In the bottom of the third inning Sunday night, with the Houston Astros up 1-0 and rallying in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone emerged from the visitors' dugout at Minute Maid Park and summoned Chad Green from the bullpen to relieve starter James Paxton.
Green, who didn't allow a run in either of his ALDS appearances and crafted a 0.51 ERA over his final 11 regular-season outings, promptly cleaned up Paxton's two-on, one-out mess, inducing a lineout from Alex Bregman before getting Yordan Alvarez to pop out. Over the ensuing seven-plus innings, the Yankees' army of elite relievers - along with a couple starters thrust into emergency relief roles - allowed just two runs.
"You're playing it to win the game," Boone told reporters following his club's 3-2 loss in extra innings.
"And the bottom line is we end up giving up a third run in the 11th inning. I'd say from a run-prevention standpoint it went pretty well."
Indeed, it did. Paxton's quick hook should've been a surprise to no one; this was the Yankees' plan all along. None of their starters - Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and the still-not-100% Luis Severino - deserved the benefit of the doubt in crucial moments, and Boone had a supremely stacked bullpen at his disposal. The Yankees were always going to lean heavily on their relief corps to suppress the Astros' historically potent offense.
So far, it's worked. The Yankees do find themselves down 2-1 in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series after getting manhandled by Gerrit Cole in Game 3 on Tuesday, but their pitching staff bears no responsibility for that. In three games against Houston, the Yankees' staff allowed just seven runs while limiting the Astros to an anemic .173 batting average and .316 slugging percentage. As expected, the bullpen has played an outsized role in that success, accounting for more than half of the club's ALCS innings.
Inclement weather, however, has thrown a wrench into the Yankees' strategy.
With Game 4 postponed by rain until Thursday, eliminating the only remaining rest day of the ALCS, the Yankees now have to win three games in four days in order to advance, significantly inhibiting Boone's ability to deploy his bullpen as aggressively as he otherwise might have.
The prospect of a "bullpen game" - the Yankees' initial plan for Game 4, with the off-day to follow - would have been fraught. (The rain does allow Tanaka to start Game 4 on full rest.) Asking the bullpen for 27 outs in, say, Game 5, after presumably requiring multiple relievers to work in relief of Tanaka in Game 4, would more than likely set the relief corps up for failure in Game 6 (or a potential Game 7).
Alternatively, if Boone opted for a bullpen game in Game 6, he'd risk burning through all of his relievers ahead of a potential Game 7; by then, his key relievers could've already pitched on three consecutive days. Considering, however, that the Yankees only have three remotely trustworthy starters - J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia are now de facto relievers - Boone will have to throw caution to the wind at some point to win this series. The outcome of Game 4 will likely dictate how he proceeds. In any event, he's either going to have to burn through his bullpen to get to Game 7 or ask an incredibly taxed relief corps to get him through a potential Game 7.
Even if Tanaka and Paxton (who could start Game 5 on normal rest) propel the Yankees to victory in each of the next two games with Boone managing his bullpen traditionally, the relief corps will still be compromised by Game 6 back in Houston. None of New York's relievers pitched on three consecutive days during the regular season, and there's no chance that the Yankees could make it through successive victories without using at least a few of their go-to guys - Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, and Green - in both games.
Tanaka, who struggled to navigate lineups multiple times during the regular season, averaged less than six innings per start in 2019. So did Paxton, who hasn't pitched into the seventh inning in a start since August. A bullpen game for Game 6 would be dubious, even with a 3-2 series lead, but so would starting Severino, who is still working his way back from a season-long injury and isn't fully stretched out. A Severino start would necessitate the use of multiple relievers - who, again, would likely be gassed. Ultimately, Boone is in a real bind due to this rainout, and that's before considering the implications for the Astros' pitching staff.
The postponement also affords Houston the opportunity to win the series in New York without requiring a bullpen game, which was also their initial plan for Game 4. Thanks to the rainout, the Astros can start Zack Greinke on normal rest against Tanaka on Thursday, and Justin Verlander on normal rest in Game 5, either to win the pennant or take a 3-2 lead. That puts the Astros in a pretty comfortable position, seeing as they only need to win one of their next three games to force a Game 7 in Houston on Sunday. Cole, who hasn't pitched in a losing effort since July 12, would be fully rested.
Ultimately, the Yankees are in a tough spot. Boone will have to be both creative and prudent with his bullpen machinations, and the Yankees' offense will have to pick it up, too - New York has mustered just a .668 OPS in the ALCS thus far. But this club proved invulnerable to even the most seemingly insurmountable setbacks this year, surviving injuries to Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and, well, virtually everyone else.
Maybe they can also survive a little bit of rain.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.