Called early, Yanks' 'pen finally blinks in 11th

October 15th, 2019

HOUSTON -- The Yankees had run low on relief options in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday night at Minute Maid Park, leaving veteran starter as the team’s last resort with two on and two out in the bottom of the 10th inning.

Happ escaped that jam, but he gave up a walk-off homer to Carlos Correa leading off the 11th that gave the Astros a 3-2 win and evened the ALCS at a game apiece.

“When Happ comes in, we know we're going to have some favorable platoon matchups,” said Astros manager AJ Hinch.

Yankees skipper Aaron Boone has been clear that he will be aggressive when it comes to his relief corps, and he backed up those statements on Sunday, turning to his bullpen after just 2 1/3 frames from starter James Paxton.

With a ‘pen that posted the second-highest WAR (7.5) in the Majors during the regular season (compared to Houston’s 4.3), Boone has plenty of reasons to feel comfortable taking the ball out of his starters’ hands.

“Just felt like we were covered, as far as today, with getting some length and having guys rested,” Boone said. “Obviously, going into an off-day tomorrow, we’re just going to be aggressive. … But I thought, as far as pitching-wise, we did a good job of holding them down.”

With runners on first and second with one out in the third inning and New York trailing, 1-0, took over for Paxton and cruised through two hitless innings with two strikeouts. But Boone’s aggressive approach ended up leaving the Yanks short-staffed once the game stretched into extras.

“You're playing it to win the game. You're not playing it to -- ‘What if we go 13?’ You know?” Boone said. “You're playing it [based on] what gives us the best chance to win here. And the bottom line is we end up giving up a third run in the 11th inning. I'd say, from a run-prevention standpoint, it went pretty well.”

Enter Ottavino

At the end of the fourth inning, was informed that he’d be coming on to face George Springer, who was due up second in the bottom of the fifth. Despite the fact that Green threw as many as 47 pitches during the season, Boone stuck to his plan, pulling the right-hander after striking out Kyle Tucker in the fifth on his 26th pitch of the night.

The Yankees had gone up, 2-1, on an Aaron Judge home run in the fourth inning, but the lead vanished on Ottavino’s first pitch. Springer launched an 81.8-mph slider over the wall in left-center field to knot the game at 2.

“Obviously I'm not trying to throw it there,” Ottavino said. “More down and away. I was expecting a swing. I think it just came out a little early. Not ideal. … I have a lot of confidence in my slider, but credit to him, he didn’t miss it.”

Michael Brantley then reached on a dropped strike three, José Altuve singled and Ottavino struck out Alex Bregman before Boone made another trip to the mound.

“He got ambushed on a first-pitch-strike slider. And then after that, weak contact and a punchout that gets by [the catcher so the runner] gets on,” Boone said. “So no real issue.”

The Yanks could’ve tried to get a few more outs from the right-hander, but Boone instead turned to .

The unsung hero

For 2 1/3 frames, Kahnle didn’t allow a hit and stuck out two batters, demonstrating the depth of the Yankees’ dominant bullpen. It was the first time since April 6, 2018, that the righty has tossed at least two innings.

“I’ve told them in the past, whatever they need in this playoffs, I’m willing to give them,” Kahnle said. “They kept asking after each inning, ‘Am I good? Am I good?’ And I told them I felt good, so I just kept going.”

Chapman for one

After worked around a walk in a scoreless eighth, the Yanks got the ball in their closer’s hand in the ninth. was able to rack up three strikeouts, but even on five days of rest, the club decided against pushing him for another inning. It’s been since June 25, 2018, that the lefty has come back out for a second frame.

New York was then left with , and Happ.

Sabathia retired the only batter he faced, Brantley, on a groundout, but after Loaisiga walked back-to-back batters, Happ was the last man standing.

“If you can kind of put some pressure on them and you get some matchups in your favor, they're going to continue to make those moves,” Hinch said. “I think George Springer's swing off of Ottavino kind of got energy back in our dugout.”

The Yankees went through nine pitchers on the night, which is tied for the most by a team in postseason history. Even though they came up just short in the end, the club has proven that its ‘pen can certainly play to its advantage.

“The last two days, I think we've been holding it down,” Sabathia said. “Hopefully we can continue to do that. That's what we're going to need to do to beat this team over there. That's a great team over there. It's going to take all of us.”