A win’s a win. After standing absolutely no chance against Max Scherzer, Brad Hand blew the save. And he coughed up the lead again in the tenth, I might add. Same guy the Yankees beat in Game 2 of the Wild Card series last season. They’ve got his number.
The Yankees eventually won this one in 11 frames, 4-3. You read that right: the Yankees won a game in extra innings. Feels like they’ve lost a million frustrating ones already this season. To the takeaways:
We love the extra innings rule, don’t we folks? Never hated them. Never. With today’s win, the Yankees are now 2-3 in extras this season. Getting to extra innings felt great, especially after Max Scherzer dominated all afternoon (more on him later). But playing in extras? That’s another story. First, here’s Gleyber Torres’ game-tying single against the Yankees’ punching bag, Brad Hand:
Once Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier failed to win it after Torres, there was a sudden feeling of doom with this one going to extras. OK, I’m being dramatic because there isn’t a better pitcher for the automatic runner on second base than Aroldis Chapman, who’s been incredible this season. But of course, he finally cracked.
Oddly enough, Chapman didn’t get a single whiff against his first two batters faced. But instead of it being a simple single and fly out to open a clean frame, the extra inning rule turned that into a single and a sac fly to give Washington a lead. That was the first run Chapman had allowed all season, but of course, it counts as an unearned run. Groan.
The bizarreness continued into the bottom of the tenth with Mike Ford leading off against Hand. The Yankees still had Gary Sánchez on the bench, who I wanted to pinch hit. I know that the team wouldn’t have had a true first baseman available, but Gary does take grounders at the position. It’s a risk, but so is letting Ford hit. Of course, Ford tied it up with a single. But not before trying to bunt against Hand, who couldn’t find the strike zone. Just awful pitching to not get the free out and then give up a left-on-left single to Ford, who hasn’t been a good hitter at the major league level since 2019.
For the 11th, Aaron Boone summoned Justin Wilson who’s struggled quite a bit this season. He entered today’s game with a 7.04 ERA and 6.99 FIP. So what does he do? Strand the leadoff runner at second base to preserve the tie. Not bad. Wilson really needed that. No one had any doubts once Wilson entered, right?
The Yankees finally won this one with a bases loaded infield single in the bottom half of the 11th. None other than Gleyber, who tied it in the 9th, drove in the winning run. It came against a five man infield too. So much for that. The extra innings rule brings out weird things.
So, that all counts. It was weird, but never did any of us ever say we hated the extra innings rule. Nope, not me, not us at this here blog.
I’m not sure the Yankees’ A-lineup would have stood a chance against Max Scherzer today. Mad Max pitched into the eighth of this game and set a record for most strikeouts by a visiting pitcher at the current Yankee Stadium. He struck out 14 batters and was absolutely dominant. 10 of those punchouts came in the first four innings, by the way. He also struck out six hitters in a row before Kyle Higashioka’s solo homer put the Yankees on the board. The hanging slider was basically Scherzer’s lone bad pitch of the day:
Homer aside, not many of the lineup’s swings were fruitful against the Nats’ ace. Scherzer induced 22 whiffs on 46 swings (48 percent!) and picked up 23 called strikes as well (41 percent CSW). Just look at this pitch execution:
I only see one non-fastball middle-up in the strike zone, just as Scherzer surely intended. He also buried his changeup and slider on opposite corners at the bottom of the zone. Like this:
Max Scherzer, 84mph Changeup and 86mph Slider, Overlay pic.twitter.com/VEinbTTjbN— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 8, 2021
Ridiculous. And again, I know hitters 5 through 9 (Gardner, Frazier, Ford, Higgy, Wade) weren’t exactly murderers row, but did that really matter? Higashioka and LeMahieu were the only two with hits today. Clint Frazier managed to draw a walk in the eighth. That’s it. Performances like today are why the 36 year-old Scherzer will be enshrined in Cooperstown someday.
Corey Kluber is clearly still a good pitcher. Oh yeah, he pitched today. I know a lot of people were none too pleased with the righty’s first five outings, but he’s turned the page on his slow start. Including today’s 5.2 innings of 2-run ball, Kluber has given up just 3 runs in his last 21.1 frames. And while no one will mistake him for his vintage self from his days in Cleveland, the 35 year-old the Yankees had on the bump today clearly still has some gas in the tank.
