MINNEAPOLIS — Aaron Hicks made the biggest catch of the Yankees’ season — a full-extension diving grab at the warning track with the tying and winning runs on base Tuesday night — in one of baseball’s most exhilarating games of the season.
Hicks’s jaw-dropping play ended what felt like a heavyweight battle between the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins, two of the best teams in the game. Two high-powered offenses had landed many blows on the opposing pitching staffs and kept punching. Every out felt like a gigantic task. Every base runner added more chaos. There were five lead changes, 26 runs and four blown saves.
Then, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning, the Twins’ power-hitting center fielder, Max Kepler, laced a 97-mile-an-hour fastball from Chad Green deep into the left-center-field gap. But Hicks galloped back, dived to his left, caught the ball with his outstretched left hand and slammed face-first onto the warning track.
“That was a do-or-die play,” Hicks said. “That was the play that needed to be made in order for the game to end.”
With most people watching still stunned that a rollicking game had ended in such a fashion, Hicks hopped to his knees, pumped his arms and yelled. In the Yankees’ high-five line, Hicks — his jersey smothered in dirt and the bill of his cap deformed — flipped the ball to Green. The Yankees had prevailed, 14-12, in a five-hour classic in which they trailed by six runs at one point.
“What an amazing play to end an amazing game,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said.
The Yankees secured their major league-leading 32nd comeback win this season on Tuesday because of many performances.
Didi Gregorius willed his team back into the game and joined the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio in becoming the fifth Yankee ever to go 5-for-5 with seven runs batted in. Left fielder Mike Tauchman drew a key walk in the ninth inning to set the stage for Hicks’s go-ahead two-run home run off Twins closer Taylor Rogers, who entered the game with a measly 1.93 earned run average and had the Yankees down to their last out. Gleyber Torres ripped a go-ahead run-scoring single in the top of the 10th inning that put the Yankees ahead for good.
“It’s something about our team: We never give up,” Gregorius said.
If Tuesday was a potential preview of an October matchup, what a series it would be. Parts of Tuesday night weren’t pretty: Each team allowed a five-run inning; the starting pitchers, the Twins’ Kyle Gibson and the Yankees’ Domingo German, each coughed up at least five runs; 12 relief pitchers were needed, and 14 walks were issued in all, including three each by Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman and Adam Ottavino. An inconsistent strike zone didn’t help either.
In a seesawing eighth inning, catcher Gary Sanchez pulled up limp after stepping on first base trying to beat out a ground ball. He soon exited the game with a left groin injury that may send him to the injured list.
Stout relief pitchers Zack Britton and Chapman blew leads in the eighth and ninth innings. Ottavino and Green nearly did the same in the 10th. The Twins showed the Yankees why they are on pace to smash several home runs records this season, clobbering four more, including Miguel Sano’s second home run of the night, a second-deck two-run blast off Britton in the bottom of the eighth that gave Minnesota an 11-10 lead.
All of this madness, however, created the white-knuckled tension that allowed the game to become unforgettable.
“That’s one of those games, for being late July, we’ll probably be talking about for a long time,” Boone said.
“Even though it’s still July, it’s a postseason game right there,” said right fielder Aaron Judge, adding later about the Twins, “We’ll see them again down the road for sure.”
During a topsy-turvy ninth inning, John Sterling, the longtime radio voice of the Yankees said on the air, “I have proclaimed this the greatest game of the year.” David Cone, the former Yankees pitcher turned broadcaster, said on television that the game needed a Xanax. There was plenty.
After Sano put the Twins ahead in the eighth, Hicks did the same for the Yankees in the ninth. But in the bottom half of the inning, Chapman walked the first three batters he faced and blew his third save this month by allowing a game-tying sacrifice fly to Jorge Polanco. Boone stuck with Chapman despite his inability to throw strikes, and Chapman eventually completed the inning.
The Yankees took a 14-12 lead in the following inning when their offense outlasted the Twins’ bullpen, perhaps Minnesota’s biggest weakness. Gregorius, Austin Romine and Torres singled. Romine later scored on a wild pitch to give the Yankees a two-run lead that didn’t feel safe.
Tasked with a save situation, Ottavino notched two outs but loaded the bases with three walks. So in came Green to face Kepler. Hicks said he could see Romine set up outside and had a hunch that Kepler, a left-handed hitter, was going to spray the ball into the gap. Hicks, whom the Yankees acquired in a trade with the Twins in 2015, ran the fastest he has all season for an out and covered 74 feet, according to Statcast.
“Just amazing,” Judge said. “Not only the catch and getting over in the gap like that, but also the situation: game on the line, a great hitter up at the plate, and for him to go out there and have a great read. Right off the bat, I knew he was going to catch it.”
Hicks said later that he knew he had gotten both a good read and jump on the ball. He was all smiles after saving the most dramatic victory of the season. After the game, Boone joked that Hicks emerged unscathed from his tumbling catch once he took off his cape.
On the mound after the play, the normally restrained Green lifted his arms in the arm and his face showed disbelief.
“One of the crazier games I’ve been a part of,” he said, “and Hicks made one of the best catches I’ve ever seen.”
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