BOSTON — Aaron Boone had two obvious choices to close the game Saturday night versus the hated Red Sox. He could stick with Clay Holmes, the All-Star who was the most dominant closer in baseball into July. Or he could return to Aroldis Chapman, a nearly perennial All-Star who remains the game’s highest-paid reliever and still throws 100 mph.
So what does Boone do? He went to one Scott Effross, a late-blooming side-arming second-year man barely known in these parts. He doesn’t have Chapman’s pedigree but give him this: He was named to the Division 1 Collegiate All-America team by the Jewish Sports Review.
Who knows which way Boone will go from now on? The Yankees appear headed for closer roulette. Or closer by committee. Whichever wording you prefer.
“Mix and match,” is the way Boone put his current closer strategy.
Anyway, with the Yankees needing a win as badly as they have in a season that started as a dream, Effross was the chosen one.
After some early traffic he retired the Red Sox’s two best players — Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts — on a dribbler and an infield pop-up to nail down the his first save in pinstripes and second of his career in the Yankees’ 3-2 victory.
Better yet, afterward he seemed unfazed by his sudden celebrity.
“He’s unflappable. Great makeup,” says a National League scout.
Boone noted that Effross closed for the Cubs. But in reality, that was just one game. Against the Pirates at Wrigley. Saturday’s save was in the most hostile environment and the most heated. And it was a one-run game.
“Clearly, he’s not scared … he went right through the heart of the lineup,” pitching coach Matt Blake said.
“I thought I was pretty composed for the super high leverage situation,” Effross said.
If he thought about it, it’s quite a rise for the young man from suburban Cleveland whose Wikipedia page notes that he was a member of the Shir Shalom congregation growing up (Bar Mitzvah, 2006) and catalogues a slow but steady rise to the big leagues, culminating with his call-up to the also-ran Cubs in 2021 at age 27. It certainly is different than Chapman, the Cuban missile and bonus baby who helped the Cubs break their World Series jinx in 2016.
Chapman got through innings seven and eight with a flourish Saturday, as he’s back in form just when Holmes is looking more like the guy who struggled in Pittsburgh, and not the first-half dynamo. But for now, what they have in common is they both lost their full-time closing job at some point in the season.
Boone isn’t tipping his hand which was he’ll be going now — “they’re all in play” to close, he said — and that could easily be because he doesn’t know from day-to-day. He has a lot of interesting options. Plus, he may have yet another option next month when Zack Britton is expected back. Britton once had the kind of year Edwin Diaz is having now for the Mets, only without the trumpets or fanfare (it was in Baltimore, coincidentally also for Buck Showalter).
The Yankees’ bullpen, even without Michael King, Chad Green and for the moment Miguel Castro, has about as many big arms as anyone but currently provides no obvious roadmap as to who should pitch when. Lou Trivino, another deadline pickup, also has plenty of closing experience. Wandy Peralta has had his moments, and Jonathan Loasiga and Albert Abreu have potential (though not moments lately).
Could this be Effross’ time? How did he ever get here?
The Yankees pursued Angels closer Raisel Iglesias and, to a degree, Cubs closer David Robertson (old friend alert), among others, at the deadline. Iglesias wound up going to the Braves, one of the teams willing to pay full freight (he has $50 million to go through 2025) for a star whose velocity was down a tad, and Robertson to the Phillies. Robertson was beloved while he played in pinstripes, but Yankees people won’t say whether an uncomfortable ending impacted the seriousness of their pursuit.
The Yankees liked Effross because he throws strikes, and the sidearm delivery provides a different look. Blake noted “a wider arsenal” than usual for sidearmers. The composure is a potential bonus.
The Effross deal may turn out to be the gem of the deadline. The Yankees gave up their No. 7 prospect, right-hander Hayden Wesneski, in what looks like a stroke of genius now. Not only did Effross show he can close but the scout says that he can pitch all day since transforming three years ago from a more typical three/quarters delivery.
“Great guy. Rubber arm — he can pitch every day from that arm slot,” the scout said in summary of personal attributes.
The resilient arm is the bigger issue now, when the pen needs him. Of course, it’s a nice bonus that he’s a mensch, too.
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