The moment the Yankees won the 2018 American League Wild-Card Game, I started over with Aaron Boone. After failing to win the division and avoid the wild-card game and have a free pass to the ALDS, the Yankees survived the one-game playoff and were going to the first round. I erased the six months of questionable lineup decisions, nonsensical bullpen moves and head-scratching in-game maneuvers because the Yankees had reached the actual postseason. I agreed to only judge Boone on his managing in the real October.
Boone quickly reminded me why I was so critical of his managing throughout the regular season. In Game 3 of the ALDS, he let Luis Severino return to the mound with the Yankees already in a three-run hole and every Red Sox swing resulting in a line drive. He doubled down on his egregious decision to stick with Severino by allowing the clearly-fatigued righty (who was also somehow late to warm up for a postseason game) to load the bases with no outs before finally removing him. Needing a strikeout to begin to hope to limit the damage in the inning and save the game, Boone called on the last pitcher on the postseason roster and the worst strikeout numbers in the bullpen.
The Red Sox routed the Yankees, handing them the worst home postseason loss in franchise history and completely destroying the idea these Yankees couldn’t lose at home in the postseason after winning all six home games in 2017 and the first one in 2018. The raucous Stadium crowd, which had been present since the first pitch of the 2017 wild-card game, eagerly waiting the team’s return to glory, was silenced for the night and the Red Sox had pushed the Yankees to the brink of elimination.
The next night, Boone once against had too long of a leash for his starting pitcher, as he let CC Sabathia go through the Red Sox’ lineup a second time. His reasoning? He liked the matchup of Sabathia against Jackie Bradley who was the Red Sox’ 9-hitter, so he allowed Sabathia to face the entire lineup to get to the last hitter in it. Maybe Boone was hesitant to pull Sabathia because of their history as friends and former teammates, or maybe it was because he truly believed his logic was sound. Either way, the Yankees were eliminated.
This regular season, we saw much of the same from Boone with more odd lineup decisions and unfathomable bullpen choices, but the Yankees won 103 games anyway, despite setting the single-season record for most players on the injured list and despite Boone causing six months of unnecessary blood pressure spikes across the Tri-state area. Though most of those wins can be attributed to the majority of Major League Baseball not caring to be competitive with 10 teams losing at least 90 games, including four which lost at least 103, it can’t be denied that the Yankees have had regular-season success under Boone, even if there would be no change in performance with a different manager managing this roster against this league.
This postseason, I’m scared of the Yankees’ offense getting shut down by right-handed power pitching the way it did in Games 6 and 7 of the 2017 ALCS in Houston and Games 3 and 4 of the 2018 ALDS against Boston, and I’m nervous that the starting pitching concerns will make an appearance against the best opposing lineups in the league, but I’m also worried Boone will ruin a game or games by letting the inning dictate who pitches and not the situation. How can you not be worried about this? We have seen Boone manage the same way for two full regular seasons and one postseason, choosing lesser relievers in high-leverage situations because of the inning number.
I have joked in the past that since Brian Cashman is so good at trades and so bad at free agency, the Yankees should have Cashman conduct the trades and have a second general manager handle free agency, the way some NFL teams have a kicker for kickoffs and another for field goals. I have also joked that the Yankees should follow this setup for their manager as well. Boone can be the clubhouse manager since he was hired for his personality and ability to communicate with the players. He can be the one who jokes in the room and keeps things loose with his impressions of the team’s roster. He can go out drinking with the guys after games, set up dinner plans on road trips and lead the card games on the team plane. Then, the Yankees can hire an actual game manager.
Cashman built Boone a super bullpen last October, featuring Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Zack Britton and Chad Green. But in the most important bullpen spots in the postseason, Boone either went to his bullpen too late or went to Lance Lynn instead. Buying someone a Ferrari doesn’t make sense if they either don’t know how to drive or are going to opt to drive their old, beat-up Acura anyway. Boone demonstrated all of last season he didn’t know how to manage a bullpen and it reared its ugly head at the worst possible time. This season, he has made the same egregious mistakes as last season with the same type of bullpen, and I’m petrified he could be the Yankees’ most-feared opponent in October.
If the Yankees lose this October because the offense performs its third annual disappearing act at the worst possible time or the starting pitching gets rocked or the elite relievers can’t protect leads, so be it. It will suck and I will be upset, but it will be easier to accept. If the Yankees lose because of Boone, well, that’s something I won’t be able to accept.
I’m willing to give Boone a clean slate to begin the postseason for a second straight year. Let’s see how long it lasts.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!