NEW YORK—With the Yankees barely clinging to a late lead in a game with October implications, Aroldis Chapman made fast work of Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins.
Throwing all four pitches at least 100 m.p.h., Chapman worked out of big trouble in the eighth inning as New York edged Minnesota 2-1 last night to increase its AL wild-card cushion.
“Just a huge performance from him,” said Yankees' manager Joe Girardi.
Aaron Judge hit his 44th home run, Todd Frazier's sacrifice fly snapped a sixth-inning tie, and Jaime Garcia gave the Yankees a splendid outing against the team that traded him this season after only one start.
New York—still three games behind first-place Boston in the AL East—won the opener of a three-game series that could serve as a potential playoff preview.
Despite going 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position, the Yankees won for the eighth time in 10 games.
They have a five-game advantage for the league's top wild card with 12 to play.
Minnesota is in the second spot, 1.5 games ahead of the idle L.A. Angels for the final post-season berth.
So if the standings hold, New York will host the Twins in the one-game playoff Oct. 3.
Minnesota has been eliminated by the Yankees in each of their four post-season matchups, all from 2003-10.
“Knowing where we both are in the standings, yes, it does feel a little bit different,” Girardi noted.
Chapman replaced a wild Dellin Betances with the bases loaded and one out.
The left-hander struck out Mauer, who hit a grand slam Sunday, then retired No. 3 hitter Byron Buxton on an easy fly.
“You don't want those runs to score because they belong to your teammate,” Chapman said through a translator.
“You definitely want to be more aggressive when you face the batters in a situation like that.”
The fastballs to Mauer were clocked in order at 100, 101, and 102 m.p.h.
“Ball was cutting pretty good,” the three-time batting champion said.
“You kind of have to tip your cap," he added. "Love to have that opportunity again but he made his pitches.”
Chapman then worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 19th save in 23 chances.
It was his third career regular-season save that required at least five outs—and first since August, 2013 with Cincinnati.
The fireballing closer also had one in the World Series last year for the Chicago Cubs.
“Today we were lucky,” said Beances, who was booed coming off the mound.
"Chapman did an unbelievable job.
“I put him in a tough situation but I can't keep doing that. I have to be better,” he stressed.
“Thank God we got the win. It would have been a tough one to swallow.”
Judge homered to right-centre in the first off hard-luck loser Ervin Santana (15-8), who was 4-0 in 10 starts since his previous loss July 21 against Detroit.
David Robertson (9-2) retired all four hitters he faced, improving to 5-0 since the Yankees re-acquired him from the Chicago White Sox in July.
Winless in seven starts with New York, Garcia struck out five of his first six batters and did not permit an earned run in 5 2/3 innings.
Using a quality slider as his put-away pitch, he finished with nine strikeouts—all in the first four innings—to equal a season high.
“The ball was moving all over the place. Just couldn't get anything going,” Mauer noted.
“He's got the ability to do that. We knew that.”
Garcia was traded by Minnesota to the Yankees in late July, one day after a 6-3 win at Oakland in his lone start for the Twins—the team's only victory during an eight-game stretch.
They had acquired the veteran lefty from Atlanta to reinforce their rotation, but quickly moved him before the non-waiver deadline when that short-lived slump dropped them below .500.
“Even though I was only there for a week, I came close to some of those guys,” Garcia said.
“I really admire the way they do things over there.”
Elsewhere in the AL, Boston topped Baltimore 10-8 (11 innings) and Oakland dumped Detroit 8-3.
Over in the NL, Milwaukee blanked Pittsburgh 3-0, Philadelphia edged L.A. 4-3, Miami bombed New York 13-1, and San Diego doubled Arizona 4-2.