The life at the far end of a major league bullpen is an uncertain one. Relievers who reside there know to rent rather than buy. They are rarely assigned to get the game’s biggest outs and know that stringing a few bad games together can mean returning to the minors or, if they are out of options, an outright release.
So it was a meaningful moment when Chasen Shreve, who has spent his four seasons with the Yankees dancing along that edge, jogged in from the bullpen to face the Mets on Saturday afternoon.
He was summoned after the Yankees, who did not have Adam Warren or Chad Green available because of a heavy workload the night before, had run through their trusted relievers — David Robertson, Jonathan Holder, Dellin Betances — and after closer Aroldis Chapman had gone awry, losing control of his pitches, and nearly the game.
If there was anxiety emanating from the Yankee Stadium crowd when Shreve entered in the ninth inning, with the bases loaded, nobody out and a once comfortable four-run lead shaved in half, there would be no trepidation from him.
“Attacking guys,” he said. “You can’t shy away from anything that’s different from what you usually do.”
What Shreve did was rescue the Yankees, getting pinch-hitter Devin Mesoraco to ground into a double play and Wilmer Flores to hit a tapper in front of home plate that Shreve gathered and threw to first for the final out.
His steady work sealed a 7-6 victory over the Mets.
“Huge, huge, huge pick-me-up,” Manager Aaron Boone said.
It was the first save of the season for the left-handed Shreve and the second one of his career. The previous one came nearly two years ago, in Kansas City, when he entered in a similarly precarious situation with the bases loaded and one out. He struck out Kendrys Morales and retired Salvador Perez on a flyout to preserve a 5-4 victory.
“It’s funny how that works out,” said Shreve, who recalled that game when the bullpen catcher, Radley Haddad, noted that Saturday’s save was the second of his career.
The Yankees savored the much-needed victory after coming out of the All-Star break with a dispiriting loss, which had dropped them five and a half games behind Boston, and while looking toward a daunting task on Sunday night against the Mets’ ace, Jacob deGrom.
Miguel Andujar had three hits and scored three runs, Greg Bird continued his resurgence with two hits and pair of runs batted in, and Aaron Judge, who sank into a tailspin after the All-Star break last season, had three hits on Saturday. They included a line-drive home run to left that carried through the teeth of an uncommonly strong summer wind in the Bronx.
Yankees second baseman Brandon Drury may have lost a home run to the wind: “There was no doubt in my mind it was out when it left the bat,” he said of a third-inning drive to the left-center wall. But he turned the ninth-inning double play when he fielded the ball a few steps from the bag and threw to first.
“Didi would have been there at the bag too,” Drury said, referring to shortstop Didi Gregorius. “I just was close, and my momentum was taking me that way. I knew I could get the out at first if I just took it myself. That was two big outs in the game.”
The escape also allowed the Yankees to shrug off the performance of Chapman, who is pitching with a brace on his left knee as a hedge against tendinitis. Chapman said the knee did not bother him, though his fastball exceeded 97 miles per hour just two times and he could not throw it for strikes.
“I think it was just one of those hiccups that happens over the course of the year,” Boone said. “But we’ll certainly check with him and monitor him closely.”
Chapman, who entered the ninth with a 7-3 lead, faced five batters. He walked three, hit a batter and allowed an infield single. At one point, 14 of 15 pitches were balls — and the one that was not was beaten out for an infield hit by Amed Rosario. Even a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild could not straighten him out.
“Every player when they’re struggling out there in the game, they want to get through it, they want to resolve the issue that’s happening at the moment,” Chapman said through an interpreter. “It wasn’t my day today.”
Shreve can relate. He was brought in to protect a 5-0 lead in May against Cleveland. He faced four batters: walk, single, home run and single — and by the end of the inning the team’s advantage was gone. Last month, he entered a tied game in the 12th inning at Tampa Bay and threw one pitch — Jake Bauers hit it for a game-ending home run.
After that, Shreve committed to being more assertive. It was not just a matter of throwing his fastball more frequently — that was the pitch Bauers hit — but throwing it with more conviction. In 10 games since, Shreve has a 1.80 earned run average.
“They were just waiting for me to get two strikes and sitting there on auto-take,” Shreve said. “I’d throw splitters in the dirt, and they were good splitters, but they’re just not swinging at them.”
The two batters he faced on Saturday each took a good hack at a first-pitch fastball, but Mesoraco fouled it off and Flores swung through it.
As it turned out, they were harbingers of what was to come for Shreve, who reinforced his standing in the bullpen, moving a little bit farther from the uncomfortable edge.