It was easy to get overlooked in the ninth inning of the Yankees’ 18-4 victory over the Cubs on Sunday. But Manny Banuelos knew what was at stake.
If he finished the game, Banuelos would earn his first big-league save. By throwing the final three innings, the 31-year-old lefthander was credited with a save -- even though his team won by 14 runs -- under MLB rule 9.19, section 3.
“A lot of people – they didn’t know that rule,” Banuelos said on Tuesday night before the Yankees opened a series against the Rays in the Bronx. “That you get a save for pitching the last three innings. I knew that. I knew it.”
Banuelos said getting the save wasn’t his focus. He just wanted to continue pitching well and save the Yankees bullpen from having to use another arm in the blowout victory.
He actually needn’t have worried about that second part. Manager Aaron Boone said he was probably going to use first baseman Anthony Rizzo on the mound if Banuelos had a long ninth.
Rizzo pitched twice with the Cubs and retired three of the four batters he faced, so it’s not the most outlandish idea. The St. Louis Cardinals this year finished a pair of lopsided victories with future Hall of Fames Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina on the mound.
But Rizzo wasn’t needed. The final out on Sunday was a line drive to Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The ball found its way to Banuelos, who proudly showed it off after carefully removing it from a box in his locker.
The ball was inscribed with “Manny Banuelos – first save 6/12/22 vs. Cubs” and his pitching line: 3 IP 3 H 1 R 1 ER 0 BB 4 K.
Pitching at the tail end of blowouts was not what Banuelos seemed destined for when he was a top prospect with the Yankees.
By know you know the story: Injuries knocked Banuelos out of prospect status and he bounced around the fringes of baseball, making a total of 23 appearances with Atlanta and the White Sox, and pitching in places like China and Mexico.
Banuelos was supposed to be one of the Yankees’ Killer Bs along with Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman.
Brackman appeared in three games with the Yankees in 2011. Betances went on to become of the most dominant relievers in baseball with the Yankees. After two injury-ruined years with the Mets, he’s now trying to make a comeback in the Dodgers’ organization.
Banuelos wears uniform No. 68 to honor Betances, who texted him after his second Yankees outing to offer congratulations.
Banuelos didn’t make it to the majors with the Yankees until he signed a minor-league deal this offseason and was called up from Triple-A on May 26. He made his first appearance eight days later and threw two scoreless innings vs. Detroit.
In three mop-up man outings (two Yankees wins, one loss), Banuelos has allowed one run in seven innings (1.29 ERA) with one walk and seven strikeouts.
The winner of those three games outscored the loser 39-5. So it’s not as if Banuelos has been pitching in high-leverage situations.
Ask him if he cares.
“I just went out and pitched,” Banuelos said. “I was more focused on getting quick outs, attacking the zone. Just doing my job.”
Part of doing his job – and keeping it -- is impressing Boone. Consider that mission accomplished so far.
“I didn’t have any history with Manny before spring training,” Boone said. “I was impressed right away, first of all (with) the stuff. He got all of our attention right away, like, ‘This guy can be an option for us.’
“He’s been another guy that’s been kind of a breath of fresh air. He’s really excited to be here, really excited to wear this uniform. I think many of you know his story. It’s uplifting. It’s inspiring. I think he's really appreciative of being here, now, on this team with those guys, and understands his role and how important that role is. He’s done everything he needs to do to be ready when his number’s called.”