With a tiny glint in his eye, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone smiled at the thought of a crab dinner in Baltimore on Sunday night. It would be a just reward for a well-executed victory, but it would not have been possible if ESPN hadn’t relented and abandoned its plans to broadcast the game in the evening.
At the Yankees insistence, Sunday’s game, once scheduled for 8 p.m., was switched to a 1 p.m. start by the sports network — much more palatable amid the Yankees’ travel plans. Everything that followed in the game itself went in the visitors’ favor, too.
The Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-1, in 10 innings on Sunday — without using their injured closer — and then headed south for a crustacean celebration before a doubleheader against the Orioles on Monday.
“It was as good as we could have drawn it up,” Boone said.
A Sunday night game would have been a rarity for the Blue Jays, who had not been asked to play in such a marquee slot in more than a decade. Canadian viewers don’t count for ratings on American television, and when the networks in the United States choose the games they want to broadcast, the Blue Jays are largely overlooked.
Sunday’s game could have been an exception, but one of the many rained-out Yankees games complicated things. After the Yankees-Orioles game on May 31 was postponed, it was recast as part of a doubleheader Monday in Baltimore starting at 4:05 p.m. The Yankees protested, saying it would be unfair to play late in Toronto on Sunday, travel internationally overnight, and then play the next afternoon with only 15 or 16 hours to fly, sleep, recover and prepare for the next games.
After some threats by the Yankees to boycott the network for interviews, ESPN relented. Sunday’s game here reverted to a 1 p.m. start and the network tabbed the Dodgers-Angels game in Anaheim, instead.
None of it seemed to bother the 39,866 fans who witnessed a compelling game on a gorgeous, sun-splashed afternoon at Rogers Centre. Nor did it offend the Blue Jays, who were bystanders in the quarrel.
“We don’t care about that stuff,” Toronto Manager John Gibbons said Sunday morning with a dismissive flick of his hand. “Hey, now we get a night off.”
One of the Yankees players most vocal in his opposition to playing late on Sunday was Brett Gardner, the left fielder who did even more to ensure the Yankees exited town in a relatively timely manner: Gardner stroked the winning hit off the former Yankee Tyler Clippard in the 10th inning.
First, Clippard hit Greg Bird with a pitch, and the speedier Tyler Wade replaced Bird as a pinch-runner. Then, with instructions from Boone, Austin Romine laid down a sacrifice bunt that pushed Wade to second as Gardner strode to the plate.
The previous day, Gardner had hit a home run and a two-run triple, but on Sunday he was hitless in four at-bats coming into the 10th. Undaunted, he waited patiently for the right pitch, a 1-1 changeup, and stroked a single to left that scored Wade from second.
With the team’s regular closer, Aroldis Chapman, nursing tendinitis in his left knee, David Robertson was summoned to record the save, and he did so flawlessly, ensuring the Yankees’ 58th win.
Chapman, who had to be removed from Saturday’s game because of the pain in his knee, said it felt “a little better” on Sunday, but he was uncertain if he would be available Monday.
The looming doubleheader made Gardner’s hit on Sunday especially important, because the Yankees wanted to preserve their available relievers. Because of the quick finish, the Yankees were able to get through the win having used just three relievers, two of whom threw 12 pitches or less.
About 45 minutes after the final out, which came at precisely 3:59 p.m., Gardner was asked if he was pleased that it was not 1 a.m. at that moment.