A mere week ago, the Yankees left Fenway Park after suffering a four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. The AL East race was all but decided.
It was the low point of what has been an incredibly successful first season for rookie manager Aaron Boone.
Commenters on the Internet, plus the know-nothings on TV and radio, were castigating Boone for his calmness in the face of the weekend’s humiliation. It's not that he was being ripped for specific moves. It's just that he wasn’t screaming, wailing, turning over tables, threatening to bench people or doing whatever it is folks want managers to do when the team is trending downward.
“I believe in the dudes in that room,” Boone said in the early hours last Monday morning in his tiny Fenway Park office.
The dudes earned that belief this week. Boone was right. The Yankees didn’t need a kick in the pants. They needed a hug.
Kind of reminds us of another Yankees manager who was calm in the face of the chattering masses.
On Sunday, after the Yankees won for the sixth time in seven games by beating the Rangers, 7-2, one Yankees official said Boone’s demeanor in the immediate aftermath of the Boston debacle was “Torre-esque.”
There’s no higher compliment in these parts. Joe Torre was the King of Calm, and we don’t think it was the Bigelow tea he drinks.
It turns out the lost-in-Boston weekend wasn’t the end of Boone, or the Yankees.
“It’s a long season,” CC Sabathia said. “You’re going to have some ups and downs.”
And how you react to the downs will tell you how quickly you’re going to get back to the ups. Boone reacted like someone who had been in the manager’s chair for decades, not someone who was hired from ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” booth without a minute of managing or coaching experience.
Yes, the schedule-makers were kind post-Boston by offering up three games against the White Sox and four against the Rangers. But no team should ever apologize for beating the bottom-feeders. The Red Sox — who also won six of seven after sweeping the Yankees — did it against the Blue Jays and Orioles.
The Yankees left Fenway trailing the Red Sox by 9 1/2 games, and they still do. Such is life when you are chasing an unconscious foe.
But every win helps the Yankees solidify their hold on the first wild-card spot. A victory in the wild-card playoff game most likely would mean a chance for revenge against the Red Sox in the Division Series. Boone knows a little something about facing Boston in the playoffs. Just ask Tim Wakefield.
Last weekend’s sweep, and the gut-wrenching way the Yankees lost in extra innings on Sunday night after leading 4-1 with two outs in the ninth, could have been a bad turning point in their season.
Instead, a turning point for the good came two nights later in Chicago when Sonny Gray threw three unexpected scoreless innings of relief in a 13-inning victory over the White Sox.
Boone rolled the dice again with Gray on Sunday, bringing him in to start the seventh with the Yankees leading 7-0. When Gray allowed a single and double to the first two batters he faced, Yankees fans who had been enjoying a nearly perfect day to that point felt obliged to boo.
Gray allowed both runners to score before getting out of the inning. He gave up a double and a single to the first two batters in the eighth before Boone called in Jonathan Holder, who not only was a holder but a finisher as he pitched out of the jam and got the final six outs.
Gray faced eight batters and allowed five hits after Sabathia gave up only an infield single in six shutout innings. Boone is trying to make Gray into a useful piece. We say good luck with that.
Of more importance, Boone has to figure out how to fix Miguel Andujar, who made two more errors at third base, nearly made a third and looks unsure of himself on every ball hit his way. Andújar was replaced for defense by Neil Walker in the ninth.
Boone can’t just use Andujar as the designated hitter (as he did for the first two games in Chicago) because he needs that spot for Giancarlo Stanton and his tight hamstring.
Stanton homers pretty much every day. He did again on Sunday for the game’s first run, his fifth homer in six games. So keeping Stanton’s hammy from exploding and his bat in the lineup is Boone’s No. 1 priority as the Yankees continue a long homestand on Monday against Jacob deGrom and the Mets.
After the Boston debacle, Boone said: “This is a weekend we’ll look back on and hopefully be able to say this is one that brought us together and allowed us to grow even more as a club.”
Perhaps that’s what happened. Or perhaps we witnessed the continuing growth of a manager who is proving to be no average Joe.