There won’t be a Yankees loss this season worse than Friday’s 2-1 walkoff defeat to the Orioles in 11 innings. It was the Mona Lisa of potential 2022 Yankees losses. It was perfect. It had everything in terms of every fear and negative narrative and worry about the Yankees playing out. And as a Yankees fan, it was oddly beautiful, the way a thunderstorm is.
The wheels were in motion for a Yankees loss when the lineup was announced. Missing was Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ best hitter, who the team was willing to commit $30.5 million per year to from 2023 through 2029 a week ago. He had played seven baseball games in seven days and an eighth would simply be too much. So for the eighth time in eight games, the Yankees used a different lineup.
The Yankees’ first two batters of the game — Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton — reached base. Neither scored.
In the second inning, Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Yankees scored a run in the third to take a 1-0 lead. They also stranded two.
In the sixth, leading 1-0 after Jordan Montgomery had pitched five scoreless innings, the Yankees had the bases loaded and one out with Aaron Hicks up. Hicks had failed miserably in the same situation on Sunday Night Baseball against the Red Sox in the Yankees’ one-run loss, hitting into an inning-ending double play. (He also failed to score a runner from third with less than two outs in that game.) YES displayed a graphic showing Hicks’ career .182 batting average with the bases loaded and on the next pitch he banged into his second inning-ending double play with the bases loaded. Nearly every hitter in major-league history has improved numbers with the bases loaded, recognizing the pitcher is the one in trouble, but not Hicks.
After Wandy Peralta pitched a perfect sixth in relief of Montgomery, needing only seven pitches to do so, Boone sent him back out for the seventh. Peralta had only pitched multiple innings in 2021 a few times out of necessity because of the Yankees’ depleted bullpen throughout the season, and even though he had only thrown seven pitches in the sixth, with this bullpen, it was an unnecessary move. It was even further cemented as unnecessary once Peralta allowed a double, Higashioka allowed the runner to advance to third on a passed ball and then ex-Yankee prospect Jorge Mateo, who was traded in the Sonny Gray A’s deal singled in the run. The back-to-back hits weren’t enough for Boone to make a move, and he stayed with Peralta who then walked the next batter.
Peralta had faced three batters in the inning and retired none of them. (Mateo was thrown out by Joey Gallo tying to stretch his single into a double.) In a one-run game and now a tie game, it made no sense to stay with Peralta that long. It made even less sense when Boone brought in Jonathan Loaisiga.
If Loaisiga had been available, why hadn’t he been brought in to start the seventh? Or at the very least been brought in following the leadoff double? Arguably the best reliever in the American League a year ago, Boone was electing to use Loaisiga with a runner on and the score tied at 1 rather than with the bases empty and the Yankees leading 1-0. Loaisiga got out of the inning because he’s really freakin’ good. If he had been available, which he was since he came into the game, he should have started the inning.
The game remained 1-1 entering the 10th, and with the automatic runner now in play, Boone would be needed for even more complex in-game strategy. His understanding of basic logic under normal baseball circumstances is shocking. Asking him to comprehend a runner on second with no outs as the away team is like me dumping a 1,000-piece puzzle on the floor for my 19-month-old to complete.
Kiner-Falefa was due to lead off the 10th until Boone called him back in favor of Judge. Kiner-Falefa has started seven of the Yankees’ eight games. He has been pinch hit for in two of them. The Yankees passed on the greatest free-agent shortstop class in history to acquire a supposed all-glove, high-contact option whose glove is as shaky as Gleyber Torres’ and who struggles to make contact (two more strikeouts on Friday). Anthony Volpe better be Derek Jeter 2.0.
Judge was given the day off and now being used anyway. Because the Yankees feel they have too many capable everyday players for not enough positions (they don’t), they have given someone different the day off in each game. Except each time, the player is needed anyway.
Game 1: Torres doesn’t start, but is used to pinch hit for Higashioka.
Game 2: Hicks doesn’t start, but is used as a defensive replacement for Stanton.
Game 3: DJ LeMahieu doesn’t start, but is used as a pinch hitter for Jose Trevino.
Game 4: Josh Donaldson doesn’t start, but is used as a pinch hitter for Marwin Gonzalez.
Game 5: Gallo doesn’t start, but is used as a defensive replacement for Stanton.
Game 6: Stanton doesn’t start, but is used as a pinch hitter for Kiner-Falefa.
Game 7: Hicks doesn’t start, but is used as a defensive replacement for Stanton.
Game 8: Judge doesn’t start, but is used as a pinch hitter for Kiner-Falefa.
(In comparison, the Blue Jays won again on Friday to improve to 5-2. George Springer, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. all played yet again, with none of the three having been given an unnecessary day off in 2022.)
Judge was unable to drive in the automatic runner. He wasn’t even able to move him over, so the Yankees could potentially score the go-ahead run with a productive out.
Boone then called Higashioka back for Gonzalez. I wrote this about Higashioka on Friday:
I didn’t expect anything out of Higashioka this season because I have never expected anything out of him. When a player has a .178/.226/.370 career batting line, there’s no positive expectation that can come with them, only a negative one, and Higashioka has surpassed every negative expectation with flying colors.
