The Yankees blew a two-run lead at home in Game 2 of the ALDS and now go to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4, having given away home-field advantage.
1. I left Yankee Stadium just before midnight on Oct. 3, 2006 as River Ave. filled with chants of “SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP!” The Yankees had cruised to an 8-4 win in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Tigers, backed by a 5-for-5, two-double, two-home run night from Derek Jeter and a two-run home run from Jason Giambi, and the 56,291 at the Stadium were pouring onto the street making it known how they thought the best-of-5 series would go.
The Yankees had won 97 games, easily winning the AL East by 10 games. Their offense was so ridiculous and overflowing with talent that defending AL MVP Alex Rodriguez was batting sixth, Robinson Cano hit .342 in the regular season and was batting ninth and Gary Sheffield had to learn how to play first base to get in the lineup. Their lineup for that Game 1 win:
Johnny Damon, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Gary Sheffield, 1B
Jason Giambi, DH,
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Hideki Matsui, LF
Jorge Posada, C
Robinson Cano, 2B
Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate after Game 1, and the following night Game 2 was rained out and moved to 1:00 the next afternoon, changing the entire series.
In that day game, a rookie named Justin Verlander made his postseason debut, going 5 1/3 innings and allowing three earned runs. The Yankees had a two-run lead that Joe Torre let Mike Mussina blow and then some, and with the Yankees trailing by a run and the October shadows moving slowly over home plate, Joel Zumaya entered and struck out three of the four hitters he faced in the seventh and eighth with fastballs reaching 103 mph. The Yankees went to Detroit with the series tied at 1 and didn’t play another game at the Stadium that season.
2. It was the memory of that game that had me pacing around on Thursday waiting to see if Game 2 of this season’s ALDS would be moved because of rain. Sure enough, it was.
The postponement would mean yet another day off for the Yankees who had played one game in the last seven days and hadn’t played a meaningful game prior to Game 1 in weeks. It meant losing Nestor Cortes as a starting option in a potential Game 5. It meant losing the nighttime postseason atmosphere of Yankee Stadium. It meant a weekday afternoon crowd at Yankee Stadium. It meant the October shadows would come into play against the dominant Cleveland bullpen. It meant nothing good for the Yankees.
And it proved out to be nothing good for the Yankees. Just like they blew a two-run lead 16 years prior in Game 2 of the 2006 ALDS at home, they blew a two-run lead in Game 2 on Friday at home. After plating two in the first on a missed ball 4 call to Giancarlo Stanton that resulted in a two-run porch shot, the Yankees never scored again. Zero runs over the final nine innings of the game.
The shadows I feared accentuated the Yankees’ inability to make contact as they struck out for 15 of their 30 outs to the Guardians’ eight. The annual postseason disappearing act from the Yankees’ offense has become as much a part of October as pumpkin spice and it presented itself in Game 1.
3. But the offense wasn’t the only problem. Cortes was off for one of the only times in 2022, putting nine baserunners on in five innings. And Aaron Boone (like he has been most days as Yankees manager and has been in every postseason as Yankees manager) was at his absolute worst.
Boone’s issues started when he filled out the lineup card for Game 2. Left out of the lineup was Marwin Gonzalez. Now I don’t think Gonzalez should even be a Yankee and should have been released for other options long ago, but he is a Yankee, and he is on the ALDS roster, and if he’s not going to start a game against a starter he’s 7-for-14 with two doubles, a home run and a walk against like he is against Shane Bieber, then what’s the point of him being on the roster? Boone went with the same nine as Game 1, only flipping Oswaldo Cabrera and Josh Donaldson in the 5- and 6-holes.
When it was obvious Cortes wasn’t going to be able to pitch into the seventh inning like Gerrit Cole did in Game 1, it meant Boone would have to make several important in-game decisions in what was a 2-2 game, and the odds of Boone making a handful of successful game-changing moves would be the same as you writing five random numbers between 1 and 100 on a piece of paper and me being able to correctly guess all five in five guesses.
