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The final pitch from Aroldis Chapman curled around the bat of Nelson Cruz, and at last the deed was done. At last the game was won. The Yankees don’t turn every one of their games into “War and Peace”; it just seems that way.
It just feels like every game lately chews up cuticles and tests digestive systems, just feels like every day is life and death. It was life this time. The Yankees won 4-3 over the Rays, then dashed back to their hotel before anyone could declare otherwise.
“No margin for error,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Lately, there hasn’t been. Lately every game has become the Cyclone at Coney Island, an absurd tour through baseball’s heart of darkness. It’s becoming clear this is what the season is going to be like from here on out, a parade of pulse-quickeners and heart-thumpers and stomach-churners.
This time, the Yankee did just enough on a night when just enough had to be plenty. Jordan Montgomery was brilliant, though the bridge from him to Chapman was shaky and creaky. And Chapman, who blew away the first two hitters of the ninth, only seems most comfortable these days when introducing a whiff of frenzy.
And so of course he would allow rookie Wander Franco to work him for a walk, allow the tying run to reach first with two outs, allow Cruz to stalk ominously toward the batter’s box. Back on June 10, in Minneapolis, Cruz had made his contribution to the Yankees’ tower of angst, clubbing a walk-off for the Twins off Chapman.
Now here he came.
And suddenly it was 3-and-0.
The TV cameras caught Boone then. He looked the way you did. He looked nervous. He looked worried. He looked in need of a friend. Or, at the least, some good news.
The good news arrived thusly:
Called strike one. Called strike two. And then Chapman coaxing his final pitch of the night around Cruz’s bat. Every day another epic. Every night another grind. This time, this one, with a happy ending for the Yankees.
“Any time Cruz us coming up there it gets tense,” Boone said, “but I really liked the way Chappy was throwing the ball. And ultimately he made the pitches he needed to.”
Later, Boone would actually allow himself a laugh as he assessed the importance of winning inside Troicana Field, a longtime house of horrors.
“We really needed it,” he said. “We need ’em. Every day is super important.”
Every game helps. And every helping hand helps. Montgomery was brilliant across five brilliant innings — five hits, five strikeouts. The Yankees actually scored a few runs on his behalf, which always feels like a back-page story.
And then Ryan LaMarre — all of six major league home runs to his name — hit number seven, and it turned out to the margin of victory, a blast in the eighth. The Yankees are in no position to be picky about who will step up on behalf of the greater cause night to night. The job is open to anyone. LaMarre just took it this time.
“Just unbelievable,” LaMarre said. “Every game we’re competing the best we can. We know every game is important and we’re trying to go out and put yesterday behind us, keep fighting.”
If those words sound familiar they should. They are straight from the Book of Boone, and sometimes they can sound disingenuous if not downright delusional. Still: when you hear the players channel them, maybe it does indicate the manager’s relentless optimism is rubbing off. Maybe the message is getting through.
And maybe the Rays will change the narrative right back again Wednesday.
When there’s so little margin for error, every night can be a daunting gauntlet. You take the favorable endings and you tuck them away and you run for the bus. And try again tomorrow.
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