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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Rieber: Aaron Boone's seat getting a bit hotter

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone looks on

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone looks on from the dugout before an MLB baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

A year ago at this time, Aaron Boone was sitting in the ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” booth between Dan Shulman and Jessica Mendoza. Not exactly a hot seat.

Now he’s sitting between Josh Bard and Larry Rothschild in the Yankees' dugout. It’s been a cool place all summer, but the seat is getting hotter by the day for the rookie manager.

The Yankees continued their September swoon (or skid or slide, whatever you like best) on Sunday in a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. They are 6-8 this month and have lost three of their last four series, starting with two of three against the A’s in Oakland.

The Yankees are pretty much locked into playing the A’s in the wild-card game on Oct. 3. All that is left to be determined is where the game will be played. Thanks to Tampa Bay, which beat the A’s for the second straight day, the Yankees maintained a 1 1/2-game lead in the thrilling race for home-field advantage.

But where the game is played won’t matter if the Yankees don’t “right the ship,” to use one of Boone’s favorite phrases. It’s one he’s had to utter a lot lately. 

The Yankees have been taking on water for some time after getting off to a rip-roaring start in Boone’s first season at the helm. They've gone 41-36 since a 41-13 surge gave them a 50-22 record -- and a 13-game lead on the A's -- on June 21.

How will Boone handle the increasing pressure if the Yankees don’t get on a roll before October? His predecessor, Joe Girardi, seemed to get tighter when the losses mounted. Before that, Joe Torre was a sea of calm.

Yankees fans darn well remember Torre’s 2000 team, which went 2-13 down the stretch and lost its last seven games before turning it on in the postseason and winning a third consecutive World Series. But that was a veteran championship team with a future Hall of Fame manager. No one knows how Boone or this team will respond if they limp into the wild-card game.

“The history of this game is littered with stories of teams that went into the playoffs in different scenarios — limping, playing great,” Boone said. “The bottom line is you’ve got to be playing right when it counts. Don’t mistake that for ‘this is OK.’ But I still believe at my core that we have everyone in that room to do something special. Because we’re getting pushed around a little bit right now and because it’s difficult and we’re not playing our best, this thing ain’t close to done.”

Boone has been mostly Torre-like, always pleasant and always expressing confidence. The last few days, he has been talking about how the Yankees simply need to play better, but he hasn’t been able to find the right words or tactics to make that happen.

There were no glaring mistakes from the manager on Sunday. He got five innings from Lance Lynn and two from David Robertson and called on Dellin Betances in the eighth with a 2-1 lead. 

But Betances allowed hits to four of his first five batters, including a game-tying single by Rowdy Tellez and a broken-bat go-ahead double by Randal Grichuk.

Two things about that: yes, both hits were soft, but they still count. And Rowdy Tellez’s real first name is Ryan. He was nicknamed “Rowdy” because he kicked a lot in his mother’s womb, according to MLB.com.

The real problem for the Yankees was that their offense stopped kicking after they scored two runs in the first inning. They were stymied by soft-tossing rookie lefthander Thomas Pannone, who was making his fourth big-league start, and two relievers.

“Frustrating,” Boone said. “You get two runs there in the first inning and it looks like you’re going to roll. And don’t take anything away from their guy because he pitched really well, but that’s a game, again, you’ve got a young pitcher there and you batter him a little bit there in the first inning, you’ve got to finish it.”

Maybe the best thing Boone can do is write Aaron Judge’s name into the lineup, perhaps as soon as this week against the Red Sox. The Yankees just miss something without The Big Fella, and his return from a fractured wrist could make Boone look a lot smarter.

Said Judge: “The sooner the better.”  
We’re sure his manager agrees.

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