The first decision Boone had to make was whether or not to let Cortes pitch the sixth. He chose not to after Cortes allowed a game-tying home run in the fifth. Boone brought in Lou Trivino and after Trivino allowed a baserunner and recorded two outs, he went to Jonathan Loaisiga who ended the inning. I would have stayed with Cortes for at another inning, but Boone’s two decisions had worked in keeping the Guardians off the board, even if he had already turned to two of his best bullpen arms needing at least three more innings of outs from a depleted and untrustworthy group.
In the bottom of the sixth, with two on and two out, Boone pinch hit for Jose Trevino with Matt Carpenter. The Yankees’ second-best hitter was finally getting an at-bat 15 innings into the series. It was a good time to use Carpenter. The problem is that Carpenter should be starting every game. Force him into a position or tell Giancarlo Stanton enough is enough and it’s time to grab a glove and play the outfield. Carpenter can’t be getting one plate appearance a game. And when Carpenter only gets one plate appearance, it means removing the Yankees’ best catcher and the best defensive catcher in baseball and having to play Kyle Higashioka for the remainder of the game. In this game, it meant four-plus innings of Higashioka. Carpenter struck out to end the inning in his first plate appearance in more than seven weeks.
Boone continued to make quick hooks with his relievers, and while I understand the series would play up to four games in four days, the unwillingness to win the game at hand in the present was startling. Boone removed Trivino after 17 pitches despite having thrown 12 pitches in the previous 17 days. He pulled Loaisiga after 15 pitches. Wandy Peralta’s day was called after 15 pitches as well, and Clay Holmes after 16.
In the bottom of the eighth, after Stanton walked with one out, Boone pulled him for a pinch runner in Tim Locastro. Locastro successfully stole second, but you just knew removing Stanton from the game would come back to haunt the Yankees as that move never works out when Boone makes it. And there was Stanton’s spot in the order leading off the 10th inning in what was then a 4-2 Guardians lead. And there was Boone letting Locastro hit for himself against arguably the best reliever in the majors, choosing to not use Gonzalez or Aaron Hicks as pinch hitters. Again, if either of them aren’t going to be used to bat over Locastro (who is on the roster to run and only run) then what is their purpose? The Yankees purposely left their best all-around shortstop off the ALDS roster in favor Gonzalez and Hicks, and neither of them are playing in situations where they should be playing.
The reason the Yankees were trailing when Stanton’s spot came up in the 10th was because Boone had pulled Trivino, Loaisiga, Peralta and Holmes early, and decided to pitch Jameson Taillon in relief for the first time in his career in the first extra inning. After Taillon was unable to get an out on 18 pitches, Boone then went to Clarke Schmidt, a starter by trade, who has mostly relieved at the major-league level and done an excellent job in relief. The Yankees were down two runs when Schmidt came in as Boone was willing to use him while trailing by two runs and not with the game tied.
Sometimes I think I have seen it all from Boone. His Game 3 and Game 4 pitching decisions in the 2018 ALDS. His relief choices in the 2019 ALCS. His Deivi Garcia-J.A. Happ move in Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS. How long he went with Cole and each subsequent pitcher in the 2021 one-game playoff. All of his lineups over the years. His infatuation with trying to steal outs in important moments. But I haven’t. Taillon making the first relief apperance of his career in the 10th inning of a postseason game and not out of necessity and playing without Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Carpenter and Jose Trevino for a good portion of a postseason game, while Locastro faced Clase is the type of work only one manager in the majors is capable of.
As long as he is the manager of the Yankees, there will continue to be days like Friday. But if the Yankees lose two more games before they win two more, I truly don’t think he will be the manager of the Yankees anymore.
4. You could say the Yankees’ issue in Game 2 was simply not scoring after the first inning, and you would be right. But the Yankees are going to have to win low-scoring games to win a championship, and not every game will be as easy and as Boone-free as Game 1 was. And there was no bigger offensive problem in Game 2 than Aaron Judge.
