The Yankees were three-hit and shutout in a 5-0 loss to the Astros in Game 3 of the ALCS and are now facing elimination for the second time in four days.
1. The Yankees had a nine-game lead on the Astros for the 1-seed in the American League on June 18. From June 19 through the end of the season, the Yankees went 50-47 and the Astros went 66-31 with the Astros eventually winning the 1-seed by seven games (a 16-game swing since mid-June when the Yankees had their biggest lead over the Astros of the season). Within those remaining 97 games played by each team were seven head-to-head games, in which the Yankees went 2-5 and never led for a single pitch in any of the games. Both of their wins came on walk-off hits by Aaron Judge at Yankee Stadium.
What we have seen over the last three games and four days isn’t anything new, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Astros were better than the Yankees in the regular season, they have been better than the Yankees for now eight seasons and they have been drastically better than them through in this series. It’s why I wrote things recently like …
I don’t expect the Yankees with their injuries, first-round bullpen usage and schedule to beat the Astros. The Astros were the better team in the regular season (especially against the Yankees having never trailed them in their seven head-to-head games) and they are set up to be the better team in the postseason. The Yankees needed to win the 1-seed in the American League to beat the Astros in a potential ALCS matchup. They failed to do that. Then they needed to sweep the Guardians to have a chance to beat the Astros in a potential ALCS matchup. They failed to do that. Then they needed to beat the Guardians in four games to have a prayer to beat the Astros in the ALCS. Now? Now they’re coming off a five-game series that went the distance and are landing in Houston on the same day they will be asked to beat the soon-to-be-named AL Cy Young winner who has owned the Yankees in the postseason in five different seasons and with two different teams.
2. Like a fool, I returned to the Stadium on Saturday afternoon to observe the disparity between the “Top 2” teams in the AL with my own eyes. I should have stayed home rather than venturing to the Bronx yet again. At least I would have been able to change the channel when Aaron Boone removed Gerrit Cole with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth in favor of the at-best fourth-best reliever on the team. Instead, I had to watch Christian Vazquez once again ruin the Yankees in a postseason game, just like he did in Game 4 of the 2018 ALDS.
Trailing 5-0, I knew the game was over. To that point, the Yankees had scored two earned runs in 23 innings in the series and would now need five runs in four innings just to tie the game and would need to somehow find a way to score a sixth run to win the game if they were able to prevent the Astros from scoring again. The Astros didn’t score again after plating their fourth and fifth runs on the Vazquez single, but it didn’t matter because the Yankees never scored. A second straight game of scoring zero earned runs in a best-of-7 is a good way to ensure you go home early.
3. I did go home early. After the Yankees went down listlessly in the seventh, while still sitting on one hit for the game, I walked out of the Stadium. A few of my inebriated friends asked “Really?” when I said I was leaving, and I answered, “Yes. I know how simple math works.” The odds were close to zero the Yankees would go from being one-hit through seven innings to staging the greatest late-game postseason comeback in the team’s history. I was present for their last great postseason comeback in Game 4 of the 2017 ALCS against the Astros, but this Yankees team isn’t that Yankees team.
That Yankees team was the team that turned what was supposed to be a rebuild into coming within one win of the World Series. Their young core was the envy of the league and was about to get even better by acquiring Giancarlo Stanton for nothing and promoting top prospect Gleyber Torres. Big contracts and owed money was going to be coming off the books left and right, giving the Yankees the rare opportunity to combine a young, inexpensive core with young, expensive big-name free agents also in their prime.
Instead, the Yankees cut payroll by nearly $50 million after that magical 2017 postseason run. A year later, they met with then-26-year-old Manny Machado as a well-we-tried ploy more than anything and chose to not even meet with the then-26-year-old Bryce Harper because they claimed their outfield of the future was set with Judge, who they needed to extend (and never did and now might lose him for nothing), Stanton (who they never let actually play the outfield), Aaron Hicks (who they then gave a seven-year extension to) and Clint Frazier (who they eventually released for nothing).
