MIAMI — The Yankees have been shut down by plenty of bad pitchers this season. Saturday was not one of those games.
This time they were shut down by not only a good one but one, in the words of Aaron Boone, “on top of his game.’’
“I think he was probably 70% first-pitch strike, so it’s hard to wait him out because he is pounding the strike zone,” Boone said of Marlins righthander Sandy Alcantara. “He was really good today.”
Though Alcantara has had a subpar 2023, he still throws fire and is the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner.
He channeled that version of himself, throwing his third complete game of the year in sending the Yankees to a 3-1 loss in front of 33,980 at loanDepot park.
Alcantara, who came in 4-10 with a 4.28 ERA, allowed one run, five hits and two walks, striking out 10. He threw a season-high 116 pitches.
His most impressive inning may have been the eighth, when he struck out Kyle Higashioka looking at a 99-mph sinker, Jake Bauers swinging at a 99-mph fastball and Aaron Judge swinging at a 99-mph sinker.
Gleyber Torres led off the ninth with a single but Giancarlo Stanton struck out swinging at a 99-mph sinker. The lefty-swinging Billy McKinney, already with a hit and a walk against Alcantara, made hard contact on a 2-and-2, 99-mph fastball, but leftfielder Bryan De La Cruz made the catch in the middle of the warning track. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who had an RBI single to right in the seventh, grounded to third to end it.
Did McKinney think he had gotten enough of the pitch for a tying two-run homer? “I was hoping so,” he said, but the ball typically doesn’t carry all that well to left, one of the deepest parts of the ballpark.
“It’s pretty big out there to left here,” McKinney said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t go.”
For the third straight game, the Yankees (60-57) went the opener route, this time using Michael King. The righthander, an effective bullpen arm the last three seasons whom more than a few rival scouts believe has the repertoire to be a starter — and with their rotation in shambles, the Yankees are open to stretching him out and possibly using him in that role — allowed a 409-foot two-run homer in the first inning by Luis Arraez.
Even if Alcantara hadn’t been pitching, that would have been ominous. The Yankees, who remained four games behind Toronto for the AL’s third wild-card spot, are 43-16 when they score first and 17-41 when they don’t.
Higashioka set up outside for King’s 0-and-1 pitch to Arraez; the 97-mph fastball came in on the inside corner and he turned on it, driving the ball into the second deck in right-center.
“Definitely wish I had that back,” King said. “Trying to go up and away with a fastball and pulled it.
“Looking back, and I talked to Higgy a little bit about it, I went front hip first pitch and I think it just kind of opened him up to that inside part of the plate,” he added. “Obviously, missed my spot, but I think a better pitch would have been something off-speed.”
Arraez entered the day hitting an MLB-best .366.
King, on a pitch count of “40-ish,” according to Boone before the game, pitched a 1-2-3 second after the 27-pitch first, which left him at 41 pitches through two. Rookie Jhony Brito pitched well after that, allowing one run, three hits and no walks in five innings in which he struck out a career-best six.
Brito, who allowed an RBI single by Joey Wendle in the fourth to make it 3-0, pitched well enough to give fans at least some hope. With Nestor Cortes likely done for the season, Carlos Rodon on the injured list and Domingo German on the suspended list, he’s now in the rotation until further notice.
“You never want to see your teammates go down with injuries,” Brito said through his interpreter. “At the same time, it happens in baseball, and it’s our responsibility to be ready to pitch if they are requiring us to step up and pitch in different roles. To me, focus on what I need to do out there and just go and do my job.”
Brito more than accomplished that, but on this day, no one did his job better than Alcantara.