About Last Night: Yankees 9 - Pirates 8
by Cary Greene
September 21, 2022
● Winning Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman (3-3, 4.41 ERA) 1.0IP/ 0H, 0R, 0ER / 1K, 0BB / 12-8 PC-ST (67% Strikes)
● Losing Pitcher: Will Crowe (5-10 4.15 ERA) 0.0IP/ 4H, 5R, ER / 0K, 1BB / 23-11 PC-ST (48% Strikes)
● Yankee Home Runs: (2) Two-in-all; Aaron Judge (#60, a 1-run 9th-inning HR off Crowe), Giancarlo Stanton (#27, a game-winning 9th-inning Grand Slam off Crow)
● Yankees “Magic Number” to win the AL East is now 9 games over the Blue Jays.
○ Aaron Judge reached base a career-high-tying six times and recorded his 11th multi-HR game of the season on Sunday at Milwaukee. His 11 multi-home run games are the most by a Yankee in a single season in franchise history and tied with Sammy Sosa (11 in 1998 with the Chicago Cubs) and Hank Greenberg (11 in 1938 with the Detroit Tigers) for the most by any Major League player in a single season. Judge now has 60 home runs for the season! Watch out Roger Maris, here comes “the Judge!”
○ Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s 13-game on-base streak ended last night as he went 0-4. During the streak, (since 9/2), he batted .313/.389/.458 (15-for-48) with 10R, 1 double, 2HR, 8RBI, 6BB and 5SB over that stretch, hitting safely in 14 of his last 16 games, which is why Aaron Boone has been sticking with him lately opposed to playing Oswald Peraza more frequently.
○ Ron Marinaccio has allowed 10-hits in his last 8 outings, but still has a 2.57 ERA during this span of games. We won’t mention that his FIP is a 4.11 during this stretch and that opponents have been hitting .310 off him.
Big Story - The big story in the game last night, besides the inconsistent job home plate umpire Dan Bellino performed (who truly called a terrible and inconsistent game), was the Yankees big boppers, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, and the clutch hits they delivered.
First, I’ve never written a recap even needing to mention or single-out an umpire, but Bellino’s work was flat-out amateur last night and fortunately, his terrible and inconsistent work behind the plate didn’t cost the Yankees the game. More on that in a few moments, but first let’s go through the “Big Story!”
Last night, Nestor Cortes took the hill for the Yankees and he was very crafty early on, working out of a first and second, two out jam in the second-inning and looking every bit like a number one starter should look, working with cadence and pace that added up to yet another effective outing. In my humble opinion, Cortes is easily the ace of the 2022 Yankees and I do feel he should open the playoffs in the number one slot in the Yankees rotation, regardless of how much money Brain Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner are paying Gerrit Cole. Cortes presents constant and real problems for opposing offenses, especially at home, in the cozy confines of what was once a very once spacious Yankee Stadium!
In the third-inning, Anthony Rizzo made a great play on smash well into the hole between first and second base and off the bag by Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, as Cortes slipped and was late getting the bag. Rizzo somehow recognized Cortes was late and made a terrific diving lunge to get Hayes by the slimmest of margins.
It was a good thing that Cortes was cagey early because Pirates rookie Luis Ortiz was touching 101.1mph early last night with his heater, while featuring a razor-blade slider also as he had the Yankee lineup in-check as he worked smoothly and easily in the midst of getting first cup of coffee at the big league level, in only his second career start, since being signed for $25,000 by the Pirates in 2018 as an international amateur out of the Dominican Republic. In fact, Ortiz was looking no-hitter good as mowed the Yankees down, getting several soft pop ups and fly balls mixed in with easy grounders.
Things got interesting in the top of the fourth-inning as the Pirates put two runners on with only one-out, courtesy of two solidly hit singles by Diego Castillo and Kevin Newman. Home plate umpire Dan Bellino compressed the strike zone during Oniel Cruz’s at-bat and suddenly, Cortes was in a serious pickle - which caused Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake to make a visit to the mound.
