KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There were a lot of familiar reasons why the New York Yankees should have lost their game Tuesday night against the Kansas City Royals -- terrible hitting with runners on base, an incredibly ill-timed rain delay, some less than reliable middle relief -- and one very good, and unfamiliar reason why they did not.
Chasen Shreve, whose day started at 8 a.m. ET Tuesday morning in Buffalo and ended in the wee hours of Wednesday morning wheeling his luggage onto an elevator crowded with reporters at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
In between, there was a connecting flight through Detroit, a late afternoon arrival in the visiting clubhouse, and finally, a summoning to the mound with the bases loaded, one out, the Yankees clinging to a one-run lead in the 10th inning of a game that was already four hours old and one of the most dangerous hitters in the Royals lineup, Kendrys Morales, licking his chops at the prospect of sending the rain-soaked diehards in the stands home happy.
And frankly, there was only one reason Shreve, who had just been recalled from Triple-A Scranton Tuesday morning, was even in the game at that point: The Yankees and Joe Girardi had no one left.
Masahiro Tanaka had started and given the Yankees five strong innings before Mother Nature sent him to the showers with a 59-minute rain delay. Girardi had already been through Adam Warren, Tommy Layne, Tyler Clippard and his actual closer, Dellin Betances, who retired all six batters he faced but still was charged with a blown save due to circumstances beyond his control and too trivial to bother recounting.
After the Yankees had finally taken a 5-4 lead courtesy of two singles, a walk, and an infield hit by Jacoby Ellsbury that glanced off Royals reliever Joakim Soria -- only the Yankees' second hit with runners in scoring position in 16 chances -- Girardi had even gone to Ben Heller, a raw rookie making only his third big-league appearance, as his first choice to close out the game.
But Heller hit his first batter, gave up a single to his second, and after a strikeout, issued a bases-loading intentional walk to his fourth.
Enter Shreve, who last pitched in a big-league game on Aug. 16, when it did not go well: He faced five batters, hit one, walked two, gave up two singles and wound up being charged with four earned runs without getting a single out. And now, Girardi was asking him to subdue Morales, who is second on the Royals with 61 RBIs, and if he got past him, to retire Salvador Perez, who has an .812 OPS and 10 home runs in 123 at-bats against guys who, like Shreve, throw with their left hand.
"It was a really tough situation," Girardi said. "It's one of the reasons we called him up. He's been through it before, he's been in some tough situations and he was able to come through."
So Shreve went out there, threw Morales two fastballs and a changeup, and that was one out. Two pitches later, the game was over as Perez tapped another changeup harmlessly into shallow center field, where Ellsbury tucked it away to preserve the 5-4 win and earn Shreve his first career save. The Yankees moved ahead of the Seattle Mariners and gained a half-game on the Royals in the race for the second AL wild card but remain 3 1/2 games back of a playoff berth.
Still, it was an important victory in a season rapidly running out of days, and Girardi managed it as such. Reluctant, he said, to use Betances for two innings, he found himself forced to when Clippard walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth inning. That runner wound up scoring on a stolen base plus a throwing error by Gary Sanchez that put him on third, from where he scored on a sacrifice fly.
That tied the score at 4, but in truth, the Yankees should have had twice as many runs, stranding seven runners in the first five innings and twice squandering innings in which they got the first two runners on base. Sanchez, rapidly cooling off from his torrid start, went 1-for-6 with two strikeouts, Tyler Austin went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, but Aaron Judge, who has been struggling as well, belted a two-run homer in the second.
That was until the unlikeliest closer of all, a guy who wasn't even on the roster 24 hours earlier, came in to get the two biggest outs of the night.
"To be able to come in and get those outs was great," said Tanaka, who settled for a no-decision. "It was spectacular."
Mark Teixeira, who has been troubled by neck spasms several times this year, tried to get loose to hit for Austin but found it impossible, leaving Girardi's bench short late in the game. Teixeira said he hoped to be available to play in Wednesday's series finale.