For those wondering what it would take for the Yankees to finally win a game, now we know: Erik Kratz, the backup catcher, squaring to bunt.
Don’t take this the wrong way. After seven straight losses, including Friday night’s humiliating doubleheader sweep by the Mets, we’re not going to grade the Yankees on style points.
That’s because all of Saturday reeked of desperation. From Brian Cashman’s pregame briefing to Adam Ottavino teeing up Wilson Ramos’ tying homer off the leftfield foul pole in the eighth inning, the Yankees felt every bit like a team in crisis mode.
Aaron Judge back on the shelf after more questionable handling of an injury, the Yankees plotting to start two prospects Sunday, Cashman pondering the merits of trading for help by Monday’s deadline. The rapidly eroding faith in a supposedly formidable bullpen.
No offense to Jordy Mercer, but the 34-year-old infielder is not someone we anticipated getting regular burn in the Yankees’ starting lineup, whether it was this bizarro season or not.
Anyway, fast-forward Saturday to the ninth, after Ottavino ruined J.A. Happ’s 7 1/3-inning gem, and the key players in the Yankees’ 2-1 victory over the Mets turned out to be Mercer, Kratz and old friend Dellin Betances.
Actually, Betances probably deserves the most credit of anyone. And the Yankees' in-house intel definitely helped.
After Clint Frazier’s leadoff walk in the ninth, and Brett Gardner’s strikeout, Mercer punched a full-count knuckle curve for a soft single down the rightfield line that got Frazier over to third.
From there, the Yankees didn’t have to do much. Kratz, with two sacrifice bunts in 939 career plate appearances spanning 11 years, squared on Betances’ second pitch — which sailed to the backstop. Untouched.
When asked about the situation, the journeyman catcher twice had to stifle a laugh.
“I’m glad I laid off it,” Kratz said. “It's one of those things where it was so far over Ramos' head, you think it might make everybody freeze or the ball hits off the screen. Fortunately it just died back there and he was able to come across.”
How many lucky bounces do the Yankees need? Just drawing Betances for the ninth inning of a tie game was fortunate enough.
It was interesting to note, however, that Gary Sanchez — you know, the two-time All-Star, 30-plus-homer catcher — watched the ninth from the dugout steps, with a bat in his hand and a batting helmet on his head.
Manager Aaron Boone needed only one swing for a walk-off win and still Sanchez stayed put, letting Mercer and Kratz bat with the game on the line, potentially standing at the brink of the Yankees’ first eight-game losing streak in 25 years.
Did Boone even consider Sanchez?
“Just like that matchup there,” Boone said of Kratz. “If we would have been in a two-out situation with a runner on first or something, we might have gone to Gary there. I just decided I wanted to go with Kratz in that first-and-third spot.”
Wow. What an indictment of Sanchez and the tattered state of the Yankees’ once-feared lineup he used to anchor. Willingly going with Kratz, who by the way struck out swinging in his previous three trips to the plate. And Kratz had made up his mind he was going up there to bunt after doing it successfully twice before in 11 years.
“I did that on my own,” Kratz said. “I didn't make contact with too many pitches today, so we got to get the run in somehow.”
No argument there. The Yankees finished the day 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, so if they could tap Betances’ wild streak for help, all the better.
Going forward, however, that’s a troublesome sign for Sanchez, who supposedly is healthy but is making about as much of an impact (.130 batting average, .338 slugging percentage) as the handful of sluggers currently residing on the IL.
“I think it's part rust, part poor performance,” Cashman said of Sanchez before the game. “But we are going with Gary Sanchez. He is by far our best option on both sides of the ball and we look forward to him finding his groove sooner than later because we need it. We’re going to provide him the opportunity to fight his way out of it.”
The Yankees, as a whole, are trying to do the same. They managed to snap a lengthy losing streak Saturday, but by the slimmest of margins, and the only other run came from the team’s entire offense, which goes by the name of Luke Voit. If not for Voit staying hot — when he drilled his 12th homer in the first inning, it was his seventh in nine games — this banged-up group would be cold enough to store your beer at the beach.
Saturday’s victory doesn’t automatically fix what’s ailing the Yankees. But it was better than the alternative, and now the weight of a losing streak doesn’t sit squarely on the shoulders of the prospect duo of Deivi Garcia and Michael King for Sunday’s doubleheader.
Next man up? At this point, the Yankees are just running out of men.