It could have been Gary Sanchez’s utter helplessness at the plate on Tuesday: three strikeouts in four fruitless at-bats in the Yankees’ ALDS Game 2 loss.
Or it could have been the lack of execution behind the plate: a passed ball on one pitch and another pitch that was called for a strike that Sanchez missed. Didn’t catch at all. Kind of the No. 1 requirement for a catcher.
Whatever the exact reason, manager Aaron Boone decided he had seen enough and benched Sanchez for Wednesday’s crucial Game 3 at Petco Park in San Diego.
Kyle Higashioka got the call behind the plate with Masahiro Tanaka on the mound and the series tied at 1.
If Higashioka had a good night, and if the Yankees advance deep into the postseason, it’s possible Sanchez may not get his starting job back, even though Boone said his catching call will be "day-to-day."
Wednesday may have been the day the Yankees gave up on Sanchez as their No. 1 catcher for 2020. It may be justified when you consider his performance during the regular season (.147 batting average) and career postseason futility (.173 average in 29 games).
Plus, Higashioka has emerged lately as more than just Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher, with a three-homer game during the regular season and a key homer in the Yankees’ Game 1 victory in the wild-card series in Cleveland.
"It’s more what Kyle’s done, really, over the last month, month and a half," Boone said before the game. "Just playing really good baseball. He’s been really good behind the plate. Has obviously done a good job offensively and it’s just about Higgy earning more opportunities here of late."
Boone would not go as far to say that Higashioka is now the Yankees’ top backstop.
"I think both guys are going to continue to play for us and play a big role for us as we move forward in this," Boone said.
If the Yankees advance to the ALCS, they will play a best-of-seven series with no days off. So it’s unlikely either catcher would start every game.
Higashioka has started the opening games of each series with Cole on the mound and went a combined 3-for-9 with a home run. Sanchez was back behind the plate for each series’ second game and has gone a combined 1-for-8 with a home run, three RBIs and four strikeouts.
"We’re at a time of year where it’s all hands on deck," Boone said. "It’s all about us. It’s all about, obviously, trying to win games. It’s important this time of year . . . you kind of check your ego and your personal things at the door. This is about what we can do today to help with a ballgame."
Boone said Tanaka being on the mound was not a factor in his decision.
The other lineup change Boone made for Game 3 was reinserting Brett Gardner into leftfield and sitting Clint Frazier against Charlie Morton. Gardner came in 8-for-22 (.364) with three home runs lifetime vs. Morton; Frazier had struck out in all three at-bats against the righthander. Frazier started the first two games of the ALDS.