The Yankees lost 6-5 to the Astros in Game 4 of the ALCS, completing the series sweep. The Yankees’ season is now over and the World Series drought is up to 13 years.
1. I couldn’t have cared less about Game 4. I had spent the last nearly two weeks sleep depriving myself through the ALDS and the first three games of the ALCS and to go to and from Yankee Stadium. After the Game 3 embarrassment, I wasn’t about to subject myself to go back to the Bronx for Game 4, so when I left the Stadium on Saturday after the seventh inning, I knew I would be saying goodbye until next season.
2. The idea the Yankees could pull off the single greatest comeback in the history of major professional sports was absolutely ridiculous. The 2022 Yankees are no 2004 Red Sox. When the Red Sox came back in the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS and then erased a two-run deficit in the eighth inning of Game 5 the following night, it didn’t matter that they had to go to New York for Games 6 and 7, as they were set up with Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe to start those games. Meanwhile, the Yankees would turn to Jon Lieber in Game 6 and Joe Torre was undecided on a starter for Game 7, eventually choosing Kevin Brown. Once the Red Sox won Game 5, the series was theirs, a series they never should have been down 3-0 in to begin with.
If the Yankees were to survive Game 4 with Nestor Cortes against Lance McCullers Jr., they would still have to win games started by Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez in the series while countering with Jameson Taillon, Luis Severino, Gerrit Cole on short rest and an exhausted and overused bullpen. They would still have to win two games in Houston, a place they have won a single postseason game in three ALCS. They would have to beat a team they only led for a total of six batters over 10 games in 2022 four straight times. It was never going to happen.
3. Within the Yankees on Sunday, Chad Bohling, the team’s Director of Mental Conditioning, sent around a video compilation of the 2004 Red Sox coming back against the Yankees. It was an appalling strategy, and yet, Aaron Boone gleefully told the media about his team watching 2004 ALCS highlights in the clubhouse to prepare for Game 4 of their own ALCS. The message couldn’t have been more tone deaf. Did Boone think Yankees fans would be excited and pumped to hear the team they invest so much of their time and money on was watching replays of the destruction of the most recent Yankees dynasty?
With ideas like this, it’s no surprise Bohling has been employed by the Yankees in his role for the last 12 years, which happens to be every season since the team’s last championship. Bohling has overseen the team’s mental skills since the first season after the 2009 World Series win, a period of 12 years in which the team has appeared in zero World Series and has lost five ALCS.
While the Yankees were tucked away in their clubhouse watching Kevin Millar draw a leadoff walk against Rivera, watching Dave Roberts steal second and Bill Mueller single him home, Boone was spending his time before the game FaceTiming with David Ortiz and picking his brain as to how to pull off the unthinkable. There would be only one way for the Yankees to win four straight and destroy the Astros’ prolonged success over them the way the Red Sox did to the Yankees: score runs.
4. In the first three games of the series, the Yankees scored two earned runs, and four total. (The two unearned came on Valdez’s double error.) Two runs produced on their own in 27 innings. A disastrous offensive performance for a team that seems to one-up their disastrous October offensive performances each year. But in Game 4, the Yankees bats came alive. It still didn’t matter.
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the first and had a 3-0 lead at the end of the second. The insane Yankees fans who actually attended the game were jumping around in the crowd as if the Yankees were on the verge of clinching a World Series berth. And then the third inning happened.
5. Cortes walked No. 9 hitter Martin Maldonado, as the Yankees continued to display their inability of retiring the bottom of the Astros’ order. After Cortes fell behind Jose Altuve, Boone visited Cortes on the mound with a trainer as Cortes’ velocity had dropped nearly 3 mph. Cortes was able to talk Boone out of pulling him, but went on to walk Altuve. With two on and no outs and Jeremy Pena representing the tying run, Boone stayed in the dugout against his better judgment to allow Cortes to face the right-handed Pena, who was having an all-time postseason to that point. Cortes fell behind 3-1, threw an 82 mph batting practice cutter with his diminished velocity and Pena sent it into the left-field seats, narrowly missing the second deck. Tie game.
6. Boone then took Cortes out. After the game Boone said Cortes was dealing with a groin issue, the same groin issue that caused him to miss starts in the regular season. Boone went on to say that Cortes aggravated the injury in the ALDS. And yet, there was Boone letting his starter with a known injury pitch to the top of the Astros’ order with diminished stuff and velocity. In each of the four games in the ALCS, Boone made a decision that backfired and helped the Yankees lose, and his decision to leave Cortes in wasn’t the only one.
The Astros went ahead 4-3 in the third. The Yankees tied the game at 4 in the bottom of the fourth, and in the bottom of the sixth, Harrison Bader hit his fifth home run of the postseason to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. The Yankees were nine outs away from a Game 4 win and from completing the first step in the long road to trying to pull off a miracle. They might have done won the game, and there might be a Game 5 tonight, if not for a Boone pregame decision.
7. After the Yankees lost Game 3 to the Guardians in the ALDS, Boone benched Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The worst everyday Yankee on a Yankees team competing for a championship in the team’s history had single-handedly helped the Guardians put the Yankees on the brink of elimination, and just a little more than a month since the delusional Boone referred to Kiner-Falefa as “one of the best shortstops in the game,” he was benching one of his favorite players. The Yankees won Games 4 and 5 over the Guardians and saved their season without Kiner-Falefa’s unstable glove and weak bat in the lineup.
