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Trudy Rubin: Ukraine’s civilian volunteers work to give aid and rebuild, even as Russia keeps bombing

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Trudy Rubin: Ukraine’s Civilian Volunteers Work To Give Aid And Rebuild, Even As Russia Keeps Bombing
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KHARKIV, Ukraine — Here is a critical reason why Vladimir Putin has failed to crush Ukraine: Its civilians are fighting back with an army of volunteers.

All across the country, groups of ordinary Ukrainians are helping to feed or house refugees displaced from the Donbas, raising funds to buy flak jackets or drones for military units without them, helping homeowners devastated by Russian shelling to rebuild, and rescuing survivors from villages the Russians still occupy.

Like Americans, some volunteer through church groups or clubs. But I have met many who have created volunteer networks or are working on their own to make a difference. Their civic resistance to the Russian invaders is a morale boost to the public — and to the army.

While ordinary Americans debate how to counter threats to our democracy, these Ukrainians are fighting to save their democracy from a Russian takeover. Many have the skills to find jobs elsewhere in Europe but have chosen to stay on, despite constant risk to their lives.

In Kharkiv, 20 miles from the Russian border, volunteers face nightly shelling. They wrestle with the uncertainty of whether the United States and its allies will give their army the long-range weapons needed to push Russian forces back beyond artillery range. They believe their fight for democracy is also the West’s fight.

So let me introduce you to a few of Kharkiv’s courageous volunteers.

 

The Rotarians

In a basement cafe of Kharkiv’s French Boulevard Mall, real estate agent Igor Balaka recently rang the bell to call the “New Level” Rotary Club chapter to order. They, along with myself and my translator, were the only customers.

Most of the 300 stores in the mall have been closed since a Russian rocket damaged the roof of the complex earlier this year. But the mall’s owner, Robert Mkrtchian, a Rotarian, allows the group to use a former skating rink in the basement to organize 1,500 food packages a day for those left homeless or hungry by the war.

Packages of macaroni, other packaged foodstuffs, and bandages, saline solution, and syringes for hospitals line the concrete floor of the rink, along with clothing and household supplies. The Rotarians have been working with many other volunteer groups to disperse the goods across some of the neighborhoods that have been hardest hit. They also work to clear the rubble.

Balaka; Serhii Ivalho, a developer; and Pavlo Filippenko, the head of a construction business, discuss how to find funds to build modular housing to help Kharkiv when winter comes. Members of the group are concerned that access to water and electricity will become a problem and more citizens will lose their homes from shelling.

“In wars you’ve seen, how did the economy survive?” one member asked me. “Is this like the other wars you’ve seen? We’ve never seen a war before.”

I realize that these businessmen, like most Americans, never imagined an all-out invasion could come to their country in the 21st century. They are struggling to figure out how to rebuild their city even as the Russians try to destroy it. They know their survival depends on whether the United States gives them the long-range weapons to push back Russian artillery beyond the range of their city.

“War is a situation where you see what people are capable of,” says Mkrtchian. “People take off their masks.”

Balaka adds, “Everyone left here in Kharkiv is like a family.”

Then the group nervously asks me the question I heard everywhere in Ukraine: “What will happen in America if the Republicans get the majority in Congress, or Trump becomes president again? Will your country stop supporting Ukraine?”

 

The Restaurateur

On the previous Wednesday night, shrapnel pierced the walls, windows, and ceiling of Oleksiy Lomskiy’s NEBO Restaurant in the DAFI Mall for the second time. (Putin’s military seems to love targeting malls, as I have seen in every city I’ve visited.)

The first attack on the mall also set the multiplex cinema next to the restaurant on fire. Lomskiy risked his life fighting the blaze with a handheld extinguisher until the firefighters arrived. Being inside a cinema mostly reduced to ashes by a Russian rocket gives you an idea of the absurdity of this war.

But Lomskiy kept his staff going, adding more kitchens, in order to cook meals and bake bread for 8,000 people daily. In Lomskiy’s Kharkiv neighborhood of high-rises scarred and blackened by rocket attacks, I see weary adults lining up outside the battered NEBO for a midday meal.

