The 2017 season is off to a marvelous start for the Yankees, a team many pegged as a .500-ish club that might contend for a wildcard spot if enough things went their way. Well, 30 games into the season, the Yankees have baseball’s best record (21-9) and run differential (+58). They just went into Wrigley Field and swept three games from the defending World Series champs. Who saw that coming?
One of the single biggest reasons the Yankees are off to a such great start is their Fighting Spirit. They have that never-say-die mentality. The Yankees have nine come from behind wins this season, and while that is not the most in baseball — the Astros have 14 such wins — it’s not about quantity. It’s about quality. The Yankees have made some incredibly dramatic comebacks already this season. It’s been so fun to watch.
So, with that in mind, why don’t we do back and rank these nine come-from-behind wins? Who doesn’t want to relive this stuff? I’m the man in charge here, so I’m going to rank the comebacks based on two criteria:
- Improbability: Coming back from down three in the ninth is much more impressive than coming back from down one in the sixth. Personnel matters too. Beating the other team’s ace closer is so much more satisfying than taking advantage of a weak middle relief crew.
- Emotional Pull: Some wins just feel bigger than others, you know? At the end of the day, one game in the standings is one game in the standings, but some feel like they have more impact than the others.
I could take the super easy and super boring way out and rank these based on win probability or something like that, but nah. A subjective ranking is better because, like I said, some wins just feel bigger than others. Time to rank those nine come-from-behind wins. Come with me, won’t you?
9. April 14th: Wacha Wacha Wacha
Final Score: Yankees 4, Cardinals 3 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 33.0% in the first inning
Not the most memorable come-from-behind win you’ll see, but hey, a comeback is a comeback. The Cardinals jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in this game thanks to Matt Carpenter’s first inning two-run home run. He hit that homer and the Yankees pitched him like he was David Ortiz the rest of the series. The Yankees answered right back with Starlin Castro’s two-run homer off Michael Wacha in the bottom of the first. Austin Romine gave them the lead with a solo homer the other way in the third, then Chase Headley doubled in a run fifth. Nice and easy.
8. April 16th: Bird’s big game
Final Score: Yankees 9, Cardinals 3 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 40.2% in the second inning
This is best remembered as Greg Bird’s first — and thus far only — huge game of the season. He went 3-for-3 with a double, a home run, and a walk. Aaron Judge was robbed of a home run and given a triple right before Bird’s homer, as I’m sure you remember. (Can’t wait for Judge to retire with 799 career homers, you guys.)
Anyway, this game qualifies as a comeback because Greg Garcia slapped a two-out single against Michael Pineda in the second inning, driving in the game’s first run and giving the Cardinals the 1-0 lead. The Yankees answered with three in the second, one in the fifth, and five in the eight. Pretty much the only noteworthy thing about this game was Bird’s performance. And the Judge non-homer triple, which I’m still bitter about.
7. April 12th: Judge goes headhunting
Final Score: Yankees 8, Rays 4 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 19.0% in the fifth inning
This game was maybe the first real indication the 2017 Yankees are not a pushover. The Rays took a 3-0 lead into the fifth inning thanks largely to Rickie Weeks’ first inning two-run home run off Jordan Montgomery, and that’s when the Yankees started to chip away against Blake Snell. They loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth on a single, a walk, and an error, and they were poised to blow that huge opportunity before Aaron Hicks drew a two-out walk to force in a run. Pete Kozma and Jacoby Ellsbury had both popped up with the bases loaded earlier in the inning.
The Hicks walk got the Yankees on the board and cut Tampa’s lead to 3-1. A wild pitch with Matt Holliday at the plate got the second run in. One inning later, with the Rays still up 3-2, the Yankees went single single single against Jumbo Diaz to tie the game. Judge almost took Diaz’s head off with the game-tying single:
6. April 13th: Hicks, then Hicks again
Final Score: Yankees 3, Rays 2 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 30.7% in the seventh inning
Unlike the previous three games on this list, the Yankees actually scored first in this one. Hicks hit a first inning solo home run against Matt Andriese for a quick 1-0 lead. The Rays were able to put two runs on the board against Luis Severino, however. Jesus Sucre, the light-hitting backup catcher, stroked a two-out single in the second to drive in the first Tampa run. Peter Bourjos hit a solo homer in the fifth to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. Peter Bourjos!
