By the All-Star break, everyone had formulated their opinions of New York’s rookie managers, Aaron Boone and Mickey Callaway.
The affable Boone was the perfect antidote to the intense Joe Girardi. Pleasant with the media, loose with his young clubhouse, and correct enough in allowing the Yankees’ championship-caliber talent to roll to a 62-33 record.
Callaway? He was the polar opposite. Frequently tone deaf at the microphone, somewhat detached from an ever-changing roster and wrong too often to even tap the brakes on the downward spiral of his 39-55 Mets.
But as different as those first impressions turned out to be, both are in a similar predicament over these next nine weeks. So it’s fitting that they begin the second half facing each other in the Bronx for this Subway Series rematch.
Boone has won nothing yet. The Yankees are in second place, 4 1⁄2 games behind the Red Sox, and squirming in a wild-card seat that will get more uncomfortable by the day. Every move seems bigger now, the mistakes more magnified. Not only is a playoff berth expected, anything short of the World Series — the lone peak Girardi was unable to reach last year — ultimately makes Boone a failure.
It’s an unfair measure, but Boone knew that going in, and all he’s done so far is shoot par. The Yankees’ first half was fun, YES ratings were up, and Giancarlo Stanton shook off some early jitters to look more like a reigning MVP. A lot went right, including the star turns of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.
But as nutty as it sounds, the Yankees probably have to be even better to hurdle the Red Sox. Some of that falls to Brian Cashman, who is responsible for finding Boone another arm or two before the end of this month. Boone gets the daily scrutiny, however, and he’s going to discover the first half was basically an extended warm-up compared to what awaits him in the months ahead.
“Where can we improve? Everywhere,” Boone said before the break. “I think one of the signs of a potentially great team is you’re not satisfied with anything we’ve done to this point.”
Boone, as a former Yankees player, follows the pinstriped script well. He also understands that a manager’s Q rating can flip in a New York minute. The big chair in the Bronx heats up up quickly, be it your first season or 10th.
The same goes for Flushing, of course, and Callaway has been sweating it out since the Mets’ 12-2 start went sour. He’s not entirely to blame for that. The Mets again were decimated by injuries, including the extended losses of Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard and Jay Bruce. But Callaway didn’t help matters by coming across as overmatched at times on the field and clumsy afterward in the public arena.
Maybe Callaway wasn’t the one who screwed up the lineup card when the Mets batted out of order, but he’s ultimately in charge of it. Even the in-game strategy can seem too fast for him on occasion, and the scrutiny gets more pointed as the losses pile up.
Bottom line, the Mets insist that Callaway’s job isn’t in jeopardy. They have every intention of bringing him back next season, hopeful that he’ll climb the learning curve. But it’s not automatic. Starting this weekend, Callaway has to show he deserves another year, and the front office believes the Mets — with key players returning — need to step it up significantly in the second half.
Facing the Yankees, in the Bronx, is not the ideal kickoff. But Callaway will have Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom for this weekend — Steven Matz gets the middle game — with Cespedes expected to DH after spending the past eight-plus weeks on the disabled list That doesn’t do much to fix his unreliable bullpen, but there’s only so much that can be patched up with this group. It’s up to Callaway and his staff to make a difference in the margins.
“We have to come out and play the game in a better way — fundamentally, situationally,” Callaway said. “We have to be able to do all the small things that it takes to win. I think our team can win games if we do the small things. But we have to really focus on those small things.”
Callaway, unlike Boone, doesn’t have a division title to chase. He’s striving for respectability, and for these Mets, that feels even more challenging at the moment. After Sandy Alderson stepped down to resume his cancer battle, the Mets turned to a three-man committee to replace him, creating a fractured front office that is never good for a manager. And if the Mets do hire someone outside for the GM position, would that person even want Callaway? That basically means Callaway has a little more than two months to convince COO Jeff Wilpon that he’s worth another shot for 2019.
This Subway Series, despite the competitive imbalance, would be a good place to start.