I gave everyone a clean slate for the postseason, and that means both good and bad. Judge’s slate was wiped clean. I don’t care what type of regular season he had. I don’t care that he’s about to cash in on generational wealth. I don’t care that he broke the American League home run record. None of that matters to me in terms of the Yankees winning in October and none of his regular-season accomplishments matter in October. His all-time regular season has now become an all-time bad postseason through two games. The type of postseason I thought only Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher could produce.
Judge struck out four times in Game 2 after striking out three times in Game 1. He has put the ball in play in one of his eight postseason at-bats with the other seven resulting in strikeouts. He’s now 2-for-37 with 27 strikeouts in his postseason career against the Guardians. Impossibly bad.
5. He’s not the only one, though he’s the most important one. Oswaldo Cabrera continues to bat in the middle of the lineup, while Carpenter sits on the bench, despite Cabrera being overmatched by postseason pitching. There are no more No. 4 and 5 starters to see. There are no more middle relievers and last and second-to-last relievers throwing pitches. The Yankees are seeing front-end starters and All-Star-caliber relievers and will continue to see only those types of arms, especially in the kind of low-scoring games the Guardians play. Through two games, Cabrera looks like a kid with less than two months of major-league time, swinging through every high fastball at his eyes.
6. Here are some of the 3-hitters left in the postseason:
One of those names is unlike the others. Torres.
Torres batting third for the Yankees has always been a joke. Even without Carpenter, DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi. He had the lowest OPS in all of baseball for a full month this season and outside of a few random hot streaks, was pretty much as bad as he was in 2020 and 2021. Having him bat third is a disgrace, and if Stanton isn’t batting third in Game 3, there is no hope for the Yankees.
Torres’ Baseball IQ and lack of awareness played a role in the Guardians scoring their first run when he threw the ball as hard as possible to Anthony Rizzo from a short distance when he had much more time with Josh Naylor running down the line. Then in the ninth, Torres swung at the first pitch of his at-bat against Emmanuel Clase, grounding out and ensuring Clase would return for the 10th.
7. I didn’t think Judge forgetting how to hit and Rizzo forgetting how to play defense would be two things I would see and have to worry about in the playoffs, but here we are.
8. Josh Donaldson filled his quota of one moronic play per game on Friday, throwing away the ball on Jose Ramirez’s bloop hit in the 10th. In Game 1, it was Donaldson going into his home run trot on a ball that hit the right-field wall, leading to him getting thrown out on the bases. His throw was foolish and unnecessary and rather than have Ramirez on second with no outs to lead off the 10th, he was on third with no outs to lead off the 10th. I can’t wait until Donaldson is no longer a Yankee.
9. Seeing Anthony Volpe in the stands attending the game as a spectator with Peraza left off the roster, so Kiner-Falefa can continue to be the team’s starting shortstop summed up the Yankees under the current management as well as the actual result on the field of Game 2.
10. The Yankees are in trouble. No, they’re not turning to a washed-up Randy Johnson in Game 3 or begrudgingly giving the ball to Jaret Wright in Game 4. But they are going on the road having given away home-field advantage, have no pitching advantage in Game 3, will need to now use Cole again in this series rather than have him lined up for Game 1 of the ALCS, and don’t have a starter for Game 5.
Friday’s Game 2 loss was a bad one. I knew the Yankees would eventually lose a game in the postseason, but losing the way they did in Game 2 was hard to stomach. And now they’re in a bad spot. Not as bad a spot as they were 16 years ago, but not far from it either. This series is now guaranteed to go at least four games, and if the Yankees are able to survive and advance to the ALCS, the extremely difficult task of trying to upset the Astros just got that much harder with Cole being unable to go until Game 3 of the next round. Most importantly, for now, the task of eliminating the Guardians just got that much harder.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!