BOSTON -- “Brutal.”
That was Tyler Clippard’s one-word assessment of the Yankees’ four-day visit to Fenway Park, the crash site of their season, the spot where any playoff hopes, already small, were reduced to subatomic level.
Four game sweeps happen. They always sting. But here in mid-September, with a wild-card berth at stake, against the dreaded, despised Red Sox? That’s too much to stomach. And it certainly didn’t help that Hanley Ramirez hit like Manny Ramirez over the weekend, clobbering the Yankees into submission, every chance he had with a bat in his hands.
“Incredible,” Joe Girardi said.
Sure, the manager could say that afterward. But what was Girardi thinking during the game, before the 5-4 loss became final? Ramirez finished 9-for-16 on the weekend, with nine RBIs, and his four home runs tied the record for a Sox player in a series against the Yankees, last done by Manny himself in 2006.
Still, when Ramirez came to the plate twice Sunday night, each time in pivotal situations, the Yankees made critical mistakes to the hottest hitter on the planet. In the fifth inning, CC Sabathia’s own throwing error kept a Sox rally alive, then brought up Ramirez, with two on and the Yankees holding a 4-0 lead.
Sabathia struck out Ramirez in his previous at-bat. But after falling behind 3-and-1, he didn’t play it safe enough, trying a backdoor slider that got too much of the plate. Ramirez put that one over the Monster, and the Fenway crowd suddenly sparked to life, breaking out brand-new “CC!” chants that we never remember hearing before in these parts.
“It was a pitch off the plate and he went out and got it,” Sabathia said. “It was one of those things where you try not to give in to him.”
That’s who CC is. He’s not a Cessa, or Mitchell, or Severino, feeling his way through. But he’s also not the Sabathia he used to be, and would it have made more sense to just put the scorching Ramirez on base after falling behind rather than risk what happened? The manager strongly disagreed with that notion.
“It was too early in the game to do that,” Girardi said. “I’m not going to bring the tying run to the plate if I don’t have to. How many times have we seen Chris Young hit a home run off a lefty?”
Young was next up, in the No. 5 spot behind Ramirez, and he can be a lefty-killer, batting .356 (21-for-59) against them this season with three homers in 69 plate appearances. That’s respectable, but anyone who watched Ramirez during the first three games could tell he was operating at a supernatural level. In the series opener, Ramirez wrecked Dellin Betances by drilling a 98-mph fastball for a walk-off home run. The next night, he turned around a 95-mph heater from Luis Cessa. Ramirez cleared the Monster so frequently, he made it unsafe to walk down Landsdowne Street without a hard hat.
The Sabathia slider didn’t lose the game, however. That would come later, with the score tied, after Clippard entered for the seventh inning. Clippard got MVP candidate Mookie Betts to pop up harmlessly to second, but got into a similar jam as Sabathia when the count went full to Ramirez. He went off-speed as well, going with an 80-mph changeup, and Ramirez sent that one toward the Mass Pike.
The pitch never had a chance, bleeding back over the plate, but not far enough in that Ramirez couldn’t barrel it up. Clippard figured if Ramirez managed to make contact, it would go foul. No such luck. If the Yankees weren’t going to avoid Ramirez entirely, then they had to be flawless in their execution. Like everything else during the four-game sweep, these head-to-head battles also didn’t go their way.
“You’ve got to make your pitches,” Girardi said. “You’ve got to make him uncomfortable.”
The Yankees did neither against Ramirez, but they weren’t the only ones as he now has eight homers in his last 11 games and 11 in the past 18. If it’s any consolation, after that frightful barrage, the Yankees don’t have anything left to lose.