Lomskiy also has a fleet of yellow delivery vans that deliver food to danger zones; while I was visiting, one of them radioed that it had come under heavy shelling, but it managed to escape.

Like the Rotarians, the restaurant owner worries that the West’s attention will fade if the war continues. “Now, most Ukrainians who relocated to the West are running out of money,” he told me. He wants to keep feeding as many as he can. He was also concerned about how to shelter Kharkiv citizens who lived in destroyed buildings; he thinks they will need places to sleep for at least the next 18 months.

NEBO means “sky” in Ukrainian, and the restaurateur has set up a charity foundation called “Peaceful Sky of Ukraine” to fund future operations. Until now, he has paid part of the expenses himself, and received some help from World Central Kitchen, as well as funding from European aid groups.

But he warns that “Putin will destroy what he cannot have,” and “Kharkiv can be easily destroyed if we can’t stop Russian rockets from flying.”

Ukraine’s civic army, like its military forces, knows that all its efforts will be insufficient if the West stops paying attention. Yet, unlike many of America’s past misbegotten overseas efforts, U.S. assistance to Ukraine goes to a country whose people are doing their utmost to help themselves win.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for The Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101. Her email address is [email protected]

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‘Not acceptable. That’s not baseball. It was terrible.’ Chicago White Sox out of AL Central contention after going 0-6 during homestand.

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‘Not Acceptable. That’s Not Baseball. It Was Terrible.’ Chicago White Sox Out Of Al Central Contention After Going 0-6 During Homestand.
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It was a homestand to forget for the Chicago White Sox.

Six games. Six losses.

And to top it off, the team’s pursuit of the AL Central title is officially over after Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers in front of 33,549 at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The Cleveland Guardians, who began the Sox’s slide Tuesday, are division champions.

“It’s obviously very disappointing,” Sox starter Dylan Cease said.

The Sox began the season as the popular pick to not only win the division, but to compete for a shot at the World Series. Now they are on the verge of missing the playoffs completely, trailing the Seattle Mariners by 7 1/2 games with nine to go for the final wild-card spot.

“We definitely didn’t play up to our ability,” Cease said.

Asked about the week, which featured three losses to the Guardians and three to the Tigers, acting manager Miguel Cairo described Sunday as “the worst.”

“That’s not acceptable,” Cairo said. “That’s not baseball. That’s not what the Chicago White Sox are about. It was terrible.”

Asked if it was about execution or effort, Cairo said, “You can put it either way. Execution. Effort. Everything.”

The Sox squandered a strong outing from the AL Cy Young Award candidate Cease, who allowed four hits in six scoreless innings.

The Tigers tied the game with a run in the seventh and scored three more in the eighth to complete the sweep.

“You’ve got to come back Tuesday (in Minnesota),” Cairo said. “So they better bring some effort. It was kind of embarrassing.

“You saw for six series, the way you are supposed to play the game. And you saw (Sunday), it was totally different team. There’s nine more games. Got to finish strong and hard.”

The Sox were outscored 16-6 in the Tigers series.

“If you watch (Sunday’s) game, that was bad, besides Cease, (he) pitched really good and kept us in the game,” Cairo said.

Cease described his outing as “all right.”

“I want my fastball command to be better, but I did a good job grinding,” said Cease, who had five strikeouts and three walks. “It was one of those grind games. It was good enough.”

Cease began the day second in the majors in ERA and opponents average, fourth in strikeouts per nine innings, and fifth in strikeouts.

He received defensive help in the second with a leaping catch by left fielder AJ Pollock at the wall to rob the Tigers’ Kerry Carpenter. Cease made the big pitch in a big spot in the fifth, getting Javier Báez to pop out to catcher Seby Zavala with the bases loaded for the final out.

The Tigers loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth. Cease induced a double play, as Jonathan Schoop hit a grounder to third, where Yoán Moncada made a throw to the plate to get the lead runner and Zavala fired to first to get Schoop.