4. As I approached home, the Yankees did pick up their second and third hits of Game 3, finishing the game 3-for-29 with five walks and 11 more strikeouts to add to their absurd total of 41 strikeouts through three games. The Yankees became the first team in MLB postseason history to have a three-game span with 12 hits or fewer, 40-plus strikeouts and three losses. Congratulations to Aaron Boone on overseeing yet another Yankees milestone! Here are some other great moments in Yankees history Boone has overseen: most lopsided home postseason loss in franchise history, only blown multi-run lead in ninth inning in team postseason history (now 167-1) and only team in MLB postseason history to record six hits or less in 10 straight postseason games. After Saturday’s loss, the Yankees now have the lowest team batting average through eight postseason games in MLB history as well. Quite the resume for the Yankees manager!
5. Unfortunately, the Yankees simply advancing to the ALCS guaranteed Brian Cashman would receive a new contract, and in turn, guaranteed Boone would be retained as manager with two more guaranteed years left on his contract. The Yankees needed to either completely blow their 15 1/2-game division lead (which they nearly did) or lose to the vastly inferior Guardians in the ALDS (which they nearly did) for Cashman to possibly not get a new deal with the Yankees and for Boone to not be the manager in 2023, and even then, they were probably both returning next season no matter what.
6. With Game 4 guaranteed to take place, the Yankees will have played five postseason home games, and essentially six with the hours-long delayed call on the postponement of Game 5 of the ALDS. That’s likely enough for Hal Steinbrenner to keep things status quo since his No. 1 priority isn’t winning, it’s maximizing the team’s revenue, and the team once again reached the second-farthest round of the postseason. If the difference between finishing in last place in the league and winning the World Series was $1, Hal would rather finish in last place for that extra dollar.
7. While the Yankees are on the brink of elimination, I would like to think that as a Yankees fan I’m on the brink of seeing a long list of Yankees play their final game (or games if this somehow lasts more than four game) with the team. That includes Josh Donaldson and Gleyber Torres (two players the team unsuccessfully tried to trade at this year’s deadline), and it includes Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who should have never been a Yankee to begin with. When I watched Hicks walk off the field after the collision with Oswaldo Cabrera, it was likely the last time I saw him in a Yankees uniform. (I can only pray.) But I fully expect to see them all on the Yankees next season. They’re all under contract, so why wouldn’t they be back?
8. A year ago when Boone had his end-of-the-season press conference, he said the league had “closed the gap” on the Yankees as if it was 20 years ago and the franchise was coming off five World Series appearances in six seasons. It was a startling and delusional comment from a manager who continues to tell everyone after every postseason elimination how close his team is to winning it all. Except they’re not. They’re not close at all.
They’re further away from winning it all than they were when he took over. He took over a team that came within one win of the World Series and they have never been that close again. As a loser who has never won anything as a player or manager in the league, the young core he took over has blossomed into losers as well, constantly hearing their manager make excuses for the team’s shortcoming, praising mediocre and bad performances from his players and always talking about the next day and the next game has turned the organization into one that is accepting and comfortable with losing.
9. After the Game 3 loss, Judge (who is as much to blame for this postseason debacle as he is for all of the postseason debacles in his time with the Yankees) said, “We’ve got a lot of talented individuals in this room. We just haven’t been able to get everybody clicking on the same page this series, but we’ve still got a lot of ball left to play.”
It’s not just “this series,” and unless the Yankees are playing the Twins in the postseason, it’s every series. The Yankees have talented individuals every season who come up short in the postseason and then get passes from management and the front office who attribute postseason failure to “small sample sizes” and “randomness.” Oddly enough, I don’t remember Cashman or the Yankees claiming “luck” for postseason success when they won four championships in five seasons and appeared in the World Series in six of eight seasons. The “postseason is a crapshoot” excuses didn’t start getting thrown around until the Yankees started losing frequently and excessively in October, and all this group of Yankees (outside of Anthony Rizzo who is the only person in the clubhouse to have ever won anything, and unsurprisingly, has the been the Yankees’ best player this postseason) has known is losing, and so, the “small sample size” and “randomness” and “luck” and “crapshoot” references have been thrown around a lot in recent years.
10. There may only be one game left in the Yankees’ season. Barring the single greatest comeback in postseason history (which would top the Red Sox’ 2004 comeback since they faced Jon Lieber and Kevin Brown in Games 6 and 7, while the Yankees will face Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez), the Yankees’ season will end sometime in the next few days, and as early as Sunday. There will be no more next day or next game or tomorrow for Boone or his roster to reference. All there will be is another wasted season once again ended by the Astros.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!