When word came down Sunday morning that Aaron Boone was suspended for the series finale against the Tigers as a result of clipping plate umpire Nic Lentz with the visor of his cap before his faux catching histrionics Friday night, the initial reaction was a fairly unanimous “worth it.”
A few hours later, after the Yankees let a winnable game disintegrate into an 11-7 loss to Detroit in the boo-filled Bronx, we had second thoughts. The stewardship of acting manager Josh Bard -- usually the bench coach -- did not go well, and there were a couple of head-scratching decisions that sabotaged the team’s promising comeback attempts.
Before we delve into the curious choice to use Greg Bird as a pinch hitter over Giancarlo Stanton during a furious eighth-inning rally, or deploying rookie reliever Stephen Tarpley -- fresh up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- to keep the Yankees close in the ninth (he didn’t), it’s fair to acknowledge that Bard was only filling in. This is Boone’s gig, after all, and Bard’s day job is serving as his right-hand man in the dugout.
Yet Bard quickly pointed out during his postgame news conference that his taking over the reins was merely business as usual for the Yankees. Although Boone had to watch all of these frustrating developments upstairs in Brian Cashman’s suite, they were just part of the larger organizational philosophy.
“It was really no different,” Bard said of the experience. “Our process stays the same.”
For the conspiracy theorists who view modern-day managers as faceless extensions of the front office, this was catnip. The decisions that tripped up Bard in Sunday’s loss, which dropped the Yankees to a brutal 3-4 mark for the homestand against the lowly White Sox and Tigers, may have been part of this “process,” but they defied baseball logic.
While it made perfect sense that Stanton’s name was not in the starting lineup after he played 85 straight games, leaving him on the bench for two suitable pinch-hitting spots in that pivotal eighth inning was negligent. If Stanton needed the whole day off, fine. But Bard later said that wasn’t the case after passing on him a second time and using slumping Greg Bird to hit for Adeiny Hechavarria with two outs, the bases loaded and the Yankees trailing 8-5.
“We thought the matchup was good for Bird,” Bard said.
On a very basic level, yes, the lefty-hitting Bird should be a good option against righty Victor Alcantara. But not when the other choice is Stanton, who doubled off Alcantara on Thursday, just hit career homer No. 300 and could reach the rightfield porch with a checked swing.
Instead, Bird's bid for a go-ahead grand slam was caught at the rightfield wall. Those additional three feet were the difference between Bard looking smart and having to say that he was saving Stanton to win the game, possibly hitting in Kyle Higashioka’s spot in the ninth. At the point that Bird batted, however, Higgy wasn’t even in the game yet, and his spot in the order never came up in the ninth.
If the Yankees were trying to protect Stanton, who has been bothered by a sore hamstring for a while now, then just admit it. That’s a completely reasonable alibi.
But there was no acceptable excuse for the bullpen use in the ninth. Bard already had Chad Green warming up alongside Tarpley, but with the Yankees down by three runs, he chose the rookie -- a bizarre time for someone’s major-league debut. Tarpley surrendered three runs in the ninth and was fortunate to not allow more after giving up two walks, two singles and a double. When he finally whiffed Victor Reyes, who made his first out all day after picking up four hits, Tarpley was booed coming off the mound.
“If we had got to within two, we talked about going with Green there,” Bard said. “Down three in the ninth, we’re not going to bring in one of our high-leverage guys.”
One run? That’s the difference? For a team that’s hit 224 homers, with their friendly fence an easy poke away?
The Yankees had the top of the order waiting in the ninth, but Tarpley doubled the deficit. And to make it all feel that much worse, they scored two more runs that inning and had two on for Luke Voit, who took strike three to end the game.
The Yankees start a big series Monday in Oakland, but was it really that crucial to “reset” the bullpen, as Bard said, at the expense of a potential victory over the Tigers? That type of thinking -- part of this team’s “process” all season -- cost the Yankees on Sunday. Unfortunately for Bard, he was the one that had to wear it.