Luis Severino was supposed to pitch the Yankees into the ALDS. How did he do against the Twins? Home run, pop up to third, walk, home run, single, double.
Severino walked off the mound having surrendered three runs, and responsible for two more in scoring position. Joe Girardi would need 26 outs from his bullpen.
Enter Chad Green.
It wasn’t often this season that he heard the bullpen phone ringing in the first inning. “Not a lot,” Green said in the clubhouse after the game. “That might be the first time all year actually, besides a couple of times.”
It didn’t seem to rattle the second-year Yankee who had struck out 103 batters in 40 appearances in 2017. Green finished the season 5-0 with a 1.83 ERA, and was reliable as a set-up man/middle reliever who could pitch multiple innings. Green made 29 relief appearances of more than one inning, and 16 of at least two innings.
The strikeout had been his weapon. His 13.43 K/9.0 IP ratio was fifth in the AL among relievers.
So when he took the mound Tuesday, he needed a strikeout as the infield came in with Byron Buxton at the plate. Green struck out Buxton and Jason Castro when even a bloop single could have made it 5-0.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Green was able to warm up quickly. “It just depends on the day, honestly,” Green said when he was asked how long it takes him to warm up. “I mean, today didn’t take very much because of the adrenaline.”
The Yankees weren’t down for long as Didi Gregorius tied the game with a three-run homer in the bottom of the first.
In the top of the second, Robbie Grossman and Brian Dozier both went down looking at strike three. It turns out Green is human, because Joe Mauer actually put the ball in play and flew out to center. As Duke Evers told Rocky Balboa during his fight with Ivan Drago, “He’s not a machine. He’s a man!”
Brett Gardner’s homer to right in the bottom of the second gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead. Green ran out of gas in the third, giving up a single and walking two batters. But Green was given a big hand by the crowd, as the fans knew how vital his first inning escape job was.
Green, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle combined to record 23 outs, and then Aroldis Chapman slammed the door in the ninth. Girardi only had to use four relievers when it initially looked like it might be an all-hands-on-deck kind of game. He didn’t have to throw off his ALDS rotation and use Sonny Gray or CC Sabathia in an emergency.
It seems like so long ago that the Yankees raced out to a 38-21 start and the trio of Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Chapman were finishing games. Clippard was sent to Chicago. Kahnle and Robertson came to the Bronx. Betances has fought control issues. Chapman had a slump but looks like his old self.
But it’s Green who has come from anonymity to becoming a crucial part of New York’s playoff team.
The Yankees were winners on Tuesday and the champagne was flowing in the clubhouse.
So can Green get used to these celebrations?
“I think so,” Green said. “I don’t think you ever get tired of these. It’s only my second one up here, so I think they get more fun each time.”