Jeimer Candelario flied out to center as the Sox maintained a 1-0 lead.

“He’s been pitching like that all year round and it was good to see him give us a chance to win,” Cairo said of Cease.

The Tigers tied the game on an RBI double by Victor Reyes against reliever Reynaldo López. They scored three runs in the eighth against reliever Kendall Graveman.

After the disastrous week, the Sox are left to ponder what went wrong in a lost season.

“It was tough,” Cease said of the week. “After a disappointing season, for it to be sort of capped off by this, it’s tough. I still like us to finish strong with our last nine.

“We’re definitely disappointed. We take the game serious. We compete, so when you compete and it doesn’t work out, it’s frustrating. We’re disappointed, but we got a lot of professional guys here, a lot of guys with a lot of big league time. We’re not sulking. We’re showing up to play the rest of the games.”

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John Shipley: Don’t discount another Vikings win over Detroit. This was a big one

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Well, we don’t have the Vikings to kick around this week. But, boy, was it close. That’s the NFL. Even the best teams are going to have to steal a few wins here and there.

A team like this one, three games into a new season with a new coaching staff? We’re going to watch more nail-biters like the Vikings’ 28-24, come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“It was a good learning game,” veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “We got hit in the mouth a lot. We weren’t perfect, but we’re going to be better going forward.”

As noted, it looked bleak, especially after Detroit drove into Vikings territory with a 24-21 lead and the clock winding down under 4 minutes to play. The Lions needed to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 30 to, for all intents and purposes, close the game out. Detroit already was 4 for 5 on fourth-down conversions and fans were getting not just anxious but testy, a shouting match breaking out in the stands just beneath the press box.

The Vikings just kept playing.

“That’s what our job is,” defensive end Danielle Hunter said. “Things ain’t always gonna go our way. Adversity’s always going to strike; it’s all about how you respond. So, you’ve got to keep chopping wood.”

On fourth down, Lions halfback Jamaal Williams ran off tackle right and immediately ran into trouble in the form of Hunter and Kendricks.

“Oh, we knew they were gonna run it, man,” Hunter said. “Fourth-and-1, it has run written all over it. Everyone just had to be in their gaps.”

They were. Williams was stood up for no gain, and the Vikings had life again. Yet, still it looked bleak when on the Vikings’ ensuing drive, quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver Adam Thielen couldn’t connect on fourth-and-8 with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left, giving Detroit the ball back at the Vikings’ 47-yard line.

Game over, right? Here we go again.

“I didn’t even really think about it, to be honest,” said Thielen, who had a good case for interference on the play. Instead of stewing, he looked ahead.

“Throughout a game, you can do two things when you get back to the sideline: You can look back at plays you could have done a better job on, and get frustrated, or you can move on and try to be prepared for the next series,” he said.

Good call, because when Detroit place-kicker Austin Seibert missed a 54-yard field-goal attempt, the Vikings had one last chance from their own 44 with 1:10 left. It took them exactly 20 seconds to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 28-yard pass from Cousins to K.J. Osborn.

Thielen was open on the play, but Osborn was too — and closer to the end zone. He trotted in untouched and the Vikings had their first lead of the game, 28-24, after Greg Joseph’s extra-point kick.

The two completed passes — both to Osborn, both for 28 yards — were, head coach Kevin O’Connell acknowledged, “quite honestly … not on the call sheet. But we found a way to go out there with all 11 (players) and execute.”

“You could kind of feel in the huddle, with that momentum shift, ‘Hey, we’re going to do something here,’ ” Thielen said. “ ‘I don’t know how it’s going to shake out, but we’re going to do something here.’ ”

It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a good win. An important win, particularly for a team still finding its legs. There’s a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2, and it’s a lot better to learn from mistakes made during a win than a loss. And lest we forget, the Vikings lost a game just like this last season at Ford Field.

No, we don’t have the Vikings to kick around this week. A win, against any team by any means, was required to rinse the taste of last Monday’s 24-7 loss at Philadelphia’s from everyone’s mouth.

It wasn’t pretty, but it’ll do.

