NEW YORK – On the scale of 1-to-hide your face in shame, the Yankees getting swept at the Fenway last weekend ranks as the undisputed champion. But here’s a close second: Wednesday’s 11-8 loss to the Angels during which the Bombers allowed seven runs in the ninth inning. Aroldis Chapman and Lucas Luetge combined to turn what should’ve been an 8-4 win into a symbol of a season gone bad. (Wait, didn’t we just say that about Boston?)
If it feels like the Yankees are spiraling out of control, you aren’t wrong. They scored seven runs in the first inning off Shohei Ohtani, even without Aaron Judge, who was given the night off by Aaron Boone. That ambush of the Japanese star laid the groundwork for what should’ve been an open-air therapy session. And boy, could the Yankees have used it.
But the 11th hour meltdown was stunning in its swiftness and the degree to which it demoralized Boone and his players. The manager, looking drawn and pale, called it a “terrible” defeat and apologized to the fans who sat through two rains delays.
But the game didn’t end until after 1 a.m. at which point not only was the Stadium practically empty, the remaining tickets buyers were in an especially vicious mood. They booed Chapman after he surrendered a grand slam to Jared Walsh. And Boone himself was taunted as the Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.
He was later asked how the Bombers could recover from a failure of that magnitude and whether it would be necessary to speak to the players.
“Talk is cheap right now,” Boone snapped. “We need to pay full games and start hammering people.”
Giancarlo Stanton was just as blunt.
“This was as bad as it gets,” he said, before adding, “we’ve got to pick this (expletive) up.”
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The Yankees fell 8.5 games out in the East, which will be a key topic of conversation when Hal Steinbrenner speaks to reporters on Zoom Thursday morning. It’ll be the owner’s first interview since last October and while the Q-and-A was planned and announced before the loss to the Angels, the timing couldn’t be any more poignant.
Steinbrenner will be asked if he thinks the season can still be salvaged with Boone as his manager. The young Boss will also be pressed about the job GM Brian Cashman has done and whether the Yankees will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Much will depend on Steinbrenner’s overall assessment of his club’s underperformance in a summer that was supposed to draw a straight line to the World Series.
It’s highly unlikely Steinbrenner will move against either his general manager or manager, but it’s still the first time the Yankees have been in a crisis this acute in decades. They’re struggling to stay over .500 and have no choice but to start thinking about the wild card instead of catching the Reds Sox. They might even be in danger of allowing the Mets to become New York’s most popular team.
I recently raised that possibility in a conversation with a senior Yankees official. The topic was whether greater New York’s power rankings could soon be upended.
“You’re not worried about the Mets becoming the No. 1 team around here?” I asked. “It’s not impossible.”
I could feel the exec’s irritation coming through the phone like a hot blast.
“They’re not going to catch us, ” he said. “Be serious.”
I was. I am. The Mets aren’t exactly a National League powerhouse, but they are in first place in the NL East, which, even in a weak division, is preferable to the Yankees’ current predicament.
At the very least, the Bombers looked like they’d salvaged the night with the initial outburst against Ohtani. The Japanese super nova, the modern-day Babe Ruth who throws high 90s fastballs and is on a pace to slug nearly 60 home runs, lasted only two-thirds of an inning before getting knocked out.
The Yankees, leading 7-2, were set up for an easy win and possibly take the series from the Angels this afternoon. That’s the kind of prep work Boone was envisioning for this weekend’s Subway Series with the Mets.
Just how important are the three games with the interborough rivals? As bad as the Fenway sweep was, a beatdown of the Mets would be the just antidote the Yankees need. That’s why Chapman’s unraveling was so traumatic; no one saw it coming. The left-hander, needing just three outs, instead walked the bases loaded before hanging a slider to Walsh, who sent a missile over the wall in right-center.
Chapman was too stunned for anger. He instead watched Walsh circle the bases with a disbelieving smile, like he’d been the victim of a practical joke. But the punishment Chapman absorbed was indeed real. Domingo German spoke for the entire team when he said Chapman’s failure was “unbelievable … you see that happen, it’s just hard to believe.”
Give Chapman credit for answering questions on Zoom. It would’ve been easy to avoid reporters, especially in the middle of a long and mysterious slump. Over his last 13 games, Chapman’s ERA stands at 10.31. opponents are batting .341 against him, and he’s walked nearly as many batters as he’s stuck out (12-13).
The culprit, Chapman said, was the fastball which is no longer a bankable weapon.
“I’ve got to find my level point again, I have to keep working at it,” Chapman said quietly. “Once I find myself again with that pitch, I can go back to being the Chapman that started the season.”
Time, however, is not Chapman’s friend. July is here and losing has been normalized. While the Mets are chugging along, the Yankees’ GPS tells a different story: they are absolutely nowhere.
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