AL Wild Card: Bullpen helps Yankees rally past Twins

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

NEW YORK – Early in the New York Yankees’ season-saving American League wild card victory over the Minnesota Twins – before Aaron Judge hit the first of what should be many playoff home runs and before star catcher Gary Sanchez took a foul ball off the worst place to take a foul ball and before “New York, New York” played this late in the season since 2012 – the advantage revealed itself.

Minnesota had plundered three runs in the first inning, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi removed his starter Luis Severino after one out. The Yankees answered back with three of their own and took the lead in the second, forcing the Twins to their bullpen, too. And with seven innings to play and a battle of the bullpens, the Yankees weren’t about to forgo a division series showdown with the American League-best Cleveland Indians.

Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman stunted on the Twins over 8 2/3 dominant innings, and the Yankees scratched together enough offense to hand them an 8-4 victory Tuesday at a sold-out Yankee Stadium. While New York expected to rely upon its bullpen as a plus, never could manager Girardi have envisioned Severino, an All-Star, faltering in such fashion.

New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge (99) celebrates with Gary Sanchez after hitting a two-run home run during the fourth inning of the American League wild-card baseball game against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in New York. (AP)

To respond with Green for two innings, Robertson for a career-high 3 1/3, Kahnle for 2 1/3 and Chapman for the final three outs showed a deft touch. The Twins mustered just four hits. The four relievers struck out 13, including three from Chapman in the ninth inning to advance the Yankees to Game 1 on Thursday at Progressive Field.

In many ways, the game personified baseball in 2017: a homer-happy festival of relief pitching that stretched deep into the night. The final out was recorded at one minute past midnight, nearly four hours after the first pitch. Four pitches after that, Twins leadoff hitter Brian Dozier homered off Severino, and Eddie Rosario followed with a two-run shot to silence the crowd. It didn’t stay that way for long, booing Severino after he allowed two more hits and yielded to Green.

Twins starter Ervin Santana wasn’t much better. Didi Gregorius yanked a three-run homer off him in the first inning and Brett Gardner followed with another in the second. Judge’s line shot into the left field stands in his first playoff game following a magnificent rookie season led to M-V-P chants from the crowd.

The real MVP was the Yankees’ bullpen, with hard thrower after hard thrower, strikeout machine after strikeout machine, shutdown guy after shutdown guy. The Indians may have won 102 games in the regular season, but stealing three from a Yankees relief corps bolstered by off-days may be their greatest challenge yet.

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