CLEVELAND — Eventually, the bill comes due. A toll must be paid. And that’s where the Yankees find themselves for Thursday’s Game 1 of the Division Series, after Joe Girardi was forced to use his prized bullpen Tuesday night to navigate through an astounding 26 outs, without any regard for the postseason hangover.
So now we see what comes next. In the do-or-die wild-card game, Girardi had to push Chad Green, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle as if there was no tomorrow after Luis Severino flamed out, and the trio combined to deliver an 8-4 victory over the Twins that earned the Yankees a trip to Cleveland.
Well, tomorrow is here, and it’s carrying this question: How will Girardi manage the Yankees’ first Division Series game in five years with some of his top relief weapons unavailable? Robertson’s 3 1/3-inning stint was the longest of his career, and he never had thrown more than those 52 pitches. Green, the prolific strikeout machine, threw 41 pitches over two innings.
Afterward, Girardi spoke warily of asking either one back before Game 2 against the Indians, figuring that Robertson and Green would need at least two days’ rest to return at full strength. Girardi’s stance didn’t change Wednesday, so the out-of-favor Dellin Betances — ignored for the wild card — and Adam Warren are next up, with the manager crossing his fingers for serious length from Game 1 starter Sonny Gray. Girardialso is leaning against having Severino ready in relief before Game 4, despite him throwing only 29 pitches and recording one out in the wild-card start.
“With his workload and what he’s done this season, it’s probably not in his best interest,” Girardi said. “And the full rest will probably do him some good.”
Knowing Girardi, and his penchant for the quick hook, he won’t mind the challenge. And the Indians aren’t going to underestimate the depth or talent of the Yankees’ pen. Watching Tuesday from Cleveland, former Yankee Andrew Miller saw his old team baffle the Twins with masterful relief work and was duly impressed — if not astonished by their stamina.
“I couldn’t believe D-Rob was out there as long as he was,” Miller said before Wednesday’s workout at Progressive Field. “Whatever Joe asked them to do, they showed him they could do it.”
Miller spoke in admiration of the Yankees’ bullpen like a fellow craftsman, and there was no one better last October, especially during the ALCS, when the wiry lefthander earned MVP honors by striking out 14 in 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Indians manager Terry Francona titillated the analytic crowd by blowing up the traditional relief roles with Miller and deploying him at the highest-leverage points, at any stage of the game.
Girardi took that one step further Tuesday by desperately dialing up Green to bail him out of the first inning with Twins at second and third and one out. Green responded by striking out four straight, and retiring five overall before losing steam at the start of the third. That’s when Robertson extended himself through two outs in the sixth, and Kahnle provided a perfect seven-out bridge to Aroldis Chapman, the only reliever Girardi used in a conventional sense.
Francona had joked before Tuesday’s wild-card game that he didn’t have a preference in opponent, only hoping they played 40 innings to determine a winner. The Yankees ended up doing the next best thing — from the Indians’ perspective — by exhausting their most lethal bullpen arms merely to advance, costing them availability for Game 1.
“We have a really healthy respect for their bullpen, and they showed exactly what they can do,” Francona said. “I think ours is maybe the only other bullpen that could handle something like that. So you’re going to see two of the better bullpens in all of baseball.”
Francona’s right about that. The Indians’ relief corps led the American League in ERA (2.89) and WHIP (1.14), while the Yankees’ ranked third (3.34) and second (1.16), respectively, in those categories. The Yankees are No. 1 with a 10.92 K/9 ratio, two spots ahead of the Indians (10.08).
There’s one critical difference, however. Cleveland’s bullpen is fully rested heading into the Division Series — a benefit for Miller’s balky right (landing) knee — and Girardi is going to be relying largely on faith.