With the biggest series of the season approaching, Joe Girardi didn’t want to use his biggest arm unless he had to this past week. With the Red Sox coming to town, the Yankees manager wanted Aroldis Chapman well-rested, in case the closer would be needed for all three games of the series.
The plan fell perfectly into place — and nearly backfired.
Pitching for the first time in six days, Chapman put the Yankees in position for their most devastating defeat of the season after walking the first three batters he faced in the ninth inning while holding a two-run lead, but the closer managed to escape with his 15th save of the season — thanks to Aaron Hicks’ game-saving throw from left field — in a 5-4 win over the Red Sox Friday night in The Bronx.
It was the first time in nearly three years — and fourth overall — in which Chapman registered at least three walks and no strikeouts.
“He was probably a little rusty, sending him out there,” Girardi said. “He hadn’t thrown in [six] days.”
After the Yankees scored five runs to take the lead in the eighth inning, Chapman entered, ready to complete the unexpected comeback, having not allowed a run in his previous six appearances.
Then, Jackie Bradley Jr. walked on four pitches. Eduardo Nunez saw five pitches before reaching first. Slowly, the momentum shifted back to the third-base dugout.
Dellin Betances began warming up in the bullpen, as Chapman received his first cheers, largely sarcastic, for throwing a strike. Mookie Betts walked next, and suddenly, a certain save had swerved into one of the tensest moments of the season.
Girardi still had faith in his hard-throwing southpaw, scheduled to face consecutive lefties. More than 46,000 other people at Yankee Stadium weren’t so confident.
“You still feel pretty good about him because he is a strikeout guy,” Girardi said. “I felt good about his strikeout potential. He’s really good at what he does.”
The strikeout didn’t bail him…