After the New York Yankees tied the series with a win in Game 2, being back home with their ace on the mound should have been their recipe for a lead in the American League Division Series.
Turns out, it was a recipe for a 16-1 rout at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.
Game 3 got away from the Yankees quickly no thanks to Luis Severino. It was clear from the start (following a suspiciously late warm-up, no less) that the right-hander didn’t have his best stuff, and he ended up charged with six runs in three-plus innings.
Red Sox hitters are owed a tip of the ol’ cap for how they handled Severino. They swung and missed at only five of his 70 pitches, and seven of their 14 batted balls off him registered over 100 mph.
They kept right on hitting after Severino was lifted upon loading the bases with nobody out in the fourth inning. They scored seven of their 16 runs in the frame, including three on a bases-clearing double by Andrew Benintendi.
That wasn’t all Severino’s fault. Some of it was Lance Lynn’s and Chad Green’s.
But above all, it was Aaron Boone’s.
Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
It didn’t take a strong pair of glasses to see that Severino wasn’t fooling Red Sox hitters in the first three innings. He’d given up three runs, and the amount of hard contact indicated that the 24-year-old was lucky it wasn’t worse.
Even with the bottom of Boston’s order due up in the top of the fourth, Boone was thus taking a chance simply in allowing Severino to return to the mound. After he allowed a leadoff single to Brock Holt—his first step toward the first cycle in postseason history—the hook should have come out immediately.
Instead, Boone let Severino give up another hit to Christian Vazquez, followed by a walk to Jackie Bradley Jr. Only then did Boone signal for a new pitcher.
He screwed that part up, too.
In a bases-loaded, no-out situation, Boone’s first move should have been for one of the top arms from the most overpowering bullpen in Major League Baseball history. Boone instead opted for Lynn, a career starter who’s in New York’s October pen as little more than a long man.
The move worked about as expected, which is to say not at all. Lynn walked Mookie Betts to force in a run, and then came Benintendi’s three-run gut punch.
By the time Boone called on Green, Lynn had allowed another hit to put two runners on with only one out. Despite Green’s best efforts, three more runs scored, and whatever hope the Yankees had of mounting a comeback was all but gone.
Boone did lead the Yankees to 100 wins in his first season at the helm. He also managed about as well as he could have in the AL Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics. And apart from the first three innings of Game 1, the Yankees mostly had the upper hand in the opening games of the ALDS. As such, it’s in fairness to him to note that ineptitude has not been a feature of his managing.
However, there’s simply no explaining away Boone’s blunders in Game 3.
The long leash he put on Severino might have made sense if this was the same Severino who dominated throughout all of 2017 and most of 2018. But everyone is aware Severino struggled (5.57 ERA in 12 starts) in the second half. And while he refused to break, he definitely bent in his four innings in the Wild Card Game.
Boone’s decision to make Lynn the first man out of the bullpen is equally baffling. If he was going to bring in Lynn, it should have been with clean bases at the start of the inning. Once that ship sailed, Boone’s first move should have been for a pitcher accustomed to dominating in high leverage.
The Yankees have a bunch of those, including the only foursome in history to record strikeout rates north of 30 percent: Green, David Robertson, Dellin Betances or Aroldis Chapman.
Why was Boone slow to call on his big guns? He told reporters (including Marc Carig of The Athletic) that it had something to do with Betances’ limited availability:
Marc Carig @MarcCarig
Boone says he wanted to steal some outs from Severino partly because Betances was available for only one inning.
Bring on the skepticism. Betances did pitch two innings in each of the first two games of the ALDS, but there was an off day in between Game 2 and Game 3. All hands should have been on deck Monday.
Indeed, a skipper like Boone has no business being a conservative bullpen manager. He’s supposed to be the new-age guy who can take the Yankees to heights they couldn’t reach under Joe Girardi’s more old-school approach. Creative roster manipulation, up to and including aggressive bullpen management, is supposed to set Boone apart.
No such creativity was present in Game 3, which is the worst postseason loss in the history of the Yankees. Now they need to win in Game 4 on Tuesday to extend their season. Even if they do, they’d then have to win a Game 5 at Fenway Park to move on to the American League Championship Series.
In so many words, the Yankees are in trouble. And in this case, it’s very much trouble of their own making.