Aroldis Chapman had thrown eight balls and only one strike to the first two batters he faced to open the ninth inning of Sunday afternoon's 2-1 win over the A's when Yankees manager Aaron Boone had no choice but to jog out to the mound and check on his closer. New York was clinging to a one-run lead with two runners on and nobody out at Yankee Stadium.
“He was just dealing with a little nail issue, and it was sore and bugging him. But he felt like he was fine to pitch,” Boone said, “and I didn’t feel like -- even though he obviously wasn’t throwing strikes -- I didn’t feel like he was non-competitive, or ‘We gotta get him outta here.’ And he absolutely felt like he wanted to stay in.”
So despite the broken nail on the middle finger of Chapman’s throwing hand -- which the lefty said postgame that he has been dealing with for a while -- Boone let him face the next batter, the A’s Sean Murphy. The skipper could never have guessed just how perfectly it would work out in the Yankees’ favor.
Chapman threw a 98.4 mph fastball down and in, and Murphy lined a grounder right to third base. Gio Urshela grabbed it and stepped on the bag for the first out. He threw it to DJ LeMahieu for the second, and LeMahieu relayed it to first baseman Chris Gittens for the third and final out of the ballgame.
The Yankees turned their third triple play of the season to eke out a series victory over the American League West-leading A’s.
“If you’re around long enough, you see everything,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “I’ve never seen a game end like that before. It felt like we had him on the ropes. We had a guy up there that is really good against left-handed pitching. He just ends up hitting it in the wrong spot. You don’t see that very often.”
Unless, of course, you’re the Yankees this season. New York’s trio of triple plays in 2021 ties an MLB record, as they are the first team to do so since the 2016 White Sox. The last time a triple play ended a game was Aug. 23, 2009, when the Phillies turned one against the Mets, and it has happened 27 times in MLB history.
The difficulty level of this triple play didn't quite compare to the one the Yankees completed on Thursday, a 1-3-6-2-5-6 wonder that was the first of its kind in MLB history. It was, however, almost an exact replica of the Yanks’ first triple play of the season, which came on May 22 against the White Sox -- with Chapman at the center of it all.
“It’s incredible when you think about it. You can tell this to someone, they probably won’t believe it. They would need to see it to believe it,” Chapman said through an interpreter after picking up his 16th save of the season. “You try to do the best you can to fight on the mound and get the job done as best as you can. … Like today, you find yourself in a spot where it’s hard to believe you’re going to get the job done, and then all of a sudden the game is over and you saved the game.”
The Yankees notched their fifth come-from-behind win in their past six games, aided by a hot-hitting Gary Sánchez, who knocked a go-ahead two-run double in the sixth inning as part of a 2-for-3 showing. The catcher has hit .344/.408/.719 with 10 runs, six doubles, six homers and 14 RBIs in his past 20 games, and he has now reached base two or more times in seven of his past nine starts.
Aside from a DJ LeMahieu double, Sánchez was the only Yankee to manage a hit off Sean Manaea -- let alone two -- as the A’s starter struck out 11 batters over 5 1/3 innings. On Sánchez’s go-ahead double, the first two pitches that came his way were strikes up and away. With the third pitch headed in that same direction, Sánchez stretched out and made contact, driving a ball to the gap in right-center field that proved to be the deciding blow.
“Watch the at-bats, the competitiveness [in] every pitch,” Boone said. “He’s on time, he’s making really good decisions. Doesn’t mean you’re always going to get results, but it’s not an accident that he’s getting really good results, because he’s in the fight every pitch now. He’s under control, he’s balanced -- and when those things happen, his talent comes out.”
Sánchez was still behind the plate in the ninth, and when Chapman’s finger didn’t feel right, the battery came up with a plan of attack against Murphy. A triple play wasn’t what they had in mind, but the Yankees will certainly take it.
“We were just trying to get strike 1 there,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “Hopefully get ahead in the count, strike a guy out, follow that with a double play. But things worked out better than I expected.”