On June 19, the Yankees led the Blue Jays by five runs. The Yankees were 10 outs away from completing a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays and from extending their current winning streak to 10 straight. But over 1 2/3 innings, the Yankees allowed seven runs and lost. Since that day, they are 30-37.
The Yankees have now been a bad team for more games (67) than they have been a good team (65). They have let a 15 1/2-game lead in the division fall to a five-game lead, and just a four-game lead in the loss column over the Rays. They are on the verge of completing the largest division-lead collapse in the history of Major League Baseball, and at this point, it doesn’t seem like a matter of if, but a matter of when the collapse will be complete.
I knew the Yankees were going to lose to the Rays on Friday night. I knew it the moment the lineup was announced and both Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera weren’t in it.
The Yankees botched not calling up Peraza all season long as Isiah Kiner-Falefa cemented himself as the worst everyday player on a supposed contender and arguably the worst starting shortstop in the majors. Then the Yankees botched actually calling him up. They let him start a Triple-A game on Thursday before pulling him for the call-up, risking injury in a move they must have knew they were going to do that day all along since they waited until rosters expanded on September 1 to give Peraza a chance in the majors. Then they botched his major-league debut, not starting him in the most important game and the most important series of the season to date, choosing to give him his first taste of major-league action as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and no one on and the Yankees trailing by nine runs after having just sat on the bench for the previous three-plus hours.
As for Cabrera, the energetic 23-year-old has been a breath of fresh air since being called up and the Yankees’ second-best position player after Aaron Judge since his call-up. He was inexplicably sat on Wednesday in Anaheim despite a scheduled day off the following day, and then was held out of the starting lineup on Friday as well.
Prior to Friday’s game when the Yankees’ horrific lineup was posted, Aaron Boone was asked about his decision to not start Peraza, the Yankees’ No. 3 prospect in his first game with the team.
“Probably try and maybe get him in there tomorrow,” Boone said. “But we’re trying to win.”
“Probably … maybe get him in there tomorrow?” What? What is that? Does Boone think he is doing the kid some kind of favor by having him on his team and in his dugout? As if he hasn’t earned this well overdue call-up. And “trying to win?” Yes, that’s Boone insinuating Peraza won’t help the Yankees win.
What Boone really said was: “We’re trying to win, so we are going to play the same players who have prevented us from winning for the last two-and-a-half months.”
Rather than give opportunities to Peraza and Cabrera who are more than deserving of those opportunities, Boone created this lineup for the first game of a three-game series against the Rays — the team closest to the Yankees in the standings who are essentially trying to get Boone fired.
DJ LeMahieu, 1B
Aaron Judge, RF
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Jose Trevino, C
Gleyber Torres, 2B
Aaron Hicks, CF
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, SS
Boone iterated that Kiner-Falefa is the team’s starting shortstop, and that he spoke with Kiner-Falefa about the Yankees promoting Peraza, reassuring him his job wasn’t in jeopardy. (Oddly enough, Boone never felt the need to talk to Gary Sanchez when he was being benched for Kyle Higashioka. Kiner-Falefa is a Boone favorite, and Boone favorites always get treated differently.)
“Izzy is such a big part of what we’re doing,” Boone said, “And I expect him to continue to be right in the middle of everything we’re doing.”
Boone’s right. Kiner-Falefa is a big part of what the Yankees are doing: losing. He represents the everything wrong with the 2022 Yankees and how they play, how they are managed and how they are run from top to bottom.
There was Josh Donaldson and his .691 OPS batting fifth. There was Gleyber Torres (who has the lowest OPS of any player in the Major League Baseball over the last month) batting seventh. There was Aaron Hicks, who last had an extra-base hit on July 9 and who was supposed to be a bench player moving forward. There was Kiner-Falefa (who is now second on the team in games played this season, only behind Judge), once again, in the lineup.
In desperate need of a big weekend in Tampa, Boone turned to his favorites, all four of them, rather than ride with the rookies. What did it get him?
With two on and two out in the first inning, Donaldson struck out looking, taking a 91 mph fastball down the middle for strike 3. In the bottom of the first, he misplayed a ground ball into a hit, and in the fourth inning, he made a fielding error and throwing error on back-to-back plays. He finished the game 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, two errors, and what should have been a third error, if not for some homecooking from the official scorer.
Gleyber Torres grounded out weakly to short on the second pitch of his first at-bat, reached on an infield single in his second and then struck out swinging in his last two at-bats.
Hicks struck out swinging in his first two plate appearances, walked in his third and reached on a ground ball single in his fourth.
Kiner-Falefa hit a lazy fly ball on the first pitch he saw in the game, hit a double in his second at-bat and lined out in his third.
Collectively, the players Boone claims will help the team win went 3-for-15 with a double, walk and six strikeouts, as well as two errors in the field.
Trailing 3-0 entering the eighth, the Yankees went down 1-2-3 on 11 pitches and two strikeouts. At that point, the game was over. Even if the Yankees were to keep the score where it was, they would have Torres, Hicks and Kiner-Falefa due up in the ninth. But they weren’t able to keep the score right where it was anyway, thanks to some waving-the-white-flag managing from Boone.
With two on and two out, Greg Weissert foolishly threw away a ball behind the mound that he had no play, scoring two for the Rays, making it a 5-0 game and putting it officially out of reach. Boone then called on Anthony Banda to get the last out of the eighth, and not only could Banda not do that, he couldn’t even throw a strike. It was one of the single-worst pitching performances in Yankees history, including Weissert’s in Oakland, and Jonathan Holder’s 2018 meltdown in Fenway Park. Banda walked three, gave up to singles, hit a batter and walked in two runs, throwing just 10 of 29 pitches for strikes. If you told Banda he would receive $1 billion if he could throw a strike, I don’t think he would be able to, and would instead just half-heartedly toss his shitty changeup into the dirt.
It was both fitting and comical that Banda was pitching in the biggest game of the season to date. It was even more fitting and comical that Marwin Gonzalez was called on to get the last out of the eighth inning, and he did so, needing just three pitches to do it, after Banda couldn’t on 29.
I wish I could say Boone was upset or angry after the game, but he wasn’t. He had his usual who-gives-a-fuck tone to his postgame answers, harping on the fact that there’s always tomorrow as if he were auditioning to be Annie on Broadway. It’s only a day away!
“We’ve set a better standard around here,” the delusional Boone said.
“A better standard?” Under Boone, the Yankees have won one division title, have two ALDS losses, one ALCS loss and a wild-card game loss. They have been eliminated in the postseason twice by the rival Red Sox, have endured the most lopsided home postseason loss in franchise history, and just had the worst month record-wise the organization has had in 31 years. The standard under Boone is losing, and being comfortable with it. These Yankees aren’t meeting the Boone era standard, they are exceeding it with flying colors.
For possibly the first time as Yankees manager, Boone did use the word “embarrassing” to describe his team’s effort. A word he didn’t use when the Yankees were run out of their own stadium in the 2018 ALDS, when they couldn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position in the 2019 ALCS, when they were defeated by the team with the second-lowest payroll in the 2020 ALDS or when their postseason ended four batters into the bottom of the first in the 2021 wild-card game.
“That’s an embarrassing loss,” Boone said. “Hopefully, one of those rock bottom situations.”
Rock bottom is rock bottom. It’s not plural. So Friday couldn’t be “one of those situations.” It’s either rock bottom or it isn’t. But it wasn’t. That loss wasn’t rock bottom. He hasn’t seen rock bottom and the Yankees haven’t experienced rock bottom yet. Rock bottom will be when the 15 1/2-game collapse is complete. Again at this point, it feels like, not if, but when.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!