A manager spends a season building up trust, particularly with his best players. He will show faith during a slump, endure a bad week with the big picture in mind.
But there only is a small focus in the playoffs, when every day feels like a full season and each game sways momentum. One day you win the ALCS opener in Houston, improve to 4-0 in this postseason, feel like a team riding a magic carpet. Blink twice and the Yankees are now down two games to one.
“You don’t make friends in the postseason,” Joe Torre told me Tuesday before ALCS Game 3. “You try to win the games.”
Torre understands well having, you know, managed the most postseason games in history (142). In his first playoffs with the Yankees, 1996, he benched stalwarts Wade Boggs, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill for World Series Games 3 and 4, and sat down all but O’Neill for Game 5, too. He played instead Charlie Hayes, Cecil Fielder and Darryl Strawberry, who joined that season already in progress. The Yankees won it all.
“Zim taught me that during the postseason you can have no patience,” Torre said of his then bench coach Don Zimmer.
Boone has to lose patience now. He has to bench Gary Sanchez and stop using Adam Ottavino in anything that resembles high leverage.
They were not the only reasons the Yankees lost 4-1 Tuesday to the Astros in the first Bronx game of this ALCS. But they are hurting the Yanks too much to keep going with them.
Houston leads this best-of-seven 2-1. The Astros have won the games started by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and those pitchers loom at least once more each.
The Yankees forced Cole to work Tuesday, but ultimately did not deliver a big blow. They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in the righty’s seven innings. After Jose Altuve homered as the second batter of the game, DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge opened the bottom of the first with singles, but Brett Gardner flied out and Edwin Encarnacion popped out. Gleyber Torres walked before Didi Gregorius grounded to second.
That inning essentially encapsulates the Yankee offense in this ALCS. In the opening two games, LeMahieu, Judge and Torres were 10-for-27 with two homers, seven RBIs and three walks. The rest of the Yankees were 9-for-50 with two homers, two RBIs and three walks.
In Game 3, Torres homered for the Yankees’ lone run. Gregorius fell just short of a three-run clout in the fifth inning that would have given the Yankees a lead.
Sanchez hardly is alone in offensive malfeasance. It is just that he has essentially been a postseason dud his whole career. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Game 3. That makes him 1-for-11 with six whiffs in this ALCS, 2-for-21 with 10 strikeouts and without an extra-base hit in these playoffs and 16-for-92 with 34 strikeouts in his postseason totality.
He also failed to block what went for a Zack Britton wild pitch in the seventh inning. At this point, Boone has to ask whether Austin Romine could be worse and if he just may be better? He may also ask, after Aaron Hicks’ strong at-bats in his first start since Aug. 3, if he would be a better option hitting third than Brett Gardner (2-for-13 in this series and 0-for-4 Tuesday batting third after hitting sixth and fifth in the first two games).
That seventh inning was set up for failure by Ottavino. He entered with Houston ahead 2-0 after six innings and walked George Springer leading off. Then, with Springer running, Altuve bounced a single to the vacated second base to put runners on first and third. Ottavino was removed, but the two runners later scored.
Boone had bemoaned the soft contact that has hurt Ottavino in this series — and Altuve’s ball probably would have been a double play without Springer moving. But Springer was moving because Ottavino is slow to the plate (15 out of 16 successful steals against him this year). And it all has not been soft contact. Springer’s homer on Ottavino’s first pitch of Game 2 — a hanging slider in the fifth inning — tied that game 2-2.
Ottavino has allowed nine of the 16 batters he has faced to reach safely in these playoffs. The only time he has lasted to pitch a full inning was when the Yankees led the Twins by seven runs and the Astros by five. That feels like his role for now. But Boone has kept insisting that the Yankees can’t get where they want to go — think Canyon of Heroes — without Ottavino getting big outs.
But they have been derailed from that route, in part, because Ottavino has not gotten key outs. This isn’t May or June, when you let a talented player work though through this. It is October. It’s no time to make friends. It’s time to win the games.