Nothing can ever come easy to the 2021 Yankees, huh? They needed all of 162 games — and literally all of the 162nd game — to clinch a Wild Card spot. Today’s 1-0 win over the Rays was pretty emblematic of what we’ve seen from this team all season long: great pitching, lackluster offense, but just enough to pull things out in the end.
The Yankees’ pitching staff is incredible. It’s the reason the team won today and the reason this year’s club had any chance to make the postseason. Funny how it was supposed to be the other way around, but the offense never came together. Coming into this game, the club’s 114 ERA+ was 6th-best in the majors and 3rd-best in the American League behind Houston and Chicago.
Today, Jameson Taillon and the bullpen shut out Tampa Bay (3rd-best OPS+ in the majors). No, the Rays didn’t have anything to play for today (or this series, for that matter), but it’s not like they took the gas off the pedals.
Taillon, who I figured wouldn’t pitch again this season after aggravating his ankle injury in his previous outing, looked sharp in 3.1 innings today. That’s very encouraging if the Yankees are going to make a postseason run. Without Taillon, the postseason rotation looked like Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Corey Kluber, and Nestor Cortes. Taillon could usurp Kluber or Cortes now, depending on the team’s preference. Of course, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves yet. There’s still a Wild Card game to play.
The Yankees’ lights out bullpen did its usual thing too. Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes, Chad Green, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Aroldis Chapman tossed 5.2 shutout frames to bring this one to a finish. There were a couple of close calls, namely the eighth inning. Randy Arozarena nearly wrecked things all by himself against Loáisiga. Arozarena singled to lead off the frame, stole second, and then tagged up to third base on a fly ball to Joey Gallo, but J-Lo escaped with a strikeout (Nelson Cruz) and flyout (Austin Meadows).
The offense finally comes through, though Kevin Cash choosing Josh Fleming for the ninth was a bit of a gift. I know Fleming blanked the Yanks on Friday, but he’s not exactly a good pitcher. He doesn’t miss bats (14.6 percent K-rate) and entered today’s game with a 5.02 ERA (4.27 FIP) in 104 innings.
Fleming got into trouble right away. Rougned Odor singled to lead off the frame, and although Fleming rebounded to induce a flyout against Gleyber Torres, the ball was struck well. Pinch runner Tyler Wade tagged to second on the play, and Anthony Rizzo nearly drove him in immediately thereafter, but the first baseman’s single was smoked so Wade didn’t risk getting thrown out at the plate.
At that point, Cash decided to go to one of his better relievers, Andrew Kittredge. Too little, too late though. Asking him to come in with one out and prevent Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton from driving in the winning run was a big ask. Here’s what happened:
Up next: the Red Sox. Much to the chagrin of most fans, there will not be a 163rd game. That was still a possibility after the Yankees clinched a spot, but it would have required a Red Sox loss. Sorry Blue Jays and Mariners fans. Boston beat the Nationals 7-5 and will host the Wild Card game against the Yankees on Tuesday.
We’ll preview the game in more depth ahead of Tuesday night, but here’s what we know right now: Gerrit Cole will start for the Yankees. I presume Nate Eovaldi will go for the Sox as Chris Sale started today’s game.
- Somehow, Gio Urshela is OK after crashing into Tampa’s dugout while making an incredible running catch to end the sixth inning. He stayed in for a few more innings before Andrew Velazquez replaced him, but it sounds like he avoided a serious injury. Boone told the media that he suffered a pretty bad thigh bruise.
- Can the bats please show up Tuesday? The Yankees had one hit through eight innings today against Michael Wacha and the Rays’ bullpen.
- Speaking of Tampa’s bullpen, the Yankees faced old friend David Robertson today. He tossed a 1-2-3 eighth inning.
Now that clinching is out of the way and the postseason field is set, the Yankees can rest tomorrow ahead of Tuesday night’s Wild Card game. As mentioned, we’ll have plenty of coverage leading up to it. For now, try to relax, because the nerves will be back in 48 hours.