Yankees rally from eight down, stun Orioles on walk-off homer in April thriller

Saturday April 29th, 2017

A mere 34 years into his tenure as the Yankees play-by-play announcer, John Sterling is good for a few malapropisms, dated cultural references and kindly grandpa jokes per game. After the Yankees overcame an eight-run deficit to knock off the Orioles in a wild 14–11 win on Friday night, the veteran announcer babbled with superlatives describing the thrilling comeback.  

“That’s the kind game you put on cassette!” Sterling bellowed after Matt Holliday belted a walk-off three-run home run to clinch the win. “Or a DVD or a CD or whatever!”

Holliday’s three-run bomb off of Orioles reliever Jason Aquino in the 10th inning capped a raucous affair that featured an eight-run comeback, two grand slams, the longest home run of the season, the hardest hit home run of the season and a meltdown from one of the game’s revered bullpens. It was the largest comeback since the Padres erased a 10-run deficit in a 16–13 win over the Mariners last season. Prior to Holliday’s homer, Sterling commented “If you’re just joining us … shame on you.” It wasn’t hyperbole for one of the season’s best games.

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Sure, blow-by-blow accounts of regular season games can be boring exercises, but let’s stroll through the highlights. And then you can go put it on cassette like Mr. Sterling instructed:

The Orioles tuned up Yankees starter CC Sabathia for seven runs over 5 ⅔ innings, anchored by Manny Machado’s 470-foot moonshot over Monument Park—the longest home run to date in 2017.

Sabathia yielded to Bryan Mitchell, who threw a flaccid belt-high fastball to Mark Trumbo with the bases loaded. Trumbo, who led all of baseball with 47 home runs last season, nuked Mitchell’s sad offering 459 feet into the leftfield bleachers for his first grand slam of the season.

That gave the Orioles a 9–1 lead and a 99.1% win expectancy, a comfortable lead even for struggling starting pitcher Kevin Gausman. Baltimore’s Opening Day starter needed a strong outing; he entered the game with an unsightly 7.23 ERA and healing from an eight-run shellacking by the White Sox. After completing five innings of one-run ball against the Yankees’ explosive offense, Gausman’s confidence may have been budding with an eight-run lead. But then he returned for the sixth inning and Aaron Judge arrived.

It was Judge’s second home run of the night and the hardest-hit home run of the season according to MLB Statcast. It left the bat at 119.38 MPH, traveled 435 feet and looked more like a homing missile than a parabola. In his postgame interview with WFAN, Holliday said it was the hardest ball he’d ever seen hit at any level of baseball. The Orioles maintained a 9–4 lead (and would even extend it to 11–4 to give them a 99.5% win expectancy), but Judge further proved himself as one of the game’s dominant young power hitters. The 25-year-old behemoth and apparent lovechild of Tony Robbins and Mr. Clean now has nine home runs on the season and pushed his OPS to 1.081.

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Yankee fans could have left this game upset by a loss, but encouraged by Judge’s performance. Instead they got 10 unanswered runs. The spark for the comeback came from Jacoby Ellsbury, a relic of the bloated veteran contracts that have hampered the Yankees for a decade, who blasted a grand slam off of Vidal Nuño to cut the deficit to 11–8.

Darren O’Day pitched a clean eighth inning before giving way to Brad Brach, the acting ninth-inning man in the absence of injured closer Zach Britton. Despite a generous three-run cushion, Brach walked Holliday and surrendered a single to Chase Headley. Ellsbury’s ensuing fielder’s choice made the game 11–9, but got Brach a needed out. Following Ellsbury was Starlin Castro—one of SI’s April All-Stars—who smashed a game-tying two-run homer off of one knee.

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So how to end it? A walk-off home run seemed right. Aquino, Baltimore’s mop-up man, entered to work the 10th and immediately found trouble by walking Aaron Hicks and Kyle Higashioka to lead off the inning. After striking out Chase Headley, Holliday—one of the Yankees understated veteran signings—crushed a lazy off-speed offering to cap the season’s most unlikely comeback.

Sterling crooned “Happy Holliday!” in an off-key Dean Martin impression, his cohort Suzyn Waldman declared it Holliday’s “Yankee Moment” and whomever remained of the 36,912 fans in attendance whooped in elation and disbelief. Overcoming a 0.5% chance to win rarely comes along after all. Maybe somebody will put it on a cassette and, per Sterling’s advice, turn it on in the dead of winter.

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