Yankees' bullpen meltdown leads to plenty of second-guessing in wake of Game 3 loss to Guardians
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CLEVELAND – Here was a decision that could haunt the Yankees all offseason, and they're right at the exit ramp toward a bitter winter.
Why wasn’t Clay Holmes summoned in a save situation?
In a spot that screamed for Holmes, it was Clarke Schmidt who entered Saturday in a critical, ninth-inning jam.
And now the Yankees are one loss away from exiting the 2022 season, after the Cleveland Guardians roared back with a three-run ninth to win Game 3 of the AL Division Series.
Rookie Oscar Gonzalez’s two-run single, on a 1-2 slider by Schmidt with two outs, allowed Cleveland to dance off with a 6-5 win at Progressive Field before 36,483 delirious fans.
Afterward, Holmes said he was able, ready and willing to pitch, while manager Aaron Boone wanted to stay away from him unless faced with an "emergency situation.''
Well, it doesn't get more urgent than this.
On a chilly and windy night, Cleveland went ahead 2-1 in the best-of-five ALDS, with a rematch of Game 1 on tap Sunday night: Gerrit Cole will be pitching for the Yankees’ playoff lives, versus Cal Quantrill.
"Can't sit here and sulk on it,'' said Aaron Judge, and does anyone in Yankees Universe dare dwell on the possibility that their MVP, free-agent eligible slugger might be in his final hours with the team?
"We've got to bring the energy (Sunday night)'' in win-or-else Game 4.
The wrong call
Judge broke his ALDS slump with an early, two-run homer, Luis Severino righted the ship after a rocky start, and the Yanks took a 5-3 lead in the seventh.
But after Wandy Peralta could not continue his generally fine relief, lifted with one out and two runners on in the ninth, Boone summoned ... Schmidt?
"I said I was good to go if needed,'' said Holmes, who had been dealing with shoulder soreness late in the season. "I was prepared to pitch if my name was called.''
Boone initially indicated Saturday that he anticipated everyone being available in his bullpen for Game 3, after Holmes threw 16 pitches in Friday afternoon's 10-inning, 4-2 Cleveland win at Yankee Stadium.
But after Saturday's game, Boone expressed his reluctance in using Holmes on consecutive days for now.
"While he was pretty good (Saturday) and I fully expect him available (Sunday night), it just felt like we needed to stay away there,'' Boone said.
That seemed to come as a surprise to Holmes, who said he woke up Saturday preparing to pitch.
"Sometimes those decisions aren't mine.''
After an RBI single by Amed Rosario and a bloop single by Jose Ramirez, Schmidt struck out Josh Naylor before Gonzalez sent everyone home.
"I don't know their intentions,'' Schmidt said of being summoned in a save spot. He threw four sliders in the sequence to Gonzalez, the last one being low but not low enough to avoid a game-winning hit.
"We should have won that game,'' said Severino, adding that he was "surprised'' not to see Holmes in the ninth. "He's our closer,'' though Holmes has not been at his first-half, All-Star standard, when his signature sinker was MLB's nastiest pitch.
But Schmidt hasn't matched his first half success lately, either.
The Yanks had already used Lou Trivino and Jonathan Loaisiga, and Trivino being summoned in the sixth - instead of allowing Severino to finish the inning - was due partly to shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa's failure to make a play.
Domingo German had warmed up earlier and was presumably available.
Lucas Luetge and Miguel Castro were the remaining relievers, but the left-handed veteran Luetge is seldom used in high leverage. Castro has no role.
Jameson Taillon was being saved for a possible Game 5 start Monday, which the Yanks can only hope for now.
Yankees get homers from Judge, Cabrera and Bader
Yeah, the Yankees aren’t the hard-to-strikeout, put-it-in-play Guardians.
For Boone’s offense to be running at its optimum effectiveness, it needs the long ball. So, no surprise that in Game 3, all the Yankees’ runs were a product of homers.
And it started with Judge, in his second at-bat, batting for the first time in awhile out of the leadoff spot.
“I knew he’ll be fine with it,’’ the manager said of Judge before the game, feeling it wasn’t necessary to give his slugger advance notice of the change.
After his first-inning strikeout against Triston McKenzie, Judge crushed a 449-foot, game-tying two-run homer to center off McKenzie in the third.
And then, home runs came from less-than-expected places – the bats of rookie Oswaldo Cabrera (two-run shot off McKenzie in the fifth) and Harrison Bader (solo, off lefty Sam Hentges in the seventh).
Both those bats were flipped away – Cabrera’s tossed in the air, Bader’s sent spinning toward the visiting dugout.
Anthony Rizzo's big blast:5 takeaways from Yankees' ALDS Game 1 victory over Guardians
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Luis Severino off the ropes
Coming off his seven-inning no-hitter at Texas – which was back on Oct. 3 – Severino was burning through pitches early.
And he wasn’t missing many bats on his 99-mph fastball, with enough hard contact to suggest that perhaps Cleveland hitters had a really, really good read on his stuff.
Severino has tipped pitches in the past, and you might recall the scrutiny of the 2018 playoffs, when a pause at the set and a look toward the third base side gave away his fastball.
Anyway, Severino threw 31 pitches in the first inning and Domingo German was warming up in the second, with Cleveland ahead 2-0.
From there, Severino retired 13 straight batters until two outs in the sixth, when he gave up a pair of two-out singles (more on that later). That’s how close Severino came to completing six innings, after a very shaky beginning.
The IKF issue
There’s a switch the Yankees could try, but only if Giancarlo Stanton is deemed ready to play the outfield.
Put Stanton in left field, insert Matt Carpenter in the designated hitter spot, move Cabrera from left field to shortstop and bench shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
That’s one way to get Carpenter four at-bats, in his recent comeback from a fractured left foot.
Twice in Saturday’s game, IKF was involved in two questionable plays that led to runs.
In the first inning, he couldn’t backhand Naylor’s hard grounder, which became an RBI single to left.
And in the sixth inning, IKF made a good, backhanded play on Andres Gimenez’s sharp grounder, but the throw pulled first baseman Anthony Rizzo off the bag.
"Just disappointed in myself,'' IKF said of the plays not completed. They were "key plays'' that brought in "big runs that cost us.''
Two singles later, Cleveland had cut the lead to 4-3 and a bigger inning was narrowly prevented.
Anyway, this scenario should be in play with the Yankees now facing elimination.
“We’ll see,’’ said Boone pregame, when asked if Stanton might be available defensively. He hasn’t played the outfield since returning from a left Achilles strain.
As for Carpenter getting a start defensively on that tender foot, Boone was more doubtful. Carpenter said he’s prepared to do anything he’s asked.