Gonzalez defies pressure to pick up save, ends Yankees’ pre-game jitters

Victor Gonzalez celebrates after saving the game for the Yankees with a clever defense against the Rays in the Bronx on April 21, 2024.
Sara Molnick
Monday April 22, 2024

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Yankees reliever Victor Gonzalez has a two-front battle on Sunday. But he came out with flying colors enabling the team to win the series against the Rays. Also, his ability to hold never during a tense situation put to rest the Yankees’ worries about an effective closer to take up responsibility in the absence of Clay Holmes.

Ahead of the Yankees’ series finale against the Rays, questions swirled regarding the closer role if Holmes wasn’t available. Manager Aaron Boone, known for his secrecy about strategy, remained tight-lipped. “You know I don’t like to answer those questions in public,” he stated, leaving the media guessing.

The question held weight. Holmes had pitched in two consecutive games to start the series and three out of the Yankees’ last four. Boone typically avoids using relievers on three straight days, hinting at a potential need for a different closer.

With Holmes seemingly out of the picture, speculation mounted about his replacement. The Yankees skipper, however, remained coy. “All of them,” he declared, emphasizing his faith in all his relievers. “On a given day, it’s gotta be all of them. All of them have to be in play.”

Boone’s words proved prophetic. After a strong start from Luis Gil but a shaky outing from Dennis Santana in relief, the Yankees held a precarious one-run lead entering the ninth. True to his “all hands on deck” approach, Boone called upon left-hander Gonzalez, who answered the call, shutting down the Rays and securing a hard-fought 5-4 victory for the Yankees.

Cool-headed Gonzalez’s hot play secures Yankees’ victory

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In a dramatic turn during the ninth inning against the Rays, Gonzalez showcased a rare moment of improvisation. The Yankees reliever, known for his hands-off approach to comebackers, defied his usual strategy in a pressure-packed situation.

“It was just a reaction,” he told after the game, unable to pinpoint the specific reason for his change in tactics.

Facing a pinch-hitter, Harold Ramirez, Gonzalez found himself reacting instinctively when a soft line drive rocketed toward him. In a split-second decision, he reached behind his back, not to catch the ball, but to deflect it toward the right side of the mound, halfway to first base. This unexpected maneuver created an opportunity.

Capitalizing on the redirection, Gonzalez darted after the loose ball, snatched it up, and fired a bullet throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo for the game-ending out. Exuberant after securing the crucial save, The reliever added a celebratory flair by diving onto his stomach, sealing the Yankees’ 5-4 series victory in dramatic fashion.

Reflecting on the play later, Gonzalez revealed a newfound awareness of the situation. He explained how, amidst the adrenaline rush, he caught a glimpse of the runner out of the corner of his eye. This quick observation allowed him to assess the situation and determine he had enough time to make the play. With this newfound confidence, Gonzalez rose to the occasion, making a game-saving play and showcasing his adaptability under pressure.

“Immediately I noticed I was able to knock it down,” he said. “As I’m trying to get the ball and be as quick as possible, in the corner of my eye I could see the runner and I knew I had enough time. It was a matter of sticking with it. I was able to do that and we got the victory today.” 

Gonzalez’s huge save quiets Yankees’ unease

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Gonzalez stepped into the closer role for the Yankees in the ninth inning on Sunday, tasked with shutting down the top of the Rays’ order. This came as both Clay Holmes and Ian Hamilton were unavailable due to recent heavy workloads.

He started strong, retiring the first two batters with ease. However, a walk issued to Randy Arozarena put the tying run on base, creating a tense situation. Undeterred, Gonzalez remained focused and struck out pinch-hitter Harold Ramirez to secure the final out and preserve the Yankees’ narrow lead.

This impressive performance adds to Gonzalez’s growing reputation with the Yankees. Following his arrival from the Dodgers, where he spent his first three major league seasons, the left-hander has quickly established himself as a valuable asset. In 8 ¹/₃ innings pitched, the reliever has conceded just one earned run while limiting opposing hitters to a mere three hits and striking out three.

Early signs point to Gonzalez potentially filling the void left by Wandy Peralta’s departure. Similar to Peralta, he possesses the ability to handle both right-handed and left-handed hitters effectively, offering valuable versatility in different pitching situations.

Manager Aaron Boone echoed this sentiment, expressing his full confidence in Gonzalez. He commended the pitcher’s composure under pressure and the sense of trust he inspires within the team. While the reliever is typically deployed against left-handed hitters, the unique situation called for a different approach. Boone acknowledged this and praised Gonzalez for his adaptability, recognizing his significant contribution to yet another crucial Yankees victory on the field and off the field.

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