Bad news for the “Bench Gary” crowd.
The extra 24 hours of reflection provided by Wednesday’s ALCS Game 4 rainout is very unlikely to sway the Yankees’ rock-steady support of their embattled catcher, Gary Sanchez.
And how do we know this? Aaron Boone, apparently tired of downplaying Sanchez’s offensive struggles, tried some misdirection during Wednesday’s conference call when asked about El Gary’s missing bat this October.
“Let's start with the other side of the ball, which completely gets lost in this,” Boone said. “And without sugarcoating at all, he's been excellent behind the plate from a game-calling standpoint, from a game-plan target, receiving.
“The bottom line is his body of work in this postseason, and frankly down the stretch in the second half of the season defensively, has been excellent. So that part has me feeling really good about him.”
Translation: Sanchez’s glove alone has been enough to win over Boone, regardless of what everyone thought they witnessed during the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Astros. In that fateful sequence, Sanchez had trouble corralling a pair of Zack Britton’s spiked sinkers, the first luckily kicking off the umpire before the next got past him for a wild pitch that scored Houston’s third run.
Was it possible that Sanchez’s offensive malaise is weighing on his mind, perhaps causing him distraction behind the plate? It’s been brought up with him plenty in the past, and this also isn’t the first public outcry for him to be benched — either on the eve of the playoffs or during them. This time of year, Austin Romine suddenly becomes everyone’s favorite Halloween costume.
Joe Girardi, a former Yankees catcher himself, developed a friction with Sanchez that didn’t sit well with the front office, and ultimately contributed to his dismissal. Boone knows the playbook here. It’s go to the mat with Sanchez, barring injury, and that means ride-or-die, despite him hitting .095 (2-for-21) this October with a pair of singles and 10 strikeouts. Failing to stop those Britton sinkers wasn’t going to influence the manager, either.
“A lot of people are making a lot of the block,” Boone said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of 94-mph fastballs that guys don’t block. Guys aren’t always set up to block a fastball. That’s kind of a 50/50 play.”
Sanchez isn’t the sole reason the Yankees are in a 2-1 ALCS hole. Could they use more from the 34-homer guy? No doubt. His non-competitive at-bats to this point have been a killer, tougher to swallow than the recent offensive swoon by Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius and Edwin Encarnacion, who snapped an 0-for-16 slide with Tuesday’s fifth-inning double.
But if you’re asking Boone whether or not Sanchez is sinking fast confidence-wise, he’ll rebut you at hello.
“Just knowing how talented of an offensive player he is,” the manager said, “I always feel like he’s a pitch away or an at-bat away from really getting locked in and changing the course of a game.”
That’s the allure of Sanchez, an All-Star catcher with freakish power, but one who repeatedly tests a manager’s faith, especially in October. His playoff resume suggests what is happening right now is more the rule than exception, as Sanchez is a career .174 (16-for-92) hitter in 24 postseason games with a .590 OPS (as compared with .846 during the regular season).
“Every at-bat, I’m battling,” Sanchez said after the Game 3 loss. “I’m trying to make adjustments. I’m fighting. I haven’t gotten the results I wanted, but I’ve been working hard trying to get back on track.”
With Boone scraping up all the positive words he can muster lately about Sanchez, we’re almost surprised the manager failed to mention Tuesday’s last at-bat, when he finally made decent contact off Astros reliever Will Harris for the third out of the eighth inning.
In the scorebook, it’s a groundout to shortstop. But at the granular level, thanks to Statcast, we know that Sanchez’s smash off the Harris curveball had a 107.3-mph exit velo, the second-highest of the game, behind DJ LeMahieu’s first-inning single (108.5).
Hey, it’s a reach. We know. But stuff like this is all part of the equation, and if you’re expecting the Yankees to penalize Sanchez for the unenviable spot they’re in, Boone is telling you it ain’t happening. Their strategy is to either have Sanchez snap out of his funk or arrange the Yankees’ lineup in such a way that the others do enough to cover for their flailing catcher.
“Hopefully it starts real soon for him,” Boone said.
Regardless, the Yankees don’t sound interested in any alternatives.