There were times during this injury-ravaged season that the Yankees uniform has seemed more like a magic cape than pinstriped polyester — whoever donned it became the hero, whether that person was Aaron Judge or Mike Ford. And as it turns out, that magic extends to the bullpen, too.
To wit: The Yankees are 13-2 in games started by an opener. And on Wednesday night, when they didn’t have typical long man Nestor Cortes Jr. available to follow up Chad Green, it made no difference. Luis Cessa (2-1) would do just fine with three scoreless innings. Then came Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle and Zack Britton and Cory Gearrin — all combining to take a shutout into the ninth and beating the Rangers, 4-1, at the Stadium.
“Just a really good pitching performance by a lot of the staff tonight,” Aaron Boone said, adding that he certainly would consider using an opener in the playoffs. Cessa, who recorded his fourth straight multi-inning scoreless appearance, was particularly impressive and potentially could pitch himself into a playoff roster spot.
Other than a tough month-long stretch, “Cessa has had a really good year,” Boone said. “For the most part, he’s been a guy who’s thrown the ball really well for us in some different roles.”
Of course, all this is happening because the Yankees haven’t had Luis Severino or even Jordan Montgomery for that matter. The bullpen continues to produce without Dellin Betances. But for a franchise that’s long been known for buying their way to the top, this Yankees squad has become the best team in baseball thanks to improvisation and adaptability.
Green allowed one run and two hits in two innings. As an opener, he’s held opponents scoreless in 10 of his 13 outings. The Rangers managed only six hits overall, all singles.
The early production, meanwhile, came from a very typical source: Judge, via the home run.
With one out in the third, Judge deposited Lance Lynn’s 98-mph, 1-and-2 letter-high fastball into the seats in right-center, also scoring Brett Gardner, who walked. It gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead and Judge his 20th homer. Judge, who missed 54 games with an oblique strain, joins four other Yankees with 20 or more homers this season.
“I was just expecting him to throw the heater,” Judge said of Lynn. “I was finally ready to hit it and got a pitch I could put the barrel on and snuck one past him.”
In the fourth, Gleyber Torres tacked on to the Yankees’ high home run total, hitting a screaming laser beam to left for his 34th homer and the team’s 263rd, the second-best mark in baseball.
The Yankees, though, squandered an opportunity to get much more later that inning, when Judge struck out with the bases loaded.
Lynn was done after five innings and 108 pitches, allowing those three runs and five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. Austin Romine made it 4-0 with a run-scoring double off Taylor Guerrieri in the sixth.
The lineup, though, immediately added a run against the Rangers’ bullpen. With one out in the sixth, Taylor Guerrieri walked Mike Tauchman, and Austin Romine turned on a 1-and-2 curveball and hit it into the leftfield corner for a run-scoring double. Judge eventually came up with runners on the corners and two outs — this time against reliever Ian Gibaut — but much like the fourth, Judge struck out with runners in scoring position. The Rangers’ offense, howevr, posed little threat of making the Yankees pay for those uncashed runs. After Green stranded a runner on third in the first, the bullpen didn’t allow a runner to reach scoring position until the seventh. Gearrin lost the shutout with one out in the ninth on Rougned Odor’s homer. But that was it as the Yankees improved to 10-0-3 in their last 21 home series.
"I think we pitch well and we hit well here,” Green said of their success at home. “Guys are comfortable here. We put up a lot of runs here and it makes the job easier for the pitchers.”