For a split second, the Yankees had life.
Then, as quickly as the line drive off Giancarlo Stanton's bat whistled through the air, clanking off the Green Monster, New York's Wild Card hopes came crashing back to their lifeless reality.
Shut down through five frames, the Yankees were in a position to break through in the sixth inning of their eventual loss in Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game. After an Anthony Rizzo solo home run and an Aaron Judge infield single forced Red Sox manager Alex Cora to take starter Nathan Eovaldi out of the ballgame, Stanton stepped up to the plate as the tying run.
Jumping on an elevated fastball from Ryan Brasier, Stanton smashed a missile into left-center field. It left the slugger's bat at 114.9 mph, the hardest batted ball of the entire game.
In another ballpark, it's a game-tying two-run home run. At Fenway Park, it was a live ball, caroming back toward Boston's outfielders.
Running from first base, Judge got on his horse, recalling that his mindset was to run as hard as he could until he was told to hold up. Waved around by third base coach Phil Nevin, Judge looked up as he approached home plate only to find that catcher Kevin Plawecki already had the baseball, ready to tag Judge out while blocking the plate.
He was out by a mile.
Replays flashed Boston's spectacular relay, including a perfect throw from shortstop Xander Bogaerts from shallow center field to home plate.
"It was an important point of the game, it definitely changed the momentum," Stanton said after the 6-2 loss. "Obviously you'd like to get a run there and be with one out with me on second. But, that's how the game goes."
New York finished the regular season with 22 outs made at home plate, tied with the Kansas City Royals for the most in all of baseball. Their 23rd of the year proved to be a decisive blow to their entire campaign in a sense, pointing the ballgame back in Boston's favor.
Joey Gallo was retired to end the inning and after that—other than Stanton's solo home run in the ninth—New York never threatened again. Who knows what happens in that frame if Judge stopped at third, possibly setting up a bigger inning with only one man out.
While fans erupted on social media, blaming Nevin for sending Judge, both the sluggers involved in the dramatic play seemed to back their coach, not regretting the risk one bit.
"Off the bat, I thought I had a chance to score just based on how crazy that wall is and the ricochets you'll get," Judge said. "It's got to take a perfect relay, a perfect throw to get me. Watching the replay, it was a perfect throw right on the money. Nothing you can really do about that. You've got to take chances in the postseason, you can't play scared."
Stanton was asked point blank if he was surprised to see Judge getting sent from third on the play, hung out to dry at home.
"No, I mean, it was bang-bang," he said. "Had to be two relatively perfect throws to get him out. You can take the chance there."
The chance backfired. Standing on second base, Stanton showed some pent up frustration. He later admitted that he was upset his line drive remained in the ballpark. If that was a two-run home run, the game would've been tied.
"I was upset that that probably would have left most anywhere. That would have changed the course of the game," Stanton said. "He wouldn't have been out at home and we would have been tied in a great spot. So yeah, I was pretty upset about that."
It's easy to look back in hindsight, but with all the gut-wrenching collapses and ineptitude that New York displayed periodically over the course of the regular season, all this team needed was one additional victory to secure home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game. Boston and the Bombers finished with the same regular season record (92-70).
Then, even if that ball doesn't leave the yard at Yankee Stadium—it wouldn't have been a home run in the Bronx according to Statcast—it still would have scored Judge with ease. Plus, imagine how raucous the crowd would've been in their favor in that moment, possibly propelling this team to a late-inning comeback.
Those shoulda wouldas from a campaign full of regrettable performances will eat away at you all offseason long when your season comes to an end in this fashion.
"Doesn't matter if it's in frickin' March, April, all we needed was one more and we would have had this at home," Stanton said. "They'll come back to bite you."
- Aaron Judge: ‘I Want to Be a Yankee for Life’
- Yankees Manager Aaron Boone ‘At Peace’ With Uncertain Future
- Brett Gardner Isn't Ready to Hang Up His Pinstripes Yet