Clay Holmes #35 of the Yankees reacts after surrendering a ninth...

Clay Holmes #35 of the Yankees reacts after surrendering a ninth inning three run home run against Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, July 31, 2022 Credit: Jim McIsaac

Clay Holmes went from being an under-the-radar trade- deadline pickup to an All-Star closer in the span of a calendar year, the most recent example of general manager Brian Cashman’s Midas touch when it comes to midseason bullpen upgrades.

But after watching Holmes tee up Salvador Perez’s three-run blast in the ninth inning Sunday — his first home run allowed all season — the Yankees had to come away feeling a bit uneasy about the 8-6 loss to the Royals in the Bronx.

Aaron Boone & Co. rallied from a 4-0 deficit and were poised for the four-game sweep when the manager handed the ball over to Holmes with a one-run cushion.

On most of those occasions this season, Holmes had been automatic, which is why he’s the closer now instead of Aroldis Chapman. But not Sunday afternoon, when he again slipped back into the command-challenged reliever he was during his time with the Pirates (6.3 walks per nine innings).

Holmes retired pinch hitter Nicky Lopez on a bouncer to second for the first out but walked yet-to-be-traded leadoff man Whit Merrifield on five pitches and drilled Bobby Witt Jr. with another wayward sinker. That was an ominous lapse — a reminder of the red flags from a few of his earlier implosions — and Holmes ultimately lost Sunday’s struggle to control his signature sinker when he grooved one to Perez with a 1-and-2 count.

Perez, a seven-time All-Star, is hitting .209 this season and barely made contact in his previous four at-bats. He whiffed three times, missing pitches by what looked like a few feet, and popped up to the catcher.

Holmes figured to make quick work of him. Instead, he put a pitch in the only spot that Perez could get his barrel to — and the sound at impact left zero doubt where the ball was headed, even before it sailed 441 feet onto the netting above Monument Park.

“Trying to get a ground ball there,” Holmes said. “He’s a pretty good fastball hitter and that one probably got a little too much of the plate. Gave him a chance.”

Way too much. It was a shocking turn of events, given that Holmes hadn’t surrendered a home run since last Sept. 29 to the Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette. Also, it was only the fifth time in 45 appearances that he’s allowed a run this season.

But upon further inspection, Holmes’ slippage on Sunday wasn’t an isolated incident for the first-year closer. He’s now blown three saves in his last nine chances, and in his past 15 games dating to June 20, he has a 5.27 ERA, allowing 11 hits with 10 walks, three hit batsman and 15 strikeouts in 13 2⁄3 innings.

Those numbers represent a potentially disturbing trend, and it’s a stark contrast with the Holmes who earned himself a trip to the All-Star Game with a mostly airtight first half. Compare that recent slide to what he did in his first 30 games, when he posted a 0.28 ERA and gave up 18 hits with three walks and 33 strikeouts in 32 innings.

That version of Holmes, who pounded the strike zone with a bowling-ball sinker, drew comparisons to Mariano Rivera for his near-invincibility. But the Holmes of the past five-plus weeks has not shown that same consistency. It’s all about the command of his sinker — the issue he had when he was with Pittsburgh.

Holmes still is relatively new at this closing gig, so the learning curve is not unexpected. And he’s been great for the majority of this season. But Sunday was another instance of these cracks appearing, and that can’t keep happening as the games get bigger down the stretch, especially into October.

“He was just struggling a little bit to find his release point,” Boone said. “But he’s always obviously a pitch away. Perez was able to elevate a sinker. You don’t see many righties do that against him — if ever. Probably didn’t have the bite on the sinker that he normally does, but a really good power hitter caught him.”

A little traffic on the basepaths isn’t usually a huge concern for Holmes because, as Boone alluded to, all it takes is one effective sinker for him to escape with a double-play ball. But Holmes has got to be able to self-correct when that pitch gets shaky, or find another way.

“The sinker control wasn’t the best today,” Holmes said. “The slider felt really good, maybe I could have went to it a little more. But the sinker in the zone, early in the count, is important for me. It definitely has to be the focus.”

The Yankees still took three of four from the Royals, and Holmes said afterward he is fine physically.

Closer is not something on Cashman’s deadline shopping list, but as Holmes has shown in the past year, more bullpen help should always be on the agenda.