It took five pitches on Sunday for the Yankees to find themselves in a familiar position: losing.
Domingo German’s fifth plateward toss became a 446-foot missile from Alex Verdugo into the right center field seats. Before the Yankees even picked up a bat, they were down a run, instantly playing from behind in a game they needed to avoid getting swept at home.
To their credit, the hitters responded immediately. But — with an assist from the umpires — the Red Sox beat the Yankees 6-5 in ten innings Sunday night. It’s the first time the Yankees (31-29) have been swept at the Stadium by their hated rivals since 2011.
“Obviously, it’s very frustrating,” Aaron Boone said after the Yankees’ fourth straight loss. “You saw some of that emotion spill over,” he said of two of his coaches getting ejected late. “It was an awful week for us, culminating in the end of this homestand. We gotta get right, we gotta get better, and it starts now on the road as we head to Minnesota.”
Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela whapped three singles in a row in the bottom of the first, setting up a bases loaded situation that has led to a stream of double plays all spring. With Gary Sanchez strolling to the dish and Garrett Richards’ whirling breaking pitches standing 60 feet away, the pieces were in place for yet another twin killing.
Instead of producing two outs, Sanchez produced two runs.
After taking the first pitch, a breaking ball at the knees for strike one, Sanchez stayed on another breaker and punched it down the left field line. His double scored Judge and Torres, generating a lead for the Yankees and a collective exhale from the entire tri-state area. However, they’d leave runners on second and third to end the threat, something that would loom much larger as the night sky darkened.
German allowed four additional base runners after Verdugo’s rocket finally landed. He left to an appreciative ovation after 5.2 innings, pounding his glove in triumph as the Yankee Stadium crowd bid him a gracious adieu.
Lucas Luetge put out the miniature fire that German left behind, freezing the potential tying run with a looping curveball for Rafael Devers’ second K of the night.
Then he came back out for the seventh.
Hunter Renfroe walked on four pitches, none of which gave the home plate umpire any trouble. Marwin Gonzalez was lurking in the on-deck circle, and with Luetge on the mound, Gonzalez flipped to his preferred right side of the plate. The switch hitter watched the first slider land for a strike, perhaps baiting Luetge to throw another one. When he got his wish, Gonzalez deposited the ball just inside the left field foul pole, tying the game that the Yankees had ample opportunities to put away.
Instead, it was the Red Sox who took a late-inning lead, capitalizing on a Yankee brain fart. The eighth inning began with a bloop double that nine out of ten scorers would have ruled an error on DJ Lemahieu.
“It was a long way for everyone to run,” Boone said of the play. “It was in that triangle and just drifted back. I haven’t seen Clint’s jump and where he had to come from.”
A simple 12-hopper to the right side moved the runner over to set up Xander Bogaerts’ go-ahead sacrifice fly. That gave Boston a 4-3 lead that felt insurmountable, withstanding a Giancarlo Stanton pinch-hit appearance that ended with another swinging strikeout.
The Yankees just didn’t want to make things easy on themselves. Facing dominant closer Matt Barnes, who needed just two more outs for a win, Judge took a prudent walk, setting the table for Torres. The Yankees shortstop picked a great pitch to hit and sent it to the left field corner. One bobble from Verdugo was all it took for Judge to score and even things up in a game that the Yankees felt ordained to lose.
Those feelings came back when Rougned Odor subbed in for Chris Gittens and got rang up on a pitch clearly off the plate.
The monumental call earned Phil Nevin — still just in the dugout as he recovers from COVID — an ejection for arguing. The same fate came for Carlos Mendoza, who’s temporarily filling in for Nevin as third base coach, in the top of the tenth when Bobby Dalbec was granted ball four on a pitch the Yankees wanted.
“We’re going through a really tough stretch,” Boone offered after the game, when he also called Mendoza’s ejection “ridiculous.”
The losing feeling was driven home like a stake by that Bogaerts guy again. He socked a double in the first extra frame for two more RBI. This time, the lead really was insurmountable, as the Yankees went down scorelessly to close the book on this maddening three-game set.
“A lot of good things happened tonight,” Boone remarked. “We were able to put some pressure on them early and build a little bit of a lead. Domingo threw the ball well, but then they held us down for a while and had a lot of big at-bats late. We gotta find a way to start scratching out some W’s.”
Boston’s postgame handshake line punctuated a game that so perfectly displayed the differences between these teams through their first 60 games. A Sunday gathering that had so much Yankee promise in its first half gave way to Red Sox fundamentals and resilience, first on the small ball clinic that knotted things up following LeMahieu’s should-be error, then when they snatched momentum for good in the waning hours.
It’s fitting that the Yankees final rally was prematurely extinguished by yet another double play.