“There’s a lot of things we’ll do better,” O’Connell said.

After a win like that one, even against the eternally struggling Lions, it’s much, much easier to believe him.

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Orioles collapse late for second straight day, fall to Astros, 6-3, in 11 innings to settle for series split

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Orioles Collapse Late For Second Straight Day, Fall To Astros, 6-3, In 11 Innings To Settle For Series Split
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Rougned Odor came up clutch twice Sunday, producing when the Orioles most needed him. But when a laser left his bat in the eighth inning, he didn’t think the ball would drop until it was over the right field wall.

And by the time Odor noticed that ball was destined to bang off the top of the scoreboard, the tying run had crossed but the second baseman stood on first rather than second. The baserunning gaffe proved costly in Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Houston Astros, which ended the four-game series against the American League’s best club in a split.

But the implications of Odor, who had a pair of game-tying hits, admiring his near-home run instead of running out of the box is what might’ve led to the extra-innings collapse, with Houston scoring four runs off left-hander Keegan Akin and right-hander Joey Krehbiel in the 11th inning to create the necessary separation.

In the eighth, when Ryan Mountcastle lashed a double into right-center field, Odor drove him in with that hard-hit ball off the right field wall. The game was tied at 1, and Odor let out a fist pump and a yell toward his dugout. But he might’ve scored on Kyle Stowers’ single in the next at-bat, and he would’ve likely scored on Jorge Mateo’s infield single one at-bat later had he reached second on his game-tying hit.

Instead, the inning ended with bases loaded, Odor on third and the game still tied. And it remained that way into extra innings before an eventual collapse — four of the first five Astros reached safely in the 11th, with the one out a sacrifice fly to score the first of the four runs.

Baltimore had enough to overcome two deficits — first in the eighth and again in the 10th. With Trey Mancini at the plate for Houston, a wild pitch from right-hander Dillon Tate brought home Yuli Gurriel from third. Mancini later doubled off the top of the left field wall; by staying in the yard, Odor drove in the Orioles’ second run of the game, serving as the late-game stoic for a second time to level the score.

But a third comeback was out of reach, even as Cedric Mullins got one run back with an RBI single in the 11th.

Hours earlier, a 46-minute rain delay came at the right time for Baltimore, knocking Astros right-hander Cristian Javier out of the contest after he faced the minimum through six innings and didn’t allow a hit until the fifth.

Javier struck out seven of the first 12 batters he faced, then finished with eight strikeouts overall. And by holding the Orioles scoreless, he extended his scoreless innings streak to 20.

But even with so little offensive production, right-hander Austin Voth kept the Orioles in the game. He gave up his lone run on a third-inning sacrifice fly, securing his ninth straight appearance with two runs or fewer scored against him.

The Astros broke through against the bullpen for the second straight game, though, capitalizing on a disastrous inning from Akin and Krehbiel. With just 10 games to play, the Orioles find themselves 4 games behind the Mariners, who blew a nine-run sixth inning lead and lost to the Royals, 13-12.

A comeback fell short Sunday. And a comeback for the final wild-card race might’ve fallen short Sunday, too.

Around the horn

  • Tyler Wells, who will miss the remainder of the season on the 15-day injured list for right shoulder inflammation, said the injury reminds him of the pain he felt at the end of last year. The shoulder wasn’t aggravated in any way by his earlier oblique strain, however. Still, watching from the dugout the remainder of the season is a disappointing development. “I use the term ‘heartbroken’ because it sucks whenever you’re not able to compete with the team as we’re making the final push,” Wells said. “It’s really difficult to sit there and be on the sidelines, but I’m trying to contribute as much as I can by being supportive.”
  • Right-hander Félix Bautista threw a career-high 33 pitches in Saturday’s loss, but his lack of usage last week makes manager Brandon Hyde confident there will be no arm fatigue for Bautista. “He’s thrown a lot this year, but we’ll just check in with him every day and see what he’s doing,” Hyde said.
  • Infielder Ramón Urías left Saturday’s game with a spasm between his neck and right shoulder, something he’s dealt with over the past few days. Hyde figured Urías will be back in the lineup in a day or two.

