The Yankees played their first elimination game of the postseason in Game 4 of the ALDS and survived with a 4-2 win in Cleveland to force a Game 5 in New York.
1. I was confident the Yankees would win Game 4 of the ALDS, and remain confident they can still win the series despite their manager putting them on the brink of elimination after Game 3. The way I went into Game 1 thinking Gerrit Cole would shut down the Guardians, was how I went into Game 4, and Cole did just that, going seven innings and allowing just two earned runs. One of those two runs came on a Jose Ramirez RBI single that was blooped into left field with an expected batting average of .090. In comparison, Gleyber Torres’ inning-ending double play in the fifth had an expected batting average of .650 and resulted in two outs. Just bad luck for the Yankees. The kind of back luck they experienced as the Guardians blooped and ground ball singled their way to a comeback in the ninth inning in Game 3. Sometimes baseball sucks, and with the batted ball luck the Guardians had in Games 2 and 3, baseball sucked a lot the last two days.
But baseball didn’t suck on Sunday night. Not with Cole saving the Yankees’ season and forcing a Game 5 on Monday night at the Stadium. Sure, if the Yankees win and advance to the ALCS their rotation and bullpen will both be a mess, while the Astros will have had three full days off and will have their rotation set up how they want with their bullpen completely rested. But I will worry about the Astros if I get the opportunity to worry about the Astros. For now, it’s time worry about Game 5. And there’s a lot to worry about for Game 5.
2. The goal in the postseason is to minimize the amount of decisions Boone has to make, and on Sunday he only had to make two: who to pitch in the eighth and who to pitch in the ninth. They both worked out because they were rather simple decisions to make. Boone didn’t have to make a multitude of bullpen decisions or use pinch runners or pinch hitters. It was an easy night for the manager, just like Game 1 was, and the Yankees won both games. The less decisions Boone has to make, the more successful the Yankees are. It’s crazy how that works out.
3. In Game 5, Aaron Boone will unfortunately need to make a lot of decisions. Unless Jameson Taillon goes out and pitches a Cole-like gem, Boone is going to have to make at least five pitching changes, and whatever pinch hitting (it would be nice if Matt Carpenter could have an impact on this series) or pinch running (Boone is already itching to run Tim Locastro for Giancarlo Stanton) decisions he makes. This is where the Yankees are at an enormous disadvantage. Terry Francona is a Hall of Fame manager who has a storied history of making a litany of perfect decisions in elimination games. Boone has been a disaster in elimination games, and it’s why the Yankees have eventually been eliminated in all four postseasons he has been Yankees manager for.
4. Boone did say Nestor Cortes is available out of the bullpen in Game 5, and if that’s true, then why not start Cortes? The Yankees need to take an early lead given the Guardians elite relievers have only appeared in one game in the series and Francona will be willing to get multiple innings from all of them. The Yankees can’t afford to give up a run in the first inning when Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario and Jose Ramirez will all bat. Let Cortes face them, and see how long he can go, and then go elsewhere for outs. I think starting Taillon leaves the Yankees vulnerable in the top of the first, and if the Guardians plate a run or more in that inning, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Francona scrap having Aaron Civale take the mound as his “starter” and go right to his elite relievers to blow away the Yankees like they did in Game 2.
5. After 165 games of Yankees baseball in 2022, Boone finally decided to bench Isiah Kiner-Falefa. He had the opportunity to do so at any point during the regular season when Kiner-Falefa posted a .642 OPS and played a sloppy shortstop, but he continued to stay with him, letting the organization’s No. 3 prospect Oswald Peraza waste away on the bench in the final weeks of the regular season despite hitting .306/.404/.429 and playing exceptional defense. It was fitting to hear Ron Darling say during Game 4 that “If you’re on this Guardians team, age doesn’t matter, ability does,” as the Yankees operate under the exact opposite motto. Boone famously referred to Kiner-Falefa as “one of the best shortstops in the game” despite every statistic and the human eye suggesting otherwise. Boone continued to defend Kiner-Falefa’s play to the media and went as far as leaving Peraza off the ALDS roster to avoid a potential shortstop controversy.
6. But he got a shortstop controversy anyway, and he wasn’t able to rectify it by playing Peraza because he left Peraza off the ALDS roster. Kiner-Falefa misplayed the first ball hit to him in the very first inning of the series and went to on to misplay a handful of balls prior to his benching, including two inexplicable “errors” (that were both inexplicably called hits) in Game 3 that single-handedly led to the Yankees allowing two runs, which helped them lose the game. If Peraza or Oswaldo Cabrera or Marwin Gonzalez played shortstop in Game 3, I’m writing about the Yankees’ series-clinching win in Game 4 and preparing for the Astros on the Wednesday. Instead, I’m wasting more words on Kiner-Falefa, the worst everyday player on a championship-caliber team in Yankees history.
7. But Kiner-Falefa is no longer an everyday player. I believe Game 3 was the last time we will see him as the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. Cabrera played a perfect short in Game 4, made plays on balls Kiner-Falefa would have undoubtedly screwed up, and the Yankees won. Even if the moronic Boone said Cabrera will only “probably” be at shortstop in Game 5, everyone knows he will be. There’s no going back to Kiner-Falefa now (barring injury). It took the Yankees’ season being officially on the line for Boone to finally adjust his lineup by removing Kiner-Falefa from it. Hopefully, it leads to Peraza being on the ALCS roster, if the Yankees get there.
8. If they get there, Harrison Bader will be a big reason why. The Gold Glove center fielder came to the Yankees advertised as all glove bat and no bat, but he now has three home runs in the series after crushing a two-run shot in Game 4. He represents the bottom of the order spark plug the Yankees haven’t had in their lineup in nearly a decade. The type of player the opposition has haunted the Yankees with over the last decade.
9. Boone was extremely concerned about the capsule strain in Clay Holmes’ shoulder on Saturday night, but less than 24 hours later, his concern for Holmes seemed to go out the window as he was willing to go to him to face the top of the Guardians order in the eighth. If Boone stays true to his word that Holmes can’t pitch on back-to-back days, (which is nonsensical) that would mean Holmes is unavailable for Game 5. That is unless Boone stays true to his other word that Holmes is available to pitch back-to-back days if it’s an emergency situation. (Yes, Boone has contradicted himself with how he will handle Holmes.) The ninth inning of Game 3 of a best-of-5 series wasn’t an “emergency situation.” I wonder if Game 5 of a best-of-5 series will qualify as an “emergency situation” for Boone.
10. Game 5 is an “emergency situation” for everyone, just like Game 4 was. One team will spend their Monday night getting doused in champagne before flying to Houston to face the best team in baseball for a chance to go to the World Series. The other team will spend their Monday night answering questions about what went wrong and how they can make sure they aren’t answering the same questions a year from now.
Yankees fans have spent too many of the last 20 years watching their team answer those questions, only to have to endure the same result the following year.
A year ago, after losing the one-game playoff in embarrassing fashion, Boone and Brian Cashman spent their end-of-the-season press conferences in mid-October explaining the changes that would be made to avoid another early exit this season. The Yankees avoided that early exit on Sunday night in Game 4. They will have to do it again on Monday night in Game 5.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!