If there’s any complaint about Kluber’s outing today, it was allowing three free passes. The big one: a two out bases loaded walk of Juan Soto in the third. I’m going to delve into that inning a bit more in my next takeaway, but it certainly felt like Kluber’s approach was to lose the battle in order to win the war. He walked Soto on five pitches before getting Ryan Zimmerman to ground out and end the threat.
The other two walks came in the fourth: back-to-back to Starlin Castro and Alex Avila. Nothing came of those, but they were frustrating. Castro rarely walks (5 percent career) and Avila simply isn’t much of a threat anymore (.169/.349/.277 since last year). Those extra pitches may have cost Kluber a chance to finish the sixth inning and/or go deeper into this one. So did his defense, but again, that’s for another separate takeaway forthcoming.
Now, for the good. In spite of walking three, Kluber had terrific command of his cutter, curveball, and changeup this afternoon.
There are 79 pitches on that chart and maybe three or four in not great locations. He did a terrific job spotting his breaking ball, including eight called strikes on the pitch (namely, Josh Bell’s called strike three on a backdoor hook). Meanwhile, Scherzer lived on the edge with his cutter all day. Just look at all that dark red. Finally, he kept the changeup down all day. That’s really become a weapon for him this year, and it’s no coincidence given the organization’s emphasis on the pitch type.
On the flip side, Kluber left his sinker up in the zone a lot in this one.
He didn’t get burned on that pitch, though. He gets so much movement on everything he throws that he’s able to get away with that sort of location on his sinker, and today was yet another example. He also does such a great job of balancing his pitch mix that hitters have a hard time picking up what he’s throwing. Here’s the breakdown today:
- Cutter: 32%
- Curveball: 27%
- Sinker: 22%
- Changeup: 20%
Kluber has confidence in all of his pitches and it’s great to see. He frequently mentioned how he felt his command was just a tad off in his first few outings of the year, and it sure looks like his assessment was accurate. Things have come around in his last three starts, which portends for better things going forward. He looks far from done as a major league pitcher.
Infield defense woes strike again. Two plays stick out like a sore thumb in this one. Both happened in the third inning. The first: Victor Robles’ bunt single.
With Tyler Wade shading very close to second base, Robles is trying to push a bunt past Kluber for a hit. Mike Ford didn’t show the awareness of the situation and charged the bunt immediately, rather than retreating a covering to first base. The Yankees only chance to retire Robles, given where Wade was positioned, was if Kluber fielded the bunt. He did, but had no one to throw to. First base defense (and offense!) has been a black hole all year long. I know Luke Voit isn’t a gold glover, but I can’t wait until he’s back and hits, at least.
Robles’ “single” put runners on first and second with one out. Trea Turner followed with a single of his own to load ’em up. Next up: Josh Harrison.
Seems like a decent enough play at the precipice: Kluber makes a good pitch to induce a grounder and LeMahieu cuts down a run at home to keep the game scoreless. But with Juan Soto on deck, wouldn’t it have been better to take a shot at turning a double play?
By no means is this an easy double play to turn, but I’d argue it was worth a chance. No, it wasn’t hit hard (69.5 MPH) and it seems like Harrison got a good jump out of the box, but Harrison isn’t exactly a burner either. He’s in the 44th percentile in sprint speed this year (and 47th last year, for what it’s worth). I’d rather have seen LeMahieu go for the around the horn double play. Even if it didn’t work out and the Yanks only got the force at second, Kluber could have pitched around Soto with a base open. That’s what he wound up doing anyway.
I’m not sure if LeMahieu considered going for the double play at all. It appeared to be something of a predetermined decision. As for the Ford play, it looked pretty clear that the first baseman had his mind made up right away. These two fundamental mistakes (now, if you want to argue LeMahieu’s wasn’t a mistake, I do understand) effectively cost the Yankees a run. Can’t do that in a game against Max Scherzer. Especially because he was dominant today.
- There was nearly a two-and-a-half hour rain delay before this one started. Long day of baseball — this game took nearly four hours to complete.
- Good rebound by the bullpen today. Chad Green and Lucas Luetge combined to throw 3.1 shutout innings after Kluber. Green allowed a hit, while Luetge retired all six batters he faced. Both struck out two. Luetge continues to be a great find. Chapman and Wilson, as previously noted, did a good job too.
Rubber game tomorrow at 1:05pm. See you tomorrow.