This story will be updated.

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Chicago Cubs starters have the majors’ 3rd-best ERA since the All-Star break. How improved depth better positions them for 2023.

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Chicago Cubs Starters Have The Majors’ 3Rd-Best Era Since The All-Star Break. How Improved Depth Better Positions Them For 2023.
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The Pittsburgh Pirates’ approach to Adrian Sampson was simple — and allowed the Chicago Cubs right-hander to be effective.

Aggressive, early swings in the count allowed Sampson to cruise through six innings Sunday, shutting down the Pirates in an 8-3 victory at PNC Park. Sampson allowed one run and four hits on 67 pitches, striking out six with no walks.

Sampson exemplifies the improved depth and internal options the Cubs have been able to utilize this season. He showed a glimpse last year in 10 appearances (five starts), recording a 2.80 ERA in 35⅓ innings. He has remained reliable in a larger role in 2022, posting a 3.23 ERA in 94⅔ innings through 19 appearances (17 starts).

Sampson is one of 14 pitchers to start multiple games for the Cubs in 2022. More important is the quality of the pitchers the Cubs have used to fill in for injuries in the rotation.

Fewer veteran, journeyman pitchers and more internal arms — such as Javier Assad, Caleb Kilian and Hayden Wesneski — to fill in over the last few weeks better positions the Cubs to build their pitching staff in 2023.

Since the All-Star break, the rotation’s 3.15 ERA ranks third in the majors behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.

“Early in the year when we had the depth but they maybe just weren’t ready, it showed how much it affected our team,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said Sunday. “We went through some tough stretches where we didn’t have the ability to have consistent starting pitching.

“And now that you have guys that have proven that they can do that, that have had a good run through the minor leagues and they come up and have success, it definitely gives you a lot of confidence as an organization that going into next year you’ve got some viable starting pitching depth, long reliever depth that you know can come up and help through the course of a long season.”

With nine games left, the Cubs won’t rush back any starter who is working through something.

Left-hander Drew Smyly (left shoulder fatigue) initially was looking to pitch when the team returns home to face the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday through Thursday, but he is not slated to start during the series. He threw a bullpen session Sunday, and if it goes well, Smyly could make one more start this season.

Left-hander Wade Miley (left oblique tightness) felt better Sunday, but given the injuries he has battled this year, it would not be a surprise if he’s done for the season.

Left-hander Justin Steele likely will throw another high-intensity bullpen before the Cubs evaluate whether the next step is live batting practice or being activated off the injured list. Ideally Steele would pitch in another big-league game, but ensuring he is fully healthy is the main priority.

“The value of getting in the game would just be checking a box basically,” Hottovy said. “Make sure that he’s progressing and feeling the way the way he wants. We can also do that in a bullpen setting or live BP setting as well. So we’ll just evaluate how the next few days go and then make the decision as a group (on) what’s best for Justin at that time.”

As attention starts to shift to the offseason, the Cubs lack a true No. 1 starter. That should be a top priority in the offseason. The Cubs have a good mix to build around a top starter, led by Marcus Stroman, Steele and Keegan Thompson. Wesneski has shown promise, too, while Adbert Alzolay likely will prepare for a starter’s workload in the offseason and report to camp built up.

“When we start getting into the free-agent information, the digging, the talking through what we want to do, obviously all the things that we’ve done with these guys is going to play a factor into what we try to do,” Hottovy said. “And hopefully (free agents) will see that we’re heading in the direction that we want to go and that they would want to go.”

Alzolay’s best fit could be as a multi-inning reliever, which is enticing to Hottovy and the Cubs. It also plays into building a balanced bullpen by incorporating a mix of controllable, younger arms with veteran relievers.

The Cubs have relied on veteran free agents to fill the back-end, high-leverage spots the last two seasons and then flipped those relievers at the trade deadline. Ultimately they want a blend of experience in the bullpen and a diversified pitch mix to ensure they can give different looks and not become one-dimensional.

