You think it was frustrating to watch the Yankees overmanage, micromanage, mismanage their pitchers in Tuesday’s Game 2 of the American League Division Series, which they lost 7–5 to the Rays? Try being one of those pitchers.
Here was the brilliant plan concocted by a franchise that, absent a pandemic, would have spent more than $99 million on its rotation this year: New York started righthander Deivi García, watched as Tampa Bay wrote five left-handed hitters into its lineup, then pulled him after an inning and replaced him with the left-handed J.A. Happ. The move put Happ in a position to succeed.
“That’s not a question for me to answer,” said Happ stiffly after it was over and he had allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings. He seethed quietly in a Yankees hoodie, answered in monosyllables and deferred most questions to manager Aaron Boone, who had already spoken: what exactly the plan was, the thinking behind it, whether it had worked. He said he had told his bosses that he would have felt more comfortable acting as a traditional starter. They overruled him.
“I didn't perform,” he said. “I'm frustrated that I didn't. I don't have an answer for it and I'm not going to make an excuse now for why that happened. … They know how I felt about it, but ultimately, when I pitch, you got me. There was no hesitation and no dwelling on what was going on. I was focused on trying to perform. I wish I would have done a better job.”
This strategy would have been too cute for the Yankees even if their players had embraced it. But when it became clear that at least one of them wasn’t fully bought in, they should have scrapped it. No matter what Happ says or even believes about his ability to ignore his frustration, his team should not have proceeded with a ploy that clearly made at least one of its participants uncomfortable.
This is not all Boone’s fault, of course. Several members of the front office and coaching staff collaborated on the decision. Boone insisted after the game that the chicanery did not mean that the team feels it does not have enough starting pitching to beat the Rays straight-up. If you say so, Aaron.
The worst part is that the Yankees had a perfectly good starter available: the one starting the game. On Sept. 8, New York lost its fifth straight game to fall to 21–21, in third place in the AL East and 6.5 games out of first. The next night, it sent García, 21, to the mound in Buffalo against the Blue Jays. He permitted two runs and struck out six in seven innings to stop the bleeding.
Boone said on Monday that he had chosen García to start Game 2 because of “the way he's handled himself and handled every situation so far.” García’s hero Pedro Martínez says García will be better than he was. On Tuesday, the kid allowed a home run to Tampa Bay left fielder Randy Arozarena and hit first baseman J-Man Choi but otherwise pitched fine. García certainly could have made it one time through the order.
Instead Boone removed him after 27 pitches and called for Happ, who had not pitched since Sept. 25. He gave up a single, got two outs and then allowed a home run before escaping. He served up another two-run shot in the third. Finally, with two on and two out in the fourth, Boone replaced Happ with righty Adam Ottavino. The rest of the bullpen held the Rays to two more runs, and the Yankees’ offense kept it close. DH Giancarlo Stanton, who hit the ball so hard on Tuesday that he should have received extra credit, smacked two home runs, and second baseman DJ LeMahieu poked a two-out, run-scoring single in the ninth. But they could not overcome the hole their front office had dug them.
The Yankees don’t have to pull stunts like this. They are the Yankees. They can overpower opponents. That’s what they tried to do on Tuesday, and that’s what they will try to do in Game 3 on Wednesday, if only their bosses can get out of their way.