It all came down to one at-bat for the Yankees on Tuesday night at Truist Park. One-run lead, two outs, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth inning.
A long nine-pitch battle ensued. Peralta threw his sinker three times, all for balls. He threw his changeup the other six times, including the final four with a full count. Freeman fouled off five of them, but he put the last one in play: a high fly ball to deep left-center field. Joey Gallo went back to the track -- and corralled the ball in his glove.
The Yankees exhaled a sigh of relief as they claimed their 11th consecutive victory with a 5-4 win in the two-game series finale. They have now won 11 straight games for just the third time in the past 60 seasons (since 1962). They last accomplished the feat from Aug. 31 to Sept. 10 of 1985. They also did it in 1964, from Sept. 16-26.
“Just gutsy,” said manager Aaron Boone of Peralta, who earned his fifth save of the year. “Freddie’s putting together a tremendous at-bat. [Peralta] keeps filling up the strike zone. Just a classic matchup there. … You know Freddie is going to control the zone, so if he’s out of the zone, it’s probably ball four. And [Peralta] just kept making pitches.
“It’s as tough a situation as you can probably be brought into … and he executed. Just a tremendous job by him.”
Peralta cleaned up the mess left by closer Aroldis Chapman, who began the ninth with a two-run lead and was only one out from what could have been his 300th career save. Chapman thought he had induced a game-ending groundout from Ozzie Albies, but the Braves second baseman raced down the line at an elite 30.8 feet per second to beat out the throw to first base. When Chapman walked Jorge Soler after that, Boone tapped Peralta to face Freeman.
“[He’s a] real polished hitter, everybody knows how good he is,” Peralta said through an interpreter. “You just focus and execute pitch by pitch. … If you go in the game, [you have] to have a sense of urgency to get the job done.”
It was yet another close-call victory for the Yankees in a season that has been chock-full of them, especially as they have soared back into postseason contention. Since July 1, the Yankees sport a 25-5 record (.833 winning percentage) in games decided by three or fewer runs, which is the highest in the Majors in that period. Prior to July 1, the New York went 28-24 (.538) in those contests: 6-9 in April, 14-5 in May and 8-10 in June.
Taking that one step further, the Yankees have now had 70 games this season determined by two runs or fewer, which is the most such games in the Majors this year. Seven of those games have come during this 11-game winning streak.
“I feel like our guys are very comfortable in these close games,” Boone said. “Whether we pull it out, whether we lose one, whatever it may be -- I know we’re comfortable and we’re gonna play our game.”
“There’s no panic,” added Aaron Judge. “This team is prepared for everything. So I think maybe it might be a little easier, because we’ve been there before. We’ve seen all outcomes. We’ve seen the good, we’ve seen the bad, we’ve seen the in-between. Nothing really surprises us at this point.”
Well, maybe except for when Peralta threw those four straight changeups to Freeman in a 3-2 count with the game on the line.
“Gotta have a lot of [guts to do that],” said starter Andrew Heaney. “All of them were quality pitches, and he got him out.”
“It kinda messes with you a little bit,” added Judge. “I was laughing in the outfield because there are times where I’ve faced guys and same thing -- they’ll throw six straight sliders and you’re kinda thinking in the back of your mind, ‘Eventually they’re gonna throw something else.’ … Especially a hitter like Freddie, he can get the bat on the ball on anything, so you show him the same pitch, I feel like he’s gonna do damage. But that changeup from Wandy is pretty nasty, so we were able to get out of it.”
For his game-saving, streak-sustaining effort, Peralta became the latest recipient of the belt the Yankees have made a habit of passing around in the locker room to their MVP from each victory. And as the players have attested, the belt has passed between more hands than usual over the course of their winning streak. It was only a matter of time before Peralta claimed it.
“This guy is competitive,” Boone said. “He’s fearless, and he’s got the arsenal and the stuff to be a really good reliever in this game, so hopefully he’s breaking through. And obviously the most difficult situations that he’s been put in, the better he’s performed. He’s become a big part of this.”