BOSTON – Two walk-off losses to open the second half – especially to this opponent, in this city — even if the paths to the same end result hardly would have been the same, would have been truly devastating for the Yankees.
One game after Aroldis Chapman had flushed a ninth-inning lead with a disastrous personal performance, he was part of nine scoreless innings by the beleaguered bullpen – until the Yanks finally pushed across three runs in the 16th — to prevent the first-place Red Sox from posting their second straight win in their final at-bat with a 4-1 marathon victory at Fenway.
“The winning is the most important, and that’s the best part of it,” said Didi Gregorius, who stroked the go-ahead RBI single during the winning rally. “When you play a long game and you win, that means you never gave up and everybody was there and playing the right way until the last out. “It’s a big win and we’ll keep going forward with this one.”
As deflating and disheartening as Chapman’s meltdown felt one night earlier, persevering through this one – a game started and dominated by practically untouchable All-Star lefty Chris Sale – had to feel satisfying and vindicating for the Yanks, who had dropped 19 of their previous 26 games since they surprisingly stood atop the AL East at 38-23 on June 12.
“It’s an important win,” Joe Girardi said after the longest game between the two storied rivals at Fenway since 1966 (also 16 innings). “It’s a huge win for this team, with the way some of the things have gone.”
Starting pitcher Luis Severino kept the Yanks within 1-0 against Sale (72⁄3 scoreless innings), the rare type of legitimate ace worth the sacrificing of multiple major prospects, as the Red Sox did in acquiring him from the White Sox last December. That score held up until Matt Holliday truly injected himself into the rivalry by clubbing a tying homer against Boston closer Craig Kimbrel, who has been equally unhittable this season, in the ninth.
Girardi didn’t get around until six innings later to using his closer, Chapman, the subject of numerous questions – with few answers — before the game after he’d flushed a ninth-inning lead the previous night in his latest discouraging performance. 92-12 rockaway beach blvd “We can make a big deal out of this, but he wasn’t hit hard,” Girardi reasoned earlier Saturday about Chapman’s poor performance on Friday, which featured two infield singles, a double steal, an error by second baseman Ronald Torreyes, an intentional walk and a walk-off free pass to Andrew Benintendi.
“We’re trying to put our finger on it, too, just like everyone else,” Girardi added. “I don’t see a huge drop-off in velocity, I don’t. So to me, I think it’s just making better pitches.”
The bullpen, Chapman included, backed up Severino’s seven representative innings of one-run ball, with the equivalent of a complete game shutout. Its nine scoreless frames encouragingly included one from the supposedly demoted Tyler Clippard, the second in as many days for an improving Dellin Betances and three more from Jonathan Holder to carry the 1-1 knot through 13.
Chapman then came on and promptly walked his first batter, Xander Boegarts on four pitches.
Here we go again, right? Wrong.
Chapman retired Boston’s next three batters, before Ben Heller was summoned thereafter. CC Sabathia, who now will start Sunday’s day-night doubleheader opener with scheduled starter Bryan Mitchell likely needed as a relief-corps reinforcement, even made his way to the bullpen to start stretching in case the marathon was extended further.
But the Yanks plated three runs against veteran righty Doug Fister in the 16th on RBI knocks by Gregorius and Austin Romine and a sacrifice fly by Gary Sanchez.
“My thought process on that was Ben Heller was really my last guy. If you use Ben, and we take a lead and then they score off of Chappy, then you’re in kind of trouble,” Girardi explained about using Chapman in a non-save situation in the 14th. “I figured if Chappy shuts them down, then it’s Ben Heller’s game.”
The extras also featured a bizarre umpiring decision that somehow went in the Yankees’ favor. But they could not take advantage of whatever exactly Holliday was doing going back to first base on a force play at second, which blocked Mitch Moreland from catching the return throw or doubling up batter Jacoby Ellsbury.
The Red Sox and manager John Farrell played the rest of the game under protest after crew chief Gary Cederstrom ruled after a nearly five-minute delay that Ellsbury was permitted to remain at first. It was such an odd sequence, it felt like Alex Rodriguez should have somehow been involved, especially between these two teams.
Barring the protest being upheld – it won’t be — the Yanks notably inched back within 3½ games in the division race.
And this gut-check win following Friday’s gut-punch loss sets up the possibility for more drama, odd occurrences and maybe even gaining more ground on Boston in Sunday’s twinbill.
“It was awesome, man. This was a big win for the team in all aspects,” said Clippard, who hadn’t pitched since he was tagged for a tiebreaking three-run homer in the seventh inning on July 7 against Milwaukee. “Obviously, Sevy did a great job, everyone in the bullpen did great. It was a big win for us and we needed it.
“One hundred percent, we wanted to win this one bad and we needed to for a lot of reasons … To come out on top was huge.”