The bullpen alarm went off in the first inning. They must have an alarm setting on the phone for situations like this, right? The Yankees were behind before the Bleacher Creatures finished the roll call, for crying out loud, and behind some more before Luis Severino could break a sweat.
Suddenly, Chad Green was in the game with one out and, the fear and loathing at the Stadium that came with a 3-0 deficit notwithstanding, figuring out how Joe Girardi would get the remaining 26 outs made for some all-time intrigue.
The Yankees’ bullpen is very deep but, 26 outs-deep? With Dellin Betances not inspiring much faith from the manager lately?
It seemed like too much to ask. Surely he would have to get a couple of innings out of a starter like CC Sabathia, who Girardi had said would be available for a couple of innings if necessary.
But then it began, the parade of relievers that made good on the Yankees’ belief their deep bullpen could make them as dangerous as the Indians proved to be a year ago.
It helped that the Yankees quickly slugged their way back into the game and gave the pen some margin for error, but in the end, the Yankees saved their season in an 8-4 victory over the Twins in most improbable fashion.
Or as Girardi said afterward, “Our bullpen was just remarkable tonight.”
Perhaps most remarkably, it followed Girardi’s emergency blueprint. He said he always draws one up in the event, as he said, “that Severino takes a line drive off the shin — what do you do?”
His plan was to use Green and David Robertson as the first two relievers, regardless of inning, and as it turned out, he pushed Robertson for 31/3 innings, the longest outing of his career, and that allowed the Yankees to get those 26 outs with just four relievers.
“I didn’t think we could do it with just four,” Girardi admitted.
As crucial as Green turned out to be, coming in for Severino and slamming the door with two strikeouts to leave runners on second and third, and re-energize the Stadium crowd, Roberton and Tommy Kahnle wound up doing the heaviest lifting, pitching a combined 52/3 innings.
So take a bow, Brian Cashman, for that July trade with the White Sox. Without bulking up the bullpen with those two guys, the Yankees may well have collapsed under the weight of late-inning implosions by August.
Of course, the only concern now is how much of a toll this night will take on them in the coming days, as the Yankees move on now to take on the mighty Indians.
But they’ll worry about that when they get to Cleveland. You can’t fault Girardi for pushing two of his best relievers to win an elimination game — though this game also turned out to be proof that he doesn’t trust Betances much at all right now.
The four-time All-Star didn’t so much as warm up in the pen, not early or late. When Kahnle came back for the eighth, working his third inning, Aroldis Chapman was up, ready to come in to get four or five outs if necessary.
Instead, he only had to get the final three with a four-run lead, and by then it felt practically anticlimactic.
Bullpen depth never mattered quite so much.
It started with Green, the 26-year old righthander who has come out of nowhere this season, after so-so reviews as a starter, to turn into a strikeout monster and truly an Andrew Miller-like wild card in this postseason.
Even Miller never pitched in the first inning for Indians last October, yet there was Green, perhaps saving the game right there, because if the Twins make it 5-0 in that first inning, who knows how it goes from there.
Two innings later, Robertson found himself in the game in the third inning, and he rescued Green from a bases-loaded situation, then delivered a gutsy effort, throwing a career-high 52 pitches without allowing a run.
By then it was 7-4, thanks mostly to home runs by Didi Gregorius and — who else? — Aaron Judge.
By then it was also clear Girardi was indeed going to ride his bullpen all the way to the finish line.
In the sixth inning, for example, Girardi went jogging to the mound with two outs and a runner on base, to get Robertson. Instead, he just wanted to hear Robertson tell him he had another out in him, and when he heard it, Girardi, flowing with intensity, shouted to him to get it done.
But Robertson was gassed by then, and when he walked Brian Dozier, the manager had no choice but to go get him.
Kahnle had fallen out of the high-leverage mix lately, but now Girardi had no choice but to bring him into still another crucial spot, and he responded by getting a fly ball from Joe Mauer to end the inning.
By the time he turned over an 8-4 lead to Chapman for the ninth, that Cashman trade looked like one for the ages.
Or at least one that kept their 2017 season alive, as the Yankees took the whole win-with-the-bullpen-in-October philosophy to a level even they never expected.