Clay Holmes made the kind of slow walk off the Yankee Stadium mound he isn’t used to experiencing.
The All-Star closer has been among the best relievers in baseball this year, with only a couple of hiccups of late, but he added one more Sunday.
Called on to protect a one-run lead against the Royals, Holmes imploded spectacularly in the ninth inning, allowing a monstrous three-run homer by Salvador Perez that sent the Yankees to an 8-6 loss in front of a stunned Stadium crowd of 45,341.
“It’s not a good feeling,” said Holmes, who hadn’t allowed a home run in 45 previous innings this season. “The sinker control wasn’t its best today.”
Before that, the Yankees (69-34) seemed a lock for their MLB-leading 30th comeback victory after Anthony Rizzo’s 418-foot three-run homer deep into the second deck in rightfield made it 6-4 in the seventh.
But Ron Marinaccio — who had held opposing hitters to a 1-for-57 performance during 19 straight scoreless innings entering the game — allowed Hunter Dozier’s 420-foot homer to leftfield leading off the eighth to make it 6-5. Two more Royals reached in the inning, but Marinaccio got Nick Pratto to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Holmes, 17-for-19 in saves with a 1.20 ERA coming into the day, walked Whit Merrifield with one out in the ninth and hit Bobby Witt Jr. Perez then jumped on a 1-and-2 sinker up in the strike zone and drove the ball 441 feet to center onto the net above Monument Park. His 13th homer shocked the crowd — not to mention the home dugout — and gave the Royals an 8-6 lead.
After retiring Dozier, Holmes was pulled by Aaron Boone and trudged to the dugout.
“Perez was able to elevate a sinker. You don’t see many righties do that against him,” Boone said. “Probably didn’t quite have the bite on the sinker that he normally does, but a really good power hitter caught him. One that you’re not going to see very often.”
Holmes lamented the walk and hit batsman more than the wayward sinker. “[That] can’t happen,” he said.
DJ LeMahieu, whose two-run homer in the fifth pulled the Yankees within 4-3, singled with one out in the ninth against righty Taylor Clarke. Aaron Judge, with nine homers in his previous nine games and an MLB-best 42 coming into the day, battled Clarke to a 3-and-2 count and drew a roar from the crowd when he lifted a fairly well-hit fly ball to right for the second out. Rizzo walked, putting the tying run at first, but Gleyber Torres lined to center to end it.
Jordan Montgomery, though not as bad as last week against the Mets, still was not especially good for a second straight outing. The lefthander retired 11 straight at one point but lost it in a four-run fifth, forcing Boone to go to his bullpen far sooner than he would have liked.
Montgomery’s streak of 11 straight retired ended with a walk to Vinnie Pasquantino leading off the fifth. He walked Michael A. Taylor and then allowed a single by MJ Melendez, a two-run single by Pratto and an RBI double by Maikel Garcia. Merrifield’s RBI groundout made it 4-0.
“Lost the strike zone on those two hitters,” Montgomery said of the back-to-back walks.
The Yankees answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning. Matt Carpenter, who went 2-for-3 with two doubles to improve to 34-for-101 (.337) in 29 starts as a Yankee, doubled and scored on Kyle Higashioka’s one-out single. LeMahieu’s two-run shot made it 4-3, and after Rizzo’s three-run homer, another comeback victory appeared a good bet, but a suddenly shaky bullpen kept it from happening.
The Yankees, who became heavily involved in the relief pitching market after bullpen stud Michael King went down with a season-ending elbow injury July 22 in Baltimore, no doubt will be redoubling those efforts before Tuesday’s deadline.
“If we’re able to do something, I’m sure I’ll be excited about it,” Boone said of any trade acquisitions, particularly in the pitching department. “But my focus is on who we have right now. We’ve been one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the league, and we’ll continue to be that whatever happens over the next 48 hours. And that’s where my focus lies.”