For Game 1 of the ALCS, it was as if the ALDS never happened. There was Kiner-Falefa back on the lineup and starting at shortstop. With a less-than-healthy Matt Carpenter, and without DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi, the Yankees were going to need to optimize every inch of their roster to have a prayer in competing with the Astros, and Boone was willingly playing the team’s at-best, third-best shortstop in Game 1.
After the Yankees lost Game 1, Kiner-Falefa was back on the bench. The Yankees were 1-4 in the playoffs when he started and he was providing them nothing in the field or at the plate. After choosing not to play Top 50 MLB prospect and the Yankees’ third-best prospect Oswald Peraza with any consistency upon being called up in September, and after purposely leaving him off the ALDS roster, Boone was now OK with starting Peraza at shortstop in Game 2 of the ALCS. Peraza rewarded the decision with a fantastic play on the first batted ball of the game by the Astros, robbing Altuve of a would-be leadoff hit, fielded every routine ground ball flawlessly and used a 360-spin to complete a jaw-dropping double play with Gleyber Torres. Peraza should have become the Yankees’ everyday shortstop the moment he was called up from Triple-A, where he led the Yankees’ farm team in home runs. In 18 games in the majors, he hit .306/.404/.832 and played exceptional defense. Boone had done everything he could to avoid using Peraza, but finally it seemed like he was coming to his senses, and even if Peraza wasn’t going to hit in the playoffs, at least the Yankees were getting elite defense at the most important infield position.
Peraza never saw the field again. Boone decided to use Oswaldo Cabrera at shortstop in Game 3 instead of Peraza, and in Game 4, with the Yankees on the brink of elimination for the second time in less than a week, Boone went back to Kiner-Falefa. It was unbelievable, and at the same time, very believable. Kiner-Falefa had botched the first ball hit to him in the postseason in the first inning of Game 1 of the ALDS. He had single-handedly lost the Yankees Game 3 of the ALDS, forcing them to play an additional game, giving the team no days off between the ALDS and ALCS, forcing their bullpen to work even more and screwing up the rotation for the ALCS. And yet, there was Boone going back to his guy with the season on the line. And there was Kiner-Falefa taking the Yankees off the brink of elimination and eliminating them.
With Altuve on first and one out in the seventh, Pena hit a ground ball to Torres. It was going to be hard and maybe not even possible to double-up Pena at first, but at least the Yankees would get one out on the play, and be seven outs away from a Game 4. Instead, Torres fielded the ball and shoveled his throw to Kiner-Falefa and it ended up in left field. Torres got the error on the play because it was his throw, but it wasn’t a bad throw. Kiner-Falefa was out of position, came across the bag wrong and was unable to reach for the throw. It was a play that needed to be made, and one that Peraza would have easily made and no one would have even though any more about it. It was a routine play a major-league shortstop makes.
8. Yordan Alvarez then singled on a ground ball, and instead of runners on first and second (or even first and third) with two outs, Altuve scored to tie the game at 5. When Alex Bregman came up next and singled, instead of tying the game, the Astros took a 6-5 lead, and that was the game, as the Yankees’ offense, for their grand finale, went down in order for the last three innings.
On a night in which the Yankees ended their major-league record streak of 10 straight postseason games with six hits or fewer, they finally produced some offense, scoring five runs on nine hit and a walk, and still couldn’t beat the Astros. The Astros beat them by two runs. They beat them by one run. They beat them in a dominant five-run win, shutting out the Yankees and holding them to three hits. And in the last game of the series, they beat them by overcoming a three-run deficit in the early innings and by overcoming a one-run deficit in the late innings. The Astros beat the Yankees every which was possible, and if this was a best-of-9 or best-of-11 or best-of-any odd number, the Yankees likely get swept in all of those series as well.
9. The disparity between the Yankees and Astros is frightening. The Astros had to clean house as a result of their 2017 scandal, brought in a new general manager and front office, changed their manager and coaching staff, let Cole leave as a free agent, then let George Springer leave as a free agent and then let Carlos Correa leave as a free agent haven’t missed a beat. They just appeared in the ALCS for the sixth straight, having posted an 18-5 ALDS record in those six years, and are headed to their second straight World Series and fourth in those six years.
Five years ago, the gap between the two teams was a single game, with the young, up-and-coming Yankees blowing a 3-2 series lead after overcoming a 2-0 series deficit. Three years ago, the gap was two games, as the Yankees’ hitting stalled once again in October and they didn’t have enough starting pitching or relief pitching to get through the ALCS. This year, the gap was as big as possible: a four-game sweep. The Astros beat the Yankees in nine of 11 games in 2022, and if Dusty Baker had been willing to use his elite relievers in the Yankees’ second win over the Astros, the Astros would have won 10 of 11.
10. The only way for the Yankees to close the growing gap is through organizational change. The kind of organizational change I wrote about after their wild-card loss to the Red Sox a year ago. The kind of organizational change they chose to not make and ended up in the same spot: short of the World Series.
In all likelihood, the Yankees will “run it back” again. A new contract for the general manager, who will retain his manager, who he gave a new three-year deal (with a fourth-year option!) to a year ago. The Yankees will re-sign Aaron Judge and call it an offseason, and on March 30, 2023 against the Giants, Josh Donaldson will be batting fifth or sixth, Kiner-Falefa will be starting at shortstop and batting eighth with Peraza on the bench and Anthony Volpe’s service time being manipulated with him in Triple-A.
The most likely scenario for the 2023 Yankees is that they look nearly identical to the 2022 Yankees, the same way the 2022 Yankees looked (and performed like) the 2021 Yankees. And if that happens, a year from now, the Yankees’ season will be over while the postseason is still going, and I will be wondering when and if the Yankees will ever make the changes needed to win again.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!