It’s a 2-Team A.L. East Race. The Yankees Aren’t One of Them.
BOSTON – Imagine if all the baseball we’ve seen this season has never been played. If you love the Yankees, especially after another humble weekend at Fenway Park, you might like this idea: wipe it off and start fresh.
Of course, that really happened last year, with the pandemic forcing the cancellation of the first 102 games ahead of a fanless mini-season. Their absence was keenly felt here, where history and a sense of community are so central to the experience.
“Last year wasn’t baseball, in my opinion,” Red Sox designate hitter JD Martinez said recently. “Sixty games, man. It was just weird. It wasn’t fun. We could hear the cars passing on the highway. I had never heard this before; that’s how it is calm.
“It’s just different when you’ve got fans there, when it’s all back to normal – that’s what you play for.”
Martinez fired up in his final strike on Sunday, becoming the Red Sox’s fourth hitter to strike in the seventh inning against the Yankees’ German Domingo. (A batter hit on a passed ball.) The Red Sox had no hits or runs and followed the Yankees by four. Then a vintage Fenway rally – suddenly and loud – buried the Yankees.
The old shrine roared to life as the Red Sox tossed around in the eighth. A German double chased. Another double, two singles and the third double in the set crushed Jonathan Loaisiga. Zack Britton struck out three in a row, but two of the strikeouts got the runners home.
Red Sox 5, Yankees 4. Locate the Dropkick Murphys.
“You find yourself on top of the world, and all of a sudden you’re in freefall – and you’re falling fast,” German said through a Spanish-speaking interpreter. “It’s hard. It’s so hard to understand what happened.
The Yankees (51-47) took a post-game flight to Florida to find out. They trail the Red Sox (61-39) by nine games in the American League East and the second-place Tampa Bay Rays by eight. They are fourth in the wildcard two-place race, behind the Rays, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners.
In their biggest games, the Yankees were the worst: 8-18 against the Rays and Red Sox but 43-29 against everyone. They’ve lost three of four this weekend, and while their lone win was impressive – a late comeback on Saturday after falling behind by three – the moral victory speech is getting old.
“Look, it’s been a tough season so far, there’s no doubt about it,” manager Aaron Boone said. “But to these guys’ credit, they keep coming off the mat time and time again, and we will do it again.”
Continuing to compete despite difficult losses, however, is the bare minimum expected of professionals; admirable, yes, but hardly a feat. The real problem is why these losses keep happening.
The hard-working Yankees did unusual things for them on Sunday: they stole two goals, took a sacrifice bunt and even landed a triple from wide receiver Gary Sanchez, his second in more than 2,000 career appearances.
But they also rebounded in two double plays (they lead the majors with 94) and saw Giancarlo Stanton strike twice with runners in goal position. Stanton is 7 for 45 (0.156) with 21 strikeouts against Boston this season.
Boone, who hasn’t signed this season, has had a volatile game. The German – who only recently regained his place in the rotation – hadn’t thrown more than 72 shots in six weeks, and Boone pulled him out as soon as Alex Verdugo broke the batterless on the 93rd throw from German. It sounded reasonable enough, but German said he felt strong.
“No fatigue at all,” he said. “Not at all. I felt really good. When I started the match the first leg went well, and as the heats went on I felt better. I was able to. to have a very good rhythm and to be more aggressive when attacking the zone.
Verdugo’s brace, who broke the wall in front of the paddock in right field, led the Yankees to bring in Loaisiga for his second appearance since a stint on the Covid injured list. Typically, Boone had to use it for at least three batters – but he saved it for a fourth straight hit, a brace from Enrique Hernandez.
In this case, Boone said, he liked the straight-right match. With no outs and runners in the second and third, Boone called in left-hander Britton, a ground ball specialist, but only moved the corner players. A soft, routine shortstop ground player tied the game.
“Looking back, that’s what I’m kind of wondering about: should we have sold without any withdrawals there?” said Boone. “It is certainly debatable.”
The Yankees expect to activate outfielder Aaron Judge and wide receiver Kyle Higashioka from the Covid injured list this week against the Rays, and third baseman Gio Urshela returned on Sunday. But after nearly 100 games – a familiar and heartwarming reference, whatever your interest – it is clearly a two-team race for the division title.
Worse yet, for the Yankees, the Rays and Red Sox are only getting better. Tampa Bay has just traded with Minnesota for a first hitter, Nelson Cruz, and the Red Sox will soon host an ace, Chris Sale, who threw 64 pitches with his rebuilt left elbow in the minors on Sunday.
“There’s only one team that can add Chris Sale, and that’s us,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “And everyone knows what he means.”
The Yankees could counter before Friday’s trade deadline, but it may be too late to tell the difference.
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