Boone A Reason Yankees Are Done
These words are going to seem unfair.
When they’re thought about, though, it has to be concluded by any degree of objectivity that they’re true.
The New York Yankees have a big problem with their manager. End of story.
And yes, the Yankees’ manager is Aaron Boone, the guy the Yanks let the more-gruff, but infinitely more accomplished Joe Girardi walk to get. The guy who never so much as coached a professional game before he got the job, and still led the Yankees to 100 wins during the regular season, still led them to a win in the wild-card game, and had them fighting back in Game 4 against a 108-win team from Boston that had been a cut above everybody, all season.
However, this is also a team that had the best bullpen in baseball, a team that got within one win of the World Series one season ago, and added the reigning National League Most Valuable Player to its lineup. Fans had every right to expect better. The franchise had every right to demand it. And Boone stands out as a reason they weren’t.
At the end of the road for the Yankees, we can debate the weaknesses of a postseason offense that many now say relied too heavily on the home run — even though it hit more of them than any team in history. We can similarly debate the weaknesses of a starting rotation that couldn’t find consistency since the all-star break — even though that rotation was less a factor in the Yankees’ success than its dominant bullpen.
There’s no question three factors ended the Yankees’ season in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Tuesday night. Boone, however, is the only one of those three factors who has doomed the Yanks for months, his strategical decisions, especially with how and when to best use that bullpen, falling flat long before October dawned.
Now, the Yankees have a question to consider: While they can conceivably tweak the offense, and while they can make the starting rotation better with the help of some cash and scouting, will any of it matter if their manager isn’t able to improve a lackluster feel for what’s going on around him?
Look at Game 3 of the ALDS. Boone gave the ball to right-hander Luis Severino with a rested bullpen, series tied.
Severino hasn’t looked like an all-star-caliber pitcher since the All-Star Game, and it would have been understandable to have a backup plan if he struggled early. And, struggle Severino did.
His fastball a tick or two short of its normal velocity and his lack of command forcing him to seek strikes over the plate and not the edges, Boston’s first three outs of the game were rockets. Severino allowed a run in the second on an infield single, then two more in the third before Steve Pearce rocked the last pitch of the inning to center, where Brett Gardner ran it down near the warning track. In short, the Yankees were down 3-0, Severino was getting hit exceedingly hard, and the Red Sox were showing no signs of slowing.
But Boone sent Severino back out for the fourth inning, and sure enough, Boston battered him. He allowed two singles and a walk to load the bases before Boone inexplicably went to Lance Lynn, a starter not used to entering games in that type of situation. That the Red Sox went on to win, 16-1, should give you a glimpse of how Lynn did.
That failure of Boone’s made sticking with CC Sabathia in a do-or-die Game 4, in a strikingly similar situation, mind-boggling.
Here’s what Boone had to say about his expectations for Sabathia, before the game: “He could pitch well for a couple two or three innings, and because of the way we’re lined up and rested in our bullpen, especially with our high-leverage guys, we feel like we have a lot of length out of them tonight, as much as we would almost ever have.”
Sabathia is a great Yankee, a guy they can announce at the end of the introductions on Old Timer’s Day amongst the legends and expect to receive a rousing ovation. But he’s not a guy who’s going to give you six or seven dominant innings anymore. “A couple two or three” is probably about right.
The problem is Boone tried to push that. Sabathia got the Yankees through two scoreless innings, and at that point, in an absolute must-win game, Boone should have had the bullpen at the ready. He didn’t and Sabathia plunked Andrew Benintendi to lead off the third inning. Pearce, who has a .959 OPS against lefties and has crushed Sabathia in recent years, punched a single to center, and only then did Boone get right-hander David Robertson going in the bullpen.
A sacrifice fly by J.D. Martinez made it 1-0, and Xander Bogaerts grounded out to get the Yanks within an out of keeping it there. It was a clear opportunity to get Robertson in, with Ian Kinsler and Eduardo Nuñez — two right-handed hitters — due up. Boone said he never considered going to Robertson.
“I was fine with the way CC was throwing the ball,” Boone said. “He was at the two-out point. We were going to have him go through (lefty swinging Jackie) Bradley. Simple as that.”
That strategy of trying to squeak a few more outs out of Sabathia makes no sense. The Yankees didn’t have a better offense than Boston. They didn’t have a better starting rotation. Their only decided advantage rested with the bullpen. Boone admittedly ignored that.
Instead, he allowed two right-handed hitters to get RBI hits against an aging lefty in an inning that decided the most critical game he has ever managed.
When you have a history of being too slow to the whip, you’re consistently going to fall behind. One season into his career, that is now Boone’s M.O.
Can that change? Who knows? It better, or else the safe money is on Boone not getting a third chance to put the Yankees over the top.
As it stands, the 2018 Yankees had the hype and the momentum and the young sluggers and the most-decorated addition; but when it mattered the most, the team that had the difference-making first-year manager was the Boston Red Sox.
DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.