With a wild card berth in sight, Aaron Boone and the Yankees’ offense once again made it hard on themselves by managing their way into a 4-3 loss against the Tampa Bay Rays. A ninth inning rally fell short, and their magic number remains at two with two games remaining. To the takeaways:
Offense shut down. Through the first eight innings, there was really nothing to note regarding the Yankees’ offense. Two hits in the first inning (a leadoff double by Gleyber Torres and a two-out single by Giancarlo Stanton) plated the first run of the game, but the Yankees did not get a runner past first base for the next seven innings.
A cadre of four Rays pitchers completely shut the hitting game down, something that has happened to the 2021 team with alarming frequency. The Yankees have had 66 games this year where they have scored 3 or fewer runs, and their record in those games is merely 20-46. If the team is going to make a run, they need to hit consistently, and limit these games where the bats disappear.
Boone’s bungled bullpen. Nestor Cortes started this game and went 4.2 relatively strong innings, giving up two runs (on a first inning home run to Nelson Cruz and a two-out bloop single to Kevin Kiermaier in the second) on five hits, striking out five. He was pulled in the fifth inning after a two-out Kiermaier triple, and was replaced by Clay Holmes, who struck out Randy Arozarena to end the threat. Holmes pitched to two more batters in the sixth, retiring both, before being relieved by Wandy Peralta.
While pulling Cortes with two out in the fifth after 67 pitches was not in and of itself a bad decision, and Holmes and Peralta have established themselves as go-to mid-inning guys in the Yankees’ bullpen, Boone’s decision-making towards the end of the game was downright bizarre. Peralta started the 7th with two easy strikeouts, but surrendered a single to Francisco Mejia and hit Kiermaier with a pitch; Jonathan Loaisiga then came on and issued a walk before striking out Wander Franco after an 8-pitch at bat on a 100 mph outside sinker.
Loaisiga, recently returned from the IL, looked like his stuff was really electric tonight, and if the Yankees are to make a deep postseason run he needs to be fully ready for one-to-two inning appearances. Boone pulled him after just one third of an inning, however, and turned to Domingo German, pitching for the first time since July 31. German got through the 8th inning with minimal trouble, surrendering a single and a stolen base but striking out two.
With the Yankees down one run going into the 9th inning, Boone tried to stretch German for a second inning, where he struck out Joey Wendle but issued walks to Mejia and Kiermaier. In this crucial game, down by one run, with Chad Green, Luis Severino, Lucas Luetge, and Michael King theoretically available, Boone called on Albert Abreu, for most of the season the last man out of the bullpen. After getting Arozarena to ground out, Wander Franco slapped a two-run single to center field, giving the Rays a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the 9th.
Rally falls short. In true 2021 Yankees fashion, the offense decided to wake up with one out in the 9th inning and staged a rally that was almost enough. Stanton laced a line-drive double to left, and took third on defensive indifference as the Rays had the “Gallo shift” on with third base open and four men in the outfield. Joey Gallo responded by laying down a beautiful bunt down the third base line, scoring Stanton to make it 4-2. Gio Urshela and Brett Gardner came through with back-to-back singles to bring the Yankees within one before Andrew Kittredge settled down to strike out Gary Sanchez and Rougned Odor to end the game.
Obviously, the fallacy of the predetermined outcome would tell us that we couldn’t count on the Yankees staging this rally if the bullpen had done its job in the top of the inning. But that one hurt.
Never get beat with your last man. This game really exemplified the issues that Aaron Boone has had with bullpen management all season – he manages as though the Yankees are coasting into the postseason, despite the fact that they have never been in a comfortable playoff spot throughout the 160 games they’ve played. Characteristically, he managed tonight as though he was doing load management for his players, for future games he knows he’ll need them for, instead of recognizing the reality that his team is still very much fighting for the chance to play past Sunday.
Of course, I don’t know that Severino, Green, or Luetge wouldn’t have given up the same hit that Abreu did, and Abreu has certainly had his moments of promise this season, but if you’re fighting for tomorrow you have to run the risk of getting beat with your best talent rather than waving the white flag in a winnable game. I don’t know what the future holds for Boone as the Yankees’ manager in the remainder of 2021 and beyond, but the lack of urgency with which he appears to manage hasn’t gone unnoticed by the fan base.
- Brett Gardner picked up two hits today. He came into the game OPSing .822 in 50 games since the beginning of August.