We’re only four games into the season and already the eighth inning is the bad one for the Yankees.
On Saturday, Dellin Betances fell apart and allowed the Blue Jays to break a 3-3 tie and ultimately win 5-3. On Sunday, David Robertson surrendered a grand slam to Justin Smoak that turned a 4-3 lead into a 7-4 deficit which would become the final after the Yankees were retired meekly in the top of the ninth. Of course, Robertson isn’t solely to blame for the eighth inning meltdown nor was Betances on Saturday. Their manager and pitching coach made the calls to 1) keep them in the game and send them out for a second inning (Betance) and 2) intentionally walk Josh Donaldson to load the bases for Smoak who already hit a home run the previous inning (Robertson).
But Stacey, the numbers said that Donaldson was 3-8 against Robertson and Smoak was 0-5! Sure, but Donaldson has been playing with a balky shoulder so far this season. Make him swing the bat. Walking him to get to Smoak was a recipe for disaster. And while Robertson had two strikes on Smoak with two outs, you could feel the tides changing. It felt similar to Opening Day a few years back at Tampa when CC Sabathia walked the bases loaded in the first inning only to give up a grand slam to Sean Rodriguez.
This is Aaron Boone’s first big blunder as manager and it wasn’t his alone. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild also played a role it. Of course, if Robertson gets Smoak to swing through the pitch, Boone’s a genius for the move. But Robertson and catcher Austin Romine made a mistake. They went with a 92 mph fastball against Smoak and it was served on a tee. There was no way he was swinging through it. Then again, he was also fouling off some off-speed pitches in the at-bat so perhaps there was nothing they could do to prevent the outcome.
So instead of coming home to the Bronx 3-1, the Yanks are 2-2. And I know what some of you are saying. “If the division title comes down to one game, this game will have cost them.” I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to say that about a lot of games. The baseball season is long and there will be a few games like this, games which looked like guaranteed wins that turned into losses with a single swing.
And hopefully, Boone will learn from this early blunder.