The key on this day, quite simply, was getting Max Scherzer out of the game.
Once the Yankees did, they had a fighting chance, and they took advantage — eventually.
Trailing by a run with one out in the ninth, the Yankees tied it against Nationals closer Brad Hand. They rallied to tie it again in the 10th inning before posting a 4-3 walk-off victory in 11 innings on Saturday afternoon in front of 10,850 at the Stadium.
With the bases loaded, none out and the Nationals playing a five-man infield, Gleyber Torres’ infield trickler off Tanner Rainey brought in DJ LeMahieu to win it.
"We were able to scratch and claw a little bit," Aaron Boone said. "Scherzer was a load. He was heavy today, but we were able to hang around and find a way to win a ballgame, which was really nice."
"He kind of had our number," Aaron Judge said of Scherzer. "We just kept battling."
LeMahieu started the inning at second and stayed there when Giancarlo Stanton drew a walk. Judge walked on four pitches to load the bases. Torres, who forced extra innings with a one-out RBI single in the ninth, then hit a bleeder toward third. Rainey dropped the ball when he tried to barehand it, and in any case, he had no play.
"Don’t put too much focus on the infield," Torres said with a smile. "Just try to do my job and put the ball in play."
The Yankees had two hits and a walk and struck out 14 times in Scherzer’s 7 1⁄3 innings. The only run off him was Kyle Higashioka’s third-inning home run.
Scherzer set a record for most strikeouts by an opposing pitcher in this version of Yankee Stadium, which dates to 2009 (the previous record was 13 strikeouts, shared by Cliff Lee of the Rangers and Matthew Boyd of the Tigers).
The Nationals took the lead in the top of the 10th with an unearned run off Aroldis Chapman on Trea Turner’s sacrifice fly. It was the first run off Chapman in 12 innings this season.
In the bottom of the inning, Clint Frazier started the inning at second — per MLB’s extra-inning rule — with Hand, who blew the save in the ninth, still on the mound. Mike Ford, called upon to lay down the first sacrifice bunt of his big-league career early in his at-bat, got ahead 3-and-1 before lining a fastball to left for an RBI single that tied it at 3-3.
LeMahieu started the ninth with a walk, went to second on Stanton’s hard grounder to third and reached third on Judge’s bloop single down the rightfield line. Torres’ single to right tied it at 2-2.
Torres had been 0-for-3 with three strikeouts before delivering the tying hit. "A lot of resiliency right there," Corey Kluber said.
Before that, the story of the game, whose start was delayed 2 hours, 25 minutes by rain, was about the two starters — three-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer and two-time Cy Young Award winner Kluber.
Kluber, who had gone 2-0 with a 0.61 ERA in his two most recent starts after going 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his first four starts, allowed two runs and six hits in 5 2⁄3 innings. The righthander walked three and struck out six.
"The way Max was throwing," Kluber said, "I was just trying to keep it as close as we could, really."
Kluber succeeded in that regard, allowing his teammates to take advantage late against the Nationals’ bullpen.
"I like our chances against anybody," Judge said. "So we were able to do that today . . . continue to grind the guy [starter] out, got to the bullpen and were able to make some magic happen."