Yankees Thoughts: Aaron Boone Blows Game Against Brewers

The Yankees lost a winnable game to the Brewers on Friday, falling 7-6 in 11 innings thanks to their own manager.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. On Monday, I wrote the following:

Boone has had a mostly error-free three-plus weeks to begin the season. Wait until that changes. The Yankees are 7-2 in one-run games. Of their 23 games, 39 percent have been decided by one run. The more one-run games they play in, the more Boone’s in-game decisions become vitally important. If there’s any part of the Yankees standing on the tracks waiting to be destroyed by the regression train it’s their play in one-run games when managed by Boone.

The train is here.

On Friday night in Milwaukee, Yankees fans were treated to the version of Aaron Boone they have watched for six-plus seasons. The version of Aaron Boone that plays for tomorrow when there’s a winnable game at hand. The real Aaron Boone.

2. It all started in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Yankees leading 5-4.

Luis Gil had given the Yankees five mediocre innings, allowing four earned runs on five hits and two walks and getting burned by a pair of two-run home runs. He had thrown 95 pitches and considering the Yankees haven’t let him reach 100 pitches this season and have already given him extra rest once (which led to a seven-walk performance), he wasn’t going to be able to finish a sixth inning of work unless he got three groundouts in four pitches (something he’s incapable of doing). But Boone sent him back out for the sixth anyway.

Two pitches later, the Brewers had a leadoff double with the tying run on second and no one out. That double came off the bat of Gary Sanchez, who undoubtedly wants to give it to the Yankees more than you want anything in your life. Knowing how the law of ex-Yankees works in that every ex-Yankee comes back to haunt their old team, an extra-base hit was inevitable in that situation.

3. Boone used Gil in hopes of stealing one or two outs in the sixth, figuring it would be one or two less outs his bullpen would need to get. It’s a strategy employed by Boone frequently and one that backfires nearly every time, just like the contact play the Yankees put in motion with a runner on third and less than two outs on a ball hit in the infield with the infield in. You know, the play they miserably failed to convert in the 11th inning.

Stealing outs is a dangerous game, but Boone doesn’t care. He doesn’t care who the pitcher is he’s sending back out, what the score is, what the situation is, what the standings say, nothing. He’s going to do it no matter what and on Friday he sent back out a clearly fatigued Gil, who didn’t have his best stuff all night and who battled and grinded to get through five innings.

Because teams other than the Yankees have no problem scoring a runner from second with no outs without getting a base hit, the Brewers did it with ease: ground ball to second followed by a sacrifice fly. 5-5. Tie game.

4. The Yankees failed to score in the seventh inning because Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo, the only hitters on the team capable of getting on base consistently didn’t bat in the seventh. In the eighth, Soto led off the inning with a single, but was quickly erased when Aaron Judge hit into a double play, which is all he seems to do. Well, that and strike out. In the ninth, Verdugo did walk with one out, but was thrown out trying to steal second.

5. With the game tied going to the bottom of the ninth, Boone called on Clay Holmes. Ron Marinaccio (1 1/3 innings), Dennis Santana (2/3 innings) and Caleb Ferguson (1 inning) had done their jobs keeping the Brewers off the board for the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Holmes is the team’s best reliever, and despite it not being a save situation he entered the game. (It’s absolutely insane to manage your bullpen based on a stat, and yet, the Yankees still do so.)

Here was Holmes’ recent workload before Friday:

Sunday, April 21: Didn’t pitch
Monday, April 22: Didn’t pitch
Tuesday, April 23: Nine pitches
Thursday, April 24: Didn’t pitch

Over the previous four days, Holmes had made one appearance throwing nine pitches. When he entered the game on Friday against the Brewers, I figured because of his recent light workload, he was going to pitch the ninth, and if the game reached the 10th inning and the Yankees scored in the top of the 10th, he would close out the game in the bottom of the 10th inning. Sound logic. Unfortunately, the manager of the Yankees doesn’t operate or base decisions on sound logic.

Holmes went out and had arguably his best outing of the season. He retired the side on 10 pitches, striking out Oliver Dunn and William Contreras in the process. To the 10th inning the game went.

Giancarlo Stanton pinch hit for Trent Grisham and immediately crushed a double to the left-center gap scoring the automatic runner on second. The Yankees had a 6-5 lead and the idea of Holmes having a chance to close out the game in the bottom half of the inning was coming to fruition.

6. After the top of the Yankees’ lineup stranded Stanton on second with no outs (because why wouldn’t they?), Holmes didn’t walk to the mound from the dugout. Instead, out of the bullpen came newest Yankee Michael Tonkin.

If you were unfamiliar with Tonkin prior to seeing him jog to the mound to close out Friday’s game and were thinking “Who the fuck is this guy?” when an unknown Number 50 uniform began throwing warm-up pitches to Jose Trevino, it’s understandable. I wasn’t thinking “Who the fuck is this guy?” I was thinking “Why is this fucking guy in the game?”

Tonkin had become a Yankee just the day before. He had signed with the Mets in the winter, got designated for assignment by the Mets and purchased by the Twins on April 9, got designated for assignment again and selected off waivers by the Mets on April 17 and then got designated for assignment again and selected off waivers by the Yankees on Thursday. Why has Tonkin been designated for assignment three times in less than three weeks? Surely, it must be because he’s awesome and capable of closing out the first-place Brewers in extra innings with the automatic runner on second and no outs.

Tonklin immediately gave up the lead, allowing a game-tying single to Willy Adams, but did manage to get out of the 10th inning without losing the game. Unfortunately, he would save that for the 11th inning.

