There was a measure of trickery afoot as Deivi García walked to the Petco Park mound on Tuesday evening, tabbed as the Yankees’ youngest starting pitcher ever for a postseason contest. His first offerings were accompanied by activity in the bullpen, the 21-year-old’s outing secretly intended only to be an opening cameo.
It was a move, manager Aaron Boone acknowledged, executed in hopes of exploiting the lefty-heavy Rays. The benefits of replacing García after three outs were negligible; despite two monstrous Giancarlo Stanton homers, the Yankees fell by a 7-5 tally, evening the American League Division Series at one game apiece.
“You're playing a unique team that does a really good job of building their roster to create platoon advantages,” Boone said. “We were just trying to counter that a little bit and force their hand early in the game. Unfortunately, it didn't work.”
At 21 years and 140 days, García was 211 days younger than Whitey Ford was in Game 4 of the 1950 World Series, when the future Hall of Famer fired 8 2/3 dazzling innings to wrap up a Yankees sweep. García knew that his performance was destined to be much, much shorter than Ford’s classic effort.
“To be honest, I did not ask why,” García said through a translator. “I believe in our manager. I know he’s trying to make the best decisions possible to put us in a good spot to be successful. When I was taken out of the game, I was not surprised at all.”
García permitted a Randy Arozarena homer in a 27-pitch first inning, then yielded to veteran left-hander J.A. Happ, who was knocked around for four runs in 2 2/3 innings. Happ was a curious choice for the assignment, given that he was irked by an unpredictable schedule early this season, before finding a reliable groove once permitted to get regular work beginning in late August.
Happ made it clear to Boone and the coaching staff that he was no fan of entering as a makeshift bulk reliever, voicing a preference to start. Having last pitched on Sept. 25, Happ said that he did his best to handle the challenge, but he permitted a two-run Mike Zunino homer in the second inning and a two-run Manuel Margot blast in the third.
“They know how I felt about it,” Happ said. “Ultimately, I pitch when I pitch. You’ve got me. There was no hesitation and no dwelling on what was going on. I was focused and trying to perform. I wish I would have done a better job.”
A silver lining is that García may be available in relief behind Masahiro Tanaka in Wednesday’s Game 3, and certainly for Thursday’s Game 4. Boone said that no decision has been made about a potential Game 5 starter, but given Tuesday’s theatrics, ace Gerrit Cole may be asked to return on short rest if necessary.
“I talked to my coaching staff, the front office, and we’ve talked through different scenarios,” Boone said. “Having a few days going into this series, we were kind of building out how we wanted to roll out our pitching.”
Meadows, one of five lefties in the Rays’ lineup, said that they were not caught off-guard by the García/Happ swap. The strategy was better executed by the Blue Jays in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series, when right-hander Matt Shoemaker and left-hander Robbie Ray combined for six innings of one-run ball.
"We knew there was going to be a lefty coming in after García,” Meadows said. “We faced Happ before, but it’s been a while. We had to continue to keep a game plan because we knew it was going to be a left-handed pitcher. I think we showed we competed well tonight."
The sputtering pitching and 18 strikeouts by the Bombers’ vaunted lineup -- a postseason record for a nine-inning contest -- overshadowed another epic performance by Stanton, who homered twice off starter Tyler Glasnow, joining Lou Gehrig (1928, ’32) and Reggie Jackson (1977-78) as the only Yankees to homer in four consecutive postseason games.
“That's pretty cool, but that's stuff you look at after the year is done,” Stanton said.
Even with the flopped attempt at deceit, the Yankees mounted a ninth-inning rally, bringing the potential go-ahead run to bat. Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres worked walks against right-hander Pete Fairbanks, who recovered to notch a pair of strikeouts before DJ LeMahieu laced a run-scoring single to center field.
That brought up Aaron Judge, but the slugger wrapped an 0-for-5 evening by chopping a slider to third base for the final out.
“To put five runs up there and have an opportunity to do more -- there's going to be challenging nights along the way,” Boone said. “For the most part, I thought we gave ourselves a chance.”