A multi-inning reliever for higher-leverage spots would be ideal.

“That’s something I definitely see Adbert being able to fulfill,” Hottovy said. “Once we get to a point where he’s feeling good and fully healthy and gets through this season feeling good.”

The wild card for the 2023 pitching staff is veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

Hottovy said the Cubs can count on Hendricks next season “until he proves (to) us otherwise.” Hendricks, who will be entering his final guaranteed year, has been rehabbing his right shoulder strain at the Cubs complex in Mesa, Ariz., since mid-August. He still is not throwing.

Hendricks’ work right now is focused on strengthening his lower body as he refines his delivery. Hottovy hopes that by the time Hendricks starts throwing, he will be mechanically locked in with his lower half.

“He’s been relatively healthy for a lot of his career, so I’m confident in him getting some rest (and) having a good normal offseason and buildup,” Hottovy said. “So as of right now, we absolutely are believing in Kyle Hendricks to be a huge part of what we’re going to do next year, and obviously we’ll have to see how things develop over the offseason. We’ll be in constant communication with him.”

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Frankie Montas’ postseason status still in question with 10 days left in regular season

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The Yankees traded away a significant portion of their pitching depth to Oakland to get Frankie Montas last month. The right-hander was expected to be their No. 2 starter in the postseason, but now he is unlikely to be available for at least the first round of the playoffs, manager Aaron Boone admitted.

“Well, I mean, it’s probably getting to a point where it’s going to be tough, as like a starting, built-up option,” Boone said before Sunday night’s game against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. “Especially if [it’s] a few more days and we’re at 14 days [without throwing] and then you start building that back. So that might be a challenge, but I do think there’s a chance that he can have a role and impact us. It’s just a matter of how the next couple of weeks go.”

Montas said Sunday the shoulder inflammation that put him on the injured list on Sept. 20 is feeling better, but there is no scheduled date for him to start throwing again. There are 10 days left in the regular season.

Since coming to the Yankees, Montas has been less than impressive. So far, he has a 6.35 ERA in eight starts with the Bombers.

The Yankees dealt minor league pitching prospects Luis Medina and Ken Waldichuk along with J.P. Sears, who had already contributed to the big league club, for Montas and reliever Lou Trivino (who coincidentally is the only one of the Yankees’ deadline acquisitions who has not been injured). The idea was that Montas had success against the Rays, who have given the Yankees problems in the regular season and the playoffs and the Astros, who have beaten the Bombers in the American League Championship Series two times in the last six years. Montas has a 2.23 ERA against the Rays in eight career starts and a 3.40 against the Astros in 15 starts.

LEMAHIEU LIMPING TO THE END

DJ LeMahieu thinks he may be able to come off the injured list at the end of the upcoming three-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto. The infielder has been out with right big/second toe inflammation, an issue that has been plaguing him since the first half of the season.

But first, LeMahieu and the Yankees have to believe he can get good swings off — and then he has to prove he can do it in games to be a viable option for the playoffs.

“I mean, it’s got to a point where he feels like this is something that we need to try and worthwhile to find out,” Boone said. “And then and then we’ll kind of make those evaluations as he gets out there.”

LeMahieu had a cortisone shot in July and it helped for a few weeks. He and the team tried orthotics in his cleats and they are discussing shots that could help him manage the pain to play through it.

BOUNCE BACK BRITTON

Zack Britton bounced back after pitching in a big league game for the first time in over a year. The lefty reliever had a tough 2022 debut, but the Yankees were only worried about how his surgically reconstructed left elbow felt after the outing Saturday.

“The elbow feels really good,” Boone said. “You know, he had sore legs and stuff like that. But that was a good test for him getting out in that environment, throw your 19 pitches and his stuff took an uptick from what he’s been doing the last month. So to feel good from an elbow standpoint, I think today was good. It was good to see and we’ll just continue to see how he continues to bounce back.”

Britton walked Rafael Devers, gave up a single to Xander Bogaerts and struck out Alex Verdugo. He then walked Kike Hernandez and Triston Casas to bring in a run.

