'It started getting real out there': Yanks rally for near-perfect Taillon

Righty takes perfecto into 8th before Rizzo's pinch-hit delivers sweep of DH, series

June 3rd, 2022

NEW YORK -- There was a quiet moment during Jameson Taillon’s ongoing flirtation with history when the Yankees' right-hander retreated to a favorite spot in the dugout tunnel. In this place, he caught himself wondering if his friends around the league were aware that it might be a special night in the Bronx.

The crowd on hand at Yankee Stadium certainly needed no alerts, their excited roars growing with each three-up, three-down frame. Taillon felt his adrenaline spike as his perfecto forged deeper into the night, an impressive bid that ultimately fell two innings shy in the Yanks’ 2-1 victory over the Angels in the second game of a day-night, separate-admission doubleheader on Lou Gehrig Day.

“It’s an interesting thing to fight while you’re out there,” Taillon said. “In a 0-0 game, you’re naturally going to be fired up anyway, especially when you’re facing a lineup like that. If anything, you just try to channel it, use it to execute pitches. It can fire you up and make your stuff play up a little bit.”

With the Yanks hunting a series sweep of the Angels after winning Game 1, 6-1, Taillon retired the first 21 batters he faced, coming within six outs of the Yankees’ first perfect game since David Cone in July 1999. Jared Walsh snapped the string by opening the eighth inning with a hard grounder up the middle that tipped the glove of shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, kicking away for a double.

Two outs later, Kurt Suzuki followed with an RBI single that drove in the game’s first run. Talk about your emotional swings; the half-inning wasn’t even complete, and Taillon was on the hook as a potential hard-luck loser. Anthony Rizzo corrected that in the home half, coming off the bench for a pinch-hit, two-run single that helped power the Bombers’ second postgame celebration of the day.

“Every at-bat, every inning, you just try to have your best at-bat,” Rizzo said. “Jameson, the way he threw was lights-out. He’s been lights-out all year, along with the rest of our staff. They’re a special group, the way they feed off each other. Our starting pitching, top to bottom, it has just been amazing.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Taillon’s seven perfect innings represented the longest such bid by a Yankee since Chien-Ming Wang opened a May 5, 2007, start against the Mariners by retiring the first 22 batters. Taillon knew his stuff was good, but even though he stole glances at the scoreboard beginning in the fifth inning, Taillon didn’t seriously consider the possibility until the seventh.

When leadoff hitter Taylor Ward flew out for the first out of the seventh, Taillon said that “it started getting real out there.” Kiner-Falefa then kept the bid going with a sparkling play in the seventh, when the shortstop backhanded a ball hit up the middle and threw across his body to retire Shohei Ohtani by a step.

“You start letting your mind go there a little bit,” said manager Aaron Boone. “The energy of the crowd was cool. That was a really good moment, and obviously a great play.”

Added Aaron Judge: “Everybody had the same thought, but we just didn’t try to show it. Everything was status quo; just go about our business. Especially getting to the top of that order, that’s where a lot of their damage comes from. Ward, Ohtani and [Mike] Trout, that’s a tough three to go through.”

Trout flew out to end the seventh -- at 83 pitches and with Ohtani and Trout out of the way, Taillon seemed to be in terrific shape. Back in the dugout, Taillon attempted to halt his mind from running wild, but a suddenly electric environment made that impossible.

“The fans got pretty loud,” Taillon said. “That was firing me up, but it also made me a little more aware of what was going on. You get through the top three hitters of that lineup, and they’re as good as anybody in the game.”

The Yanks’ offense -- held to five hits by starter Reid Detmers and three relievers through seven scoreless innings -- prevented Taillon from mashing the mental fast-forward button. The primary objective was still to grab the game, not a personal achievement, a responsibility Taillon carried to the mound in the eighth.

Once Walsh broke up the bid and Suzuki shattered the shutout, Taillon finished the frame and soon cheered from the dugout railing, pushing for a satisfactory ending.

No one may have roared louder for Rizzo’s hit than Taillon, who improved to 6-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 10 starts this season; Boone lauded Taillon’s most recent performance as “maybe his best one,” a point that would be difficult to argue.

“It just felt like one of those nights,” Taillon said, “where we were going to make it happen.”