Yankees undo Austin Wells’ first HR, King’s royal show in 6-1 loss to Blue Jays

Michael King and Austin Wells in action during the Yankees vs. Blue Jays game on Sept 20, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.
Sara Molnick
Thursday September 21, 2023

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The Yankees’ 6-1 defeat to the Blue Jays on Wednesday night came amid two important bright spots. Their rookie catcher Austin Wells launched his inaugural career home run during the ninth inning. The prodigious 416-foot shot found its mark in the second deck of the right field of Yankee Stadium.

Wells’ big-league career record now stands at 7-for-43 (.163), yet an impressive five of those hits have resulted in extra bases. He managed to retrieve the home run ball from the fortunate family that caught it and engaged in a brief exchange of signed baseballs.

His first career home run in the ninth inning constituted the Yankees’ sole offensive contribution against the Blue Jays in Game 2.

Reflecting on the moment, Wells remarked that it was a significant milestone for him though he was disheartened to see the Yankees ended up losing. He went 2-for-4 performance, which included a home run and a double.

“It was a big moment for me, but tough that we lost,” the Yankees catcher said.

Austin Wells hit his first home run in the Yankees vs. Blue Jays game on Sept 20, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.

Michael King makes a strong push for 2024 Yankees rotation berth

In his first five starts as part of the Yankees rotation, Michael King showed promising signs. However, on Wednesday night, he elevated his performance to a whole new level by striking out 13 batters across seven innings, allowing just one run in a 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays at The Bronx.

While the Yankees, as a collective, may not have much at stake at this point in the season, their offense remained subdued in the face of Blue Jays ace Kevin Gausman. In contrast, King was competing not just for personal success but also for a potential spot in the 2024 rotation. Against a formidable Blue Jays lineup jockeying for playoff positioning, he displayed sheer dominance.

Manager Aaron Boone acknowledged that King was making a compelling case for a Yankees rotation spot with an exceptionally remarkable performance.

“I think he’s staking a pretty good claim for [a rotation spot],” the manager Aaron Boone. “It was a pretty special performance by him. Unfortunately we couldn’t mount anything.”

King achieved personal bests in strikeouts (13), innings pitched (seven), and pitches thrown (101). Notably, he issued no walks, effectively scattered five hits, and consistently attacked the strike zone from the outset. Furthermore, his 13 strikeouts marked the highest tally by any Yankees pitcher this season, a feat he accomplished by striking out the side both in the first inning and again in the sixth, each time doing so with only 14 pitches.

King received valuable advice from Cole, who encouraged him to establish his four-seam fastball early, thus setting up his slider, change-up, and two-seamer effectively against formidable hitters such as Bo Bichette (who managed a ground RBI single) and George Springer, among others.

Additionally, bullpen coach Mike Harkey imparted the wisdom of treating the outing as if it were seven distinct one-inning bullpen appearances, a perspective that King embraced.

Even when his fastball velocity tapered off from its initial upper 90-mph range, King relied on his pitching finesse and precise location. Reflecting on his performance, King noted, “Felt I did a good job of paying attention to what I had.’’

Boone in awe of King

“It was pretty special,’’ admitted manager Aaron Boone.

In the half-dozen starts since joining the rotation, King has exhibited a remarkable 1.27 ERA, amassing an impressive 42 strikeouts while issuing only four walks across 28 ¹/₃ innings of work. It’s worth noting that three of his most recent four starts pitted him against formidable playoff-bound opponents.

Considering the current composition of the Yankees’ pitching staff, Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodon appear to be secure fixtures in the rotation, with Clarke Schmidt also strongly positioned to secure a spot after a promising debut season as a full-time starter. Assuming Nestor Cortes returns to full health after his season was derailed by a rotator cuff strain, he is likely to claim another rotation slot.

In addition, there is anticipation that the Yankees will be active in pursuing Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto during the upcoming offseason.

Although the course of the offseason could bring changes, manager Boone expressed his intention before Wednesday’s game conceding that he was considering him for the rotation spot. King certainly lived up to that vision against the Blue Jays (85-67), who capitalized on opportunities once he exited the game.

Reflecting on his transition from the bullpen, King commented, “Getting on a full five-day routine is great,” a significant adjustment for him considering he was just 14 months removed from an elbow fracture. During this transition, he leaned on the guidance of Gerrit Cole and pitching adviser Andy Pettitte.

In spite of King’s impressive performance, the Yankees (76-76) found themselves on the losing end for the third consecutive time, drawing nearer to the brink of official elimination from the AL wild-card race, a possibility that could materialize as early as Friday. They currently trail by eight games with just 10 remaining in the season.

Tommy Kahnle’s eighth-inning struggles, marked by four walks that led to a run, and Ian Hamilton’s ninth-inning woes, culminating in three additional runs, highlighted the Yankees’ bullpen woes.

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