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Tommy Kahnle emerging as unsung bullpen hero through Yankees' postseason run

The New York Yankees have fought their way back from an 0-2 deficit in the American League Divisional Series against the Cleveland Indians, after taking Game 4 at home by a score of 7-3 on Monday night.

Yankees reliever Tommy Kahnle pitched two more perfect innings, including five strikeouts and ending with his first career postseason save. It was the first time any pitcher has recorded five strikeouts and a save in a potential postseason elimination game, and Kahnle did so in stifling fashion.

"My whole life, I've been waiting for this moment," Kahnle told reporters after the game.

It was just the latest impressive performance by the 28-year-old flamethrower, who arrived in the Bronx from the Chicago White Sox along with Todd Frazier and David Robertson in a mid-July trade for a package of four Yankees players and prospects.

This postseason, Kahnle's first, the right-hander has made three appearances in relief and has yet to yield a base hit. No other pitcher whose team made it out of the Wild Card round can say the same.

Despite the short sample size of five innings, Kahnle's performances have come in crucial moments, including the all-out relief effort the Yankees were forced to execute in the do-or-die Wild Card game last Tuesday.

Kahnle, the third reliever to enter that game, hurled 2 1/3 perfect innings and notched one strikeout on the way to bridging the gap for Aroldis Chapman to close things out and send New York to the ALDS round. Twenty-two of Kahnle's 29 pitches thrown were strikes, and all seven batters he faced were retired.

In Game 2, Kahnle entered in the eighth and elicited two straight ground-outs to get out of the inning, however the Yankees did go on to suffer a painful 13-inning, 9-8 loss in one of the most controversial and widely discussed games this postseason.

But as the Yankees returned home and took two straight games from the Indians to even the series, Kahnle's impact has helped give Joe Girardi another very dependable option out of the bullpen this October, which cannot be overstated considering the delicate balance required to navigate those crucial late innings.

Kahnle's conclusion to the regular season was not without its ups and downs. He struggled in August to the tune of a 5.23 ERA over 13 appearances, but found his form again in September, pitching to a stellar 0.90 ERA. That sharpness has clearly carried into the playoffs, despite 2017 being Kahnle's first career taste of postseason play.

"Whatever they need from me I'm going to give it to them," Kahnle said after Monday's Game 4 victory. "I'm prepared for any situation."

It's impossible to say where the Yankees might be without Kahnle's clutch performances down the stretch, even though he wasn't considered to be the marquee piece in that pivotal July acquisition.

Kahnle's exceptional velocity and consistency this postseason have paid dividends for the Yankees, who will look to stave off elimination for a third straight time when they battle the Indians in Game 5 on Wednesday.