Zach Britton’s appearance Saturday night took a rapid, unexpected turn.
He retired the first two Royals to bat in the seventh inning, but with the score tied at 3, he worked himself into a bases-loaded jam and surrendered the go-ahead run with his second straight four-pitch walk, this one to Drew Butera.
And suddenly the pitcher Yankees fans brimmed with excitement about earlier in the week found himself on the receiving end of a boisterous Bronx booing session.
“He’s been in the league for a long time, and it happens,” manager Aaron Boone said after the Yankees’ 5-4 victory. “And I think what makes these guys special, especially a lot of our guys on the back end, is you’ve gotta have a short memory. If you’re gonna be great at this, especially in the bullpen, you better be able to turn the page real quick.
“And I think all these guys, I don’t care how great you are, you’re gonna hit a bump in the road. You’re gonna have a bad one, you’re gonna have a blunder. What’s made them who they are is their ability to continue to pitch, turn the page and trust and go out there with confidence the next time they go out there and get the ball. And I would expect that to be the case for Zach.”
Going into Saturday night, Britton had a 3.24 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 17 appearances this season after returning June 12 from a ruptured Achilles. (Those numbers got bumped up to a 3.57 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP.)
The lefthander was considered one of the premier closers in the majors before the injury, but Britton now finds himself with a role that is much different from the one he filled in Baltimore. Other top-flight relievers such as Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman are in the same bullpen, so Britton now will pitch earlier than his accustomed ninth-inning slot.
“I think it’s an adjustment, obviously,” he said. “When you get out there, it’s about getting outs. So me coming in the seventh, when I’m out there, doesn’t impact me.
“I’m not out there thinking ‘this isn’t the ninth inning.’ I’m still out there trying to make pitches, and today I just got two quick outs and didn’t make a pitch to get out of that inning before I looked up at the score. I just have to go out there tomorrow, hopefully I get in, and just be better.”
Chapman also labored Saturday night. He worked out of a first-and-third jam by striking out Whit Merrifield looking. Chapman, who has 27 saves, had gone a week since his last outing, in which he didn’t get an out, allowed three runs, three walks, a hit and a hit batsman against the Mets and had to be rescued by Chasen Shreve (who was traded to St. Louis on Saturday night).
Boone, however, praised Chapman for the supreme confidence he exudes, especially when he finds himself in trouble with the game on the line.
“Well I think that’s one of Chappy’s biggest strengths is his confidence,” Boone said. “This guy’s been a stud in this league for a long time and he knows he has what it takes to shut people down. Even if it gets a little dicey there, he’s gonna continue to make pitches and I’m glad he was able to finish it off.”