Joey Gallo wasn’t in Thursday night’s starting lineup for what could only be described as the Yankees’ biggest game of the year. Until the one they play Friday, of course.
The reason? Not necessarily health-related, as Aaron Boone said Gallo was "feeling a lot better" and able to go through his usual pregame routine after getting drilled on the left forearm by a pitch in Wednesday night’s 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Facing ace lefthander Robbie Ray, the presumptive leader in the AL Cy Young Award competition, was enough for Boone to consider using alternatives to Gallo even though Luke Voit (bruised knee) was placed on the injured list before the game.
But why overthink the situation? The bruised forearm provided enough cover to sit Gallo because of the simple fact that he’s been a liability since the Yankees embarked on this critical nine-game stretch last Friday at Fenway Park. (Gallo did enter Thursday's game as a defensive replacement for leftfielder Giancarlo Stanton in the eighth inning with the Yankees ahead 5-2 in their 6-2 win).
Everyone knows the strikeouts are part of the deal with Gallo. It’s the toll paid for his jogs around the basepaths. But the botched pop-ups? For a Gold Glover? Those are potential red flags that maybe this playoff-caliber pressure was getting to Gallo, who was 1-for-18 with nine strikeouts in his previous five games.
Don’t bother checking out Baseball Reference for his postseason stats. Gallo doesn’t have that section on his page. Since the slugger became a Texas regular in 2017, the Rangers never won more than 78 games, so it’s safe to say the bulk of his career at-bats have come in relative obscurity.
That lack of experience on the big stage doesn’t mean Gallo can’t perform under the current spotlight. But it does get thrown into the mix of other factors, such as joining the Yankees at the trade deadline — a jarring adjustment for any player from outside New York — and the standard upheaval any midseason change of scenery brings.
A few weeks ago, Gallo sounded a bit shell-shocked when talking about the dramatic shift of playing in Gotham, especially the commute. Remember, he’s under contract with the Yankees through 2022 as well.
Can all of that weigh on a player’s mind? No doubt. It’s not every season that you’re specifically acquired to help resurrect an underachieving Yankees team. And Gallo wouldn’t be the first to put too much pressure on himself in these types of scenarios.
"I think that stuff can turn like that," Boone said before Thursday’s game. "I don’t discount anyone coming in the middle of the season and all that means — not just the baseball aspect, but turning your life upside down. So I’m certainly sensitive to that and under the challenges that it brings.
"Just making sure we continue to reinforce with him what a good player he is, and understanding he can be a game-changer. Even when he’s going through a tough stretch, it can change in a hurry."
Having Gallo available off the bench is an intimidating weapon, even though his 13 homers have been saddled with a .157 batting average in 54 games since he arrived in the Bronx. Down the stretch, as Boone mentioned, Gallo needs only one pitch to flip the narrative.
Problem is, it takes only one pop-up for Gallo to sabotage his own team, and in a shocking series of events, he’s turned leftfield into a minefield recently.
On Sunday night at Fenway Park, Gallo inexplicably let Kyle Schwarber’s harmless fly ball clang off his glove as he jogged in to corral it in left-centerfield. Mistakes happen. But as stunning as that misplay was for a major-leaguer, it also came with two outs and allowed the go-ahead run to score from second base.
In the big picture, no harm done, as the Yankees rallied behind another Stanton homer to leave Boston with a three-game sweep.
What transpired Wednesday night at Rogers Centre, however, was a different story. The Yankees had just rallied to trim their deficit to 4-2 in the fifth inning when George Springer led off the bottom half with a soft fly to shallow leftfield. Shortstop Gio Urshela initially gave chase, but it was Gallo’s ball all the way — right up to the point that he just stopped dead to watch it fall at his feet. Springer scored a gift run on a double and the Yankees eventually wound up with a stinging 6-5 loss that ultimately could have left a mark in the tightening wild-card race.
Afterward, Boone called out Gallo — "Joey’s got to completely take charge," he said — and that’s something a manager doesn’t figure on doing at this critical stage of the season.
With a playoff berth in the balance, the Yankees can only hope that at some point in the days ahead, Gallo delivers some game-changing impact.
With the ball coming off his bat, not getting botched by his glove.