After a disappointing series against the division rival Blue Jays, the Yankees returned to the Bronx hoping to right the ship against a sluggish Chicago White Sox team. Four games later, they do indeed appear to be back on track, as they ended up with three wins in the four-game set, finishing off the series victory with a 6-1 triumph on Sunday afternoon.
Joe Girardi gave the ball to rookie Luis Severino, and the 21-year-old delivered another superlative performance. He allowed five hits and a walk but did not allow a single run to score during his six innings of work. The pressure was on, too, as the Yankees never gave him better than a 1-0 lead while he was on the mound. Nonetheless, Severino stayed tough, even when the White Sox posed serious threats.
Severino stranded Melky Cabrera on second in the fourth after the former Yankees outfielder doubled. An opportunity with runners on first and second with no one out in the fifth was squelched with Severino's defense when he induced a 3-6-1 double play from catcher Rob Brantly and handled a quick comebacker from Carlos Sanchez. The top of the sixth brought the greatest challenge of the day as Severino neared the end of his day while suspect middle relief warmed in the Yankees bullpen. Adam Eaton walked with one out, and Jose Abreu smacked a single to left-center. Cabrera was due up, always a menace with his .778 career OPS at Yankee Stadium. Unrattled, Severino's 99th and final pitch of the game was his best; Melky bounced one to Didi Gregorius, who turned a double play to escape the jam. This phenom certainly looks like someone who would not be perturbed by the bright lights of playoff baseball, to say the least.
It was a weird day at the plate for the Yankees' offense, as they seemed to always have runners on against White Sox starter Erik Johnson, but struggled to score runs until late. They took advantage of sloppy first base defense by Abreu, who bobbled two balls in the first while making poor throws to the covering Johnson and allowed both Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran to reach base in the first after Jacoby Ellsbury's leadoff single. (Abreu also seemed to hurt himself on Gardner's grounder, but he remained in the game.) Brian McCann lifted a sacrifice fly to score the first run, but a Greg Bird strikeout and Dustin Ackley fly ball ended the chance.
Even more runners were stranded in scoring position until the sixth, after the big double play from Cabrera that ended the top of the frame. Ackley led off the inning by continuing his Bronx renaissance with a solo homer to the second deck in right field. Shortly thereafter, the Yankees loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, as Johnson clearly looked to be out of gas with his location fading and his pitch count approaching 120. However, Robin Ventura left him in the game for some reason, and he uncorked a wild pitch with Beltran up to score the Yankees' third run. Johnson then walked Beltran, ending his afternoon. Zach Putnam left the bases loaded by fanning McCann.
The White Sox got on the board thanks to pinch-hit homer by Avisail Garcia against Justin Wilson in the seventh, only the third homer allowed all year long by the lefty. That was the only baserunner allowed by Wilson, and the Yankees countered that run with one of their own in the bottom of the seventh on an Ellsbury single to left that scored Bird, who had hit a ground-rule double. Again, though, the bases were left loaded when reliever Dan Jennings (no, not the Marlins GM/manager/Loria pawn) got Gardner to fly out to left.
Dellin Betances worked around a two-out double by Adam Eaton to pitch a scoreless eighth, and the Yankees then finally made it a non-save situation. With Daniel Webb pitching for Chicago, Beltran led off with a single, and pinch-runner Rico Noel immediately caused havoc by scurrying all the way to third base on a botched pick-off attempt. Bird drove him home with a single to center. Chase Headley, who entered in the previous inning, doubled Bird to third, who then scored on a sacrifice fly by Slade Heathcott.
Closer Andrew Miller was thus thankfully given the day off. Bryan Mitchell pitched a perfect ninth and struck out Garcia to end the game. The Yankees' magic number to clinch a playoff spot now sits at just three games.
Betances and Wilson have pitched the past two days, so they will be out for tomorrow against the Red Sox, but Miller will presumably remain available. That game will start at 7:05pm at Yankee Stadium, as the resurgent Ivan Nova faces rookie southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez.