The count was full to Max Kepler, standing at the plate as the potential tying run for the Twins with two outs in the seventh inning and the Yankees up 4-1. Tommy Kahnle went with a fastball, flinging it at 97.5 mph, and it sunk. Kepler swung and hit air.
The 4-1 score became the final score at Yankee Stadium on Sunday when the game was called because of rain with none out and a runner on third in the bottom of the eighth.
Kepler was the only batter Kahnle faced, but one batter was enough for the righthanded reliever to secure sole possession of a Yankees record. It was his 11th consecutive appearance without allowing a hit or a run. That broke a tie with five others, including Dellin Betances.
Kahnle also became the third pitcher in major-league history to go 11 straight outings with at least one strikeout and without allowing a hit or a run, joining Ernesto Frieri, who did it 13 straight times with the 2012 Angels, and Koji Uehara, who did it 11 straight times with the 2013 Red Sox.
Kahnle retired 28 of the 30 batters he faced in the 11 appearances, and the two that got on reached via walks.
Kahnle didn’t stick around to talk about his record and overall great work, but this has been a turnaround season for him. He has stood out among the arms in the bullpen with a staff-low 1.38 ERA through 15 outings. Fourteen featured no hits or runs allowed; the other came with two runs and four hits. He has struck out 18 and walked six in 13 innings.
“He’s been a real weapon for us, especially against lefthanded hitters with [his] changeup,” Aaron Boone said. “When he’s had to make a pitch, in 2-2, 3-2 counts, he’s not predictable, and he’s been able to make a big pitch with either the fastball, changeup or even slider at times.”
After arriving in a trade with the White Sox in July 2017, the native of upstate Latham looked like a big asset. Kahnle went 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 32 games.
Last season, though, didn’t go so well. He went on the disabled list (now called the injured list) in mid-April with shoulder tendinitis and didn’t return until late May, missing 33 games. He ended up going 2-0 with a 6.56 ERA in 24 games, covering three stints. Kahnle also spent time with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and had 4.01 ERA in 25 games with the RailRiders.
But this time around, he has been back in fine form.
“When he’s right and healthy and throwing strikes, I’d put him up there against almost anyone, really, because his fastball is electric and he’s got, for me, one of the best changeups in the game,” said fellow reliever Adam Ottavino, who was Kahnle’s teammate with the Rockies in 2014 and 2015. “So it doesn’t matter righty or lefty. He’s really tough to get a hit off of.”
Ottavino believes Kahnle makes batters uncomfortable, saying it’s “because he’s known to be a little wild.” Ottavino added that the fastball “has a little life to it, a little lift to it, and it’s 96-plus, 97, sometimes up to 100.”
He also marvels at Kahnle’s changeup.
“It’s a power changeup,” Ottavino said. “You just don’t see that. It looks like a splitter and it drops really hard and it’s already 90, and he throws it with good arm speed. So it’s a unique pitch.”