A moment later, Cruz, who was named after Yankees great Paul O’Neil (without the apostrophe obviously) launched what off-the-bat looked like a grand-slam, but Yankees left fielder Owaldo Cabrera made an excellent catch moving to his left at the wall, reducing the smash to a sacrifice fly that gave the Pirates the early 1-0 lead. I was left dazzled by Cabreara’s versatility and his outfield play has been nothing short of spectacular for the Yankees since he was mercifully called up. Pirates batters had mustered 25 foul-balls against Cortes through five-innings of play as they ran his pitch count up to 87.
In the bottom of the frame, Oswaldo Cabrera launched what could have been an inside the park home run off the right field wall. Unfortunately, he jogged out of the box and “only” wound up with a triple. Harrison Bader, playing for the first time since the controversial Jordan Montgomery trade, pulled a single through the left-side of the infield to score Cabrera, which knotted the score at 1-1.
Bader then made a spectacular read on a ball struck by Luis Trevino that bounced just in front of a diving Bryan Reynolds in centerfield and he was able to streak from second base to home plate, showing many Yankees fans the value of speedy centerfielder, who happens to possess a 4.6 BsR season to date according to FanGraphs! Bader had impacted the game with his bat and his speed and the Yankees had a 2-1 lead after five-innings.
In the blink of an eye, the Pirates reclaimed the lead at 3-2 in the sixth-inning on a two-run double by their number-nine-hitter, catcher Jason Delay, who smoked a Lou Trevino sinker into the left-center field gap between Bader and Cabrera for a two-run double.
Dan Bellino made an atrocious call in the bottom of sixth with one runner aboard on a called third-strike on a Duane Underwood Jr sinker that was at Giancarlo Stanton’s ankles. Then, Oswald Cabrera just missed a home run down the right field line, but he managed to work a walk, which put runners on first and second with one-out for Harrison Bader - talk about coming up in yet another big spot in the game. After a wild-pitch advanced the runners, Bader slapped a single into the second base hole with the infield in, scoring both runners with the tap. The Yankees had another lead courtesy of Bader, now it was 4-3!
From there and still in the sixth-inning, Judge struck out with the bases loaded and then Rizzo grounded out to first base on a slick play down the line by Pirates first baseman Michael Chavis.
It was now “go-time” for the Yankees bridge relievers, though I’m not exactly sure
which relievers I’m referring to. In the top of the seventh-inning, Trivino promptly threw a 93 mph gopher-ball to Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds and the lead was erased just like that - the score was knotted at 4-4. Trivino then walked Rodelfo Castro, bouncing a change-up in the dirt and Boone gave him the hook as he opted to bring in another bridge-reliever, this time selecting Jonathan Loaisiga, with a man on first and none-out. Bellino then called a number of pitches legitimately at the knees of Jack Suwinski and he drew a one-out walk to put runners (kind of unfairly and inconsistently) on first and second with only one-out! Despite Bellino’s best efforts, Loaisiga got out of the jam by striking out Cruz in a very tight spot to keep the game tied.
Gleyber Torres led off the bottom of the seventh with an opposite field single on what was a nice piece of hitting versus a tough slider by Pirates reliever Robert Stephenson. Josh Donaldson followed with what should have been an easy double-play by Cruz and instead, the Yankees were fortunate to advance Torres, who was not in-motion, to second base.
With one-out, Giancarlo Stanton at the plate, Torres (who sometimes thinks he’s invisible out there - per Aaron Boone) was nearly picked off at the keystone. Then, with Bellino now suddenly not calling low-strikes, Stanton struck out swinging on a low slider, lunging for the second easy-out of the inning. Oswaldo Cabrera came up with two out and a man in scoring position. Cabrera stuck out swinging on what was a very persistent but pull-happy at-bat and the score was still all-tied-up at 4-4, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s famous play, Much Ado About Nothing!
Fast forward to the top of the 8th-inning, when Anthony Rizzo made a crucial error that led to a run, then Rodolfo Casto blasted a three-run home run off of the struggling Clay Holmes to effectively ice the game, or so many including myself thought! Yankee fans shouldn’t despair, for the 2022 Yankees have proven that, when healthy and at somewhat three-quarters strength or better, there remains a lot of fight in this team.
Aaron Boone made a superb move to lead off the top of the ninth inning, brining in the embattled Aroldis Chapman and he proceeded to make what may be his final case for higher leverage innings as he attempted to shut the lowly Pirates down and shut-them-down he did! Topping out at 100.7mph, Chappy retired the Pirates without a struggle and it set up one of the defining moments of the 2022 Yankees season - granted it came against the last place Pirates, who as of last night sit a whopping 32 games behind the first place Cardinals in the NL Central Division.
