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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

It's time for Yankees to bench Gary Sanchez — and then dump him

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez stands at home plate

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez stands at home plate as Cleveland celebrates in the background after the three-run home run by Andres Gimenez during the fifth inning an MLB game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Let’s talk about Gary Sanchez, shall we?

No Yankees player since the retirement of Alex Rodriguez has been as much of a lightning rod as the talented but inconsistent catcher, who missed a foul pop-up on Saturday that led to a seven-run fifth inning in the Yankees’ 11-3 drubbing by Cleveland at Yankee Stadium.

"You’ve got to make that play," manager Aaron Boone said, the third time in nine days he’s had to say something like that about a Sanchez defensive gaffe.

If you’re a Yankees fan, you’re either constantly defending Sanchez or you really, really, really want him off the team.

After what has transpired during the past nine days — and the past few years — those of you who want him off the team have to get your way.

Not now. Not until this season ends, either with the Yankees missing the playoffs — which Sanchez’s boneheaded defensive plays over the last week-plus would have significantly contributed to — or with them squeaking in as a wild card.

In order for them to get in, Boone has to go with Kyle Higashioka behind the plate. Not just when Gerrit Cole or Corey Kluber pitches, but in the majority of the 13 games the Yankees have left after Saturday’s debacle pushed them out of playoff position.

Would you rather have the guy hitting .210 with a .743 OPS who is a bad defensive catcher (Sanchez) or the guy hitting .173 with a .639 OPS who is a rock-solid defensive catcher (Higashioka)? It’s not a great choice, but it should be an easy one.

If they make it to the postseason? Bench Sanchez again, as Boone did for most of last year’s playoffs.

And whenever this Yankees season ends, general manager Brian Cashman needs to move on from Sanchez.

This drama needs to end. It's exhausting. It weighs on a team. It already has led to gray hairs for two Yankees managers in Joe Girardi and Boone.

The Yankees can’t be afraid that Sanchez will blossom out of the spotlight of New York. Maybe he will. Most likely he will continue as the same player, one who hits long home runs (but not enough of them) and makes maddeningly bad defensive plays (and too many of them).

It started on Sept. 10 when he inexplicably failed to tag a sliding Jonathan Villar of the Mets even though Villar appeared out by 25 feet.

Then it was Thursday’s ninth-inning meltdown in Baltimore, when Sanchez failed to block two catchable wild pitches that allowed the Orioles to tie a game the Yankees were one strike away from winning. The Yankees lost in 11.

Then came the pop-up hit by Oscar Mercado behind the plate on Saturday that would have been the second out of the fifth inning. Sanchez overran it by a step, reached back and watched it fall behind him in foul territory for an error.

Nothing much had happened in the game to that point. The Yankees were trailing 1-0.

A lot happened after Sanchez’s error. Luis Gil’s next pitch hit Mercado in the arm. Then Jose Ramirez walked on four pitches.

Boone, managing aggressively, brought in Albert Abreu, who has been money lately. Not this time. Four batters later, Cleveland had a 5-0 lead.

The actual second out of the inning, appropriately, was a soft pop-up in front of the plate that Sanchez gloved. He received a sarcastic cheer from the crowd.

The next batter, former Met Andres Gimenez, cracked a three-run homer to make it 8-0. Five of the 11 runs the Yankees allowed were unearned.

"You don’t want to pin an inning on one play," Michael Kay said on the YES broadcast. "But you can. You absolutely can."

Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. We’ll never know. The only thing we know for sure is you would have liked Gil’s chances with two outs and nobody on, which is what it would have been if Sanchez had squeezed the foul pop.

"Definitely a play there that I’m used to making," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "Especially this year. I think I’ve been very good at catching those flies. I think this is the first one I’ve missed this year."

Boone and then Cashman need to make sure it’s the last one. It's the only way the Yankees and their fans finally can talk about something other than Gary Sanchez.

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