NEW YORK — Going into Tuesday night’s AL Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium (NYY 8, MIN 4), the New York Yankees had one clear advantage over the Minnesota Twins: their bullpen. New York’s bullpen is deep with power arms. Power arms who can go multiple innings.
Luis Severino, the Yankees needed just about all of those power arms.
Severino checked out of the elimination game after allowing three runs, including two homers, in only one-third of an inning. It was a disaster scenario for the Yankees. It would be a disaster scenario for any team, having to pull their starter one out into a winner-take-all game and going to the bullpen so early.
“We talked prior to the game. You bring up that scenario that if he takes line drive off the shin, what do you do? I didn’t think that he was going to get one out. I didn’t bring that scenario up,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi after the Wild Card Game. “And you know, part of that is trying to decide who to bring in, and we talked about Greeny and Robbie would be the first two guys that we would bring in tonight, no matter when the situation was, to try to put innings out, and to get as much out of them as we could.”
Greeny — right-hander Chad Green — emerged from the bullpen and stranded runners on second and third in the first inning, which was a huge moment in the game. The Twins were up 3-0 at the time and a base hit there gives them a 5-0 lead in the first inning. Green struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro to escape the threat.
“I think we all knew that we could be in the game at any time,” said Chad Green, who was the first man out of the bullpen despite being Girardi’s usually seventh inning setup man. “I think we’re all ready from the first to the ninth.”
Green tossed a scoreless second inning as well before running out of gas and running into trouble in the third inning. That’s when he turned it over to Robbie — setup man David Robertson. The Yankees’ eighth inning-turned-third inning guy was in the game far sooner than Girardi envisioned.
Robertson, who returned to the Yankees in a midseason trade with the White Sox, entered the game with the bases loaded and one out in the third inning. His team was up 4-3 at the time. Byron Buxton beat out a double play ball to tie the game — Buxton is just way too fast to double up — before Robertson struck out Jason Castro to end the threat.
Escaping that third inning threat was just the beginning for Robertson. He needed 10 pitches in a scoreless fourth and 13 pitches in a scoreless fifth. With his pitch count at 31, Girardi sent Robertson out for an unheard of third inning of work. Robertson, who was visibly tiring, allowed a leadoff single and a two-out walk to end his evening.
“It was fun. I had a good time,” said Robertson of his extended outing. “Threw a few pitches that I wish I could take back — that were base hits — but I had a great time. I enjoyed it mainly because I didn’t give up a ton of runs and lose the game. But I wish I could have finished the last inning I was in, but I’m happy with what I was able to do.
Tommy Kahnle, who came over with Robertson in the White Sox trade, got Joe Mauer to fly out to deep left field to end the inning, stranding the two runners and preserving his team’s 7-4 lead. That closed the book on Robertson. His final line:
That’s a career-high 3 1/3 innings on a career-high 52 pitches. Robertson’s previous career-high was 2 2/3 innings on Sept. 11 of this season — he threw 36 pitches in that game — and 45 pitches back in 2008, his rookie season. He was very clear running on fumes at the end of his outing, to the surprise of no one. It’s been a long time since a Yankee had a relief outing like this in the postseason.
“I just wanted to do everything I could to help our team win,” Robertson said. “Especially after a tough first half of the first inning, we were very resilient. The lineup came together, but three runs back up and evened the score, and entire rest of the game was just a grind. And I feel like everyone was on board and nobody wanted the season to end tonight.”
Green and Robertson soaked up 5 1/3 innings and, amazingly, the game was only in the sixth inning. Kahnle got the fly ball from Mauer to end the sixth inning — “When I see a fly ball, I always think it’s gone,” joked Kahnle about that out — then tacked on two more scoreless innings to get the Yankees through eight. He retired all seven me he faced. The 2 1/3 innings was the second longest outing of his career.
“When the phones rings and it’s our name, you’ve got to be ready. Get ready to pitch. That’s what we’ve been doing every since I got here,” said Kahnle after the Wild Card Game. “I just knew I had to get us outs and get us to where they needed to me too.”
When the Yankees made it to the All-Star break in contention and with a real chance to go to the postseason, general manager Brian Cashman acted decisively and got his team help. His first move: acquiring Robertson and Kahnle (and Todd Frazier) from Chicago for four players, including 2016 first round pick Blake Rutherford. Did the Yankees envision using Robertson and Kahnle for 5 2/3 innings in a postseason game? Probably not, but they showed Tuesday night it can be done.
“I’ve always thought (relievers can feed off each other,)” said Robertson. “I think being a guy who’s been the bullpen his entire career, you already try to feed off the guy who’s in front of you. They go out there and do their job, you come in right behind them and do the same thing, and you pass the ball to the next guy, and that’s just the way it does.”
The first few innings of the Wild Card Game were chaotic. Both teams were putting runs on the board and working great at-bats. It was a wild back-and-forth game. The team that found a reliever or two who could to come in, settle things down, and hold the other team at bay for a few innings was going to be the team with the best chance to win. Robertson and Kahnle were those guys in the Wild Card Game and the Yankees were that team.
Even with their deep bullpen, the Yankees were going to need to ask their relievers for length once Severino recorded one out. Someone was going to have to step up and soak up innings. Usually it’s a long man. In the Wild Card Game, it was two of New York’s big trade deadline additions in Robertson and Kahnle. Midseason additions who had a huge impact in a postseason game.
“Our bullpen was remarkable tonight,” Girardi said. “The innings that they gave us, the innings that David Robertson have us, how they save each other’s runs. It was just remarkable.”
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