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Walking the Line: Neil Walker’s Clutch HR, Defense Gives Yankees a Sigh of Relief

The Yankees had the task of snapping out of a rough stretch in which they failed to put away weak opponents. To make matters worse, the Yankees had the pleasure of welcoming the first place Red Sox into town, with one win over the Bombers away from clinching the American League East.

After six innings, it looked like another lost game for the Yankees. ndeed, it looked like the Red Sox were on their way to another win against the Yankees through six. Nathan Eovaldi was cruising, putting down the slumping Bombers and shutting out the Yankees for the second time in two starts with Boston. Enter Neil Walker.

After barely starting most of September, Walker made the most of this chance with a go-ahead three-run home run in the seventh and a game-winning scoop in the insane ninth to clinch a three to two nail-bitter against the Red Sox. The win kept the Red Sox from clinching the American League East at Yankees Stadium.

The Bombers pounced on the mediocre Boston bullpen in the seventh inning following Eovaldi’s departure. Brandon Workman walked Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez to put runners on first and second with one out. Red Sox manager Alex Cora then decided to pull Workman and bring in right-hander Ryan Brasier to face Walker. Now, the question is why the BoSox did not go to a left-hander to switch Walker to the right side, his weaker side. To answer this question, the Yankees had the red-hot Luke Voit on the bench and Cora decided to keep Walker, who had less than 20 at-bats in September. The decision failed the Red Sox and Walker hit a no-doubter into the second deck in right field, re-igniting the Yankees Stadium faithful. After a scoreless inning from David Robertson, it seemed like the Yankees had every wrapped up, right?

Well, with the way the Yankees are playing no game is ever easy. After Brock Holt worked a one-out walk, Zach Britton induced a weak chopper to third that usually would be an easy force-out at least. However, Gleyber Torres was out of position and allowed the ball to roll into centerfield. Britton then forced pinch-hitter Sam Travis to hit a weak chopper back to the mound. However, Britton botched the play and threw the ball into centerfield, allowing Holt to score.

It seemed as if the Yankees were going to throw another game away (literally). However, third time’s the charm. Britton induced another chopper to the mound and this time threw a perfect strike to second. Torres’ throw to first was low, but a great scoop by Walker sealed the deal.

JUDGE’S SO-SO RETURN:

Aaron Judge had an okay return to the lineup after missing more than a month recovering from a fractured chip in his wrist. He did hit the ball hard three times (he hit the ball at least 95 miles per hour in each of his first three at-bats, according to Statcast), but he went hitless in four at-bats with one strikeout. While he was hitless at the plate, Judge did prove that he was healthy and that he can still hit the ball hard and put together a good at-bat. While this wasn’t a glorious return, Aaron Judge did have a serviceable, healthy return.  

DEADLINE DUEL:

Yankees fans finally got to see J.A. Happ face off against Nathan Eovaldi. After being was scratched from his start in Fenway Park against Eovaldi in August, Happ proved why the Yankees made the deal to acquire him from the Blue Jays at the deadline.

Happ was able to keep Boston hitters off-balance all night, never giving in and never allowing the Red Sox to put together a rally. In fact, Happ’s only run allowed was an unearned run, thanks to another Gary Sanchez passed ball.

However, Eovaldi also proved why the Red Sox traded for him. Eovaldi was sharper than Happ, pounding the strike zone and working quickly, only needing 83 pithces to get through six innings (and only 63 to get through 5). Eovaldi’s sharp fastball command kept the Bombers off all night and prevented them from squaring up the right hander.   

SHARPEN UP:

While today’s victory was important, the Yankees were very sloppy. Sanchez allowed another passed ball, the defense made two bad errors in the ninth inning, and the offense was inept for most of the night. While Walker bailed the team out with a huge hit and a great scoop, the Yankees were very close to blowing another winnable game.

The Bombers simply need to come out sharper tomorrow night. David Price takes the mound for Boston and, while he has been excellent in the second half, he has been owned by the Yankees, especially at Yankees Stadium (4.75 lifetime ERA at the Stadium via baseball reference).

Luis Severino needs to put his rocky second half in the past and work off the momentum from his last start against the Twins. Also, while Sanchez should be in the lineup against Price, he should not be behind the plate for Severino. The two have had very poor communication in their last two starts together, as evident by the two wild pitches and two passed balls in the first inning against Oakland. While Severino did pitch well with Sanchez behind the plate against the Twins, the Yankees cannot take a chance tomorrow in a crucial game. With the Athletics right on their tails, the Yankees cannot allow poor defense to cost them games. Not to mention, the Yankees would like to avoid letting the Red Sox clinch the AL East at Yankees Stadium. So, give Austin Romine the start behind the plate and keep Sanchez as the designated hitter. It’s the better decision for the defense in a must win game for the Yankees.

In summary: a win’s a win, but the Yankees need to play better if they want to prove that they’re the top of the American League.  

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