In the 11th inning, the Yankees failed to score the automatic runner from second, largely because the team’s offense sucks, but also because their trusty manager had the aforementioned contact play on with a runner on third and one out in the inning. That runner was Jahmai Jones and he was thrown out by at least 10 feet on the idiotic play, running home on contact on a ball hit right back to the pitcher. In the bottom of the 11th, Tonkin allowed a walk-off single to Joey Ortiz, as the Brewers’ 8-hitter capped off a nice four-RBI day.

“It’s definitely a tough spot to go in,” Boone said of Tonkin entering an extra-innings save situation for his first appearance in his first day as a Yankee.

Then why was he put in that spot, you moron.

Boone’s sole job as manager of the Yankees is to put his players in the best possible position to succeed. If he does that and it doesn’t work out, so be it. There isn’t a person in the world who would have questioned Holmes being used for a second inning if he couldn’t hold the lead and allowed the tying run to score or lost the game. He’s the best reliever on the team in the middle of a stretch in which he had thrown nine pitches in four days. Boone didn’t see it that way.

7. “He’s on about an 80-game pace in April, and with some of the attrition we’ve had in our bullpen, I wasn’t going to send my closer out,” Boone said.

Holmes was on a 75-game pace prior to his appearance last night, not 80. Holmes’ career high for appearances is 69, so his pace wasn’t far off a number he’s already previously accomplished. (For reference, Mariano Rivera averaged 67 games per season in his career, and three times pitched over 70 times. A 75-game pace is in no way outrageous.)

I wish Boone were joking about the attrition the Yankees have had in their bullpen, but he wasn’t. Jonathan Loaisiga went down for the season within the first week. Guess what Loaisiga is best at? Getting hurt. That’s what he does. The only “full” season he pitched in the majors was in 2021 and he was the best reliever in baseball that season. But outside of that his career has been marred by injuries. Not even three weeks ago, Boone himself said, “It’s been pretty much something every year that’s tripped him up.” Relying on Loaisiga to be the team’s best reliever was irresponsible given his injury history, much like it was irresponsible to rely on Aaron Hicks to be a starting out fielder on the team in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. The Yankees continue to count on players with extensive injury histories and when they inevitably get injured, the front office and manager cry about the injuries and adversity the team has had to deal with, or in this case: attrition. The only other reliever the Yankees have had get hurt since the start of the season is Nick Burdi. He entered this season having thrown 15 1/3 career innings in the majors over six years because of injuries. I can’t believe he’s hurt again.

8. “I’ll do four outs this time of year,” Boone said, “but I wasn’t going to send him out for a second inning.”

If you don’t think Boone is detrimental to the success of the team he manages, don’t ever forget that sentence.

The evaluation of a pitcher should be done by pitches never by outs, and yet, Boone is making millions of dollars per year for the seventh straight year while doing the complete opposite. Not all outs or appearances are created equal. Holmes pitched a scoreless ninth inning in Milwaukee on Friday. He also pitched a scoreless ninth inning in Houston on Opening Day. He recorded three outs in both and pitched exactly one inning in both. To Boone, those two appearances are of equal value and energy.

Again, Holmes threw 10 pitches in the ninth. TEN! He threw nine pitches over the previous four days. The Yankees had the opportunity to win a game against a good team and Boone decided saving Holmes for a situation on a different day that may never happen was a better idea. The Yankees had a winnable game at hand and Boone decided he would rather take his chances of winning a made-up game in the future. That’s who’s managing the Yankees.

The best part is Holmes probably won’t be needed for a few days. He may not be needed for a week. If Boone wants to play the what-if game, let’s play it. He thinks he made need Holmes for an inning on Saturday, so he wasn’t going to push him for a second inning on Friday. Well, what if Holmes isn’t need on Saturday, or Sunday, or Monday, or Tuesday? Then he’ll be used in a game on Wednesday no matter what the score is to get him work. Not even two weeks ago, Boone refrained from using Ian Hamilton in the extra-inning game in Cleveland that the Yankees led in and instead used Caleb Ferguson who blew the game and the Yankees lost. Three days later, after having still not pitched, Boone used Hamilton in a game the Yankees were trailing in because he needed the work.

9. “He’s got a lot of experience,” Boone said of Tonkin.

Yeah, a lot of experience sucking.

“That’s just where we were in the game,” Boone said, “with what we had left.”

The Yankees also had Victor Gonzalez available. I guess he was good enough to close out the Rays with a one-run lead on Sunday, but five days later isn’t good enough to close out the Brewers with a one-run lead. Let’s have the new guy that the Braves didn’t want back, the Mets gave up on twice and the Twins allowed to make one appearance before cutting ties.

10. I’m not mad at Tonkin. Not in the least bit. He’s not good. If he was, the Braves would have re-signed him after last season or the Mets or Twins would have kept him. He wasn’t put on waivers because he’s really good at closing out one-run games. He didn’t ask for the Yankees to offer him a major-league contract. He didn’t ask for Boone to put him into the game in that spot. It’s not his fault he blew the lead in the 10th and lost the game in the 11th.

It’s the Yankees’ fault for lacking bullpen depth when they knew they wouldn’t have Michael King, didn’t re-sign Wandy Peralta, knew of Loaisiga’s unbelievable injury history and knew they would be without Tommy Kahnle, Scott Effross and Lou Trivino to begin the season. And it’s Boone’s fault for putting him in the game. Unfortunately, that won’t be the last bad decision Boone is allowed to make.