Humiliated one night, eliminated the next. Both losses coming in the Bronx, no less.
What a brutal, sobering, and wholly unsatisfying finish for the 2018 Yankees, a team that began the season with World Series aspirations, yet failed to advance as far as last year’s edition.
Somewhere, Joe Girardi enjoyed the last laugh.
How did it happen? The Red Sox outplayed, outpitched and outmanaged the Yankees in this Division Series, with Alex Cora outshining his rookie counterpart in pinstripes, Aaron Boone. Still, the Yankees came within one solid swing Tuesday night of a walk-off win that would have sent the series back to Fenway Park for a Game 5. But as we saw too often during the past week, they couldn’t get it, this time falling short during a dramatic ninth inning in the 4-3 loss.
“I felt we could play with them,” Brett Gardner said. “I felt we could beat them. But we didn’t play our best baseball, and we got beat.”
Looking for the biggest scapegoat? Follow the money. Giancarlo Stanton, Mr. $325-million himself, came up as the tying run in the ninth — with no outs — against a wobbly Craig Kimbrel and whiffed on four pitches. It was a terrible at-bat, and a huge out for Kimbrel, but business as usual for Stanton, who was invisible during this series when the Yankees needed him most.
“We were right there with the opportunity,” Stanton said. “But either way, a loss is a loss, and we’re in the same boat.”
The Yankees were able to rally for two runs anyway — no thanks to Stanton when Kimbrel hit Neil Walker with the bases loaded and Gary Sanchez followed with a moonshot of a sacrifice fly. Sanchez just got under the pitch, missing a walk-off homer by about 10 feet.
And in a 2018 twist, the Sox’s clinching on-field celebration had to wait for a replay challenge on Gleyber Torres’ groundout to third. When the call was upheld, the Sox commenced the party.
To see the Yankees again come up small in the Bronx, where they had won seven straight playoff games before Monday’s 16-1 beatdown by the Red Sox, was shocking. After hitting a record 267 homers during the regular season, the Yankees didn’t go deep in either of their two consecutive home games, something that happened only once during the regular season (April 7-8). Since Gary Sanchez’s three-run homer in the seventh inning of Game 2 at Fenway to Didi Gregorius’ double in the fourth Tuesday, the Yankees were 6-for-48, all singles.
“We’re chasing greatness here,” Boone said. “Do we need to be better? Of course. It wasn’t good enough, so we need to be better, simple as that.”
Starting with the manager. CC Sabathia lasted only three innings, allowing three runs, but never should have made it that far, anyway, with elimination at stake. Even Zach Britton, the first reliever summoned, served up a homer to the first batter he faced, the No. 9 hitter Christian Vazquez, who had three home runs all year, his last coming on June 26. When Boston’s light-hitting catcher is the only player to leave the yard, you got the sense it wasn’t the Yankees’ night.
Boone, like Girardi a year ago, was in need of redemption in the Division Series, the day after his screwy bullpen management doomed the Yankees in Game 3. But Boone didn’t do himself any favors by repeating some of the missteps from the previous night as the Yankees fell behind, 4-0.
Sabathia had to escape a bases-loaded jam in the first inning to keep the Sox scoreless entering the third, but Boone didn’t have anybody up warming in the pen despite a long stretch of righties awaiting CC that inning. The only lefty was the hitter leading off, Andrew Benintendi, and Sabathia wound up grazing him on the front elbow.
With the Yankees facing elimination, that seemed to be the ideal time to go with someone like David Robertson, but the bullpen remained dead quiet. Instead, CC plodded onward, and gradually dug himself a 3-0 hole. Boone finally woke up midway through that rally to get Robertson throwing, but the manager still held off on using him that inning.
“I was fine with the way CC was throwing the ball,” Boone said. “I think it was a sound decision to allow him to go through [Jackie] Bradley at that point.”
Going down with Sabathia was another head-scratcher. Boone had to foresee the potential trouble that was lining up for CC, yet he watched him unravel, even with runs at a premium in this series. Now the Yankees have a long winter to think about it.