By Lenn Robbins
Every teammate is a great one, every manager makes all the right move, and every GM is a savant until the wheels start coming off, which is what has been happening lately to the Yankees for one of the first times in the Aaron Boone/Brian Cashman era.
Perhaps worse than the Yankees having lost seven straight is the cracks that have shown in the most professional facade in baseball.
J.A. Happ has made no secret of his belief that the Yankees are limiting his use to avoid having to pay a $17 million vesting option. He last pitched on August 16th despite the Yankees being without James Paxton and Luis Severino.
Star pitcher Gerrit Cole wasn’t pleased that Boone pull him in a 2-2 tie against the Tampa Rays on August 19. The Yankees would lose that game, 4-2. It was the second loss of what would go on to be the franchise’s longest losing streak since 2017.
The streak came to a dubious end Saturday at Yankee Stadium when a wild pitch by former Yankee reliever Dellin Betances allowed Clint Frazier to score for a 2-1 win. When you’re trying to stop a seven-game skid, perhaps no loss is dubious. What’s happening in Pinstripe Land is.
Cashman had heard enough of Happ’s questioning the Yankees use of him and took the unusual step of responding in public.
“He did not have a good season last year,” Cashman said before the game. “He had a poor season last year, and he’s gotten out of the gate not very successful for us this year.
“You get a chance to play more with positive performance and you get the chance to play less with negative performance. It’s as simple as that. We’re not trying to complicate anything. Our job is to try to win baseball games and put the best players out there on the field under those circumstances, nothing more, nothing less.”
The veracity of Cashman’s words, at least in Happ’s mind, will be tested after the lefty threw seven and one-third innings of three-hit, shutout ball. Happ struck out five and didn’t issue a walk.
He didn’t get the decision after Boone removed him. The player and manager agreed 90 pitches was enough. Adam Ottavino performed as just about every Yankee reliever has in this Subway Series – terribly. He gave up a solo home run to Wilson Ramos in the eighth that tied the score 1-1.
“We had sort of talked about that, after the layoff, we talked about how that might play out,’’ Happ said. “That was fine by me.’’
Fortunately for the Yankees, one of their former relievers, Bettances, is now on the Mets. His wild pitch cost the Mets the game, snapped the Yankees losing streak, and for one day, ended the mess that has become the team that was favored to win the World Series.
No team has been hit harder by injuries than the Yankees. But no team has a higher payroll than the Yankees and none, not even the Dodgers, had a deeper roster at the start of this 60-game season.
Yes, the injuries have understandably weakened the Yankees, who improved to 17-13 and remained three and one-half games behind the Rays and one game ahead of the Blue Jays for second place in the A.L. East. The Mets are 15-17.
Regardless of the injuries, this is not where the Yankees expected to be at the midpoint of the season. The Yankees have only one, three-game series against the Rays remaining but the more pressing issue is how they handle this adversity.
Happ deferred questions about his contract, which kept any cracks from widening. Cole is a bulldog so his displeasure at getting pulled could be chalked up to competitiveness. He lost his next start however, snapping his 20-game, regular-season win streak so that needs watching, as does the health of Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Urshela, and the list goes on.
The Yankees did get a boost in the return of infielder DJ LeMahieu, who went 1-for-4. Gary Sanchez, who is in a season-long slump .130 (10-for-77), got the day off. On a day the Yankees starting pitching held up the hitting and relief didn’t. But at this point, a win is a win for the Yankees.
“Not the prettiest win, but we needed that bad,” said LeMahieu. “Hopefully that sparks us and we get back to playing how we should be playing, how we know how to. It was a tough little stretch there.”
There’s no guarantee it’s over.