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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Loyalty only goes so far in September for Yankees

Yankees shortstop Andrew Velazquez scores a run on

Yankees shortstop Andrew Velazquez scores a run on a sacrifice fly by Anthony Rizzo during the third inning at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Credit: Noah K. Murray

Loyalty is a luxury that contending teams can mostly afford April through August. The month of September, however, is another story.

Circle Sept. 7 as the date the Yankees finally reached their breaking point, benching both Joey Gallo and Gleyber Torres for Tuesday night’s game against the Blue Jays. Brett Gardner was in leftfield and Bronx hero Andrew Velazquez returned to shortstop.

Sitting Gallo against Long Island lefty Steven Matz was easily explained away, and Torres was just activated from the injured list Friday, so getting a breather after four straight games wasn’t all that radical in this era of workload management.

But Tuesday’s decision should not be an outlier based on the current state of the Yankees, whose offense inexplicably vanished once a few of their regulars returned. And as much as Aaron Boone considers himself a "player’s manager" — more the rule than the exception around the league — this needs to be a month when accountability writes the lineup.

Gallo was batting .130 since his Bronx arrival, with nearly four times as many strikeouts (61) as hits (16) in those 35 games. To think that Boone once referred to Gallo as the ideal No. 2 is comical given those numbers, which necessitated removing him altogether Tuesday and should require dropping him further down in the future.

It’s not the scenario Brian Cashman had in mind with the deadline acquisition of Gallo, but that vision is derailed at the moment, and the Yankees are in no position to absorb that much futility on a nightly basis. Since their 13-game winning streak, the Yankees have gone 2-8 and have had some of the worst offensive production in the majors. Entering Tuesday night's 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays, their .202 batting average during that span ranked 28th overall — only the Marlins and Rockies were worse at .201 — and their .601 OPS was dead last.

When you factor in that three of those games were against the Orioles, proud owners of baseball’s most bloated ERA (5.77) with opponents raking them at an MLB-high .266 clip, it’s hard to comprehend. And to such a mind-blowing degree that Boone (along with his front-office collaborators) have no choice but to sit the biggest offenders, or try some other shake-up to rekindle the mid-August magic.

Gallo is the easiest target. He’s been here for only five weeks, and with the strikeouts piling up at such an alarming rate — along with the Bronx boos — taking him out of the spotlight feels like doing him a favor.

In Torres’ case, it’s more complicated, given his history of producing in pinstripes, but the Yankees can’t keep chasing that 38-homer feeling from 2019. If Torres’ bat isn’t making everyone forget his subpar glove at shortstop, then Boone needs to rethink his role, too.

With 24 games left, time is running short. Obviously, Boone would prefer riding his regulars to that top wild-card spot, but it’s not going to be that simple, and trying to keep using malfunctioning pieces in a sputtering machine would seem to be a losing strategy. Finding the balance between fixing them on the fly and fielding the best possible lineup on a nightly basis can be a difficult tightrope to walk as the Yankees get deeper into September.

"It’s a good question," Boone said before Tuesday’s game. "And I would add the kind of stretch we’ve been on as of late — not a lot of off days, playing a lot of intense, highly pressurized games over the last couple of months. There’s going to be a day here or there where I’m probably going to have to sit a guy that I don’t want to.

"But also, one of the things that’s been a hallmark of our success over the last few months is that some of the guys that are on our bench right now have played key roles in us winning games . . . It’s going to take all 28 guys now."

The Yankees were a different team when Velazquez and Tyler Wade had to be deployed on a regular basis. Not only were they better defensively in some spots, but the injection of speed appeared to be contagious, as the team seemed to play more aggressively as a whole.

Whatever boost those two added faded during the past week as they were phased out, but re-inserting Velazquez at shortstop Tuesday night was a nod to maybe recapturing some of that lost mojo. But for now, don’t expect any permanent changes involving Gallo and/or Torres.

"I think in Joey’s case and Gleyber’s case, they’re going to be two really important players for us down the stretch that are going to play key roles," Boone said. "It’s about just finding that formula and getting them in the right situations."

Doing what’s right for the Yankees, however, needs to be the priority. And loyalty shouldn’t be a deciding factor with a playoff spot at stake.

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