'Strange things happen': Wacky bounce deals blow to Yanks' slim hopes

September 17th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Strange things happen in baseball.

That’s what Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before the series finale at PNC Park, after his team had already secured a series victory which kept what little sliver of hope the Yanks have for the postseason alive. However, a strange hit ruined New York's bid to sweep its way back home.

Carlos Rodón went 6 2/3 innings in his longest start of the season, but he could not record the final out in the seventh, as Jason Delay’s grounder bounced down the line and ricocheted off the third-base bag to provide the game-deciding hit in New York’s 3-2 loss to the Bucs on Sunday afternoon.

Rodón’s start was his most encouraging of the season, building off a solid five-inning outing in Boston on Tuesday, when he struck out nine and allowed one run. After missing almost the entire first half of the season due to a left forearm strain, he’s starting to look like the pitcher the Yankees envisioned when they signed him to a six-year contract in the offseason.

Rodón struck out 10 batters, touched 100 mph and afforded the Bucs only six hits. Two of them were doubles to Jared Triolo, who Rodón credited with having great at-bats against him, and one was a harmless single by Connor Joe.

“Another really good step, and I think, a peek into what he is when he’s throwing it right,” Boone said.

However, the two other hits were of the variety that can drive a pitcher to the brink.

In the fourth inning, Pirates outfielder Miguel Andujar -- a former Yankee -- swung at an 0-1 fastball nearly at his chin and sent it flying down the right-field line. All Rodón could do was watch in disbelief as it rang off the foul pole to give the Bucs a two-run lead.

“Just part of the game, I guess,” Rodón said. “It’s baseball. Welcome to it.”

It didn’t help that the Yankees’ offense took a while to get going. The unit was held without a hit until Estevan Florial led off the sixth with a single. He then scored on DJ LeMahieu’s double one batter later. Anthony Volpe sent his first homer of September to center field to tie the game in the seventh.

A fresh new ballgame then awaited Rodón as he took the mound to pitch in the seventh inning for the first time in more than a year. He had two outs when Delay stepped up with a runner on base. Rodón quickly got ahead 0-2, and he thought he clipped the zone on his fourth offering to end the threat. But it was ruled a ball, and two pitches later, Delay swung at a curveball and bounced a chopper that glanced off the outside of the third-base bag and trickled into foul territory down the line.

“The stuff was good,” Rodón said. “I never really want to lose, which is what puts a bummer on it. I wish the ball didn’t hit the bag. I wish I would have gotten the punchout there and kept the game [at] 2-2. But it’s just part of the game.”

The loss moved the Yankees’ American League Wild Card elimination number to seven with 12 games to play. Those are very long odds to make up for a disappointing middle of the season, but six of New York's upcoming games are against the Blue Jays, who hold the second AL Wild Card spot.

The Yanks are not counting themselves out, especially in a sport that loves late-season drama.

“That’s why we’re here: to go out there and win some games,” said Aaron Judge. “We’re not out of it, and we’re going to keep fighting, especially with this group. Like they’ve shown us this whole road trip, it doesn’t matter if we’re down to our last out, we’ve still got a chance, and we’re going to go out there and do our best.”

“You never know. Strange things happen, right?” Boone said. “We just want to play well. Handle our business, and if strange is in the cards, then great. But the biggest thing we want to do is control ourselves, and hopefully, continue to play really, really good baseball.”