In the old days — say, all the way back to last year — we would tell you about how the Yankees are turning their lonely eyes to CC Sabathia to save their season in Game 4 of the ALDS Tuesday night against the Red Sox.
But baseball in 2018 has taken such a starter-light, bullpen-strong turn that the man on the mound for the first pitch of a postseason game can sometimes matter as little as the beloved former player who throws out the ceremonial first pitch.
If the starter doesn’t have it, today’s new-age managers will go to the bullpen early, especially if their relievers are the strength of the team, as they are with the Yankees.
Right, Aaron Boone?
With the Yankees facing elimination after Monday’s 16-1 defeat, Boone will no doubt pull Sabathia at the first sign of trouble on Tuesday and go to his “A” relievers — even more so after Boone’s unfathomable mismanagement of the crucial Game 3.
Boone managed like Game 3 was a spring training game in Tampa. Or maybe he feels guilty about his ALCS-ending home run off Tim Wakefield in 2003 and wanted to give something back to Red Sox fans.
It was obvious to everyone at Yankee Stadium that Luis Severino didn’t have it from the jump. His first pitch was sent to the warning track in center by Mookie Betts. Severino gave up a run in the second and already was at 44 pitches going to the third. He wasn’t missing bats, except for a strikeout of No. 9 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. in the second.
Boone, a huge advocate of aggressive bullpening, didn’t stir when Severino allowed two more runs in the third. And he inexplicably allowed Severino to stay in and give up two singles and a walk to start the fourth. Only after Severino’s 70th pitch completed a four-pitch walk to Bradley did Boone remove his starter — and when he did, it wasn’t to bring in an experienced reliever, but rather Lance Lynn. Austin Romine, a catcher who wound up pitching in the ninth inning, would have been a better choice.
What Boone did was a mistake on so many levels. Severino should probably have been pulled in the third. He should never have been allowed back out for the fourth. And the first man out of the bullpen should have been a true reliever, someone who is used to warming up in a hurry and coming in with men on base.
Predictably, Lynn and then Chad Green allowed the Red Sox to break open the game. Boston’s seven-run fourth made it 10-0 and made Tuesday an elimination game for the Yankees in this best-of-five series.
The best the Yankees can hope for is a Game 5 at Fenway Park on Thursday. The worst will be watching the Red Sox celebrate on their home field for a second time this season. Boston clinched the AL East in the Bronx on Sept. 20.
What makes it even more baffling is how Boone did the exact opposite in the AL Wild Card game and the first two games of the ALDS. He was aggressive and decisive and for the most part saw his quick hooks pay off.
Severino pitched four no-hit innings in the Wild Card game. He was pulled after allowing two singles in the fifth. Fans of old-time baseball — when starters used to try to go nine, not four-plus — probably threw stuff at their TVs. But the bullpen mostly was brilliant and the Yankees beat the A’s, 7-2.
In Game 1 of the ALDS, J.A. Happ put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole in the first inning. When Happ allowed the first two batters of the third to reach, Boone called in Green, who unfortunately for the Yankees allowed both inherited runners to score. It was the right move. It just didn’t work.
The Yankees lost, 5-4, but felt like they were OK if they could bring the series home tied at 1.
In Game 2, Masahiro Tanaka was in command and had a 3-1 lead after five innings and had thrown just 78 pitches. Still, Boone went to the bullpen to start the sixth and the Yankees went on to a 6-2 victory.
If Sabathia pitches well on Tuesday, the Yankees’ chances of winning will be increased, obviously. But don’t believe anyone who tries to build the mythology that saving the season is all on the big lefty’s shoulders. It just doesn’t work that way anymore.
If Sabathia doesn’t have it, and if Boone reverts to his previous managerial form, expect to see a parade of arms getting ready in the bullpen. Think Happ, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Aroldis Chapman.
And this time, Boone should actually use them. As early and as often as possible. Or it’ll be CC ya later for the 2018 Yankees.