The score remained 2-1 Tampa into the seventh inning, and because we’d yet to be fully introduced to this team’s Fighting Spirit, it was easy to think the offense would go to sleep and not put up much of a fight the rest of the way. We saw that happen an awful lot from 2013-16. Instead, Hicks turned that 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead with a go-ahead two-run home run to left field.
5. May 3rd: Luck Biagini tonight
Final Score: Yankees 8, Blue Jays 6 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 18.3% in the third inning
This game did not start well for the Yankees. Not at all. CC Sabathia allowed four runs in the top of the first inning, and after the Yankees answered with three runs of their own in the bottom half, Sabathia allowed two more runs in the second. Womp womp. The Yankees were down 6-3 three half-innings into the game.
The comeback started in earnest in the third inning courtesy of Judge’s line drive two-run home run into Monument Park. Marcus Stroman is an extreme ground ball pitcher with a hellacious sinker, but you wouldn’t have known it based on that swing. Judge lifted it out to center like it wasn’t no thing. That got the Yankees to within 6-5, and the score remained 6-5 until the seventh inning.
New York’s three-run go-ahead rally in the seventh had to be the most annoying thing ever for Blue Jays fans. The rally started with one-out hits by Judge (single) and Headley (double) against Joe Biagini, who’d struck out the first five Yankees he’d faced that night. Chris Carter plated the tying run with a broke back bloop to left field, then pinch-hitter Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees the lead with an infield single. The call was reviewed and Didi was confirmed safe.
The Judge single and Headley double were legit. After that though, the Yankees scored on a broken bat bloop, an infield single, and a bases loaded walk. Like I said, that had to be the most annoying game-losing rally ever for Blue Jays fans. Betances and Chapman protected that 8-6 lead after the Yankees scored three in the seventh to take the lead.
4. April 22nd: Carter has his signature moment
Final Score: Yankees 11, Pirates 5 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 10.5% in the fifth inning
This was a wild game. A solo home run and a sac fly by Andrew McCutchen, plus a solo home run by David Freese had the Yankees down 3-0 after five innings. To make matters worse, Jameson Taillon opened the game with four hitless innings. The Yankees had pretty much no chance against the young right-hander.
The wheels finally came off the Taillon bus in the sixth. Ellsbury beat out an infield single and Hicks drew a walk — a lot of these rallies involve Hicks drawing walks, huh? — setting up Castro for the game-tying three-run home run.
One small problem though: the Yankees still had 12 puts to get. That 5-3 lead didn’t even last a half-inning. Jonathan Holder and Tyler Clippard conspired to allow two runs in the bottom of the seventh to knot things back up at 5-5. Jordy Mercer and Adam Frazier had the run-scoring singles. Blah. All the good vibes from that five-run top of the sixth were quickly erased in the bottom half.
The score remained 5-5 until the eighth inning, an eighth inning Felipe Rivera started with two quick outs. The inning didn’t look like it was going anywhere. Frazier then booted a ground ball, allowing Romine to reach first base. That got it all started. Torreyes punched a single to left to put a runner in scoring position, and with the lefty Rivero on the mound, Joe Girardi elected to pinch-hit Carter for the pitcher’s spot. Carter then deposited a first pitch changeup into the back bullpen at PNC Park.
Anyway, the Yankees continued to pile on after Carter’s home run gave them an 8-5 lead. McCutchen misplayed a ball in center, turning Ellsbury’s fly ball into a three-base error. He scored on Antonio Bastardo’s wild pitch. Headley (double) drove in Hicks (ground rule double) for a 10-5 lead. Judge’s insane solo homer in the ninth made it 11-5.
