NEW YORK — Yankees right-hander Michael King has a history of shutting down the Blue Jays. What he accomplished at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, however, was something he's never done before at the big-league level.
After just three innings from starter Domingo Germán, King's number was called to start the fourth inning against Toronto. Making his 2021 debut, the 25-year-old shoved six scoreless frames, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out three.
From the final out of that fourth inning through the top of the ninth, King retired the final 16 batters he faced in New York's 3-1 loss.
"To be as pitch efficient as he was, to be able to complete that game, was huge for us," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "We just couldn't muster enough offensively, but he did a heck of a job."
When King first came in, it didn't look like he had his best stuff.
The right-hander walked the first batter he faced—center fielder Randal Grichuk—on four pitches. A single from designated hitter Joe Panik, before third baseman Cavan Biggio reached on catcher's interference, allowed rising star Bo Bichette to step in with the bases loaded.
King got the shortstop to chop a two-strike sinker harmlessly to first base to retire the side. From there, he never looked back.
"I was able to lock it in and I don't know, I was able to get ahead of almost everybody, throwing both the sinker and cutter for strikes, had some pretty good changeups," King said after the game. "I was just able to kind of get ahead of the count and get into the dugout as fast as I can."
King's masterpiece in relief matched the longest scoreless appearance by a Yankees reliever since 2006. He's also the first Yankee to toss six scoreless frames with one-or-fewer hits since Bob Shirley pitched six hitless innings out of the 'pen for New York in 1986.
"I think a lot of teams are going to gain some importance with long relievers," King said. "Whether it's that or a sixth starter, even seven starters, whatever it is, just to kind of keep the bullpen healthy, but also make sure that you're not having three or four starters go 200-plus innings."
Asked after the game if he's ever retired 16 batters in a row before in his professional career, King smiled. He immediately thought back to a performance he had against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Double-A affiliate of these same Blue Jays.
It was a complete game shutout against the Fisher Cats on July 30, 2018, featuring just three hits allowed. King retired 13 batters in a row at one point that evening, facing some of the same hitters he toed the rubber against on Sunday, like Biggio and Bichette.
"That's one of the games that I always kind of go back to," he said. "That's where I've kind of seen these hitters a lot where it's not just me facing them, but then I also watch a lot of video on that."
Boone recognized that King has evolved quite a bit since he was acquired from the Marlins in 2017, saying the right-hander has put himself in a prime position to be a "real contributor" out of the 'pen this year.
King said his goal overall is to become a starter at this level, but outings like what he did on Sunday will certainly help him get closer to what he's trying to accomplish in 2021.
"My goal was to get 100 innings this year," he said. "I guess I'm six down so far."
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