This is the way.
Fully understood if your elation over the Yankees’ 11th straight win, 5-4 over the Braves on Tuesday night at Truist Field in Atlanta, was tempered by yet another tense, turbulent ninth inning. Wandy Peralta rode to the rescue by throwing five straight changeups to reigning National League Most Valuable Player Freddie Freeman (“You gotta have a lot of nuts,” Andrew Heaney noted with admiration), the last one sent to Joey Gallo in left field to leave the bases loaded.
Peralta, yet another terrific midseason acquisition by Brian Cashman, bailed out the considerably higher-compensated Aroldis Chapman, who already has lost the Yankees’ closer gig once this crazy-ass season. He should not lose it again, at least not now.
No, the Yankees’ most likely path out of ninth-inning Russian roulette, a game at which they have repeatedly prevailed these past two weeks, involves keeping everyone in their current roles, only with a lightning-quick hook and the usual protections against overuse — which, if patterns persist, will create more than enough work for everyone.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” manager Aaron Boone said afterward. “The bottom line is, a lot of people are doing some really good things down there and Chappy’s going to be one of them too. We’ve just got to continue to find ways to win games. And it really is just a little bit of an ‘all hands on deck, let’s go find a way.’ A lot of guys continue to step up.”
Five different pitchers, none of them Chapman, have registered saves to sustain the Yankees’ longest winning streak since 1985. Chapman, who returned from the injured list last week, did pitch very well Monday night to close out a four-run lead.
Maybe the big lefty isn’t ready yet for back-to-backs. He appeared to have no confidence whatsoever in his fastball as he retired only two of the six batters he faced. He walked two of them, the second a bases-loaded free pass to Jorge Soler that forced home Adam Duvall to tighten the Yankees’ lead to 5-4. To be fair, a better third baseman than Rougned Odor could have converted Ozzie Albies’ two-out grounder into the game-ending out. The speedy Albies instead capitalized on Odor’s awkward hot-corner mechanics to beat out a wide throw and set up Soler’s bases on balls.
On the other hand, I think Boone should have lifted Chapman right after that exhausting, seven-pitch battle with Albies, and provided Peralta with a little more room for error.
“I felt like Chappy made pitches against [Albies],” said Boone, who agreed Odor should have cashed in that grounder. Had Chapman looked worse in that at-bat, Boone explained, he would’ve turned to Peralta against Soler.
However, at this point Chapman, removed twice in three outings since coming off the IL, must know that the rules of engagement have shifted. That he can start the ninth inning, but there are no guarantees he’ll finish it.
While Jonathan Loaisiga has been the Yankees’ best reliever, I wouldn’t advise appointing him as the closer because he can carry more value as the “fireman,” coming in to go after the heart of the order even if that occurs prior to the ninth inning. Unlike the veteran Chapman, Loaisiga isn’t conditioned mentally to going no earlier than the ninth, although he can pitch the ninth.
And boy, that ninth. Opponents have now posted a .221/.312/.426 slash line against the Yankees in the ninth inning, better than only the Twins, Tigers and Royals in the American League. None of those clubs will sniff the playoffs. The Yankees, currently slated for the postseason, will be playing with dynamite if they enter the tournament as unsettled in their end game as they are now.
On the other hand, as Aaron Judge noted, “There’s no panic, even when stuff starts hitting the fan.” Another gut-punch loss always looms nearby. Lately, though, those bad outcomes have fallen short of the Yankees’ doorstep.
“You want to have a sense of urgency to get the job done,” Peralta said through an interpreter, and the same should apply to managing these games. Boone’s urgency Tuesday was good, just with room for improvement. Just like the Yankees’ relievers overall, who are milking every inch of drama out of this historic run.
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