After a couple of weeks of late-game uncertainty, Aaron Boone and the Yankees were looking forward to having their closer back Wednesday night.
Aroldis Chapman appeared rusty after coming off the injured list, however, and he was unable to complete the ninth inning in a non-save situation.
Chapman entered with a four-run lead but was tagged for a solo home run, issued a walk and allowed a single before lefty Lucas Luetge came on to record the final out for his first save since 2012 in the Yankees’ series-sweeping 5-2 win over the Red Sox at the Stadium.
It marked the seven-time All-Star’s first appearance since Aug. 5.
“Just struggling to find the delivery and find his release point a little bit,” Boone said after the game. “His stuff was a little bit down and obviously getting up over 20 pitches there, I just thought it was a little bit uneasy for him obviously.”
The hard-throwing lefty seemed to have righted himself from a July slump with a 0.82 ERA, 19 strikeouts and seven consecutive saves over 11 appearances through his most-recent outing on Aug. 5 against Seattle before landing on the IL with left elbow inflammation the following day.
Before that stretch, Chapman briefly had been removed from the closer role during a rough patch bridging June and July in which he was tagged for 14 earned runs with nine walks over 5 ²/₃ innings.
“I think right away we felt pretty good about what we were dealing with as far as the elbow,” Boone said before the game. “I think we just took the conservative approach of giving it a few days to kind of calm down. I think that probably served him and us well.”
“We feel good about where he’s at coming out of his bullpen the other day. Really over the last few weeks before that, we felt that he was settling back into being the Chappy we know.”
Zack Britton, Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga combined for five blown saves while Chapman — who remains one save shy of 300 for his career — was sidelined. The slumping Britton returned to the setup role Wednesday and worked a 1-2-3 eighth, including a strikeout of Alex Verdugo.
Bronx-bred shortstop Andrew Velazquez’s RBI single in the eighth boosted the Yanks’ lead to 5-1, eliminating the potential save situation for Chapman.
The lefty’s fastball mostly registered between 96 and 98 mph, but he struck out Enrique Hernandez to open the ninth on a full-count slider. Hunter Renfroe cracked a 97 mph fastball on a 2-1 count into the left-field seats for a 5-2 game. Chapman then walked Xander Bogaerts on a full-count slider in the dirt before retiring Rafael Devers on a grounder to first for the second out.
After J.D. Martinez stroked a first-pitch single to right — on Chapman’s 20th pitch — to bring the tying run to the plate, Boone turned to Luetge to face Kevin Plawecki. The former Mets catcher barely was thrown out (upheld by replay) by Velazquez from the shortstop hole for the final out.
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