Aaron Judge led off the crucial inning with a 430 foot home run to left field, attempting to surreptitiously notch his 60th home run of the season, one NY media will be broadcasting until at least game time tonight!
Then, after a Rizzo double, a Torres walk and a huge single by Josh Donaldson, the stage was set for Mr. “So far in the game Golden Sombrero” Giancarlo Stanton, who was 1-3 with three strikeouts and a walk up. Pirates reliever Will Crow attempted to sneak an 89 mph 2-2 change-up past the 20217 NL MVP and he wasn’t fooled. He drilled a walk-off grand slam to win the game in amazing fashion!
Player of the Game - I’m going with co-players of the game here. First, I have to give a nod to Pirates rookie right Luis Orti, who pitched a fantastic ballgame. His strikeout of Giancarlo Stanton, in the bottom of the fourth-inning, on a blazing, running fastball at the knees really summarized the devastating effect that a fastball-slider mix from a quality right-hander can have on a predominantly right-handed Yankees lineup - Anthony Rizzo and Oswaldo Cabrera excluded! Early in his start, most of his sliders were off the plate, but Ortiz began locating them as the game wore on. Overall, Ortiz was nothing short of spectacular as he out-dueled Yankees All-Star Nestor Cortes for much of his start.
The other player of the game last night was late-game hero Giancarlo Stanton, who of course decided the game with one mighty swing of the bat, a swing on which prior to, the Yankees had very fortunately loaded the bases for!
● Ke’Bryan Hayes made a sparkling defensive stab on a Gleyber Torres 2-out smash with runners on base to save a certain run-scoring double, had the Pirates bullpen been able to protect the lead, this might have been the play of the game.
● Nestor Cortes pitched a very cagey 5.0-innings, allowing only a lone run while keeping the Yankees in the game in what was an early pitching duel.
Better to Forget
● Nothing to speak of tonight, other than Aaron Boone perhaps leaving Jonathan Loaisiga in the game a bit too long and Clay Holmes’ continued struggles in high-leverage situations. The Yankees are in a tough spot in the back of the bullpen. It’s way too late in the season to still be trying to figure this out.
My Take - In 2022, last night is indicative of what the Yankees do. They never give up. Last night was an amazing game to attend. The stadium went from silent to buzzing to silent to eclectic to silent again with every lead change. This set the stage for a ninth-inning that will surely go down in Yankees history. Aaron Judge is making what may be his final season in pinstripes quite memorable.
Giancarlo Stanton is a fearsome slugger, one who is really the key to the Yankees success. Judge is obviously the MVP of the Yankees and perhaps also the American League, but Stanton is the bat the Yankees desperately need to wake up and start hitting. I could say the same thing about Josh Donaldson, but let’s face it, without Stanton, the 2022 Yankees would be in dire straits.
With Harrison Bader making his Yankees debut last night, playing his first MLB game since June 26th, expectations were high amongst Yankees fans to see first hand the wisdom of Brian Cashman’s decision to trade lefty starter Jordan Montgomery for him. Could he be the spark the Yankees need or would Monty have been more valuable to the Yankees down the stretch?
It’s a question most fans have probably wondered since the trade. In his first Yankees at-bat, he went down looking at a 99.3 mph Luis Ortiz fastball that started out and tailed into the heart of the plate. Bader took two balls during the at-bat, before swinging over two sliders out of the zone prior to being caught looking. However, as mentioned in the “Big Story” above, speed kills and the kid appears to have an ability to get key hits. Imagine what an outfield with him, a healthy Andrew Benintendi and Aaron Judge would have looked like in the postseason! Yankee fans can only dream!
With 15 games left in the 2022 regular season and the Yankees opponents having a mere .480 winning-percentage, per Tankathon, which is the 10th easiest schedule in MLB, it would appear the Yankees might be able to “get right” just in time for the playoffs. Remaining as the toughest two teams on the Yankees schedule are the Blue Jays and the Orioles, with the Yankees owning a combined 20-12 record against these two Division Rivals, with six games remaining to be played. Making up the easier remaining 9 games are the Pirates, Red Sox and Rangers, who the Yankees are a combined 13-8 against. It certainly would appear that the Yankees should continue to play at their .600+ September clip throughout their stretch run.
