ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 29: Manager Joe Girardi #28 of the New York Yankees waits in the dugout after taking pitcher Ivan Nova off the mound during the fifth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 29, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
The Yankees and Red Sox were matching up in a four game set that could help determine playoff aspirations for both clubs. The fact that the Yankees were playing meaningful baseball in September after things were looking at the end of July was amazing in itself. The Red Sox have been red hot of late, but if the Yankees could cool them down a bit, the possibility exists that they could be knocking on the door of first place in the division by Sunday night.
A hard pill to swallow
The Yankees had a perfect opportunity to get a jump start on the series with Masahiro Tanaka on the mound in the opener. Tanaka has been the Yankees rock in the rotation this season and if they were going to gain ground against the Red Sox, they certainly needed this one. Even without his best stuff, Tanaka was brilliant on Thursday as he held Boston to one run over seven innings. This without even one strikeout. This is certainly a guy who can pitch, not just throw a baseball. To me, it was a more impressive performance than if he got out there and had struck out 11 over his seven innings. Kudos, Mr. Tanaka and here’s to your Cy Young bid.
The Yankee offense was once again a story of runners left on base and missed opportunities. If it hadn’t been for Billy Butler getting off to a hot start in his debut with the team, it might have been even worse. Butler has a sac fly and an RBI single in his first two at bats. 5-for-16 with runners in scoring position and 12 left on base. That amounted to five runs scored and with Tanaka pitching the way he did, you would normally count on a W in this contest. Not so fast. I did say the Sox have been hot and we all know how the Yankee bullpen has been performing of late.
With the Yankees up 5-1 in the home half of the eighth, Adam Warren served up a solo home run to David Ortiz. Holding him to solo home runs is not a horrible thing. And if everyone else does their job, he doesn’t bat with runners on base in the ninth. Warren managed to get out of the eighth holding a 5-2 lead, but the nightmare was only beginning.
The top of the ninth held more offensive frustation for the Yankees as they had first and third and nobody out before Brian McCann struck out. Didi drew a walk to load the bases, but Chase Headley came up empty as he struck out as well. Mason Williams looked to be coming to the rescue as he hit a rocket that Joe Kelly caught only in self defense to end the inning.
The bottom half of the ninth was beyond excruciating and I will save the particulars. In a game that should have been put out of reach, the Yankees managed to cough up five runs to lose 7-5. Dellin Betances didn’t start the inning because Joe Girardi didn’t want to overuse him. If that is so, sit him. No matter what. But, when things got really dicey, here came Betances. And he had absolutely nothing to offer. Sigh. This was probably the nail in the coffin as far as any expectations for winning the division were concerned. Not that I thought there was a high expectation for that. But, having blown two winnable games in the ninth inning on consecutive days, the wildcard chances are dwindling quickly.
Slip sliding away
After last night’s horrible ninth inning meltdown, the Yankees tried to get back on the horse and start a much needed win streak with Luis Cessa on the hill. Cessa has had trouble with giving up early runs and giving up a lot of home runs. Both things did not give a lot of hope for Friday night. Cessa would allow the first five batters he faced in the first inning to reach base and two runs to score before he righted the ship and got out of the inning. Were it not for a great throw from Brett Gardner to nail Dustin Pedroia at second base, it may have been much worse. But, the Yankees were facing an early deficit once again.
The offense would once again have opportunities to score early and often, but couldn’t scratch a single run until Gary Sanchez‘s two run double in the fifth. Multiple runners on base in the first three innings were stranded, twice by Sanchez grounding into double plays. But, the fact remained that it was still a one run game before a curious managerial choice in the sixth.
Cessa had settled down and had kept the Red Sox to one run since the first inning. Cessa was at 64 pitches on the night and granted he was a bit wobbly and the heart of the Red Sox order was coming up in a game that was desperately needed. But, given the state of the Yankee bullpen, was there a better option than Cessa at that moment? Four relievers combined to give up four runs over the next two innings and essentially put the game out of reach. Butler’s pinch-hit two run homer in the ninth cut it to a three run lead, but that was as far as it got as Craig Kimbrell shut the door with the final two outs.
Playoff hopes are fading quickly. The next two games are critical to see if the team will get off the mat and fight. The division is over as far as the Yankees are concerned. Now, the hope is just to win games.
So close, yet so far
Needing a win just to right the ship and hold out any hope of a playoff spot, the Yankees turned to Bryan Mitchell on Saturday against David Price. An early 3-0 lead thanks to a Brett Gardner RBI triple and another Sanchez bomb, this one over the Green Monster, was a good sign. But, the Red Sox are on a roll right now and they came back with a pair of runs of their own. A two-run double from Austin Romine restored the three run lead, however, this would be the end of the scoring for the Yankees on Saturday as the Sox would peck away through the rest of the game.
Mitchell started pretty decent in this one, but one pitch to Xander Bogaerts would end his day allowing 4 runs in 4.2 innings. It was a pitch that not many are going to hit, much less put over the Monster for a home run. In Mitchell’s defense, he has been thrust into a situation that he really was not ready for given the amount of time he missed this season. I would fully expect him to come out in 2017 and be ready to hold his own with a rotation spot.
Saturday’s bullpen meltdown was a tandem of Luis Severino and Adam Warren. The two gave up the tying and go-ahead runs in the seventh inning. The bullpen is certainly going to have to be a point of emphasis during the offseason. There are opportunities there to be had.
The offense looked good early on, but couldn’t put anything together in the late innings to give the team a chance at a comeback. Didi and Romine both had a pair of hits, however, Ellsbury and Castro left the game with apparent leg injuries. Both are headed back to New York for tests and the possibility exists that Castro’s season could be done. It was fun while it lasted, but barring a ridiculous run of wins to finish the season, the playoff chase is over. But, at least there was some meaningful baseball played after the trade deadline.
Down and probably out
With injuries mounting and a makeshift lineup in place, the Yankees looked to try to get up off the mat against the Red Sox and salvage the final game of the series with C.C. Sabathia on the mound. Early on, the Yankees looked up to the task as they built a 4-0 lead against Drew Pomeranz. The scoring was punctuated by a home run from Sanchez that appeared as though he was going to hit it through one of the signs on the outskirts of Fenway. Amazing. I would pay to watch this guys AB’s even if the Yankees were headed for 0-162.
As we have seen all series, a lead is only so solid against the Red Sox right now as they will certainly mount a comeback. Given an extra out as a result of Sabathia and Butler not being able to connect on a throw to first base, Hanley Ramirez hit a three-run bomb in the fifth to cut the lead to one. As hot as Sanchez has been, Ramirez has just owned the Yankees this weekend.
Sabathia’s leash was longer than necessary and with his pitch count at 101 he was trotted back out to the mound in the sixth. By the time Blake Parker was inserted in relief, the damage was done and the Red Sox had managed to tie the game. The comeback was complete an inning later as Tyler Clippard hung one to, you guessed it, Ramirez. Story of the series. The Red Sox had their number and no matter what the Yankees threw at them, they had an answer.