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The Yankees and the Night of Blown-Save Absurdities

Monday’s game between New York and Kansas City was a weird, delightful, wide-ranging spectacle.

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There are two primary ways that a line score can be interesting. The first involves weird numbers—uncommonly big, in most cases, like a bloated error total or an awkwardly high score. The second involves a weird cadence—innings with reasonable scoring totals grouped in a seemingly unreasonable order. This one is special. It is rarer than the first category, and it is also much richer, a mystery for anyone trying to decipher the game from the line score alone. Here is a textbook example:


Look at that! A few hours of ordinariness and then a demented waltz, perfectly in time, as the offenses aligned in the tense glow of the later innings. It’s a marvel. If this started as a pitcher’s duel, it ended up as something akin to an unusually consistent sword fight, remarkable symmetry on display until the very end.

Which is all to say: Monday’s game between the Yankees and the Royals was a weird, delightful, wide-ranging spectacle. It was the first time in MLB that both teams had scored in the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings of a game. The Yankees became one of just two teams in history to blow four saves in one game and became the only team to blow four saves in one game and still win. This means that when they escaped, 8–6, they also became the first team to experience five save opportunities in one game.

Here are those opportunities, examined:

1) Jonathan Loaisiga, seventh and eighth innings, 1 IP, 1 R, 1 H, 2 BB, 0 K, BS

The worst blown save is the first one. When Loaisiga entered in the seventh—with one runner inherited from starter Jameson Taillon—this game looked perfectly normal. The Yankees were up 1–0, and against a relatively anemic offense in Kansas City, it might have been reasonable to expect that one run was all they'd need. When Loaisiga entered, this might have even looked easy. But the first indication that this game was going to get messy showed up on his very first batter. He was called for a balk—which brought protests from manager Aaron Boone, who was promptly ejected, and the runner who advanced on the balk then scored on a sac fly.

This is the moment where this game started to go off the rails—to get fun, dramatic, a little weird. Which was exactly the problem for Loaisiga. This had to be the worst blown save. It’s the origin story for all the others—in spirit just as much as in chronology.

2) Chad Green, eighth inning, 1 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 K, BS

It’s not particularly strange for one blown save to follow another. (It happens.) But it can be particularly annoying. There’s nothing special going on here; there’s certainly no indication that this might end up being anything close to historic. There’s just the knowledge that this game has lost its chance to be easy. It’s going to take a while. This game is now going to be a thing.

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Green entered with two runners inherited from Loaisiga. He kept the damage relatively limited: a first-pitch fastball down the middle turned into a single for Royals left fielder Andrew Benintendi, which allowed one run to score but no more. There was nothing terrible here. There was something worse—there was just enough to be annoying.

Aug 9, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA;  New York Yankees relief pitcher Zack Britton (53) delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium.

3) Zack Britton, ninth inning, 1 IP, 1 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K, BS

Britton started the ninth easy—two quick outs. He was almost there, so close, one hitter away from closing this out. But that one hitter was Whit Merrifield, and he walked on four pitches, refusing to chase Britton’s sinker at all. And because it was Merrifield, he stole second base. And, again, because it was Merrifield, all he needed was a single to bring him home, sending the game to extras.

That’s a blown save with a narrative arc (down to the last out!) and a true sense of timing (down to the last out!). It’s perhaps the closest thing that this game had to an ideal version of the form—ninth inning, drama without mess, quick work followed by a slow burn-down. That’s a blown save. Amid a slew of, er, less refined options, here is one for the connoisseur.

4) Clay Holmes, 10th inning, 1 IP, 2 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 K, BS

The 10th inning is the start of a space where a blown save means something a little different—the runner on second changes the rhythm a little bit. But more important, for this game, the 10th inning is the start of a space where this was all feeling weird. These teams had already made history by getting to the 10th like this. This was not the kind of thing that was supposed to happen. And after the Yankees scored twice in the top of the inning, rather than the one run that had begun to feel almost customary by this point, it seemed all but impossible to imagine the Royals would keep it going.

So, of course, a walk, a wild pitch, a sac fly and a single later, there they were. A record-tying fourth blown save.

5) Wandy Peralta, 11th inning, 1 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 K, S

There was a moment where it seemed as if Peralta might blow this one, too. With two outs, the tying run was on first base, the potential winner at the plate. Peralta was straddling the line not just between blowing the game or saving it but between taking this evening from historic to absurdist, from a game that was unusual to one that might feel flat-out cursed. The five-hour mark approached. If they went to a 12th inning, it seemed, perhaps they would never leave.

With a 1–1 count to Carlos Santana, Peralta turned to his changeup, and he heard it connect with the bat.

It was a grounder to third. It was a save.

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