The Yankees have had lots of disappointing losses over the past six weeks, so many that after a while it became pointless to label one or another as the “worst loss of the season.” Saturday night’s game in Seattle certainly doesn’t fit into that category, but I’m certain that several different Yankees went to bed wondering about what might have been, about all the small ripples that could’ve bent this game in New York’s favor.
Things begin nicely enough with a run in the second, but the manner in which the run came across is a bit troubling. Todd Frazier may have been acquired more to keep him from the Red Sox than for any benefit he may give the Yankees – so far that benefit is minimal – but he’s been struggling. He came to the plate in the second inning with no one out and runners on first and second, and wasted little time in killing the rally. After swinging through two pitches to dig an 0-2 hole, he bounced into a 5-4-3 double play. The run scored, but a big opportunity was missed. Todd Frazier likely did not sleep well last night.
Masahiro “Box of Chocolates” Tanaka was on the mound for the Yankees, and after two uneventful innings, things unravelled for him in the third. Mike Zunino led off the inning with a homer to tie the game at one, and two batters later Ben Gamel whacked a dinger of his own to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead. Tanaka rebounded by striking out Robinson Canó for the second out, but then there was an infield single by Nelson Crúz, a splitter that landed on Kyle Seager’s foot, and then consecutive RBI singles from Danny Valencia and Mitch Haniger. Tanaka threw 39 pitches and allowed four runs in the inning, adding to the confusion which swirls around the most enigmatic pitcher on the Yankee staff.
But then things got even more confusing for Tanaka. He set down the side in the fourth on just six pitches, then did the same in the fifth with only eight. He had to work just a bit harder in the sixth, but he still managed a one-two-three inning on thirteen pitches. If you happened to duck away from the game for some reason during the third inning, you probably think Tanaka had a brilliant outing, and except for that third inning he did. In his other five innings he faced just seventeen batters and allowed only two singles. In that fateful third frame, however, the Mariners sent all nine batters to the plate and produced three singles, two homers, and a hit batsman. Were it not for that inning, this would’ve been an easy win for the Yankees. Masahiro Tanaka likely did not sleep well last night.
After Tanaka righted the ship, the Yankee batters began to chip away at Seattle’s Ariel Miranda. They cut the lead to 4-2 in the fifth inning when Garrett Cooper tripled and came home on a sacrifice fly from Ronald Torreyes, and Aaron Judge lofted a ho-hum homer to right to make it 4-3 in the sixth.
In the eighth, another opportunity was missed. Brett Gardner singled with one out, bringing up Clint Frazier. (Yesterday, by the way, I campaigned for Frazier to continue playing over Jacoby Ellsbury; I can only assume that Girardi reads the Banter, because before Saturday’s game, the manager said he’d continue to play the youngster, and revealed he’d explained this to Ellsbury.)
Frazier looked at the first pitch he saw from Seattle reliever and former Yankee David Phelps and hit a laser that looked like it might make its way into the stands in left field. Instead the ball hit the yellow line that marks the top of the wall and fell to the turf for a double that pushed Gardner to third. Only two inches, perhaps, separated the Yankees from a 5-4 lead, but they’d at least get the tying run two batters later when Matt Holliday came up with the bases loaded and produced a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Gardner and moving Frazier to third.
Next up was Gary Sánchez. Last year’s phenom hasn’t matched the obscene numbers from his rookie campaign, but it could be because he seems to hit rockets into fielders’ gloves at least once or twice a game. Batting with two out and runners at the corners here in the eighth, he did it again. He sampled a 2-0 pitch and sent a rope out to right field that seemed certain to be an RBI single (or perhaps more), only to watch Haniger race in to snare it for the final out of the inning. An inch here or there and this would’ve been a huge inning. Clint Frazier and Gary Sánchez likely did not sleep well last night.
As the game moved into the bottom of the eighth, all signs seemed to favor the Yankees. With a relatively fresh holster of flame-throwing relievers, Girardi would be able to bring one in after another, casually putting zeroes up on the scoreboard as confidently as a riverboat gambler laying aces on the table. All he’d have to do was wait for the Yankee offense to scratch out another run before playing his final card and securing the win, right?
That idea lasted about thirty seconds. Fresh off Friday night’s dominant performance, David Robertson came in to face Canó as he led off the eighth. Robertson put a fastball exactly where he wanted it – at the knees and on the black – a perfect pitch that would’ve crippled any ordinary left-handed batter, producing a ground ball to second if he swung or an 0-1 count if he didn’t. Robinson Canó, however, is no ordinary hitter. He reached out across the plate with his smooth-as-molasses swing and served the ball out to left field. The ball carried deep and deeper until it finally settled into the stands for a home run and a 5-4 Seattle lead.
