NEW YORK — Scattered groans from the crowd grew into full-throated howls as Aroldis Chapman issued walk after walk after walk, bringing the potential go-ahead run to the plate on Thursday night. The Yankees had been in the driver’s seat all evening, a position now imperiled as their closer missed the zone with 12 of his 16 pitches.
Chapman could not protest when he saw Aaron Boone pop out of the dugout, a glum expression painted across the manager’s face as he extended his right hand toward the right-field bullpen. It was quite a test for Michael King — one the right-hander passed with flying colors, needing only five pitches to extinguish the rally and preserve a 3-0 victory over the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.
“There’s a ton of adrenaline knowing you have to execute,” King said. “When the phone rang, I knew only righties were coming up next and it could be my name.”
Chapman’s errant performance was the lone blip on an excellent evening of pitching for the Bombers. Luis Severino delivered a vintage performance, touching 99.5 mph with his fastball and striking out six over five scoreless innings, then a sextet of relievers were supported by bottom-of-the-order production as the Yanks sought a split of their four-game series with Toronto.
With the big boppers held mostly silent, Isiah Kiner-Falefa (3-for-3, two runs scored) and Jose Trevino (2-for-3, two RBIs) shouldered the load — and in a game when Boone earlier promised that the lights would eventually come on in the lower third of the lineup. Giancarlo Stanton had an RBI groundout in the eighth inning, providing an insurance run for Chapman, who was seeking his second save of the year.
“The fastball command was not sharp tonight; a little out of the zone,” Chapman said through an interpreter. “The good thing is, the guys went in there and did an excellent job, and we were able to win this game.”
It was evident that Chapman had little feel, though with a three-batter minimum rule, Boone had no choice but to cross his fingers. Jonathan Loáisiga was unavailable, so King hurriedly began to warm after Chapman walked the second batter, Santiago Espinal, popping a glove in the bullpen as Chapman uncorked a wild pitch that took away a chance for a double play.
“He was a little around the zone,” Boone said. “I don’t know. It was obviously a longer night and a little damp and whatever. He just wasn’t in a real good rhythm there, I felt like. It was just one of those nights.”
A five-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Matt Chapman prompted the change. King exhaled as he reached the mound, the 26-year-old intent on challenging the top of the lineup. King tried to get a ground ball, then zipped an 0-2 fastball past George Springer, painting the outside edge for strike three.
King got ahead of Bo Bichette with a sinker that nicked the zone, again efforting for a grounder. Trevino called for a curve, and Bichette flared a soft pop to the right side of the infield, one that seemed as though it might find the right-field turf.
DJ LeMahieu ranged to his left, snaring the ball on the run, then whipped a throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base — just ahead of Chapman, who was diving back into the bag headfirst. Just like that, ballgame over, meltdown averted.
“When I turned around, I saw DJ was going to get there,” King said. “Off the bat, I didn’t want it up in the air. But I saw Chapman halfway down the line and said, ‘This is going to be the end of the game.’”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. tossed his bat aside, stranded on deck and unable to redeem a four-strikeout performance, one night after he’d belted three homers in a four-hit showing. King didn’t complain about missing his chance for a showdown against the Toronto star.
“It’s nice to not face him, but I have all the confidence in the world if I had to,” King said.
As the Yanks shook hands at the center of the infield, ready for a happy rain-delayed flight to Baltimore, King beamed as Rizzo presented him with the game ball. King only later realized that those 108 red stitches represented a memento of his first Major League save.
King registered a save last season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and another back in 2016 for Class-A Short-Season Batavia in the New York-Penn League. Those saves, along with the two that King notched at Boston College, had been long relegated to his own personal dustbin. Thursday’s outing meant much more.
“If you had asked me, I would have said I didn’t have any,” King said. “I had no idea. This one will definitely stand out.”