With a four-pitch strikeout to start the game, Brian Keller was happy to set the mood for a dominant start. Little did he know he was sending Class A Advanced Tampa on the way to a historic night.
The Yankees prospect fanned a career-high 11 and combined with relievers Jose Pena, Trevor Lane and Stephen Tarpley for a 25-strikeout effort as Tampa posted a 2-1, 14-inning win over Clearwater on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
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"Kind of just a relief, getting the first [out] out of the way, gives you a little extra confidence for the next couple batters," Keller said.
The right-hander worked his way in and out of trouble, allowing an unearned run on six hits and a walk over six frames. After yielding a one-out double in the fourth to Derek Campbell, Keller found his groove, striking out six Threshers in a row.
"I felt good with all my pitches, so I was just using them and happened to execute a lot of good pitches in a row there," he said. "[The key was] a mix of all my pitches, executing at the right times, and if I got off track at all, just stepping back and just understanding that if I make a good pitch here, I can get an out."
In the sixth, Wilson Garcia singled, moved up on a walk to Jan Hernandez and scored the tying run on a a throwing error by second baseman Kyle Holder. Keller quickly regained his composure, striking out Jose Pujols on three pitches to limit the damage.
"I think it's right up there with some of the best that it's been," said Keller, who eclipsed his previous high of 10 strikeouts, set with Class A Charleston on May 11. "Feeling comfortable with it is mainly the key for me."
Following Keller, Pena ran into a little trouble early before settling down. The 26-year-old right-hander worked around a single and a walk in the seventh before retiring the final seven batters he faced. He tied a season high with six punchouts in three innings.
Lane followed his predecessor's lead, fanning the first three batters he faced. Working around a leadoff single in the 11th, the 23-year-old southpaw got a pair of flyouts, then struck out Pujols to end the 11th.
Tarpley (5-0) took over in the 12th, having posted a 0.00 ERA and 30 strikeouts over 25 2/3 innings in 12 appearances since coming off the disabled list on June 10. The 24-year-old lefty yielded two hits over three innings and struck out three, bringing the Yankees' total to 25, one shy of the 36-year-old Florida State League record.
"We have, I believe, one of the best staffs in all of Minor League baseball, throughout our whole organization, too, just a lot of good, talented pitchers with great mentalities," Keller said.
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Alexander Palma led off the bottom of the 14th with a double and took third on a throwing error by catcher Austin Bossert. After Tyler Gilbert was intentionally walked, Holder ended the marathon with a single to right field.
"It was very cool," Keller said. "And most importantly, we came out with the win. That's the best part."