Four pitches into the ninth inning, Aroldis Chapman seemed headed for disaster. Three batters later, the Yankees’ closer had secured a series victory over the Blue Jays in Buffalo.
In between was a mammoth strikeout, an instant replay of a close play, a questioned foul tip that could’ve enabled the tying run to score and a long at-bat that resulted in a line drive.
Ultimately, Chapman got the three outs needed to preserve the 3-2 victory and his 14th save of the season.
“Definitely a tough inning,” he said through a translator. “They definitely made me work.”
It started poorly, with consecutive opposite-field hits by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez. Neither was hit particularly hard. Still, Toronto was set up, with runners at second and third and nobody out.
Chapman had hit a recent rough patch, blowing a save against the Twins last Thursday and taking the loss in an extra-inning setback to the Phillies on Saturday.
He has responded. After the Hernandez hit, Chapman blew away Randal Grichuk with a 101 mph fastball for the first out. He then came back from down 3-1 in the count to get pinch-hitter Santiago Espinal to hit a comebacker. Guerrero committed from third and Chapman quickly threw to catcher Gary Sanchez at home — too quickly, giving Guerrero a chance to get back to third base — but Sanchez reacted fast and gunned him down on a bang-bang play. After a review, the call was upheld.
“Gary made a great play there,” Chapman said.
Chapman still had one out to get. The first pitch to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was foul tipped and got away from Sanchez. The Blue Jays argued it was a swing and a miss, which would’ve enabled the tying run to score, but the play was not reviewable and it was ruled a foul ball. Sanchez said he heard two sounds — the ball hitting the bat and then his glove.
“From the mound, it looked like a foul ball to me,” Chapman said.
On the seventh pitch, Gurriel was able to make contact on a high 100 mph fastball, but center fielder Brett Gardner was there to seal the victory and end the chaotic inning. Instead of a potential gut-punch loss, the Yankees had secured at least two wins in this three-game series after a heart-pounding ninth inning.
“For me, [he’s] the best closer in the game,” manager Aaron Boone said. “They took some really tough at-bats against him. … He just kept making pitches. You’re the best at something you do, usually you’re out there with some confidence.”