The Yankees were probably not going to win Game 3 of their playoff series against the Red Sox no matter what Aaron Boone did in the home dugout. Boston’s lineup pounded six Yankees pitchers for 18 hits and 16 runs while starter Nathan Eovaldi continued his mastery of New York’s bats with seven innings of one-run ball, and Boston led 10-0 before cruising to a 16-1 win and a 2-1 series lead.
Boone wasn’t solely at fault or even the main culprit in the loss, which was the most lopsided in franchise playoff history and tied for the second-most lopsided in any team’s history, but he also didn’t need to add fuel to the road team’s fire. He didn’t need to lengthen his team’s odds for a series comeback, either, but that’s exactly what the Yankees’ rookie manager did Monday night, as he submitted his most perplexing effort on a night full of negative extremes for New York.
The troubles began with starter Luis Severino, who has been notoriously streaky in his brief playoff career. Severino was electric in four innings against Oakland in the wild-card game last week, but it was clear from his first pitch on Monday—a middle-middle fastball that Mookie Betts crushed for a 405-foot flyout—that this time he was doomed. Through his first three innings, he allowed 12 batted balls, seven of which were hit with an exit velocity north of 100 miles per hour. Rafael Devers whacked a single off the right-field wall, Betts lined a single in his second at-bat, and Xander Bogaerts lasered a single of his own—and even Severino’s outs were as loud as the balls that dropped, with long flyouts from Betts, Bogaerts, and then Steve Pearce to end the third.
Yet to start the fourth inning, Boone—with his team nursing a manageable 3-0 deficit and the most valuable bullpen in MLB history at his command—sent Severino back to the mound, replicating the same mistake he made in the wild-card game when he permitted Severino to face an extra two hitters to start an inning, both of whom reached base. Against Boston, the 24-year-old starter proceeded to allow a single to no. 7 hitter Brock Holt, a single to no. 8 hitter Christian Vázquez, and a four-pitch walk to no. 9 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr.
Only then did Boone turn to his bullpen. Except instead of calling on Chad Green, the fireman-style reliever who has been so reliable in escaping jams over the past two seasons, Boone summoned long man Lance Lynn. This move would have made sense to start the inning, with clear basepaths and a simple assignment for the least effective per-inning arm in the Yankees bullpen. Instead, Lynn entered the trickiest situation imaginable in an MLB game in 2018: bases loaded, no outs, Betts at the plate.
Boone’s issues only compounded once Lynn entered the game. Lynn predictably struggled in unfortunate circumstances, walking Betts and allowing a three-run double to Andrew Benintendi, as Boston’s lead ballooned to 7-0. Then, after the game was already effectively over (New York’s win probability after the double was 2.4 percent), the Yankees skipper decided it was time for Green.
I don’t get:— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) October 9, 2018
1. Why Boone was slow to get the bullpen going in the third.
2. Why Severino was allowed to continue pitching the 4th once he allowed a hit.
3. Why Lance Lynn entered with the bases loaded instead of Chad Green, who ended up pitching in the inning anyway.
Lynn faced four total batters and threw just 16 pitches on a night when New York dearly needed innings from its non-core relievers. He did pitch effectively in two innings of relief in Game 1, but he is mainly on the Yankees’ ALDS roster to provide depth in the case of a starter’s stumble, which should have made him the ideal long man on Monday.
Instead, with Lynn relieved early, Green ended up throwing 29 pitches and Jonathan Holder 38 as the Yankees tried to soak up innings, meaning the two right-handers will be either completely unavailable or at least less available in Tuesday’s pivotal Game 4. New York’s scheduled starter in that game is CC Sabathia, who lasted just 7 2/3 combined innings across two starts in elimination games in last year’s postseason, and who lasted more than four innings just once in three starts against Boston this season. If they are to survive on Tuesday, the Yankees likely will need plenty of bullpen innings, and Green and Holder should have been able to help collect those innings. But that prospective plan might need scrapping after they pitched in incredibly low-leverage frames in Game 3.
Boone stuck with an ineffectual starter for too long despite overwhelming evidence that the pitcher should be relieved; turned to the one member of his bullpen least suited to succeed in a bases-loaded, no-out situation; and began introducing his more effective relievers only when the game was already out of hand. It was a backward strategy for a typically forward-thinking manager, and the Yankees had better hope it was a blip rather than a portent of future mismanagement to come. They’re already behind in the series, and they’re already in a hole for Tuesday given the lengths their pen had to go in securing so many outs on Monday night.
The Yankees’ disastrous night on the mound ended, incidentally, with backup catcher Austin Romine appearing as an unexpected reliever. In the regular season, the Yankees were one of just five teams not to throw a position player; only the Rockies had gone longer without resorting to an impostor on the mound. Romine recorded two quick outs before allowing two runs on a Holt homer that completed the first cycle in playoff history. Boston manager Alex Cora inserted Holt at second base in Game 3’s lineup in an effort to boost his team’s offense, and his machinations couldn’t have worked any better. Boone meddled on Monday, too, just at the wrong times and in the wrong ways.