There were glances exchanged in the visiting dugout after Aroldis Chapman’s fifth pitch was hammered for a sharp single, his fastball seemingly lacking the oomph that makes it special. They trusted that the closer would find the necessary next gear, as he has so many times before.
Yet, Chapman’s heater remained lukewarm, failing to generate a single out. Josh Donaldson launched a game-tying blast over the left-field wall and Nelson Cruz connected for a walk-off two-run shot in the ninth inning, stunning the Yankees with a 7-5 loss to the Twins on Thursday night at Target Field.
“If you have to point out something different, my velocity wasn’t there as it has been before,” Chapman said through an interpreter. “And the hitters were ready to jump on the fastball tonight.”
Chapman averaged 96.5 mph on his four-seam fastball, tied for his lowest single-game average this year (also May 28). It marked the third game in Chapman’s career in which he has given up multiple homers, and the first of those in which he was unable to retire a batter.
“It just wasn’t coming out real good,” Yanks manager Aaron Boone said. “They were ready. They were obviously hunting the fastball and got some right down the middle where he wasn't really clipping at that high velocity we normally see. It clearly wasn’t Chappy’s night.”
Said Cruz: “He’s the best closer in the game, so it was remarkable to be able to score four runs against him.”
Despite the surprising conclusion, the Yankees prepared to jet off for a rare Friday off-day and a brief Interleague series with the Phillies carrying optimism that their Twin Cities visit restored some thump.
Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela homered early as the Bombers forced a bearded J.A. Happ to grind through five stressful innings. Stanton hit three home runs in the past two games, while New York hit eight homers and tallied 22 runs in the three-game series.
“That would’ve been great to get the sweep here, especially leading the whole game,” Stanton said. “Offensively, we’ve got to feed off of this and see how we grinded out at-bats, just putting pressure on the guys on the mound. I think we did a great job of that this series. We’ve just got to continue that.”
Coulda, woulda, shoulda
The Yankees did not trail in the contest until Cruz’s game-winning blast carried over the center-field wall, but there were numerous opportunities for them to pad their advantage.
Holding a 4-2 lead through four innings, the all-right-handed Yanks lineup produced only one more run, which came on DJ LeMahieu’s RBI single in the sixth. New York left at least one runner on in five of the final six frames.
“It stinks, no two ways about it,” Boone said. “Especially on a night when we did a lot of things really well. We scored five runs but … we just couldn't build that lead. It seemed like we had chances to break that game open all night.”
A few feet could have spelled a different outcome for Chris Gittens, who cracked a deep drive to right field off Happ in the fourth that was initially ruled a two-run homer by first-base umpire Tripp Gibson.
It would have been Gittens’ first Major League hit, but the call was swiftly reversed to a foul ball. Gittens is hitless in 12 at-bats since being promoted.
“I kind of lost [sight of] it, too,” Boone said. “We realized it was probably foul once they made that call.”
King and five
Michael King had the ball early, holding the Twins to two runs and four hits over 3 2/3 innings in his third start since taking over the injured Corey Kluber’s rotation spot. Cruz lifted a first-inning sacrifice fly and Andrelton Simmons stroked a fourth-inning RBI double.
“I started getting into a groove into the second or third inning, but I’m disappointed in myself for not getting out of that fourth inning scoreless or clean,” King said. “I feel like I’m making strides, but it still hasn’t been perfect yet.”
Four relievers combined to bring the Yankees' lead to the ninth inning, including Jonathan Loaisiga, who continued his breakout campaign with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. The blown save was Chapman’s second in 14 opportunities, as he tossed five of nine pitches for strikes.
“The last couple of outings, I’ve been a little passive, especially the first couple of hitters of the inning,” Chapman said. “It was just a bad night tonight.”