Yanks' bullpen strategy backfires in extra-innings loss

Tonkin's late-game troubles undo big blasts from Soto, Verdugo and Grisham

April 27th, 2024

MILWAUKEE -- Clay Holmes has yet to allow an earned run this season, though the Yankees closer has admittedly navigated some traffic to keep that mark spotless. That was not the case on Friday, when the right-hander fired a dominant 10-pitch ninth inning, sending his team on to extra innings.

As Holmes returned to the bench, he received congratulations for his strong performance, while also being informed that his work was complete for the night. Yankees manager Aaron Boone was looking elsewhere to finish off the game, which would conclude in a 7-6, 11-inning loss to the Brewers at American Family Field.

Joey Ortiz decided the game with his fourth RBI of the night, a run-scoring single off , a journeyman right-hander making his Yankees debut. The choice of the 34-year-old Tonkin for a save situation was a curious one that deserves further examination.

“It’s definitely a tough spot to go in,” Boone said.

Boone had already used three relievers -- Ron Marinaccio, Dennis Santana and Caleb Ferguson -- ahead of Holmes, who retired the side in order in the ninth. Boone refused to send Holmes back out for a second inning, considering he has now pitched in 13 of the club’s 27 games.

“He’s on about an 80-game pace in April, and with some of the attrition we’ve had in our bullpen, I wasn’t going to send my closer out,” Boone said. “I’ll do four outs this time of year, but I wasn’t going to send him out for a second inning.”

Ian Hamilton was unavailable after throwing 39 pitches over two appearances during the Athletics series, so Boone said his choices were between Victor González and Tonkin -- the latter of whom was claimed off waivers from the Mets on Thursday.

Boone chose Tonkin, preferring the right-on-right matchups against the first two batters due up in the 10th, Willy Adames and Rhys Hoskins.

“He’s got a lot of experience,” Boone said. “I thought he threw the ball well and didn’t back down at all. That’s just where we were in the game, with what we had left. Not the softest landing, for sure.”

This season has been a whirlwind for Tonkin, who went from the Mets to the Twins and then back to the Mets before landing in Milwaukee with a Yankees uniform hanging in his locker. Tonkin’s family is two stops behind him, currently waiting for furniture in a Minneapolis apartment, but he had no time to think about that as he entered.

“Baseball in general is tough,” Tonkin said. “You’ve still got to go out and do your job.”

A passed ball on catcher Jose Trevino advanced the automatic runner to third, and after Tonkin committed a pitch clock violation, Adames laced a run-scoring hit that flushed Giancarlo Stanton’s go-ahead, pinch-hit double and retied the game.

Tonkin recovered to retire the next three batters, but the Yanks were turned aside in the 11th, with pinch-runner Jahmai Jones tagged out at home plate when Alex Verdugo bounced into a fielder’s choice. Boone said that Jones was correct in running on contact.

“You’re going to be out on a lineout, too, because you’ve got to make it a 50-50 play,” Boone said. “A lot of pitchers aren’t going to handle that ball, but you don’t have the hindsight. You’re selling out on the first step.”

The late stumbles spoiled a contest in which Juan Soto, Verdugo and Trent Grisham all connected for home runs.

Soto sparked the offense with his team-leading seventh homer in the first inning, Verdugo cracked a solo shot in the second and Grisham launched a three-run homer in the fourth. It marked Grisham’s first hit with the club.

“You know that you want that first one,” Grisham said. “I was just waiting for it to come around.”

Yankees starter Luis Gil was knocked for five runs and six hits over five-plus innings, including two homers.

Ortiz hit his first big league homer in the second inning and Blake Perkins belted a two-run shot in the third, providing Milwaukee with a lead that held until Grisham’s homer.

Gary Sánchez chased Gil with a double opening the sixth inning, advanced on a groundout, then scored the tying run on an Ortiz sacrifice fly facing Marinaccio.

“It was definitely a battle out there tonight,” Gil said through an interpreter.