Obviously the playoffs will be a completely different matter, but if the Yankees can secure the first round bye, that would go a long way towards setting up an easier path to the World Series. This year’s Yankees have a team ERA+ of 117, which compares favorably to the 112.31 ERA+ that the 117-years of World Series winners averaged throughout baseball history. Meanwhile, the Bombers team OPS+ of 117 also compares favorably to World Series winners, who averaged a 104.1 (all stats here per my research and courtesy of Baseball Reference).
With the Dodgers, Astros, and Braves all having team pitching that is better than the Yankees and with each of them having offenses that are easily good enough to win it all and compare favorably to past champions in likewise fashion, the 2022 postseason will clearly come down to which team gets hot at the right time. Last night showed that the Yankees are playing differently than they were in July and August and even though the Yankees schedule is a huge reason why this is happening, I’m reminded of the year 1983.
I was a senior in high school back then and we lived on top of a big hill. After months of work and in order to get my 1967 Convertible Camaro running and to bring it back to life, I had to point it down the driveway and hop in - at which point I was able to bump start it by turning the ignition on, putting the car in second gear and popping the clutch, while it was rolling. The 327 motor roared to life after being quiet for several months, much like the 2022 Yankees were quiet in July and August and I was off to the races!
I wonder, can the Yankees do something similar? They truly do have the motor and I’m not making it up. The numbers say they can win and only three other teams can truly say that right now. If last night got the Yankees motor started, it just may roar to life and carry them to the most unexpected of destinations. It’s all about getting hot! I interpret last night’s win wishfully obviously and hope it’s a sign of things to come!
Next Up - The Yankees and Pirates conclude their two-game set in the Bronx as the Pirates will start former Yankees prospect Roansy Contreras (5-4, 3.24 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 4.23 FIP and 3.03 wOBA). The Yankees gave Contreras to the Pirates as part of the Jameson Taillon trade back in 2021, with Cashman also sending pitchers Canaan Smith-Njigba and Miguel Yajure, along with shortstop Maikol Escotto to the Bucs in what might fairly be considered one of those rare “win-win” deals for both trade partners.
Contreras, who is emerging as the anchor of the Pirates pitching staff, plays off his 4-seam fastball, which he features 49.7% of the time and he uses his plus-slider 32.9% of the time and utilizes it as his putaway pitch. He’ll also mix in an occasional curve-ball and a rare change-up, neither of which are pitches he relies on.
While he’s posting very solid overall numbers this season for the Pirates, the one chink in “Rockin Roansy’s” armour this year according to StatCast is his Hard-Hit Percentage of 46.7%, which places him in the bottom 2% of the league in this vital measurable. This combines with a 9.8% Barrel-Percentage and a very-high 16.9 degree Launch-Angle which means Contreras has given up some hard-hit, very long fly balls but the good news for him is that it’s only translating to him allowing 1.1 home-runs per 9-innings. The Yankees will surely look to capitalize on this vulnerability as the Yankees team Hard-Hit Percentage (41.2%) and their Barrel Percentage (10.1%), per Fangraphs, would seem to make the Yankees a challenging matchup for Contreras.
Contreras, for his part, is allowing fewer hits (73) than innings pitched (83.1) and his walk-rate of 9.8% is a bit over the MLB average of 8.4% so it's fair to say that Contreras does a very league average job of allowing baserunners and ultimately, he’s able to strand runners at a well above-average clip of 79.8%.
The Yankees will counter with Luis Severino (5-3, 3.45) tonight, who will his 17th start of the season and will be returning from a low grade right lat strain and who last pitched six days ago against Worcester while rehabbing at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He allowed 2ER over 4.1IP (4H, 1BB and 6K). Sevy needs 5 more strikeouts to reach 700K in his career. It may seem surprising that the Yankees are using Sevy as a starter so soon after being injured, but with Frankie Montas going down with a very concerning right shoulder injury, Sevy will be needed to slot in behind Nestor Cortes and Gerrit Cole as the team’s third starter.