As bizarre as 2020 may be, no one could have imagined the AL East race ending quite like it did Wednesday night.
At the same time as the masked-up Rays were shooting confetti to celebrate their first division title in a decade, courtesy of an 8-5 victory over the Mets at Citi Field, there was a very different scene unfolding on the other side of New York state.
At Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, Yankees’ backup catcher Erik Kratz was feeding knuckleballs to the Blue Jays, a pathetic mop-job finish to the 14-1 pummeling by Toronto. Incredibly, this was the second time in four days Kratz was called upon for this role. The Yankees hadn’t asked a position player to pitch twice in the same season since Rick Cerrone in 1987.
If this happened weeks earlier, another Kratz cameo would have been laughed off, treated as much as comic relief as bailing out the bullpen. But on this particular night, after the bumbling Yankees made four errors and Masahiro Tanaka -- their anticipated Game 2 starter -- looked out of whack, it was a grisly footnote to another opportunity lost.
The Yankees embarked on this 60-game season as the presumptive favorites to win the AL East, though the scrappy Rays were expected to be strong challengers to the throne. Instead, Tampa Bay flipped the script, going 8-2 against the Yankees while being a constant on-field irritant to their big-spending buddies from up north in taking the title. Asked about the disappointment in falling short of that goal, manager Aaron Boone -- clearly peeved about his team’s lackluster performance -- wasn’t in a reflective mood.
"We've got an amazing opportunity in front of us," Boone said. "We get to play for a championship here starting in the next several days and that's an amazing opportunity. We have a great group in there and they're capable of doing some special things."
Apparently, winning the division wasn’t one of those things. The Yankees and Rays harassed each other, baited each other, even threw at each other on occasion. But as far as the AL East is concerned, the Rays enjoyed the last laugh along with Wednesday night’s confetti shower. The Yankees were just laughable.
"That was not Yankee baseball at all," Luke Voit said. "Everything was bad tonight. It's almost like we were the Bad News Bears."
The Yankees have allowed at least 11 runs in four games so far this year, and three of those happened at Sahlen Field, the upgraded Triple-A facility that seems to suit the Toronto tenants just fine. On a few occasions Wednesday night, it was hard to believe the playoff-bound Yankees could look that awful.
Voit teamed up with Gleyber Torres for one of the worst exchanges, which took place when the game’s outcome was still up for grabs. The Blue Jays already had capitalized on a pair of brutal errors by Gary Sanchez and Torres to help build a 4-1 lead and then Voit got into the act in the fourth inning when Tanaka’s pickoff throw simply clanged off his glove in a very callous fashion.
Even then, Voit managed to deliver an on-target throw to Torres that should have nailed Cavan Biggio, but the ball inexplicably popped out of Torres’ glove as he tried to sweep the tag. Biggio came around to score what felt like a big run at the time. Two innings later, the Jays sent 12 batters to the plate in piling up eight more runs.
"We're a better baseball team than we showed out there tonight," Boone said. "We've got to move past this one and understand we’ve got another important one tomorrow, but we need to play better than that."
From a defensive standpoint, however, Wednesday wasn’t all that different from how the Yankees have played far too often. The four errors raised their total to 42 on the season, which is the third-most overall, behind only the Pirates (46) and Red Sox (43) -- two clubs that mailed it in this year with a combined 39 wins. The Yankees also have now committed 23 errors in their past 17 games, a worrisome stat with the playoffs starting Tuesday.
"They're gonna happen ... but I’m not worried about this team at all," Voit said. "It's one of those games you’ve just got to throw out the window, put in the rear-view mirror and keep plugging away."
The Yankees need to shake this off quickly. They’re still fighting to host the wild-card round in the Bronx. As for the AL East title that got away, well, what’s done is done.
"Not what we thought going into the season," Voit said. " But hats off to the Rays. They had a good year. You’ve got to give them credit, but we'll see them again."