It was the arm in the ninth inning that saved it, only the arm this time did not belong to Aroldis Chapman, even with the left-handed closer on the mound.
The arm belonged to left fielder Aaron Hicks.
Or, as manager Joe Girardi noted after Friday’s stirring 5-4 victory over the first-place Red Sox, “A really good arm.”
This was one that seemed to come from the first half of the season, when the Yankees were such an unexpectedly pleasant story unencumbered by even the slightest of expectations.
More than that? This was one from out of nowhere really, the Yankees limited to two hits and down 3-0 before taking their turn in the bottom of the eighth, a 5 ¹/₂-game deficit to first-place Boston just six outs away.
It seemed as if all the spring and summer laughter would fade to sorrow just as Aaron Judge was morphing from Joe Hardy to Joe Boyd in front of our very eyes, this second half version of the 2017 pre-All-Star phenom somehow a mirror image of his 2016 second-half debut.
But the Yankees did not slink off downtrodden into this Bronx night. Instead, they scored five times in the eighth inning, the first two coming on a home run by Hicks against former Mets reliever Addison Reed, who did not get an out facing four batters upon his return to the boroughs and was the losing pitcher.
So it was 5-3, Yankees, after eight. Disaster in the form of an eighth loss in 12 games would be averted. After all, the ball was in the valued hand of Chapman.
Ball, actually, was the operative word, with Chapman throwing eight on his first nine pitches to walk Jackie Bradley Jr. and Eduardo Nunez. And then there were four more from Chapman, who had pitched only once this month, an inning in getting the 2-1 save last Saturday in Cleveland.
Now he had walked the bases loaded with none out via his full-count pass to Mookie Betts.
The carousel was spinning off its axis. The desultory loss that seemed to become an electrifying victory now seemed on the brink of devastating defeat.
Girardi said a loss “would not be the end of the world,” which would most certainly be true in the context of North Korea, but would have been close enough to filling that description in the context of a pennant race.
Dellin Betances was up in the bullpen. Even with a back end fortified to be impenetrable with the pre-deadline acquisitions of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox, the Yankees were teetering. Their singular strength was going to be their undoing.
But not so fast. Not with Hicks in left field. Not with Todd Frazier playing third base. Not with familiar face Nunez on the basepaths.
Andrew Benintendi, who had smoked a fifth-inning solo home run into the right-field second deck off Jaime Garcia, poled one deep to left, where Hicks pulled it down. Bradley tagged up from third and scored easily.
Nunez tagged up from second, and …
“He’s an aggressive player and always has been, He makes things happen,” Girardi said of his former utility infielder, whose greatest utility was always swinging the bat. “A lot more than not, his teams benefit from it.”
Not this time. Not with Hicks uncorking a terrific throw and Frazier making a nifty one-hop backhand stab and an almost instantaneous whirling tag that nipped Nunez as he kicked up a cloud of dust.
“If it happened tomorrow, I would take the chance tomorrow again,” Nunez said after the call, which was upheld on video review. “That’s how you play the game. That was a great throw, that was a great pick by Frazier and he made the tag. Have to give credit to them.”
Hicks, in his second game back after a lengthy stay on the disabled list, said he was not surprised by Nunez’s aggressiveness. Frazier, in the field with Hicks for the second time, said he knew Hicks had a strong arm, but not that strong,
And so there were two out, the score was 5-4 and the tying run was at second base after Betts had moved up on the throw. Which is where it and he remained when Chapman got Mitch Moreland to fly out to center field to end the ballgame.
It was the most significant win of the season and it came courtesy of the ninth-inning arm. Not Chapman’s, but Hicks’.
That kind of night in The Bronx.
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