Back in October of 2000, nearly 18 years ago, Joe Torre described a trip to Oakland Coliseum as the “flight from hell” that no member of the Yankees wanted to make. Derek Jeter even admitted that most of his teammates weren’t prepared or packed to travel out west, since the expectation was to win in New York, with home field advantage at their disposal.
The Yankees had no intentions of playing Game 5 of the ALDS against the scrappy Oakland Athletics that year, no desire to take part in a daunting winner-take-all, loser-go-home, do-or-die postseason game as the visiting team. And although their fortunes ultimately turned and a championship trophy was hoisted later that month, the Yankees weren’t too proud to acknowledge that some of October’s obstacles — including that classic flight from hell — could’ve been avoided.
Perhaps the 2018 Yankees should take this history lesson into account, because their performance of late suggests a fearful return to the Bay Area next month isn’t out of the question.
Wednesday night was a clear warning that the Athletics (84-57) are more than primed for elimination game pressure this fall. Their 8-2 beatdown over the Yankees (87-53) in the rubber game of a three-game set at the Coliseum was emphatic, and now, New York holds just a 3.5-game lead (four in the loss column) over Oakland for the dubious honor of hosting the American League’s wild card playoff on October 3.
In the Yankees’ last three series, they’ve lost two and tied one, and since the beginning of August, New York has flirted with inspiring surges and discouraging stumbles. Even though the team still owns the second-best record in baseball, there’s nothing worse than teetering in September, when pennant races reach their annual apex.
“I want to get rolling, no question about it,” Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone told the YES Network on Wednesday. “We’re doing some things well, but we’re certainly not rolling like we’re capable of. We’re starting to get some guys back [from injury], which is really important. But, no question, we’ve got to play better. If we want to get to where we want to go, we’ve got to play better, period.
“We can talk about it and analyze it, but we have the people in that room capable of getting this thing done. And it’s time we start getting consistent and start stringing together games to where we’re playing up to our capabilities.”
Easier said than done, as the Yankees haven’t played at full-strength in a long, long while. Of course, with Gary Sanchez back in the lineup, Didi Gregorius rejoining the club this weekend in Seattle, and Aaron Judge supposedly a week or two out from seeing game action for the first time since late July, who’s to say they can’t recapture the magic that carried them throughout the spring? Who’s to say they can’t right the ship in the next four weeks? It wouldn’t be a shocking turnaround or revival.
But who will get the ball once October 3 arrives? The case for Luis Severino just became weaker.
On Wednesday, Severino allowed six runs (five earned) on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts, and all of this damage came before the third frame was completed. He left the game after 2.2 innings — his shortest start of the season.
And to make matters worse, Sanchez imploded behind the plate. In the first inning alone, the battery was responsible for two wild pitches and two passed balls. It allowed Oakland to take an early and commanding 4-0 lead.
After the game, Severino said that the miscommunication between him and Sanchez was due to new signals — signs that are usually different when Austin Romine is doing the catching, and not Sanchez.
How’s that for a revelation?
“I just need to do a better job. I know right now I’m not at my best,” Severino told YES. “I need to perform like I was in the first half. I try to look at what’s going wrong. Couple of good outings I had in the past, I was getting better. I just need to bounce back.
“It’s not about who’s catching. It’s we’re having problems and that’s it.”
What a tale of two halves it’s been for the Yankees’ troubled ace. In Severino’s first 18 starts, he went 16-2 with a 1.98 ERA, and he was a midseason All-Star and front runner for Cy Young honors. But over his last 11 starts, Severino has allowed 42 earned runs across 55.1 innings, which marks his ERA at a bloated 6.83.
Right now, Boone would likely pencil Severino in to start the wild card game for a second consecutive season and not look back. But is he really the best option?
What about J.A. Happ, who tossed six innings of two-hit, one-run ball in the Yankees’ thrilling middle game win over the Athletics on Tuesday? That performance should count for something.
Consider these past two games as auditions — Happ passed and Severino failed. It’s not so easy to ignore the results when one of these two starters could face the Athletics’ lineup again, on a bigger and brighter stage.
And that’s why it’s imperative that the Yankees play this wild card game in the Bronx, rather than in Oakland. Maybe the aforementioned issues would disappear before a home crowd. After all, home field advantage is valuable and real at Yankee Stadium — re-watch last year’s postseason highlights for proof.
It’s also worth noting that the Yankees are a measly 7-17 at the Coliseum since 2012. Does that hold much weight? Maybe not. Each team is different, as is each year. But once again, it’s not something to ignore. Their struggles in Oakland have been quite visible.
So, the Yankees can’t afford to let their wild card lead slip. While their odds of winning a decisive game in Oakland would still be reasonable, it’s best the 2018 Yankees take the 2000 Yankees at their word.
Don’t board that flight from hell.