. Ron Marinaccio was the first man out in the sixth, and of the four batters he faced, two reached base, as pinch-hitter Jack Suwinski singled and Cruz walked for the third time on the night. Lou Trivino relieved the rookie and promptly surrendered a double to the left-center-field gap by the catcher Delay. Allowing the No. 9 hitter on one of the worst teams in baseball is beat you is a big ol’ no-no for a reason, and the Pirates took the lead back at 3-2.
The Yankees had an answer in the bottom of the sixth. Josh Donaldson led off with a single, Cabrera got a one-out walk, and the Pirates’ battery combined to offer New York a gift, as Duane Underwood Jr. hooked one low and Delay didn’t do a good job of keeping it in front of him. The wild pitch moved the runners up and encouraged Pirates skipper Derek Shelton to bring the infield in for Bader again. Just as he did an inning prior, Bader slashed one through the defense:
Bader’s two-run single gave him three RBI in his first game in pinstripes and put the Yankees back ahead, 4-3. The inning could have offered something special too, as more sloppy Pirates defense and a Trevino single loaded the bases for Judge. A grand slam for No. 60 was on everyone’s minds and probably would have set a decibel record for new Yankee Stadium, but it wasn’t to be. Underwood pulled off the upset by striking Judge out on a 3-2 pitch, and Rizzo grounded to first, ending the rally.
The lead didn’t survive Trivino’s first pitch of the seventh. Reynolds absolutely clobbered it, sending it 424 feet into the second deck in right field, tying the game at four runs apiece. Trivino then walked Rodolfo Castro, forcing Aaron Boone to call uncle on this outing. Trivino has mostly been solid since coming over from Oakland, but this wasn’t a game that will be on his end-of-season highlight reel. Jonathan Loáisiga cleaned up for Trivino, allowing a walk to Suwinski but otherwise doing the job, striking out Cruz with a runner in scoring position to end it.
Loáisiga went back to the bump in the eighth, and the Yankees’ defense decided to join the bullpen in playing down to the competition. Delay — again, the No. 9 hitter on a cellar-dweller — walked with one out, and then Rizzo uncharacteristically made a fielding faux pas. Ke’Bryan Hayes grounded to first and Rizzo decided to cut down the potential go-ahead run at second. He lost his grip and threw the ball into left field. That put runners on the corners with one out for Reynolds, and on a terrible night for the ‘pen, that was a near-death sentence.
Reynolds singled to give the Pirates the lead ...
... and when the struggling Clay Holmes entered, Castro dropped the hammer with a three-run homer.
Yeah, that’s not going to give Holmes or Boone much confidence at all. It might have been a Short Porch Special, but that’s the name of the game when you’re playing at Yankee Stadium, and when Holmes is in All-Star form, he’s putting balls on the ground. That homer can’t happen.
The Castro long ball would’ve been the end of the story in most games, but Tuesday night in the Bronx was one for the ages. Aroldis Chapman kept the score at 8-4 into the bottom of the ninth, and then things got out of hand for Pittsburgh and company. Wil Crowe saw the work of the Yankees’ bullpen and seemed to think that he could top it. First came the milestone heroics from Judge, who surely would have had a dismissive quote about reaching 60 damn home runs if the Yankees lost.
You can read more about Judge’s 60th shot here, but it of course tied Babe Ruth on the all-time single-season list and made him just one of three American League players to ever hit 60 alongside Ruth and Roger Maris. The Maris sons were in attendance and should continue to be around as Judge chases their father’s AL and Yankees record of 61. Also, Judge is now leading the league in batting average at .316 and pacing all three Triple Crown categories in his bid for just the second such feat since 1967. What a fun little aside!
However, this night only became truly wild after Judge reached 60. The heart of the Yankees’ lineup refused to settle for an 8-5 loss. Rizzo laced a double to center, keeping the pressure on Crowe. The righty reliever then walked Torres on five pitches and coughed up a soft single to Donaldson to load the bases. Stanton stepped to the plate as the winning run, but also as the man hitting a meager 9-for-72 (.125) since coming off the IL in August. Although there was undoubtedly hope, there was plenty of uncertainty.
The nice thing about employing Giancarlo Stanton is that even in a slump, he can unleash a swing like this:
Ballgame and a 9-8 Yankees win that none of us should ever forget. Combined with the Donaldson walk-off slam on August 17th against the Rays, it’s only the second time in MLB history that a team has clubbed two such game-winners in a single season. The Yankees improbably maintained their 5.5-game AL East lead over the smashing Blue Jays and reduced their magic number to clinch the division to 10.
I don’t know how tomorrow night could possibly top this one, but on Wednesday, Judge aims for No. 61 (and more?) while Luis Severino makes his return to the Yankees’ rotation. He will take on former Baby Bomber Roansy Contreras after a two-month stint on the IL. Although capturing the AL East is paramount, a win and an Orioles loss to the Tigers will secure a playoff berth. Sevy is set to throw his first MLB pitch since July 13th at 7:05pm ET.