Britton, whose sinker velocity ticked up to 94.7 miles per hour Saturday, has extensive closing experience. The veteran has 154 career saves and had a 1.89 ERA in 2020, his last full season. He is in the final year of a $53 million, four-year contract with the Yankees.

Right now, the Yankees are closing by committee.

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Nestor Cortes Jr. looks to continue being the Yankees’ most reliable pitcher against Red Sox on Sunday

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Nestor Cortes Jr. Looks To Continue Being The Yankees’ Most Reliable Pitcher Against Red Sox On Sunday
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Nestor Cortes Jr. goes into Sunday night’s game against the Red Sox with an excellent resume and a playoff rotation spot locked up. All things being equal, Cortes Jr. would likely be considered to start the all important Game 1 of the postseason. But, of course, Cortes Jr. is a 36th-rounder who has overcome the odds and Aaron Boone is doubling down on the Bombers’ ace, Gerrit Cole.

Asked if he still “trusted” Cole in the playoffs following another outing ruined by a pair of home runs, Boone said, “Yeah, what’s the alternative?”

Well, Cortes Jr. or Luis Severino at this point.

Cole was signed to a historic nine-year, $324 million contract before the 2020 season to be the piece that gets the Yankees over the humo in the playoffs. At the time, Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner made it clear he expected that deal to win the Yankees multiple World Series championships.

Cole’s performances in the playoffs have been mixed — he pitched well in the COVID postseason of 2020. Most remember his meltdown last October against the Red Sox in the American League Wild Card game, where he could not record an out in the third inning.

So far this season, Cole has racked up some pretty impressive individual statistics. He’s struck out 244 hitters, which is most in the majors, over 188.1 innings pitched. And has pitched to a respectable 3.49 ERA in 31 starts.

But Cole has looked unreliable as of late. He’s the only pitcher in the big leagues this season that has allowed four earned runs and at least two home runs in three consecutive starts. They happen to be his last three starts.

But Boone doesn’t see that as an issue.

“I thought he threw the ball awesome [Friday] night,” Boone said of Cole’s latest start that ended in an emotional meltdown. 

After not getting the 1-2 strike call that he wanted — and the one that the Yankees have been screaming that should not be called on Aaron Judge all year — Cole threw what two scouts confirmed was an “emotional fastball.” He was angry and tried to overwhelm Alex Verdugo with a 100-mile an hour fastball, which Cole admitted was a bad pitch and it landed in the seats. That cost the Yankees the 4-1 lead Cole had just been handed.

It was the 10th home run Cole has allowed in his last six starts.

“It is remarkable,” Boone said. “A pretty dominant outing and one pitch at the end wrecks the line. We’re doing all we can to avoid those certain things.

“It’s crazy that has happened. The bottom line is we’ve got a guy throwing the ball incredibly well right now, with every capability to go out there and dominate.”

While Cole’s home run per nine is pretty similar to his career rate, those home runs he is giving up this year aren’t just one-run homers in lopsided games.

Of Cole’s career-high tying 31 homers allowed, 14 of them broke a tie game, three tied a game and two lost the lead for the Yankees. He has the second highest hard hit % of his career (39.6%) and second highest fly ball rate of his career (29.2%).

“If he executes at a high level, he can shut down anyone,” Boone said. “He’s in that place to do that. We’ve got to get [over] that hump. The only thing to change that narrative is to go out and avoid that one big one. That’s all it’s been, one big one here and there.”

Cortes Jr.’s numbers aren’t as sexy as Cole’s. The lefty goes into Sunday night’s finale against the Red Sox with a 10-4 record and a 2.67 ERA over 26 starts. He’s struck out just 146 batters in 145 innings pitched.

But the first-time All-Star doesn’t let sluggers beat him.

Cortes Jr. has allowed just 16 home runs this season, just two have cost the Yankees a lead and eight have broken a tie game. He is in the top-25 percentile in hard hit %, xSlg% and barrel %, which makes the case he has controlled the damage against him.

Cortes Jr. has made the argument that he is the Yankees’ most reliable pitcher this season.

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