NEW YORK — The greatest indignity Yankees fans suffered on Thursday night was not one of the four errors or 13 strikeouts or 17 men left on base in an 8–3 drubbing that never felt that close. No, the cruelest moment of Game 4 of the ALCS came in the bottom of the ninth, four hours and 18 minutes into the most pitiful showing by a group of New Yorkers since Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign, when centerfielder Aaron Hicks worked a two-out, eight-pitch walk. Mercifully, second baseman Gleyber Torres skied the next pitch to rightfield to put both remaining fans out of their misery.
The Astros clobbered a dozen New York pitches, but the most impressive exit velocity on the night was the speed of the crowd departing in the late innings. Even perpetually positive radio broadcasters Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling, also known as Ma and Pa Yankee, could find just one silver lining by the ninth: They would face no traffic leaving the parking garage.
There’s no shame in losing to the Astros, the consensus best team in baseball. But the Yankees didn’t lose to the Astros on Thursday. The Yankees lost to the Yankees.
“I think we all would say that’s unacceptable for where we are in the season,” said reliever Zack Britton. “That was tough to watch. You can’t really do anything about it now, but we’re gonna have to play a lot better baseball if we want to beat these guys tomorrow.”
This was their third loss in the series, but it stung the most, and not just because it put them one game from winter. Houston boasts perhaps the most impenetrable top of the rotation in the sport: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. In a seven-game series, they can pitch twice each. That leaves three games. All week, the Yankees have told themselves they just needed to break through that wall once, as long as they bruised the weaker members of the staff, such as Zack Greinke, whom they beat 7-0 in Game 1.
Greinke started Game 4, and by the seventh batter of the first inning, New York looked poised to execute its plan. One run was in and the bases were loaded with two outs when catcher Gary Sánchez strode to the plate. Greinke had walked the last two hitters. Astros manager A.J. Hinch had phoned the bullpen and told long man Brad Peacock to begin throwing. Sánchez took a curveball that just clipped the bottom of the zone. He swung through a fastball at his abs. And then he chased a slider in the dirt. Inning over. Threat over. Greinke retired 10 of the next 11 hitters.
Things never got better. In the third, Masahiro Tanaka walked the No. 8 hitter on four pitches, allowed a single and then left a split-fingered fastball at George Springer’s belt. He put it in the stands beyond leftfield.
The Yankees again loaded the bases in the fifth, down two runs, but the next two hitters struck out.
And then the night really began to fall apart. DJ LeMahieu, a second baseman who moved to first in August, had already made one error when he let a ball skip by him in the eighth. The next batter hit a grounder to second baseman Gleyber Torres, who let that one get by him, too. The next man lined to rightfielder Aaron Judge, who fired a strike to second base in an attempt at an inning-ending double play; perhaps to make the others feel better, shortstop Didi Gregorius dropped the ball. The final out came on a flyball to shallow rightfield; Torres and Judge could not decide who had priority and nearly let it fall. An inning later, Torres swiped at a ball that stayed under his glove. No Yankee team had committed four errors in a postseason game since 1976.
Manager Aaron Boone abhors team meetings, but he nonetheless called one after the humiliation was complete. We need to get over this in a hurry, he told the players. The series isn’t over.
“We played poorly tonight,” Boone said. “I know these guys will come focused and ready to go tomorrow.”
Sure. But tomorrow they face Verlander.