Maybe it would have not mattered. When the final score is 16-1 many, many things have to go wrong so it certainly is possible that a single decision wouldn’t have altered the outcome.
But as I usually ask in cases like last night’s, we’ll just never know, will we? I sure would have liked to find out.
Let’s review: Yankees are losing 3-0, top of the 4th inning. The bases are loaded there’s nobody out and the top of the order is up for Boston.
Here’s what that tells us: This is serious. This can become game, set, match very quickly. Yet, at this point it’s still a game. We have a record-setting home run hitting team going against an average starting pitcher* and then a worse than average bullpen after that until the 9th.
So over the next few minutes, one of two scenarios will play out: A) the Red Sox will put the game out of reach right here, or B) the Yankees will escape with minimal damage and the game will continue in the bottom of the 4th.
What is needed for scenario “B” is a combination of strikeouts and infield pop-ups. We need a pitcher that misses bats – period. Fortunately for the Yankees…
…in the bullpen sat Aroldis Chapman who struck out 43.9% of the batters he faced this season. He was joined by Dellin Betances (42.3%), David Robertson (32.9%), Chad Green (31.5%) who were all fully aware this is the playoffs and some crazy stuff may happen – be ready.
Side note: If you want some perspective for those numbers, among 164 American League pitchers in 2018 that threw a minimum of 50 innings those rank 2nd, 3rd, 15th, and 19th respectively. You have 4 (FOUR) guys who are among the best in the league at getting strike three from whom you can choose.
Enter Joe Girar…whoops…Aaron Boone, who went to (wait for it): Lance Lynn. I don’t mean to pick on Lynn. I’d be writing this if anyone other than the aforementioned four entered the game at that point.
At this point there are a few things at play here:
- Writing about baseball for the past two seasons has illuminated to me what is an enormous and very common mistake that both fans and baseball personnel make: Many believe the sequence of events matters. It does not. May counts as much as September and the 2nd inning counts as much as the 8th. Playing for “later” is a highly flawed concept.
- This is why the idea of clutch is bullshit. Clutch was invented to tell stories, sell newspapers, and ad space. In the above situation, a clutch player would be able to tell that the game would be out of hand in the 9th and therefore would know this 4th inning spot was clutch. Or that the score would be close in the 9th and therefore would have to save his clutch performance for later. If you believe in clutch, you believe in clairvoyance. All you know is the situation you’re currently in – top 4, bases loaded, no out down 3 – is very, very important and you need to behave accordingly.
Aaron Boone did not.
We all know it may not have worked out anyway. That doesn’t mean you don’t try and you don’t give your team the best chance to win. The move was to pick any of the 4 (again, FOUR) very good options you had and watch what happened. If your guy pulls a magic trick, game on – you let him go another inning and reevaluate the game situation then. If your choice gets lit up, then you go to the mop-up guys to eat innings and you worry about tomorrow.
I’ve been a fan of Aaron Boone’s this season. The positives have far outweighed the few questionable calls in my mind. So reincarnating George and firing Boone to bring back Girardi won’t be necessary. But we can’t escape the irony: Joe Girardi made a habit of using mop-up pitchers in tight spots and his best guns in mop-up roles and it cost the Yankees dearly in 2017. Aaron Boone going that route last night may have cost the Yankees the 2018 season as well.
*If you think Nathan Eovaldi is anything more than average, we’re going to need to talk.
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