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Yankees manager’s handling of talented relievers saved team from elimination in AL Wild Card

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New York Yankee pitcher David Robertson, middle, is removed from the game in the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins in the American League Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium in New York on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (Howard Simmons/New York Daily News/TNS)
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By John Harper | New York Daily News

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 win over the Twins in most remarkable fashion.

And they did it more economically than seemed possible, using only four relievers, thanks to some heavy lifting by David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, who pitched a combined 5 2/3 innings.

Yes, Robertson and Kahnle: 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 to 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.

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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 right-hander 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.

Girardi has been quick to go to him for months now in the middle of games, but even he never figured on needing him in the first inning.

Yet there he was, rescuing Severino, perhaps saving the game right then and there in the first inning by blowing away a couple of Twins for strikeouts to leave runners at second and third, avoiding a 5-0 deficit.

Two innings later, Robertson found himself in the game in the third inning, which is normally before he finishes his coffee in the pen, and he rescued Green from a bases-loaded situation, then went on to throw career-highs of 3 1/3 innings and 52 pitches — without allowing a run.

Gutsy stuff, to be sure, and 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. But there was still miles to go, and at some point it felt a little like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer decides to see how far he can test-drive the dealership car before he runs out of gas.

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.

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