BOSTON — After their last two playoff runs ended at the hands of their bullpen — specifically Aroldis Chapman — the Yankees enter Tuesday’s AL wild-card game against the Red Sox hoping to follow a different script.
The one they charted in Sunday’s showdown against the Rays to clinch their postseason spot — 5 ²/₃ shutout innings — was about as ideal as they could have imagined.
The Yankees’ bullpen has emerged as one of their biggest strengths, and a rested relief corps should allow manager Aaron Boone to use a depth of weapons however he needs to against the Red Sox lineup.
In between Gerrit Cole and Chapman, the Yankees figure to use any mix of Jonathan Loaisiga, Chad Green, Clay Holmes and Luis Severino to piece together nine innings or more.
“I think the thing that’s stood out is everyone’s ability to cope with a high-leverage situation,” catcher Kyle Higashioka said Monday at Fenway Park. “Especially the younger guys or guys who haven’t been so used to coming in in ultra high-leverage situations, they never lose their ability to throw strikes and attack the zone. I think that’s the most important thing as a reliever is making sure you don’t fall behind hitters and give away free bases, and that gives the other team a chance to keep the line moving.
“These guys attack hitters, so that’s what you want.”
The spotlight will be especially bright on Chapman should he get a chance to close out the game. The hard-throwing lefty has had a shaky season in addition to having a few recent postseason outings to forget.
After a dominant start to this season, Chapman endured a brutal stretch beginning in late June in which he gave up 14 earned runs over 5 ²/₃ innings. He has a 1.95 ERA in 29 games since, but has continued to struggle with his fastball command at times
“I think he looks really good,” Higashioka said. “We have all the confidence in the world in him. Last several outings have been good. He’s been throwing a lot of strikes, getting guys out. He’s been rock solid. We trust him 100 percent.”
Chapman will also be looking for a different October finish than the past two seasons. In 2019, Jose Altuve hit a walk-off home run against him in Game 6 of the ALCS. Last year, it was Rays infielder Mike Brosseau who hit the game-winning home run against him in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the ALDS.