Yankees-Guardians ALDS Game 3 Thoughts: Aaron Boone Puts His Own Team on Brink of Elimination

Yankees blow two-run, ninth-inning lead and trail ALDS 2-1

The Yankees had a two-run lead with one out and no one on in the ninth. They were two outs away from taking a 2-1 series lead in the ALDS. Instead, they will be facing elimination in Game 4.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Stunned. No, I’m not talking about the feeling that overcame me when the Guardians walked off the Yankees 6-5 in Game 3 of the ALDS. I’m talking about the feeling that overcame me as I watched Aaron Boone mismanage the Yankees to yet another postseason loss. I’m talking about the feeling that overcame me as Boone told unbelievable lies in his postgame press conference to try and cover his ass after he single-handedly cost the Yankees the pivotal game and put his team on the brink of elimination for Game 4.

The loss was the first in Yankees postseason history in which they held a multi-run lead entering the ninth inning. They had been 167-0 before Saturday night. It’s yet another historic moment in Yankees history under Boone to go along with the most lopsided home postseason loss in franchise history which he oversaw in the 2018 ALDS.

2. A day after Boone made it apparent Clarke Schmidt was below Jameson Taillon on the pitching pecking order for the postseason, he changed his mind. In Game 2, Schmidt wasn’t good enough to pitch in a tie game in the 10th inning before Taillon (who had never made a relief appearance in his career), but in Game 3, he was suddenly good enough to enter a game with one out and runners on the corners and the Yankees clinging to a two-run lead.

Schmidt nearly did get out of the impossible situation. With the bases loaded and one out, and the lead down to one run, he struck out Josh Naylor on three pitches. He followed it up by getting ahead of Oscar Gonzalez 1-2 and then threw a really good slider on the outside corner that Gonzalez was able to awkwardly get the bat on and poke up the middle for a two-run, walk-off single.

The Guardians’ high-contact approach produced bloops, grounders and line drives in the ninth, all resulting in the same thing: base hits. They had five singles in the ninth and finished the game with 15 hits to the Yankees’ five. The Yankees sat around and waited for the home run to come, and it did three times, once each by Aaron Judge, Oswaldo Cabrera and Harrison Bader, but nothing else. Just two other hits aside from those three home runs. The Guardians kept putting runners on base, while the Yankees continued to put together mostly feeble at-bats, and eventually the Guardians broke through with their three-run ninth to win the game.

3. Schmidt entered with one out in the ninth in relief of Wandy Peralta, who had entered the game long before in the seventh. Luis Severino was able to grind through 5 2/3 innings despite a rocky first and second inning thanks to some bad luck and some bad infield defense, and then Lou Trivino got one out, Jonathan Loaisiga got two outs and Peralta got five outs before allowing back-to-back singles with one out in the ninth, leading to his dismissal. The ninth should have been Clay Holmes’, but after the game, Boone explained why Holmes didn’t pitch.

Did you have Clay Holmes available?

“No. No. I mean he was down there available.”

Did you know going into the game you didn’t have him?

“It was was more of an emergency situation. Emergency, yeah.”

Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with his arm

“No, just normal soreness, but nothing we’re alarmed at.”

Boone said Holmes wasn’t available and then immediately backtracked to say he was available. He said Holmes was only available in an “emergency situation,” and apparently the ninth inning of Game 3 of a best-of-5 series doesn’t qualify as an “emergency situation.” He also said Holmes had soreness. But Holmes didn’t have soreness. Because minutes after Boone made his comments to the media, Holmes contradicted everything he said.

“I woke up today preparing to pitch … It’s one of those things where I was preparing to do my job … They asked and I said I was good to go, if needed. That’s how the conversation was.”

Holmes went on to say he feels fine, was surprised he wasn’t used in the ninth, and said he was never told he wouldn’t be used on back-to-back days.

Remember when the Yankees hired Boone solely because of his communication skills? The same communication skills that led to him benching Gary Sanchez in the postseason without an explanation to the player. The same communication skills that told the media he didn’t feel like Domingo German needed to address the team coming back from his domestic violence suspension until Zack Britton made it clear German did need to address the team. The same communication skills that led to him and Holmes sharing completely different accounts of the pitcher’s health to the media. The same communication skills that led to his Game 3 starting pitcher questioning his managerial decisions to the media when asked if about Holmes not being used in the ninth.

“He’s our closer,” Severino said. “So of course I’m surprised.”

4. When Severino was removed from the game because Kiner-Falefa couldn’t make a routine play in the sixth inning to extend that inning, the Yankees’ bullpen needed to get 10 outs. If Boone knew he wasn’t going to use Holmes in the game (except in an undefined “emergency situation”) then why did he only let Lou Trivino get one out and Jonathan Loaisiga get two outs? That left seven outs needed to be recorded with only one reliever left from Boone’s bullpen inner circle: Peralta. So Boone had cornered himself into needing to get seven outs from one reliever, and that’s exactly what he tried to do.

