I couldn’t watch anymore. I just couldn’t. After Chad Green gave up a two-run home to Michael Perez to put the Yankees down by five runs in Game 3, I knew the game was over. In all honesty, I knew it was over well before that home run.
I knew Game 3 was over when home plate umpire Mark Carlson single-handedly changed the game by calling two should-have-been ball 4s on Luke Voit as strikes 1 and 2 to prevent the Yankees from taking a 2-1 lead. Minutes later, Carlson missed a blatant strike 3 call on Willy Adames, which would have resulted in a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play. Instead, it gave the Rays runners on first and second with no outs and then Kevin Kiermaier, my most hated Ray, took Masahiro Tanaka deep for a three-run home run to give the Rays a three-run lead. Carlson’s inability to properly identifty balls and strikes changed the game a night after Game 2s home plate umpire CB Bucknor had the worst postseason performance since Robinson Cano’s 2012 ALCS.
Bucknor and Carlson certainly didn’t help the Yankees the last two nights, but ultimately they only served as feul on the fire that is the Yankees’ season going down in flames. The high of the Yankees’ Game 1 win has been replaced by the lowest of lows after back-to-back losses have put them on the brink of elimination. They will now need to win two straight games against a team they haven’t won two straight against all season, a team they are 3-10 against in 2020.
Game 2 exposed the Yankees’ inability as an organization to come up with an intelligent and logical postseason pitching plan after they failed to replace Luis Severino, who the Yankees have known since February would miss the season, or James Paxton, who underwent back surgery before the first edition of spring training in 2020 and whose career has essentially been one long injured-list stint with some pitching in between. The Yankees decided that burning Deivi Garcia for the series, their third-best starter, for a one-inning outing, and allowing J.A. Happ, the team’s worst or second-worst starter to pitch the most in Game 2 would put the team in the best possible position to succeed. The offense scored five runs in Game 2, four off of Tyler Glasnow, and still lost because of their idiotic opener plan and another unfathomable night of bullpen management from Aaron Boone who continues to prove he has no business being a major league manager.
In Game 2, trailing 5-4 with a more-than-rested bullpen Boone decided to stick with Happ. Then he went to Adam Ottavino, who he didn’t trust in a close game last week, and then he went to Jonathan Loaisiga, who has done nothing to prove he belongs in high-leverage situations. The combination extended the Rays’ lead from 5-4 to 7-4, and put the game out of reach.
The following night in Game 3, trailing 4-1, Boone went to Chad Green, the team’s third-best reliever. He was willing to go to Green down three runs in Game 3, but not down by one run in Game 2. It was the latest decision from Boone to make absolutely no sense in what has become a never-ending list of decisions to make absolutely no sense since he became Yankees manager. He doubled down on this decision by keeping Green in the game for a second inning, which any Yankees fan can tell you isn’t wise, and two batters later, Green gave up the home run to Perez which forced me to turn the game off.
If Wednesday’s start was Masahiro Tanaka’s last as a Yankee, it wasn’t a good one. It was every bit as bad as his start in Game 2 against the Indians last week. No, Carlson didn’t help him out, but he did receive help from Aaron Judge who saved a run-scoring, extra-base hit with an amazing catch. I expected Tanaka to be good, and he wasn’t. He was awful.
The Yankees have the highest payroll in the majors and somehow once again don’t have a postseason rotation. They have Gerrit Cole then a pitcher who has a four-inning leash (Tanaka), a pitcher they think is best used as an opener (Garcia), a pitcher who they should have cut ties with a long time ago (Happ) and a pitcher they don’t trust (Jordan Montgomery). The Yankees clearly view Montgomery as their weakest starting pitching option since they have yet to use him in five postseason games. But on Thursday night in Game 4, with their season on the line, they will give the ball to the pitcher they consider their weakest option.
Even if Tanaka had been great and Boone didn’t let Green throw a second inning, it’s likely the Yankees still would have lost. Since Giancarlo Stanton’s home run in the fourth inning of Game 2, the Yankees have scored five runs over 14 innings, as the offense is once again performing their annual October disappearing act, led by Aaron Judge, Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres.
There’s a reason the Rays are the No. 1 seed in the American League playoffs. They were the best team in the regular season and that has carried over into the postseason. They easily dispatched the Blue Jays in two games last week and have easily rolled over the Yankees the last two nights. They are a much better team than the Yankees at a fraction of the cost. They have the best 1-2-3 rotation in the league with Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton to go along with the deepest bullpen in the league. They have a lineup full of pesky hitters, well balanced with righties and lefties, who make enough contact to avoid rally-destroying innings like the Yankees have, and who have enough power to ruin games like they did on Wednesday night.
If you were to construct a team to beat the Yankees, you would use the Rays’ exact roster. The Rays were built to win a championship, and in order to do so, they would have to be built to beat and get by the Yankees, and they are perfectly built to do so.
I don’t expect the Yankees to win Game 4 on Thursday night. If they do win, I expect them to win Game 5 with Gerrit Cole pitching, but I just don’t see how they get there. I don’t see how Montgomery is able to navigate his way even one time through the Rays’ lineup, and even if he were able to provide three or four great innings, how are the Yankees getting 18 or 15 outs to save their season? They have two relievers who are capable of getting big outs and at most, those two relievers could give the team 12 outs, and I’m sure that’s two or three outs more than the Yankees would feel comfortable with asking them to get.
Even if you forget about Montgomery, how are the Yankees going to score runs in Game 4? The Rays are going with an opener, a term and strategy they created and revolutionized, and one the Yankees have unsuccessfully tried to use in back-to-back postseasons. That means the Rays are going to trot unhittable reliever after unhittable reliever out of the bullpen for nine innings to try to advance to the ALCS. The Yankees will have to do something they haven’t been able to do the last three nights and weren’t able to do in 10 regular-season games: hit against the Rays’ relievers.
Wednesday night’s Game 2 loss felt a lot like last season’s Game 4 loss to the Astros in the ALCS. Yes, the Yankees’ season is technically still alive, but it doesn’t feel like it is. Wednesday night gave me some time to let it settle in that on Thursday night there might not be Yankees baseball until next spring, and given the state of the country, and the owners’ clear mandate they won’t play a full season of baseball without fans in the stands, who knows when Yankees baseball will actually return after their 2020 season ends?
I hope I’m wrong. I really hope I am. I hope the offense we saw in the first three postseason games returns and Montgomery is good enough to give the Yankees length and Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman can close it out. That’s asking for a lot. It’s asking for a miracle. But that’s what the Yankees will need to win this series and avoid wasting another season in their championship window: a miracle.
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