In the cramped visitors’ clubhouse, every Yankee took a piece of the blame afterward. The air just feels heavier in that tiny space, especially after a defeat like Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Red Sox, a Game 1 that could have had a very different result and sent this Division Series in a very different direction.
The reason it didn’t had mostly to do with two Yankees in particular, the same two players who were brought to the Bronx specifically for this exact October purpose.
One was J.A. Happ, the pitcher acquired for his Boston-killer ability, who picked a terrible time to lose that helpful skill set.
The other was Giancarlo Stanton, whose $265-million tab was picked up by the Yankees in December so he could pay off in these moments. Instead, the 6-6 giant wilted on his biggest stage to date.
Happ was charged with five runs, including a three-run homer by J.D. Martinez in the first inning, lasted only 44 pitches and was gone before he could record an out in the third.
Stanton struck out four times, stranded five runners and whiffed with the bases loaded and none out in the pivotal seventh.
And if that wasn’t enough to keep the Yankees awake into the wee hours Saturday morning — wondering what could have been — they also had to wait on the fate of Aaron Hicks, who had to leave in the fourth inning with right hamstring tightness. The immediate prognosis was uncertain, with an MRI scheduled for Saturday.
“I was trying to stay in the game,” said Hicks, who was retrieved by Aaron Boone and trainer Steve Donohue after leading off with a single. “But my body language was saying that I should get out of the game.”
An opening loss is one thing. But if Hicks can’t go in Saturday night’s Game 2, that’s far more damaging than anything else that transpired, just because of the carryover effect.
As frustrating as the other stuff was, Hicks is arguably the Yankees’ MVP — both for his centerfield defense and switch-hitting ability in the top third of the lineup — so the sight of him hobbling off the field was sobering.
Early on, the Yankees wanted to avert their eyes from Happ, who was busy flushing Game 1 before many of the 39,059 fans had reached their seats.
The Yankees had built their entire playoff blueprint around Happ, saving him for multiple starts against the Red Sox because of his recent success against them, and that disintegrated as soon as Martinez launched a 2-and-0 fastball to the front row of the Monster seats.
Happ also allowed Mookie Betts’ double and Andrew Benintendi’s bunt single to open the third, then left the mess for Chad Green, who promptly gave up an RBI single by Steve Pearce and Xander Bogaerts’ sacrifice fly.
Incredibly, Boston didn’t score another run after that third inning, so Happ’s clunker is what ultimately sunk the Yankees — his first loss (in 12 starts) since joining the team.
“Certainly not going to make any excuses,” he said. “I just didn’t get it done.”
Stanton could have been wearing a T-shirt with the same motto late Friday night as he stood in the center of the clubhouse, back against a pillar, an impromptu spot for media interviews.
What was there to say? His one hit, a single in the sixth, helped fuel a two-run rally in which he scored. But the Yankees left the bases full that inning, and when they loaded them again in the seventh — with none out — Stanton went down swinging on Matt Barnes’ curveball.
The Red Sox bullpen was begging to hand over the game right then. Dying to. And Stanton could have made it happen.
He could have done it more than once, taking three called strikes after Craig Kimbrel teed up Aaron Judge’s leadoff homer in the ninth.
The fact that his futility all happened on the same day as Martinez’s heroics — Boston’s own winter power move— made Stanton look small.
“I had pitches to hit in the zone,” he said. “I fouled them off. I couldn’t get to them.”
It was an epic fail in the playoffs, at Fenway, against the Red Sox. When you’re the Yankees, it doesn’t get much worse — unless, of course, it happens again with David Price, their favorite punching bag, on the mound in Saturday night’s Game 2.
“It’s pretty much a must-win for us,” Brett Gardner said.
What stings most? It didn’t have to be this way.