Even before the players were scheduled to report to Yankee Stadium Thursday afternoon, large sheaths of plastic were hung around the televisions in the clubhouse, remnants of the long and fruitless wait for a celebration the night before and the one that the Yankees hoped would be coming hours later.
The inevitable clinching of the American League East came on this night with a 9-1 win over the Angels, a methodical victory with brilliant starting pitching from Masahiro Tanaka and home runs from DJ LeMahieu, Brett Gardner, Cameron Maybin and finally, Clint Frazier. But before any champagne could be sprayed the Yankees found another obstacle in their path, one that put a sour note on the celebration.
The 42,056 in attendance at the ballpark Thursday were on hand to celebrate the achievement, but one player wasn't, banned from being with the team right now. Major League Baseball announced Thursday afternoon that Domingo German has been placed on Administrative Leave under the Joint MLB-MLBPA Domestic Violence Policy.
Unlike the injuries and setbacks that the Yankees have dealt with surprisingly well throughout the season, this was something that had no easy answers. Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who cautioned that the team could say little with MLB running the investigation, tried to explain what the possible loss of German could mean as the postseason approaches. But this is not as simple as a doctor’s diagnosis for a muscle pull or a sore shoulder and Boone was left to tread carefully over a subject that cast a black cloud over the champagne and smiles that plastic sheets could not block out.
“This is something that, set baseball aside, this is a bigger issue, obviously,” Boone said. “When you hear the words domestic violence it’s one of those things that stops you in your tracks. Set baseball aside and we just want to be part of — and I give Major League Baseball and the Players Association credit for doing their part in, several years ago, trying to be ahead of this and putting disciplinary action in place — hopefully being part of the solution to what is a problem in our society, obviously.”
The 27-year-old German has been a stabilizing force in the injury-riddled Yankees' rotation this season, posting an 18-4 record with a 4.03 ERA and a 1.147 WHIP in 27 games, 24 of them starts. He came out of the bullpen for 2 1/3 innings of one-hit ball Wednesday as the Yankees fell, 3-2. But more troubling than anything on the mound, Boone began to hear whispers that something was happening.
“I learned on the drive in today that he was going on administrative leave,” Boone said. “Heard some of the whispers and whatnot, but this is a Major League Baseball investigation and issue, so we’re just trying to be as cooperative as we can as this goes on. It was vague to me. All I knew was Major League Baseball was involved in an investigation.”
Through the 99 wins that the Yankees brought into Thursday’s game, they have become something different than usual, a sympathetic underdog pieced together with young and sometimes unheralded players filling in for every injury that set the team back.
The path to the postseason took a hit Tuesday when Dellin Betances suffered a partially torn Achilles tendon celebrating a strikeout. Wednesday’s farewell start in the regular season at Yankee Stadium for CC Sabathia seemed a perfect backdrop to a celebration. But this was something different and strange, at least for Boone, who had to attempt to maneuver his way through the latest problem.
General manager Brian Cashman and Boone were going to address the team as a group while German was banned from being with the team as the investigation is conducted.
“I haven’t thought of exactly what I’ll say,” Boone said. “Obviously, this is fresh. I’ll get up there and talk as a group, as a family, and speak from the heart about it.
“I mean, there’s no denying the importance of Domingo to our team, so there is that element of we must continue on and continue to press forward. But it’s also, this is something that touches our society, unfortunately. Hopefully, that’s a forum for players to talk through it or have comments or questions, whatever, and there’s no script you go off for this so you just as best you can deal with it, handle it and offer the right kind of support.”
The investigation, according to Major League Baseball, could take up to seven days, barring an extension. The uncertainty of where this leaves German and the Yankees is likely to extend far longer.
“I guess we’ll wait and see what ultimately comes down,” Boone said. "But we have to certainly make plans like he may not be a part of it. In that way when you’re talking about plans for postseason and things like that it does turn into like losing a player to injury or whatever. It’s part of the pie that we’re dealing with as we move forward in making evaluations and determinations and formulating our roster and things like that. This is another piece to that.”
Maybe German is cleared and back for the postseason once the investigation is completed, or maybe the Yankees move on without him. There was some odd symmetry when Aroldis Chapman, the first player suspended under the domestic violence rules by Major League Baseball, was brought on to close the game out. There might be a lesson there. But for this night, celebrating seemed a little bit hard to do.