This year’s edition, with significant contributions from rookies like Torres, Miguel Andujar and now German, is cresting on a timely wave of momentum that puts the Yankees within a game of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, with a three-game series between the teams beginning Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
German, 25, was making his first major league start. He had been called up to replace the injured Jordan Montgomery, and German made it a memorable debut. He did not allow a hit in six innings — helped significantly by two fine defensive plays by Torres at second base — but had to come out after the sixth because he had thrown 84 pitches. The Yankees were not willing to risk an injury. Boone, who praised German’s use of three outstanding pitches — his breaking ball, changeup and fastball — said it was not a debatable decision to take him out, and German said he understood it.
The notion of lifting a starting pitcher from a no-hit bid has become far more commonplace over the last few years — the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday completed a combined no-hitter started by 23-year-old Walker Buehler against the San Diego Padres. Johan Santana’s career-ending string of injuries after his 134-pitch no-hitter for the Mets in 2012 is the red marker for that shift in thinking.
So Betances came out of the bullpen, tasked with preserving the no-hitter in a 0-0 game.
“I was trying my best to keep it that way,” Betances said. “I was like, ‘Man, this is an opportunity to be famous for a long time.’”
He extended it only one inning. Yonder Alonso recorded the first hit, leading off the eighth with a ground ball that found its way past Torres into the outfield. Yan Gomes and Tyler Naquin followed with singles, and before the inning was over, Betances had been replaced by Jonathan Holder and Cleveland led, 4-0.
Mike Clevinger, Cleveland’s longhaired starting pitcher, was matching German almost pitch for pitch and went back to the mound in the eighth having already thrown 100 pitches. He walked Neil Walker and Tyler Austin, so Cleveland Manager Terry Francona summoned closer Cody Allen to try for a five-out save.
Had Andrew Miller, the superb Cleveland setup man who is on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, been available, he most likely would have pitched the eighth. Instead, Allen was asked to get the extended save.
Brett Gardner singled to right, scoring Walker, and Aaron Judge doubled, scoring Austin and Gardner as the Yankees drew to within a run, 4-3.
Allen, who ran his pitch count up to 32, was finally chased from the game in the ninth after Aaron Hicks and Walker doubled to even the score. In came Otero, who got Andujar to ground out. Otero then walked Giancarlo Stanton intentionally to pitch to Torres.
On Friday, when Torres went deep in the fourth inning, he became the youngest Yankee to hit a home run since 20-year-old John Ellis did in 1969. But the Yankees relinquished a five-run lead in that game and needed to win it in the ninth inning on Andujar’s single.
Torres, of course, is the star prospect the Yankees got from the Chicago Cubs in a trade for Aroldis Chapman in 2016.
Torres said he had never hit a walk-off home run at any level of baseball. But on the sixth pitch of his at-bat, he drove an 88-mile-per-hour slider from Otero into the Yankees’ bullpen, just a few feet from where Chapman was warming up.
In doing so, he became the youngest Yankee to hit a game-ending homer, surpassing Mickey Mantle, who was 41 days older when he did it in 1953.
As Torres circled the bases, looking like a 10-year veteran, Chapman, whom the Yankees re-signed in free agency before last season, raised his arms in victory, something the Yankees have been doing with an almost inevitable regularity the last two weeks.
Torres said he was happy to help his team and did not seem overwhelmed by the moment. After all, in the last three games, he’s already had two big moments.
As Boone said afterward: “It seems like the bigger the spot, the bigger the situation, the better he is.”