Trial by Bullpen

April 8, 2022, the Bronx, N.Y.; Yankees 6, Boston 5 — The Yankees outlasted the Red Sox 6-5 in the Stadium in 11 innings Friday, on an Opening Day that would make the most agnostic of us believe, if just for a moment, that God loves baseball fans. With this as pretty a day as storming Thursday was ugly, few in the stands without a pressing engagement minded that it took 4 hours and 11 innings to decide the game.

Coming off a disappointing first inning that, in effect, ended the Bombers’ chances in the Wild Card game last year, Gerrit Cole was shaky vs Boston yet again, surrendering three quick runs on a walk, home run, and two more hits, but it must be noted that he turned it around then, retiring 12 of the next 13 around a single and a hit by pitch, helped by a double play ground ball. Nate Eovaldi, his Boston counterpart, quickly gave up an Anthony Rizzo two-run shot, and a Giancarlo Stanton dinger in the fourth tied it. Knowing he had a pen filled with weapons, Yankee manager Aaron Boone went right to his relievers in the fifth, a strategy that eventually bore fruit.

Chad Green pitched a scoreless fifth with the assistance of another double play ground ball. The Yankees were near last in the majors in twin killings last year, and Brian Cashman definitely tried to address that shortcoming in the off-season. Righty Clay Matthews was reached for the tiebreaker on three hits in the sixth, but one was a seeing-eye double right down the third base line by Xander Bogaerts, and he was scored on a single through a drawn-in infield that would have been an easy 4-3.

Still, Boston had a 4-3 lead and, particularly galling to the Yankees — or at least, this fan — righthander Garrett Whitlock was shutting down the home team through the sixth and seventh, and into the eighth. Released by New York a few years ago due to a numbers crunch, Whitlock has been lights-out for the Red Sox, as he was again today — until DJ LeMahieu reached him for a tying home run with one down in the eighth.

This led to an outcome dreaded by all, extra innings with a “ghost runner” awarded second base to start each half inning. Bogaerts delivered that run with a single in the 10th but, to the relief and joy of all pinstripes-loving present, Gleyber Torres came through with a very well struck sac fly ball to center to drive in the equalizer. The infield Boone is managing has five players for four positions, and young Torres was odd man out on this, Opening Day, which could not have felt good. On top of that, he had just one chance to contribute, and it was at this point, with one down in the 10th and the tying run on third. Bingo.

Cole wasn’t the only key Yankee to have a mixed day, as Giancarlo Stanton whiffed four times around a tying laser over the wall in right in the fourth. Joey Gallo struck out three times, but he drew a walk and moved that run that Gleyber drove in to third with a ground ball to first in the 10th. New shortstop Isaiah Kiner-Filefa failed to reach four times, but scored the winning run spectrally, as the man placed on second to start the home 11th.

But even with the unlucky inning Holmes had, there was nothing mixed about the scorecard of the Yankee bullpen. Boone looked comfortable replacing arm after arm, and all came through beautifully. Chad Green, Miguel Castro, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Wandy Peralta got it through the eighth around the tally on Holmes. Aroldis Chapman dominated in a one-two-three ninth with two swinging K’s. But, though we didn’t know it at the time, once the Yankee skipper handed the ball to Michael King, the Yanks had this one all but won. No one marching in from the visiting bullpen except Whitlock prospered, while King struck out three and allowed a scratch single to score Boston’s first ghost, pitching the 10th and 11th.

Nice touches included a young Ukrainian girl from that country’s children’s choir singing their National Anthem pregame, and the Yankee brass honoring their longest-tenured employees with the task of unfurling a giant U.S. flag in center field as our Anthem was sung. A very cool feature enjoyed by a precious few was a ride from Grand Central Station to Yankee Stadium in a vintage subway car that was in service 105 years ago. Original ads (Luna Park, Campbell Soups — ideal for serving during Lent), cushioned seats, and omnipresent devices for standing securely from which the word “strap”hangers got its name made for a charming ride traveling over 100 blocks and two boroughs to deliver us at its one and only stop.

“Leading off” in a bottom of the 11th with Kiner-Filefa already on second base, new third sacker Josh Donaldson — one-for-four to this point — drilled Kutter Crawford’s third pitch up the middle for the winning single three hours and 56 minutes after Cole’s first offering, at 1:12. So Donaldson gets a gold star. But not one as bright as the seven-headed beast that carried home the victory, the ones who survived,

Trial by Bullpen