Peralta had pitched 2 1/3 innings (which is what he would be asked to do in Game 3) once in 104 appearances as a Yankee. A day after asking Taillon to do something he has never done in his career, Boone would now ask Peralta to do something he had done once, and when Peralta couldn’t get the final two outs of the game, he turned to Schmidt to do something he had never done before. I can’t believe this well-thought-out bullpen plan didn’t work out.

5. The bullpen wasn’t the only mess Boone created. After the Yankees went scoreless for the final nine innings in Game 2, he decided to change the lineup for Game 3. It’s bad enough Gleyber Torres has been batting third for the Yankees, but Boone decided to move him to the leadoff spot, pushing Judge down to the 2-hole. This moved Rizzo from 2 to 3, but kept Stanton at 4. He left Donaldson at 5 because it’s 2015. At 6, he decided to put Isiah Kiner-Falefa and his .642 OPS. He moved Harrison Bader up from 9 to 7, started Kyle Higashioka and had him at 8 over Jose Trevino and moved Oswaldo Cabrera down to 9. (Yes, Higashioka was once again starting a postseason game for the Yankees over an All-Star catcher, and this All-Star catcher just happens to the best defensive catcher in the majors.)

Torres swung at the first pitch of the game and grounded out, completely negating his role as the leadoff hitter, essentially making Judge the leadoff hitter with one less out to work with in the first inning. Torres finished the game 0-for-4. Boone’s new-look 3-4-5-6 of Rizzo, Stanton, Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa combined to go 0-for-15 with a walkm, and Higashioka went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and a walk. It turns out that rearranging the names of a collective group of mostly bad hitters doesn’t magically generate offense. Who could have known?

6. While Donaldson, Kiner-Falefa and Higashioka were allowed to get a full slate of plate appearances, Matt Carpenter went unused for the entire game for the second time in three games. Boone is purposely not using the team’s second-best hitter, choosing instead to believe in Donaldson as if it’s 2015, believe in Kiner-Falefa as if he’s ever been good and let Higashioka play a complete game for unknown reasons.

Carpenter wasn’t the only the player on the bench who should have played and didn’t. Cabrera was left in left field in the ninth inning despite having Aaron Hicks and Tim Locastro on the bench. And for the second time in as many days, Cabrera let a ball fall in front of him that a more experienced and veteran left fielder would have likely gotten to.

7. Kiner-Falefa’s inability to handle a double play ball in the first inning allowed a run to score and forced Severino to throw 15 more pitches. In the sixth with two outs, when Kiner-Falefa triple clutched before wildly throwing a routine ground ball wide of first, he caused the inning to be extended in which the Guardians sent three more batters to the plate and scored a run.

Kiner-Falefa is the worst everyday player in Yankees history on a team expected to win the World Series. He can’t hit and he can’t field, and yet, he has maintained his everyday playing status despite all of this to the point that Oswald Peraza isn’t even on the ALDS roster. When asked about Kiner-Falefa’s two “errors” in the game (which were both scored hits as the official scorer in Cleveland is a relative of Kiner-Falefa), Boone defended the player he earlier this season called “one of the best shortstops in the game.”

8. While the Yankees were trying to grind out a win to take a 2-1 series lead, the Astros were sweeping the Mariners in their ALDS. The Astros will now have three full days off before Game 1 of the ALCS on Wednesday in Houston. They will be able to set up their rotation how they want it and give extended rest to their bullpen. The Yankees will need to exhaust every pitching option over the next two days just to get to the ALCS. They will then not have Gerrit Cole until Game 3 and likely not have Nestor Cortes early on either if he’s going to appear in a potential Game 5. Their bullpen is already fatigued and now their rotation will be a mess. It was unlikely they were going to beat Cleveland if they had everything set up exactly how they wanted. Now with this mess they have created? They might be better off letting the Guardians go get embarrassed by the best team in baseball. I would rather not watch the Yankees be eliminated by the Astros for fourth time in the last eight years.

9. 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. 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 screwed for the ALCS if they are somehow able to get there.

If the Yankees reach the ALCS, Boone will undoubtedly be back for 2023. He will likely be back for 2023 regardless of what happens on Sunday or Monday. But if an ALDS loss means the end of Boone, knowing how little chance the Yankees have of getting past the Astros in the ALCS, it’s hard not to think that is better for the future of the franchise. Boone was already allowed to ruin this core’s window of opportunity. Does any Yankees fan really want him overseeing and ruining the next expected Yankees core of Cabrera, Peraza, Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez? I don’t.

10. I do think the Yankees will win Game 4 and force a Game 5, but I don’t know how they will win Game 5 without an available starter and with their bullpen already fatigued after just three games. After the relatively easy Game 1 win in this series, it’s hard to believe the Yankees could be in this position, but I learned four Octobers ago that as long as Boone is the manager of the Yankees, you need to prepare for and expect the worst in the postseason.

Subscribe to the Keefe To The City Podcast.

My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!