That five-run eighth inning rally all happened with two outs. Six straight Yankees reached base after the first two hitters of the inning made outs, and Frazier booting Romine’s routine ground ball opened the door. That’s all it takes for this team. These Yankees have shown they will make you pay for a mistake, even one as seemingly harmless as a two-out bases empty error with the bottom of the order due up. This was a crazy back-and-forth game.
3. April 9th: Torreyes starts the winning streak
Final Score: Yankees 7, Orioles 3 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 10.2% in the sixth inning
Later this season, when the Yankees are celebrating their 28th championship and we’re all still amazed they went 153-9 during the regular season, we’ll look back at this game as the turning point. They’d lost four of their first five games, and franchise catcher Gary Sanchez had to be placed on the disabled list earlier that day. The diagnosis: a strained brachialis muscle that would sideline him four weeks. Yuck.
The Yankees appeared to be headed for their fifth loss in six games because the Orioles built a 3-0 lead against Sabathia — a ground out and two singles accounted for the runs, not homers — and the offense had little interest in cashing in on the opportunities gifted to them by Wade Miley. Seven walks in five innings! And Miley didn’t allow a damn run. The Yankees let him completely off the hook. So annoying. So, so annoying.
It wasn’t until the sixth inning, when Miley was out of the game, that the comeback started. Judge and Romine strung together back-to-back two-out singles against reliever Tyler Wilson, then both scored on Torreyes’ triple into the right-center field gap.
Holliday got the ninth inning rally started with his fifth (!) walk of the day. Ellsbury pinch ran and stole second base, but ultimately that did not matter because Darren O’Day walked Carter anyway. The two walks gave the Yankees runners at first and second with no outs. Good time for a bunt, no? Sure. One run is huge in that situation. Castro had another idea. He never squared around to bunt, and instead found the hole with a ground ball single back up the middle, scoring Ellsbury.
The Torreyes triple got it all started. The offense was showing little life up to that point, and Lil’ Toe was able to break the ice. Once he got the Yankees on the board, everyone was able to relax a bit. It helps that O’Day is no longer the pitcher he was a few years ago, of course. The Yankees were down 3-0 and staring a 1-5 start to the season in the face. Two runs in the sixth, one in the eighth, and four in the ninth gave them a 7-3 win in what proved to be the first game of the eight-game winning streak. The Torreyes triple that turned the season around.
2. May 5th: Gardner plants one over the ivy
Final Score: Yankees 3, Cubs 2 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 3.5% in the ninth inning
This was a statement game. The Yankees had been playing very well in the weeks leading up to this game, but something about going on the road to play the defending World Series champs — and a legitimate World Series contender again this year — feels like a measuring stick. Want to prove you’re for real? Go in there and beat the best.
And for the first eight innings, the Yankees didn’t look like they could beat the best. Solo home runs by Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead, and a whole bunch of baserunning mistakes allowed Kyle Hendricks to skate through 5.1 scoreless innings. The Yankees had plenty of chances to get to Hendricks early on and could not do it. It was one of those games.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Wade Davis was not available for the Cubs. He’d worked each of the three previous days and manager Joe Maddon decided to rest him. Understandable. That pushed Hector Rondon, the guy Chapman replaced as closer following the trade last year, into the closer’s role for the day. Rondon hasn’t been quite right since dealing with an elbow injury last summer.
The ninth inning rally was textbook. It was everything you could want in a comeback. Tough at-bats, hits against the shift, the whole nine. Headley started the rally with a one-out single the other way through the shift. Ellsbury came off the bench to work a two-out walk, which put the tying run on base. Rondon threw 25 pitches to the first four batters of the inning, including eight to Carter, who struck out. Yeah, Carter struck out, but he saw a ton of pitches.
Rondon was clearly starting to fatigue when Gardner stepped to the plate with two on and two outs. He took the first three pitches of the at-bat for a 1-2 count, then went into protect mode. He fouled off two two-strike fastballs and took another for a ball before Rondon changed the game plan. He tried to get Gardner to swing over top of a slider, which is a wonderful idea, but he hung the pitch juuust enough.
