NEW YORK — Michael King was concerned enough about his warmup on Friday evening that he held an emergency huddle with bullpen catcher Aaron Barnett, as the Yankees’ right-hander was searching to identify a mechanical flaw that was keeping him from throwing strikes.
King grew more concerned when his first three pitches from the Yankee Stadium mound missed their target. But then King was practically unhittable, striking out eight — including seven in a row — over three innings of relief in New York’s 4-1 victory over the Guardians.
“He’s a really talented dude,” Yankees starter Jameson Taillon said. “He has the capability of doing that anytime he touches the mound. He’s fearless. He attacked Jose Ramírez like I’ve never seen anyone else attack him, so he’s not scared of the big moment and big hitters.”
Taking over after five strong innings from Taillon, King fanned eight of the 10 batters he faced, permitting only an Amed Rosario single over a magnificent 42-pitch appearance.
King became the third pitcher in franchise history to register at least eight strikeouts in three innings of relief, joining Ron Davis (May 4, 1981, vs. the Angels) and Ryne Duren (June 26, 1959, vs. the White Sox).
“I don’t know — it just clicked and I felt good after that,” King said. “Maybe I’ve got to throw more bad bullpens.”
Though King struck out seven batters consecutively, he said that that fact did not register until later. Bobby Bradley fanned to end the sixth, then King whiffed Bryan Lavastida, Andrés Giménez and Myles Straw in the seventh.
Back out for the eighth, King struck out Steven Kwan, Ramírez and Franmil Reyes in order.
“He’s got all the pitches,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “He’s worked hard in his craft and he walks out there with a lot of confidence. When you’ve got that kind of arsenal — if he’s pounding the strike zone, he’s capable of performances like that.”
Added Guardians manager Terry Francona: “If you’re on their side, I can see why they’re excited. That’s pretty good stuff in three innings. That was impressive.”
King was able to throw his sinker (17), four-seamer (11), curveball (8) and changeup (6) for strikes, a four-pitch arsenal that is uncommon for a reliever.
“I’ve always talked about, if I have four hopefully plus pitches and only two of them are working, I can get through a lineup,” King said. “When I have all four, it allows me to do some fun stuff, toy around with players and keep them off balance.”
Relieved by closer Aroldis Chapman in the ninth, King ended one K shy of a franchise record for consecutive strikeouts (8), which was set by Davis during that electric 1981 appearance in Anaheim.
“I had no idea I had seven in a row. Come on, Boonie!” King said, with a laugh. “No, I’ll take my three innings and bounce.”