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The New York Yankees’ winning streak extends their wild-card lead just in time

The New York Yankees' winning streak extends their wild-card lead just in time

Given that the New York Yankees have won the most games in the majors throughout those 36 seasons, it’s hard to believe they haven’t won 11 in a row since 1985, when Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, and Ken Griffey Sr. patrolled the outfield. In the intervening years, they had won 10 games in a row six times, but each time they lost the 11th game.

The New York Yankees’ winning streak extends their wild-card lead just in time

With two outs, the bases loaded, and the Yankees clinging to a 5-4 lead, dangerous Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman stepped up in the bottom of the ninth inning on Tuesday, the moment had a playoff-like tension between two potential World Series opponents, with the winning streak on the line. It was the classic game-on-the-line situation: it was only his fifth plate appearance in the majors this season, and he got to a 3-2 count with the bases loaded in the ninth inning with two outs and the batting side down a run. Chapman had began the inning for the second night in a row after tossing 11 pitches the night before. Adam Duvall singled with one out, and Ehire Adrianza walked on four pitches with two outs. Ozzie Albies reached on an infield single in a seven-pitch at-bat, somehow beating out a routine two-hopper to third base to load the bases (one of the most impressive hustle plays of the season).

Chapman was sweating like Matthew Modine in “Vision Quest” in a rubber suit by this point. Chapman has been better recently after a span from mid-June to early-July in which he allowed 15 runs in 523 innings, but he is still working to regain Aaron Boone’s trust. Chapman returned late last week after missing 13 days due to elbow discomfort, and in his first game against the Boston Red Sox, he gave up a home run, a walk, and a hit, prompting Boone to yank him for Lucas Luetge, who got the final out for the save in a 5-2 victory. So when Chapman walked Jorge Soler to push in a run on a 3-2 slider on Tuesday, Boone pulled Chapman for the second time in a save situation. Peralta, who was acquired from the Giants for Mike Tauchman in late April, has pitched his way into crucial circumstances. After a nine-pitch fight with Freeman, he ultimately got him to fly out, giving him his third save with the Yankees. Andrew Heaney, the starting pitcher, was blown away. “You’ve got to throw a lot of nuts to get him out; I think it was three or four straight 3-2 changeups to the reigning NL MVP, all of them terrific pitches,” Heaney said. “That’s a tough situation to be in, and Wandy’s performance was outstanding.” Boone, who had a day off on Wednesday, handled this one like a playoff game, yanking Heaney after four innings and bringing in six relievers.

The Yankees, on the other hand, only have one scheduled off day until September 22, so they’ll play 27 games in 28 days. Even with a few more roster places in September, the bullpen is being pushed to use six relievers per night. Plus, after this performance, Boone isn’t going to want to utilize Chapman on consecutive days — and that’s without even considering his comfort level in save situations. Remember that Zack Britton is expected to miss the rest of the season and may require Tommy John surgery. Still, since the “Field of Dreams” game in Iowa, the Yankees haven’t lost. They are 2.5 games ahead of the Red Sox in the wild-card race, with the A’s behind the Red Sox by two games. While the positives are lining up elsewhere — improved offense with Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo; Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon settling into a tough one-two punch; a defense that has made some big plays recently (including Andrew Velazquez delivering a nice relay throw to nail Freeman at home plate to save a run on Tuesday) — the Chapman issue looms over the Yankees’ stretch run. It’s difficult to imagine the Yankees going all the way with Chapman as their closer right now. He can still wipe out hitters with the slider or a split-fingered throw if he gets ahead of them, but getting ahead has been difficult, with 31 walks in 42 innings. With seven home runs allowed, he has already tied his career high. He has little conviction in his fastball, as we witnessed against Albies and Soler, throwing three straight sliders with three balls to Albies and then five straight sliders to Soler after a first-pitch fastball was outside the zone. We’re not used to Chapman being threatening and domineering.

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