Higashioka hasn’t just been bad, he’s made himself unplayable. He hit a 79-hopper on the ground up the middle in his first at-bat of 2022, and since then nothing. He hasn’t had another hit. Not even a walk. In the 17 plate appearances to follow that single, he has made 18 outs (he hit into a 6-4-3 double play), mostly by hitting the ball to the shortstop (his specialty) or by striking out.
I’m not mad at Higashioka. I’m not frustrated or angry. He didn’t tell the Yankees to trade the second-best power-hitting catcher in the majors so the Yankees could inexplicably make Higashioka their starter to improve the team’s framing. He’s starting most games for the Yankees despite his inability to generate offense and his inability to throw out baserunners because who wouldn’t want to play Major League Baseball? It’s like not he’s the one who created this roster issue and he’s not the one who continues to put himself in the lineup.
Higashioka did get his first extra-base hit of the season on Friday (and his second hit of the season). He also allowed two passed balls, both of which would have created three days of pregame and postgame material for John Flaherty and Jack Curry and about eight innings worth of in-game material for Michael Kay if former Yankee Gary Sanchez had allowed them. They were the same kind of passed balls that Sanchez tagged as lazy. For some reason I don’t think Higashioka will acquire the same reputation.
I called for Trevino to play over Higashioka beginning on Friday after Trevino’s two-hit, two-RBI game on Thursday. It was the third time this season Boone had benched a player after providing the team’s best offensive performance. Gallo was on the bench on Tuesday after a two-hit and three-time-on-base night on Monday. Hicks was on the bench on Wednesday after hitting his first home run of the season on Tuesday. And Trevino was on the bench on Friday.
The Yankees failed to move the automatic runner off second in the 10th and again in the 11th. After Clarke Schmidt pitched a scoreless 10th, Boone sent him back out there for the 11th. After a lineout and a pair of walks, with the bases loaded and one out, Boone went to the bullpen to bring in … Aroldis Chapman! About 24 hours earlier, Chapman had been brought in to close out a three-run lead against the Blue Jays and walked the bases loaded on 16 pitches. Only four of the 16 were strikes. Boone was calling on the reliever most likely to walk in a run with the bases loaded in his bullpen. Guess what happened with the bases loaded and two outs?
Chapman got ahead of Ramon Urias 0-2 and then threw four straight balls, none of which were all that close to the zone. For ball 3 and ball 4, Chapman threw sliders. The first bounced for a near wild pitch and the second was high and away. With the game on the line and needing to throw a strike, the pitcher with a flame tattooed on his forearm for his signature fastball threw back-to-back breaking balls. Boone was then ejected from an already completed game for arguing the pitch being called a ball.
Montgomery was really good and so was the bullpen (which comes as no surprise since the rotation is great and the bullpen is amazing) and the Yankees still lost a game in which they allowed one non-automatic runner run at Camden Yards. A seemingly impossible feat. The Yankees and their eight different lineups in eight games have now scored 23 non-automatic runner runs, an average of 2.9 runs per game.
The offense we watched slog their way through 163 games last season is the same offense we’re seeing now. The only difference is Donaldson, whose performance looks more likely to lead to an early forced retirement than it is a renaissance like he had last year. That and the Yankees traded away the second-best power-hitting catcher in the sport so Higashioka could play, and traded for a shortstop who’s Gleyber Torres 2.0 at the position.
The Rays have already played and swept the Orioles in three games. As long as the Rays, Blue Jays and Red Sox are stacking wins against the Orioles, the Yankees need to as well, and the Yankees failed to on Friday.
The Blue Jays are 5-2. The Yankees and Rays are 4-4. The Red Sox are 3-4. The Orioles are 2-5. The wins and losses will change, but the standings will closely resemble that order for the entire season with the Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays all about equal, the Red Sox just behind and the Orioles buried. With the non-Orioles teams in the AL East all beating up on each other and likely all playing close to .500 against one another, the team at the top will be the team that performs best against the Orioles. This weekend isn’t just an early-season, mid-April series against the lowly, last-place Orioles. It could be the difference between getting a bye to the ALDS or having to play a best-of-3 with all games in the series on the road. It could be the difference between playing past Game 162 or going home after Game 162.
The Yankees were shut down by Jordan Lyles on Friday. The same Jordan Lyles who owns a 5.21 career ERA. The same Jordan Lyles who lost to the Rays a week ago, allowing five earned runs and 10 baserunners. The same Jordan Lyles, who as a member of the Rangers, shut down these same Yankees last May with one run over six innings.
We are truly watching a continuation of the 2021 season in 2022. The stars haven’t hit like stars, the underachievers of a year ago are still underachieving and the bounceback candidates are nowhere near bouncing back. The Yankees purposely built their 2022 roster with question marks and set up their season as one prodigious parlay. After what won’t be topped as the worst loss of the season, they’re finding out why parlay bets are for suckers.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!