Well, it wasn’t the prettiest game you’ll ever see, but a win is a win is a win. The Yankees survived an epic bullpen meltdown Sunday afternoon to pick up a 7-6 walk-off win against the Royals in ten innings. First walk-off win and first extra-innings game of the season. Also, the Yankees have won five of their last six games. Sweet.
The Paxton Express
Although he was not quite as sharp as he was last time out, this is back-to-back dandies for James Paxton. He tossed six scoreless innings Sunday and joined David Cone as the only Yankees to strike out 12+ batters in back-to-back starts. Three hits and one walk. At one point spanning the second though fifth innings Paxton struck out eight of nine batters faced, with only an infield single mixed in.
Paxton’s formula Sunday was very simple. He attacked the Royals with elevated fastballs, and buried the cutter and curveball down in the zone and in the dirt. Here are his pitch locations:
That is Paxton at his best. His fastball is so good — Paxton averaged 95.1 mph and topped out at 97.8 mph with his heater Sunday, down a tick from his last outing but still excellent overall — that he can pitch up in the zone with it and have success even against great hitters. The cutter and curveball change eye levels and keep hitters honest. It is brutally effective when done right and Paxton has done it right the last two times out.
The final line: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 K on 104 pitches. Paxton generated 20 swings and misses for the third time in five starts. Mike Clevinger, Gerrit Cole, and Blake Snell are the only other pitchers with 20+ swings and misses in multiple games this year. They’ve done it twice each. Paxton has struck out 24 of 50 batters faced in his last two starts and has a 37.4% strikeout rate on the season. Also a 3.10 ERA (2.41 FIP). Pretty rad.
Building A Lead
For seven innings, Sunday’s game was as easy and stress-free as it gets. Paxton was cruising and the offense put up some early runs against Jorge Lopez. DJ LeMahieu almost single-handedly built a first inning run by doubling down the right field line, advancing to third on Luke Voit’s deep fly ball, and scoring on a wild pitch. A Mike Ford double and an Austin Romine single, both with two outs, created a run in the second inning.
The Yankees broke the game open — or so we thought — in the fifth inning. Voit and Brett Gardner had back-to-back singles with one out, setting up Clint Frazier for the long three-run home run into the left field bleachers. It cleared the visitor’s bullpen. Look at this blast:
The Eighth Inning of Doom
Paxton actually went out to start the seventh inning, but a single and a walk later, he was out of the game, and in came Tommy Kahnle. A strikeout, a fly ball, and a strikeout later, the inning was over. Seems like Tommy Tightpants has climbed the bullpen pecking order a bit. At this point, I can’t say it’s undeserved, even though he’s not all the way back to 2017 Kahnle yet.
The wheels came off in the eighth inning. The Yankees had a 5-0 lead and the bottom of the lineup was due up for the miserable Royals, so it seemed like a safe spot for the struggling Chad Green. I mean, if you can’t use him then, when do you? A single, a walk, and a single later, the bases were loaded with no outs, and Adam Ottavino was on his way in from the bullpen. Green has allowed ten runs and put 15 runners on base in 7.1 innings. Bad. Very bad.
Ottavino, for the first time as a Yankee, had a disaster outing. Adalberto Mondesi dunked a double into right field to score two runs, then Ottavino left a spinner right out over the plate to Alex Gordon …
… who promptly deposited it into the right field seats for a game-tying home run. The Yankees went into the eighth inning with a 5-0 lead. Five batters later, the game was tied. One batter after that, the Royals had the lead. Hunter Dozier followed Gordon’s home run with a solo homer of his own. The back-to-back shots turned a 5-2 lead into a 6-5 deficit. Gross.
I know this is the “blame the manager, coaches, and trainers first” era, but come on, that inning is squarely on Green and Ottavino. No need to overthink this. Green couldn’t retire a batter while facing the bottom of the lineup with a five-run lead and Ottavino threw some junky pitches out over the plate. The right guys were in the game in the right spots as far as I’m concerned. They just coughed it up.
Save By Romine, Twice
Fortunately, the game did end after the Gordon and Dozier homers. In fact, the Yankees answered right back in the next half-inning. Tauchman started the bottom of the eighth inning with a double and Romine brought him home with a two-out single through the left side. I was totally cool with Gio Urshela not bunting after the double. Tauchman’s already in scoring position! Give yourself three chances to bring him!
Anyway, Romine tied the game in the eighth inning and Aroldis Chapman kept it tied with some yeoman’s work in the ninth. He gave up a leadoff single to the speedy Billy Hamilton, who was on third base with one out two stolen bases later. Chapman struck out Mondesi and got Gordon to fly out to center — Gardner nearly lost the ball in the sun — to strand the runner. Heck of a job by Chapman to escape that mess.
Welcome to the big leagues, Thairo Estrada. Jake Diekman started the tenth inning rally by gifting the Yankees two runners. He walked Tauchman and Urshela to start the frame. Estrada made his MLB debut as a pinch-bunter for Ford. Estrada got it down, the runners moved up, and Romine again came through for the Yankees. This time he slammed what goes into the history books as a walk-off single, but was really a legit double into the right-center field gap.
Zack Britton allowed a leadoff single in the top of the tenth and promptly picked off pinch-runner Terrance Gore. That was unexpected and I say that only because Gore is crazy fast and a dynamite baserunner. Britton caught him napping and Gore was stuck in a rundown. Kahnle, Chapman, and Britton did some mighty fine work out of the bullpen. Green and Ottavino? Not so much.
Three hits for Romine and also three hits for Gardner, the No. 3 hitter. Two hits for Tauchman as well, including his first single as a Yankee. Four doubles, three homers, one single this far. Ford’s double into the left-center field gap was his first MLB hit, so that’s cool. Also, Voit extended his MLB leading on-base streak to 32 games. Longest by a Yankee since Aaron Judge had a 32-gamer in 2017.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to MLB.com. For the updated standings, go to ESPN. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the bananas win probability graph:
The final homestand of the RAB era is over and the Yankees are now heading out on a nine-game, ten-day West Coast road trip. Four games against the Angels, three games against the Giants, then two games against the Diamondbacks. J.A. Happ and Matt Harvey are the scheduled starters for Monday night’s series opener in Anaheim. That is a 10:07pm ET start.