NEW YORK -- The Yankees' power bullpen is one of the reasons that this autumn could host a serious charge for the 28th title in franchise history, but the No. 26 proved to be even more important on Tuesday, as four relievers combined for one of the great relief performances
NEW YORK -- The Yankees' power bullpen is one of the reasons that this autumn could host a serious charge for the 28th title in franchise history, but the No. 26 proved to be even more important on Tuesday, as four relievers combined for one of the great relief performances in baseball history.
Chad Green, Player Page for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Albertin Chapman recorded 26 outs in relief of Luis Severino, striking out 13 and allowing just one run as the Yanks advanced to the American League Division Series presented by Doosan with an 8-4 win over the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium.
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"If it's the second or third inning, and that's when I'm needed to help us win a ballgame, that's what I'll pitch," Robertson said. "It doesn't matter to me. I just want to win another World Series."
Severino's command was absent as he threw 29 pitches in the first, serving up a leadoff homer to James Dozier and a two-run shot to Eddie Rosario. By the time Eduardo Escobar flared a single to center field, Green was already warming in the bullpen, and manager Joe Girardi retrieved the ball one batter later when Max Kepler doubled to right field.
There were boos heard among the crowd of 49,280 as Severino trudged to the dugout, leaving the bullpen to soak up the most formidable task in franchise postseason history since Whitey Ford recorded just four outs in the 10-inning Game 6 of the 1958 World Series against the Milwaukee Braves. The last time a pitcher had a playoff start of one-third of an inning or less was in Game 1 of the 2012 National League Division Series, when Johnny Cueto (then with the Reds against the Giants) exited with a back injury. Before Cueto, Indians pitcher Dwight Gooden recorded just one out against the Red Sox in Game 3 of the 1998 AL Division Series, throwing 22 pitches and allowing two runs on one hit and two walks.
Severino's departure left the Yanks in the position of needing to become the first team since the 1925 Pirates to win a winner-take-all postseason game while getting one out or fewer from its starting pitcher.
"I didn't necessarily think that I could do it with just four relievers, but I knew I had a chance," Girardi said. "It's not how you draw it up, I can tell you that. But because of some of the moves that we've made, we know that our bullpen can shut you down."
Making his postseason debut, Green and his disappearing fastball quickly turned any lingering jeers into cheers, stranding two Minnesota basrunners with swinging strikeouts of Byron Buxton and Jason Castro.
"I think in that situation, you're just trying to minimize, honestly," Green said. "I happened to get two big outs right there and then [Didi Gregorius] hit a big three-run homer to tie it up. I think that was the momentum changer right there. I kind of treated it like any other appearance, really. I kind of got ready pretty quick, and the next thing I knew, I was in the game."
Retiring the first five men he faced (four via strikeout) before allowing a leadoff single in the third inning, Green eventually handed over a bases-loaded, one-out jam to Robertson. Nicknamed "Houdini" for his ability to escape tight spots, Robertson coaxed the ground ball he wanted, but Buxton legged out a run-scoring fielder's choice.
From there, Robertson was nails, establishing new career highs with 3 1/3 innings, five strikeouts and 52 pitches. It marked the second-longest appearance of Robertson's entire pro career; he'd thrown 3 2/3 innings on April 26, 2008, at Double-A Trenton.
"It was fun," Robertson said. "I had a good time. I threw a few pitches that I wish I could take back that were base hits, but I had a great time. I enjoyed it, mainly because I didn't give up a ton of runs and lose the game. I wish I could have finished the last inning I was in, but I'm happy with what I was able to do."
Girardi finally retrieved the ball from Robertson after a two-out walk to Dozier in the sixth, calling upon Kahnle, another prized addition who returned to the organization in a late July trade with the White Sox.
"Same thing as I've always done," Kahnle said. "I didn't feel any nerves. I just knew I had to go out there and give us outs, get us to wherever they needed me to. If they're going to keep giving me the ball, I'm going to keep taking it. No complaints."
Kahnle retired all seven batters he faced over 2 1/3 scoreless innings, setting up Chapman, who struck out the side around a single to put a stamp on the Yankees' first postseason victory since 2012.
"We knew once those doors opened up, it was going to be tough to score," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I didn't really think it was going to be an 8-4 type of game, but with what [Girardi] can throw at you, he made the right choices."
The 13 strikeouts tied a Major League record for a bullpen in a postseason game, equaling a mark the Cubs set in Game 4 of the 2015 National League Division Series against St. Louis.
"Our bullpen was remarkable tonight," Girardi said. "The innings that they gave us, that David Robertson gave us, how they saved each other's runs. I mean, it was just remarkable."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.