The last Yankees manager to return home to the Bronx after losing two straight on the road was booed by a sold-out Stadium crowd during the pregame introductions — the public penalty for a bad decision (or negligence, really) in Game 2 of the 2017 Division Series.
Joe Girardi’s failure to challenge a pivotal call haunted him for days, mitigated only when the Yankees rallied from an 0-2 deficit to stun the Indians. But before that could take place, a large portion of the Bronx fan base wasn’t willing to give him a pass for the sake of the 2009 title or his 910 career wins in pinstripes.
Which brings us to Girardi’s successor, Aaron Boone, who was given another 24 hours to let a few of his questionable decisions in Toronto marinate after Monday’s home opener was postponed by a freakish April snowstorm. Boone’s Yankees won the first two against the Blue Jays, then dropped the next two “winnable” games, partly because of a pair of critical bullpen moves.
There was Saturday’s decision to try to get a second inning out of Dellin Betances, who gave up a go-ahead home run by Yangervis Solarte and three stolen bases by Kevin Pillar, including a theft of home during an epic eighth-inning meltdown.
In Sunday’s series finale, Boone — along with consultation by pitching coach Larry Rothschild — had David Robertson intentionally walk Josh Donaldson to load the bases to face Justin Smoak, who hit a go-ahead grand slam on the ninth pitch of the at-bat.
It’s April, not October. Boone has yet to put on his managerial pinstripes for a regular-season game in the Bronx. So no, we don’t anticipate any public flogging for a few ill-fated decisions north of the border during opening weekend. Or at least we hope not.
While it’s true the back-page headline “Erring Boone” appeared on the sports cover of this publication, and any of Boone’s perceived foibles early on make for ripe talk-radio fodder in a winter-sports wasteland, these are not capital offenses, folks. They were decisions that could have gone either way, and the Yankees wound up on the wrong end.
All in all, Boone’s first few days have been fairly turbulent. Not only did the new manager split the Jays series after winning the first two, but Boone lost more players than games as Aaron Hicks (intercostal strain), replacement Billy McKinney (shoulder sprain) and Adam Warren (ankle contusion) suffered injuries at Rogers Centre.
It’s no wonder that one of the first phone conversations Boone had upon returning to New York was with his father, Bob, who finished his managerial tenure with a .455 winning percentage (371-444) in six seasons split between the Royals and Reds.
Dad’s greeting? “Welcome to managing,” Boone said, smiling.
Boone didn’t go into too much detail about their chat, other than to say his dad was eager to talk about that first series, providing equal measures of advice and support. And maybe some constructive criticism.
“He has a lot of thoughts,” Boone said. “He’s seen a lot in this game, so he has a lot of opinions.”
Join the club. Now we can count Bob among the millions of Yankees fans (and media types) who will be dissecting every one of his son’s moves, from the daily lineups to in-game strategy.
Boone’s pennant-clinching homer off Tim Wakefield initially earned him a lifetime’s worthy of currency among the pinstriped faithful, but as soon as he took over as manager, his credit limit got capped. It’s a debit card now.
Boone isn’t naive about that. After a 12-year playing career and another seven years in the broadcast booth, he’s seen this business from both sides. Facing the criticism as the guy in charge, however, is a whole different level.
Boone has done an admirable job providing insights into his thinking so far, and when prodded again Monday, he repeated the Donaldson-Smoak explanation, saying it was “the matchup we preferred.”
“There’s a lot of debate on that kind of decision,” Boone said. “I feel we made the best decision. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s baseball.”
To be fair, we’re not talking about a playoff series here. The Yankees are .500. Boone still has 158 games to go in his rookie regular season. But on Tuesday, he’ll be introduced at a packed Yankee Stadium overflowing with expectations. Big dreams and big demands.
He could use a win.