Romine Provides the Bromide

Bronx, N.Y., April 21, 2019; Yankees 7, Kansas City 6 — The Big Maple pitched another brilliant game Sunday afternoon under improving skies, but all he has to show for it is a no-decision and a standing ovation from 40,000 delighted Yankee fans, who would not remain happy for long. James Paxton has now turned in back-to-back 12-strike-out games and has, incredibly, whiffed 24 of the last 49 batters to face him.

The Yanks eked out a 2-0 lead early after doubles by DJ LeMahieu (first inning) and Mike Ford (second, this being Ford’s first major league hit). DJ scored on a short wild pitch, and Mike on an rbi single by Austin Romine. It stayed that way until the fifth when Clint Frazier followed one-out singles by Luke Voit and Brett Gardner with a three-run bomb to just left of center. Seeing as the Royals had all of two hits through the sixth, fans became pretty comfortable with the 5-0 lead.

They shouldn’t have. Out to start the seventh, Pax was reached for a double and walk, and Aaron Boone replaced him with Tommy Kahnle, who pitched out of it with two strike outs, although Chris Owings’s deep fly to right for the second out did introduce a certain amount of anxiety to the proceedings. The struggling Chad Green, who may unfairly get a bad rap for this, came on for the eighth. Martin Maldinado lofted a 2-2 pitch into no man’s land over first base barely fair to start the frame with a single. A walk later, Whit Merrifield’s seeing-eye ground ball toward right snuck through for a single, and the bases were loaded with no outs. Armchair managers may argue that Boone got Adam Ottavino up too late. But whatever the case, the pen signaled he was ready, and he replaced Green. In the span of five pitches, he was shelled for a double, home run, and yet another homer, each hit harder than its predecessor. Hunter Dozier’s singleton that ended the barrage almost cleared the Yankee bullpen.

6-5, Royals, in a matter of minutes. Ottavino escaped further damage with two strike outs and a popup around a one-out walk, but a devastated and stunned crowd tried to gather themselves to root for a rally. And we got one, just enough. Mike Tauchman doubled the other way on a deep fly that hit the third-base line, and he moved to third on the second of two groundouts to first. But Romine came through again, pulling a single just out of the reach of third baseman Owings for the tie.

Despite the good work of Kahnle and Chad Green’s bad luck, the story of this one will highlight yet another bullpen failure, rightly and dramatically so. But such talk should exclude Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton, even if each allowed a leadoff single, as they pitched the ninth and 10th innings, respectively. Chapman, in particular, came up huge with the speedy Joey Hamilton stealing both second and third base as the lefty struggled to keep the visitors off the board. Chapman struck out the first two batters in the KC order, then coaxed an Alex Gordon fly to short center that Brett Gardner managed to capture under a suddenly blindingly bright sky and a swirling breeze.

Gardner then stroked a two-out single in a nine-pitch at bat in the bottom half, for a three-hit game, but Frazier, after hitting a home run ball barely foul, went down swinging. Dozier singled against a shift to start the 10th off Britton, and was pinch-run for by the speedy Terrance Gore. (Fun fact: With Gore wearing No. 0, as does Ottavino, this was a rare occurrence with opposing players wearing that digit on their backs in a game.) However, that number did not help Gore, who was picked off by Britton before another pitch was made. Zack followed with back-to-back K’s, and the Bombers came to bat needing a run with lefty hitter Tauchman leading off yet again.

KC countered with southpaw Jake Diekman, who came out wild and walked Mike and Gio Urshela on 12 pitches. Young infielder Thairo Estrada, promoted this day to take the injured Aaron Judge’s place on the roster, pinch hit for fellow recent callup Ford, and he did not disappoint, dropping a perfect sac bunt toward first on a 1-0 pitch from one-time Yankee Ian Kennedy, who had replaced Diekman. Whether Hamilton would have been able to run under Romine’s long drive to left center on the next pitch is a moot point. With the outfield in, the “backup” Yankee catcher’s ball landed, and he was awarded a single for his third rbi hit of the day, with Tauchman crossing, 7-6 Yanks.

The Yankees managed to slip above the .500 mark in this one, rising to 11-10 before heading off on a long West Coast trip. The litany of key Yankee injuries is on the lips of fans all around the game. The numbers are unprecedented, and listing the names smacks of making excuses for the less than stellar start. But they have won five of six to get to where they are, and they’ve done so largely on the work of “no name” players called to action under necessity. Clint Frazier, with the three-run jack, has warmed to the call, as has Mike Tauchman, who helped take down Chris Sale earlier this week and scored two big runs today. Gio Urshela has provided stellar “D” at third, and had three hits in yesterday’s win. Joe Harvey has provided solid innings in the pen. And Mike Ford and Thairo Estrada delivered solid reps today.

But one guy has been helping from the fringes for several years. Fans may have become too relaxed once Clint provided a 5-0 edge. And then suffered crushing despair when KC took a sudden lead over two minutes in the eighth. Chapman’s 18-pitch top of the ninth supplied agita supreme. But the veteran backup earned first star this day. We were distressed, and angry. And felt bad for the superb Paxton. We could have arrived home feeling that way, but,

Romine Provided the Bromide