CLEVELAND — As the Yankees waited for yet another thunderstorm to pass, this one raining out Thursday’s batting practice at Progressive Field, Sonny Gray sat on a clubhouse leather couch, sandwiched between the imposing shapes of CC Sabathia and Aaron Judge.
Three days removed from the deadline trade that rescued him from Bay Area oblivion, and his Yankees debut still hours away, the relaxed Gray didn’t look like the terminator many assume will deliver the AL East title to the Bronx.
That would come later. Unfortunately, his new teammates provided little help, and most of what they were able to do was bad in a 5-1 loss to the Indians.
Brian Cashman came up big in prying Gray from the A’s and Billy Beane, as well as securing the bullpen duo of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox (the jury’s still out on the struggling Todd Frazier). But if the Yankees can’t remedy this creeping roster-wide malaise, those additions aren’t going to mean much by early October if the Yankees settle for a wild-card berth and lose again.
Only Gary Sanchez’s seventh-inning homer prevented the Yankees from being shut out for the second time in as many days. By then, Gray already was gone, done after throwing 98 pitches over six innings, and the glory was left for Indians’ ace Corey Kluber, who fired a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts, in a two-hour, 28-minute blur of a night.
In this clash of potential playoff foes, the Yankees’ defects were on full display, minus the slumping trio of Frazier, Judge and Matt Holliday, who were all getting mental breaks on the bench.
“We continue to pitch well, which I think is really important, because that’s how you put together winning streaks,” Girardi said afterward. “But we have to do the other things.”
The Yankees couldn’t have done more to sabotage Gray’s debut if they spiked his pregame smoothie with Ambien. In the first inning, Gray caused the poor contact he’s known for by inducing three routine grounders — and the Yankees bobbled two of them for a pair of costly errors. Chase Headley fumbled the first, Tyler Wade played footsie with the second, and Clint Frazier completed the circus act by airmailing a throw into the third-base camera well on Jose Ramirez’s RBI single, allowing Michael Brantley to walk home with the 2-0 lead.
Both runs were unearned, of course, but the Yankees’ ineptitude helped pushed Gray’s pitch count up to 22, which handicapped him for the rest of the evening. Gray wasn’t going to throw his new buddies under the bus, so he described that nightmarish open as “just part of the game.” Instead, he chose to blame himself for the Yan Gomes two-run double that iced it in the sixth.
“I think I threw the ball OK,” Gray said.
For those who prefer to give the Klubot his due, and not dwell on the frustrating loss, Gray didn’t appear fazed by the pressure of the Yankee uniform or being thrust into a tight divisional race. He’s still on a great roll right now, with a 1.59 ERA over his last seven starts — he’s pitched six innings or more in all seven. In Cashman’s view, that’s the ace-caliber pitcher he was hoping to slot behind Luis Severino in the rotation, and the Yankees’ deadline swap was something the Indians could also appreciate from their perch in the AL Central.
A year ago, it was Cleveland that shipped Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield to the Bronx for Andrew Miller, who turned out to be the pivotal bullpen piece that helped get the Indians to Game 7 of the World Series. Terry Francona said before Thursday’s game that it was too early to say if Gray would be the difference-maker down the stretch, but the Indians’ manager did praise Cashman’s team-building efforts in getting the Yankees back on top so quickly.
“I do think Brian Cashman doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Francona said. “Cash has been doing it for years,, and under different parameters. I’m a big fan of how he does things.”
Trading for Gray looks great on Cashman’s resume, but someone should remind the Yankees they still have a lot of work left to do.