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Yankees up to the challenge, getting Aaron Boone off the hook

DJ LeMahieu is congratulated by Yankees manager Aaron

DJ LeMahieu is congratulated by Yankees manager Aaron Boone after hitting a walkoff home run in the bottom of the 11th inning against Oakland at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 31, 2019. Credit: Errol Anderson

The mist from the smoke machine still hovered when the Yankees’ clubhouse door swung open Saturday. The music still pulsed at ear-ringing decibels. And while the club vibe is all part of the team’s post-victory protocol now, there was something extra in the air after this 4-3 walk-off win over the A’s, one that wasn’t decided until DJ LeMahieu’s first-pitch homer in the 11th inning.

It was relief.

Earlier this month, the A’s swept them in Oakland, then flew east to add Friday night’s 8-2 drubbing. On Saturday, the A’s were four outs away from making it five in a row before Aaron Judge made two of the biggest plays -- from a psychological standpoint -- of the season.

First, Judge smashed the tying homer off A’s reliever Joakim Soria with two outs in the eighth inning, a rocket into the second deck in rightfield. In the 10th, Judge reached up at the wall to rob Matt Chapman of at least an extra-base hit and possibly a home run, giving the Yankees another chance at redemption.

So excuse Judge, and the rest of the Yankees, if they weren’t quite ready for the party to end when it came time for their media responsibilities afterward. As soon as the thumping speakers were dialed down to more interview-friendly levels, some still wanted to celebrate.

“Turn that music up,” Judge said, smiling. “We just walked it off. C’mon.”

It wasn’t a real protest. Judge knows the deal. But there was no hiding what finally solving the A’s really meant to the Yankees despite their attempt to downplay the significance of a single victory out of 162 games.

As happy as Judge was, Aaron Boone seemed even more so, and for good reason. For a while there -- an uncomfortably long period of time -- it appeared as if the A’s might win this game on Chapman’s questionable go-ahead double in the seventh inning.

The issue? Chapman’s hooking line drive was ruled fair but definitely appeared to be foul on the replay -- and Boone passed on challenging the call. The replay showed the ball seemingly landing to the left of the painted-on line, as well as leaving a dent in the warning-track gravel, but Boone didn’t feel as if he and his staff got a clear enough read from the video.

Almost as soon as he passed on the challenge, he regretted it, and with each passing out, the fateful choice ate away at him.

“Oh, yeah,” Boone said afterward, “and to have the guys bail me out of that is huge, because ultimately that comes down to my decision.”

So what happened?

“We waited a long time,” Boone said. “Ultimately, I think I probably should have challenged it. Running out of time there, it was pretty gray for us. So that one’s on me because I think there was a chance.”

The Yankees have been very successful on challenges, as their 71 percent rate (15-for-21) of getting calls overturned ranked second in the American League to the Royals. But they also have made the fewest, which perhaps suggests an extra layer of caution in these instances.

Boone was right, though. There really was no excuse for not having MLB’s replay crew take a second look. It was the seventh inning, and Chapman’s controversial hit had just delivered the go-ahead run for a team that was kicking the Yankees around -- again. If you’re not using a challenge in that spot, what situation are you waiting for?

This time, Boone was lucky. But the way the afternoon was progressing, it wasn’t shaping up that way. Gary Sanchez’s two solo homers represented the Yankees’ entire offense for seven innings and the A’s kept threatening to blow the game open. Oakland left the bases loaded in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings as the bullpen walked a tightrope.

Not only that, but Zack Britton had to exit in the middle of his eighth-inning duel with A’s leadoff man Marcus Semien because of a right calf cramp. Britton said later they were mostly just playing it safe because of his Achilles tendon history, but that forced Chad Green to rush in, and he walked three straight before striking out Matt Olson.

That’s how close this was, and how perpetually destructive the day could have been for the Yankees. Another win for Oakland, which would have made it two at the Stadium, had the potential to make the A’s feel invincible if they eventually earn a Division Series meeting with Boone & Co. Or at least unfazed by an October trip to the Bronx.

But Judge gave the Yankees a reprieve, and LeMahieu made sure the window did not close on them.

“The way they beat us up,” LeMahieu said, “it’s a pretty good win for us.”

Until October, wins don’t get much better for the Yankees.

New York Sports