By the end of this month, Aaron Boone might be more fried than a pizza delivery guy at a Cheech & Chong film festival.
Could you keep up with the chess match occurring within this laser show? Fortunately for the Yankees, Boone could.
The Yankees scored the opening blow of this American League Division Series, defeating their old pals the Twins by a 10-4 count on Friday night at Yankee Stadium by virtue of a few clutch hits, strong defense by Aaron Judge, a couple of dingers and, in a nostalgic acknowledgment of this rivalry’s one-sidedness, a crucial miscue by Minnesota first baseman C.J. Cron.
Yet maybe it wouldn’t have concluded so seamlessly (with DJ LeMahieu’s bases-loaded, two-out, seventh-inning double clearing the bags and creating a healthy cushion) had Boone — armed with data and recommendations from the Yankees’ front office, it should go without saying by now — not pushed all the right buttons in the grueling, four-hour, 15-minute affair.
For months now, the Yankees knew they’d have to fake it ’til they made it on the pitching side. One victory faked, 10 to go.
“I just think there were some spots that I felt good about certain guys in,” Boone said afterward, “and the other good thing about tonight is, I feel like all our guys are back in play for [Game 2 on Saturday], and we’re not pushing them, necessarily.”
You win Yankees Bullpen Bingo if you had the team’s relievers entering the game in this order: Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, Zack Britton, J.A. Happ (!) and Aroldis Chapman. This sextet teamed to allow one run in four innings, with Kahnle receiving credit for the win as the Yankees beat Minnesota for the 11th straight time in the postseason.
The Twins did outhomer the Yankees, 3-2, yet they went a meek 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position as Yankees starter James Paxton battled through four frames in his postseason debut — a guy getting removed an out short of qualifying for the win would’ve made big headlines in 1999, not so much now — and then found the matchups he wanted. You could argue that if Boone erred at all, he stayed with Paxton a batter too long as the lefty served up a game-tying single to switch-hitter Jorge Polanco in the fifth.
“I felt good about him going through Polanco, and Polanco had a great night, but we’ll keep him on that [right] side, preferably,” Boone said.
Three times subsequently, Boone went to a reliever in the middle of an inning with at least one runner on base. Twice, the pitcher fully did his job putting out the fire. The other time, Ottavino issued a fifth-inning walk to the dangerous Nelson Cruz, left immediately and saw Kahnle clean that up by retiring Eddie Rosario on an inning-ending flyout.
The red-hot Chad Green bailed Kahnle out of a sixth-inning spot, but if you figured the multi-inning threat Green would come back out for the top of the seventh with a 7-4 advantage, you wouldn’t have been alone — and you would’ve been wrong. Britton surprisingly entered, and we all wondered: Britton and Chapman for nine outs?
Yup, that was the plan, Boone confirmed: “We were prepared to try to split up the seventh, eighth and ninth with Britton and Chappy in that spot.”
“Not a surprise to me,” said Britton, who explained that this plan had been in the works for quite a while.
The starting pitcher Happ warmed up with the understanding that he would enter for the eighth if his teammates expanded their lead and he wouldn’t if they didn’t. With LeMahieu’s double, in came Happ, and he navigated through a pair of baserunners.
“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Boone said.
“It was exciting,” Happ said of his new assignment. “Definitely a surge of adrenaline for sure.”
Chapman finished things off in the ninth.
In all, it was a grind to watch, and surely more so to play and manage. And it’s how the shorthanded Yankees must succeed this month: Outwork and outthink their opponents. Grind physically, grind mentally. When in doubt, change pitchers.
It ain’t the prettiest baseball you’ve ever seen. For the Yankees and their supporters, however, it surely felt like a thing of beauty.
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