One night after a big bullpen blowup and an even bigger bullpen miscommunication, Aaron Boone’s management paid off.
With the Yankees needing a win in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Cleveland Guardians to stay alive in the postseason, Gerrit Cole was able to go seven strong to set the bullpen up for success. Clay Holmes, the subject of controversy in a Saturday night Game 3 loss, was made available (and maybe more importantly, was made aware that he was available). Boone went to him in the eighth inning and Wandy Peralta in the ninth to close it out.
The duo came through to preserve a 4-2 win and send the series back to New York for a decisive Game 5.
The eighth inning was a higher leverage inning than the ninth with No. 9 hitter Myles Straw leading off and the top of the order following after him. It was favorable for the right-handed Holmes with two right-handed hitters due up. He pitched around a one-out walk to Steven Kwan, got a favorable strike call on former Mets’ shortstop Amed Rosario and got switch-hitter Jose Ramirez twisted up with a slider for strike three after throwing all cutters to the third baseman.
Peralta needed only seven pitches to retire the side in the ninth and record the save.
“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Boone said. “Getting straw there to start, Kwan puts a tough at-bat on him and he really did a good job with Rosario. Ramirez is a tough matchup for us. Then he just kind of set it up perfect there to have that three-batter ninth for Wandy. I thought he threw the ball well.”
Holmes doesn’t overpower many with his fastball but his breaking stuff darted and dove where he needed it to Sunday night, almost making one wonder what could have been in Game 3, had Boone gone to him instead of Clarke Schmidt.
But for now, the Game 3 blunder is behind the Yankees and they have another chance. Boone’s bullpen decisions in this particular game might have seemed questionable at one time, but going to the closer in the seventh or eighth innings to face a particularly tough stretch of the lineup is pretty commonplace these days. There isn’t really a designated setup man and Holmes didn’t start the season as the closer. He recorded 20 saves in 25 opportunities this season and appeared in 33 games with a save in order by the rulebook. Without Aroldis Chapman, who was left off of the roster after skipping a postseason workout, the Yankees are reliant on matchups and win probabilities.
It’s a move that looks smart if it works. In this situation, it worked.
Jameson Taillon, who made a disastrous relief appearance in Game 2, will start Game 5, but it’s unclear who will be available in the bullpen. Peralta had only light work in this game, but he’s now pitched three days in a row. The left-hander threw 27 pitches in Game 3 and 15 pitches Friday, so his status is still to be determined.
“We’ll wait and see,” Boone said. “I think he threw in the single-digits pitch-wise. Maybe that will help. I’ll have Nestor (Cortes) available tomorrow in that role though too, so we’ll just see. We’ll see how he wakes up, see what we’re looking at when we get to the ballpark.”
Cortes will be available on short rest in a relief role. Boone didn’t want to use Holmes on back-to-back days earlier in the series but with the season on the line, he might be apt to reconsider that stance.