On Saturday morning, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said he was excited to see what Domingo German would do in his second major league start, six days after he had held the Los Angeles Angels hitless for six innings in his first.
By the time the game against the Oakland Athletics ended at Yankee Stadium, on the cusp of Saturday evening, German was a footnote to a game that lasted 4 hours 15 minutes, finally ending on Neil Walker’s run-scoring single, which gave the Yankees a 7-6 victory in 11 innings.
“Obviously, he’s really gotten it going for us lately,” Boone said. “He’s played a big role for us lately.”
Walker’s single to center drove in Gary Sanchez, who had reached on a fielder’s choice and moved to second after a walk to Aaron Hicks, the 17th free pass of the game.
And that’s the kind of game it was — a walk-filled, strikeout-filled (there were 21 of those) slog — until the ninth inning, when Brett Gardner, Sanchez and replay review erased an A’s runner at home to preserve a 6-6 tie.
Then came the wow finish from Walker, who over the last nine games has looked like a different player from the one who struggled through his first 21 as a Yankee.
“He’s just a professional, the definition of it,” Aaron Judge said of Walker, who is 9 for 25 with eight walks in his last nine games after starting the season with a .163 batting average.
“It’s easy to get caught up in numbers and how things are going, but the fact of the matter is that I’ve been playing this game for a long time, so I know good things are on the horizon for me,” Walker said. “I try not to put too much pressure on myself, and when I get opportunities like today, I try to do what I can to put together a good at-bat.”
Walker had two runs batted in on Saturday, and his game-winner was the third clutch hit he has delivered in the past week. On Tuesday, his pinch-hit double set up a victory over the Boston Red Sox, and last Sunday he tied the score with a ninth-inning double against the Cleveland Indians in another game the Yankees went on to win.
“When we need to get something going,” Judge said, “need a clutch double, a base hit, anything, that’s the guy we turn to.”
The Yankees’ latest comeback win negated a disappointing outing from German, a rookie who came to the majors as a reliever. In retrospect, there was probably little he could have done in his second start that would not be viewed as a letdown.
Still, German held the Athletics hitless for two and two-thirds innings, and when Mark Canha’s third-inning flare dropped in front of Gardner in left field, there was an audible groan from the crowd. German, a 25-year-old right-hander, had not allowed a hit since May 1, a stretch of eight and two-thirds innings over three appearances.
The groans turned to boos when German put the Yankees in a 5-2 hole in the fourth inning. He gave up a three-run home run to Khris Davis with one out, and allowed two more runs on a pair of walks and Canha’s two-run single. The A’s added a sixth run on Jed Lowrie’s sacrifice fly in the fifth.
As they had in Friday night’s 10-5 loss to Oakland, the Yankees battled back with the long ball. Judge’s two-run homer in the fifth cut the lead to 6-4, and the Yankees tied the score in the same inning on singles by Walker and Miguel Andujar.
That is where the game stood for the next couple of hours, through Oakland’s near miss in the ninth inning, another threat in the top of the 10th and the Yankees’ getting a potential go-ahead run to third in the eighth.
In the ninth, Oakland’s Matt Olson raced home on an apparent sacrifice fly to left field by pinch-hitter Jonathan Lucroy. The home plate umpire, James Hoye, ruled that Olson had just beaten Gardner’s throw, but the Yankees, believing that Olson had not escaped Sanchez’s tag, challenged the call. The replay revealed that Sanchez had grazed Olson’s jersey with a sweep tag just before he touched the plate.
“I thought he was safe,” Gardner said. “I knew I made a pretty good throw, but I just thought it was a little late. But it wasn’t even close once you saw the replay.”
German’s early exit forced Boone to use five Yankees relievers. Jonathan Holder, Chad Green and Dellin Betances pitched well, holding the A’s hitless for three innings. But Aroldis Chapman struggled, walking the bases loaded in the ninth before Gardner’s throw bailed him out.
That left just A.J. Cole, who had not pitched since April 28. Cole had a rough start, walking the first two batters he faced in the 10th, but then struck out four of the next six batters he faced to earn the win.
“It’s not easy to come out there and be sharp late in the game,” Walker said. “What he did today was, I think, more impressive than a walk-off win.”
On the day the Yankees honored Didi Gregorius with a Bat Day giveaway, he ended an 0-for-30 slump with a fifth-inning single. Gregorius, who was named the American League player of the month for April and was batting .333 on May 1, is now down to .268.