After following the path of the ball into the bleachers, Robertson immediately snapped his head back towards Sánchez in disbelief. The replay of Canó’s swing showed Sánchez equally surprised, turning his empty glove and his bare hand up to the heavens in the universal symbol for “what the hell just happened?” Robertson easily mowed through the next three batters, but the two continued discussing the pitch as soon as they got to the dugout. Afterwards Robertson admitted that he had put the pitch exactly where he wanted, but acknowledged he had simply been beaten by a great hitter. David Robertson likely did not sleep well last night.
So after scraping their way back into the game and looking poised to win, the Yankees were suddenly three outs away from defeat. Didi Gregorious led off the ninth with a walk, but when Todd Frazier fouled out, dropping his average to a lusty .201, and Chase Headley (batting for Cooper) flied out to center, the Yanks were down to their final out, and this is when the gears started turning.
Ronald Torreyes was headed to the plate, and Girardi could’ve pinch hit Ellsbury, but instead he chose to use Ellsbury to run for Gregorious, explaining afterwards that he felt like he needed to steal a base. I suppose the marginal upgrade in that spot outweighed what would be (sadly) a similarly marginal upgrade had he hit for Torreyes.
You probably already know that it worked out, and Torreyes drove in the tying run, but unless you were watching you don’t know how it happened. Torreyes, naturally, fell into an 0-2 hole, putting the Yankees even deeper into the jaws of defeat, but when Ellsbury stole second on the next pitch, suddenly there was a glimmer of hope. On a 1-2 count, Seattle closer Edwin Díaz threw a slider that darted away from Torreyes and into the opposite batter’s box. Having already committed to his swing before realizing he couldn’t possibly reach the pitch, Torreyes did the only thing he could do; he threw his bat at the ball, barely clipping it to stay alive. The bat came to rest just behind the pitcher’s mound, and Díaz politely retrieved it for him, only to have his next pitch rudely laced into left field, easily scoring Ellsbury with the tying run.
The bottom of the ninth inning was interesting for two reasons. First, all of Girardi’s maneuvering had left him with a makeshift infield: Todd Frazier was still at third, but Torreyes had moved over to short, Headley was placed at second for the first time in his major league career, and Austin Romine came in to play first. (Part of the problem was that Starlin Castro had been put on the disabled list earlier in the day, and his replacement, Tyler Wade, hadn’t been able to get to Seattle in time for the game; the Yankees were playing a man short.) The second interesting thing was Tommy Kahnle, who continues to be dominant. Guillermo Heredia reached on a hit by pitch (the play was upheld by review, but I still don’t believe the ball hit him), but Kahnle struck out the other three hitters he faced, something I think we’ll see a lot of over the course of the summer.
Home plate umpire Pat Hoberg decided to insert himself into the game during the tenth inning, and a disgruntled Yankee fan could easily argue that Hoberg decided the game. Clint Frazier led off the tenth against Tony Zych and worked his way into a 2-2 count. The next pitch came in low, probably an inch or two below the knees, but Hoberg saw it as a strike, and Frazier returned to the bench. Judge was up next and pushed the count full before taking a pitch and immediately tossing his bat back towards the Yankee dugout. He had taken three steps towards first before Hoberg rung him up for strike three. Perhaps more than any Yankee, Judge has a firm understanding of the strike zone, and this pitch was a clear ball, even a touch lower than the one which had victimized Frazier. So instead of having runners on first and second with no one out in the top of the tenth, the bases were empty with two outs. Holliday followed all that with a grounder to short, and the inning was done.
Adam Warren came in for the bottom of the tenth and was promptly touched for a loud double by Ben Gamel, and suddenly the game was there for Seattle’s taking. After an intentional walk to Canó, Nelson Crúz stepped to the plate looking to be the hero. The real hero, though, would be Hoberg. With the count 1-1, Warren threw a pitch at the knees, a pitch that appeared to be even a hair or two higher than the strikes to Frazier and Judge, but Hoberg didn’t flinch. He saw it low, and Gary Sánchez wasn’t happy about it. His body slumped in disbelief when he didn’t get the call, and he turned his head to bark at Hoberg twice before returning the ball to Warren. Still not satisfied, he got up from his crouch and said a few more words before finally sitting back down. I’d like to think that Hoberg gave him some leeway because he knew he had missed the call.
Ten seconds later the game was over. Swinging aggressively at a 2-1 pitch (instead of defensively, had the count been 1-2), Crúz lashed a single to right, and Gamel scored easily. Mariners 6, Yankees 5. I’d like to think that Pat Hoberg did not sleep well last night, but I’m guessing he probably slept like a baby.
If Friday night’s game was the blueprint for future success, Saturday night was the ghost of failures past. It was the fifth time the Yankees had been walked off, something that happened only four times last year, and it lowered their mark in one-run games to an abysmal 9-19.
The good news, of course, is that tomorrow is another day and another chance to win the series. It won’t be the most important game of their season, but it’s certainly a big one. Don’t worry, though, I feel a victory coming on, as likely as hot coffee on a rainy day in Seattle.