Chapman made the 3-2 lead stand up in the ninth inning — he had to pitch around Headley’s error, remember, which turned Addison Russell’s routine grounder into a leadoff double — and the Yankees walked away with a series opening win at the Friendly Confines. They’d been shut down for eight innings before exploding in the ninth to capture victory from the jaws of defeat. Some wins feels bigger than others. This was one of them.
1. April 28th: Had the O’s right where they wanted ’em
Final Score: Yankees 14, Orioles 11 in ten innings (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 0.5% in the seventh inning
Most years, a dramatic comeback like the Gardner homer against the Cubs would go down as the best win of the season, no questions asked. Drop the jaws of the defending World Series champs like that? Forget it. Hard to come up with a better win. For most teams, that is. Not the 2017 Yankees.
On a cold night at Yankee Stadium, fresh off the heels of a two-game sweep at Fenway Park, the Yankees put together one of the most improbable wins in franchise history. I don’t think that’s hyperbole, do you? Down eight runs in the sixth inning and you come back to win? That’s the kind of win you remember for years.
Every huge comeback is made possible by bad pitching, and Sabathia obliged in this game. He gave up a two-run double to Manny Machado in the third inning and a two-run home run to Welington Castillo in the fourth inning. Machado then tacked on a fifth inning homer to make it 5-0. Judge was able to get one back with a solo homer, though the O’s answered right back. Mark Trumbo crushed a grand slam off Bryan Mitchell in the sixth to stretch his team’s lead to 9-1.
Down 9-1 with four offensive innings to go? Turns out the Yankees had the O’s right where they wanted him. The chipping away started in the bottom of the sixth, as Gregorius brought Holliday home with a ground out. Holliday had doubled earlier in the inning and advanced to third on Castro’s single. Judge came through with a two-strike, two-out, two-run home run against Kevin Gausman, his second dinger of the game, to get the Yankees to within 9-4. They were in business.
Mitchell wasn’t having any of that though. A walk, a single, and a two-run single by Jonathan Schoop gave the Orioles some of those runs back in the seventh. That 9-4 deficit became an 11-4 deficit. At that point it felt like one of those “it’s just not meant to be” nights. You know what I mean. They happen to every team each season. Multiple times. Jonathan Holder escaped Mitchell’s bases loaded, one-out jam to give the Yankees a chance.
You can’t come back from down 9-1 and later 11-4 by stringing together singles and walks and sac bunts. I mean, you could, but it’s unlikely. You need some huge blows along the way, and Ellsbury provided one in the seventh inning with his first career grand slam. A single (Romine), a double (Headley), and a walk (Holliday) set that one up. Ellsbury parked a ball in the right field bleachers and got the Yankees to within 11-8. Down three with two innings to go? Doable!
Much like the comeback against the Cubs, the Yankees did not have to face the regular closer in this game. Zach Britton was on the disabled list at the time, forcing O’s skipper Buck Showalter to use Brad Brach in the ninth inning. Brach’s good! He was an All-Star last season. (Really!) But he’s not Britton. Headley and Holliday made that known by starting the inning with a walk and a single to get the tying run to the plate. Ellsbury grounded out to get a run in, then Castro clubbed the most aesthetically pleasing home run of the season to date.
Anyway, the Castro home run only tied the game. The Yankees still needed another run to win. They wound up with that one run plus two others in the tenth inning. Jayson Aquino helped the Yankees out by walking Hicks — another Hicks walk! — and Kyle Higashioka to start the inning, meaning they got the tying run into scoring position without even taking their bats off their shoulders. No matter. Holliday was in scoring position standing in the batter’s box. He launched a walk-off three-run home run into the home bullpen to officially complete the comeback.
This is the win that made it feel real. This is when it became clear that no, the 2017 Yankees are not the 2013-16 Yankees. There’s something different about this team, and whatever it is, I love it.