BOSTON — Like an out-of-control snowball tumbling wildly down a mountain, the New York Yankees cascaded toward a 15-7 blowout loss to the Boston Red Sox on Thursday thanks to an avalanche of mental errors and moments of uninspired, lackluster play.
The Yankees’ starting pitcher, C.C. Sabathia, wasn’t very good. Their bullpen was even worse. Their defense was, at times, questionable. And oh, by the way, they still have three more games this weekend against the best team in baseball.
As they stand at a crossroads, staring at a pivotal point in their season, the Yankees can only hope they don’t stay on this reckless, downhill path.
If they do, their American League East championship goals might all but disappear.
Friday’s game at Fenway Park could show a lot about where the Yankees are headed.
After back-to-back stinkers Wednesday against the last-place Baltimore Orioles and Thursday against the league-leading Red Sox, the Yankees need to snap out of it if they want to stay within sight of their longtime rival.
“Something like this is a little tough to just forget about,” Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said following Thursday’s ugly eight-run defeat, which dropped the Bombers 6 ½ games behind Boston.
But no matter the deficit, the Yankees have to turn the page on all that has gone wrong in this recent downturn. Manager Aaron Boone believes that will happen, and that very soon his team will be back to the dominating brand of baseball that had helped it keep pace with the Red Sox in the standings and beat them two out of three a month ago.
“I see [this] as a bump,” Boone said. “I see it as we didn’t play great these last two days, but I have a lot of belief in those guys and the approach those guys have going into the day.
“This is a long, arduous season. You’re going to hit these little bumps in the road where it’s difficult, where you’re trying to preserve pitching a little bit, where you’re up against it a little bit a lot of days in a row.”
In Wednesday’s loss to Baltimore, Yankees starter Sonny Gray — who was moved to the bullpen Thursday because of his inconsistency — gave up seven runs and couldn’t get out of the third inning.
After Sabathia threw 77 pitches and walked the tightrope through three innings Thursday, reliever Jonathan Holder went through some serious struggles of his own, surrendering seven fourth-inning runs without recording a single out.
The inning went off track when Holder threw behind Jackie Bradley Jr., who was on third base, after fielding a comebacker. When Bradley Jr. faked a step back toward third, Holder thought he could snap a throw over in time to get him out. Instead, Bradley immediately sprinted out of his fake toward home plate, where he narrowly beat Miguel Andujar‘s relay throw and Austin Romine‘s sweeping tag.
The whole sequence lasted just 4.8 seconds, according to Statcast.
Boston still trailed 4-3 after the play, but it kicked off the eight-run inning that gave the Red Sox the lead for good.
“Looking back, two things killed me,” Holder said. “A lead-off walk hurt really bad, and that play, I could probably make a better decision running him back to third there.”
Boone said the perfect play would have been to chase after Bradley without throwing the ball. Either the runner would have ended up back at third base or he would have gotten caught in a rundown.
“We have to do a better job of playing a cleaner brand of baseball, especially when things are hard and you’re up against a real good opponent, you’ve got to play clean,” Boone said.
After Holder’s disastrous seven-batter appearance, his ERA skyrocketed. Through July 24, he had been a steady bullpen piece, owning a 1.76 ERA across 41 innings. Across his 2 2/3 innings since, he has a 30.38 ERA, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Holder was put into the difficult position Thursday of pitching early in the ballgame because Sabathia was so limited in the innings he was able to provide.
“Just all over the place. Just off with the command, with everything. My fastball, my slider, my changeup,” a disappointed Sabathia said. “You want to come out and pitch well the very first game of the series, especially against a team that’s leading the division.”
The Red Sox got a huge night from first baseman Steve Pearce, who followed the Bradley play with a three-run homer that swung the game. Pearce become the sixth player in Red Sox-Yankees series history to post a three-homer game. With shots off Sabathia, Holder and Luis Cessa, Pearce drove in six runs.
Pearce also became only the third player in the past 25 years to have a three-homer, six-RBI game against the Yankees. Fellow Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez did it in 2015 when he was with Detroit, and Ken Griffey Jr. accomplished the feat in 1996.
Despite the recent poor outings that have been marked primarily by shoddy defense and a general lethargy seldom seen around his team this season, Boone remains optimistic.
“We get the ball to one of the best in the game [Friday] in Sevy [Luis Severino],” Boone said. “Right now, when it’s difficult and not everything is going our way, we’ve got to be airtight about the things we do to minimize damage on the other side.”
He also made it clear that as his team moves forward he has “zero issue with the mindset of our guys.” Although things have been difficult of late, he believes his group will be “focused and ready to go” as this series continues.
With the division title still in the picture — at least for the time being — it better be.