Yankees take no responsibility after embarrassing meltdown against Red Sox

NEW YORK — The New York Yankees were booed off the field in the ninth inning of Friday night’s game after closer Clay Holmes allowed a tying two-run homer to Masataka Yoshida on a full count with two outs. But there were plenty of opportunities for the sellout crowd to boo before the ninth-inning meltdown.

The Yankees’ most embarrassing performance of the season began in the third inning with a Little League blunder. With runners on first and third and one out, rookie leadoff hitter Ben Rice hit a chopper to Red Sox first baseman Romy Gonzalez. Gonzalez stepped up and threw the ball to second base to tag out DJ LeMahieu for a 3-3-6 double play that ended the inning. There were two major blunders on the play. The first: Anthony Volpe, the runner on third, could have scored when Gonzalez stepped up to first. The Red Sox had to tag out LeMahieu because the force play disappeared. But Volpe failed to run. He walked the last few yards to home while watching LeMahieu get tagged out.

Volpe told reporters that he thought it was a foul ball, even though the first base umpire immediately signaled it was fair, the Red Sox threw the ball to second base for a double play opportunity, and even though the play occurred in front of the Yankees shortstop’s line of sight. Volpe blamed his inability to score on not knowing what happened.

“I think there was confusion about fair or unfair,” he said.

Even with Volpe’s misstep running the bases, he still could have scored if LeMahieu had not immediately given up between first and second base. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said it would have been “ideal” if LeMahieu had had a rundown, giving Volpe a chance to score. Instead, LeMahieu was tagged out without any effort to force a rundown. LeMahieu was unavailable for comment because he was receiving treatment, a team spokesman said. Boone said he spoke with Volpe about the need to finish the game, but he did not say whether he had a conversation with LeMahieu about getting better on the bases.

Before the baserunning blunder, LeMahieu barely reached first base on a ground ball he hit up the middle. Both Red Sox center fielders struggled to field and exchange the potential double-play ball LeMahieu hit. He failed to get out of the batter’s box and barely outran the throw to first. Boone said he didn’t see LeMahieu’s lack of haste when asked if he was frustrated by the veteran’s lack of speed down the first-base line. Replays showed LeMahieu kicking it into high gear just a few steps from first base.

“How frustrating is what? He was rushing,” Boone said.

A little over a week ago, Boone benched Gleyber Torres after he failed to field a weakly hit ground ball against the New York Mets. He called Torres’s benching a “reset” with his struggles at the plate and said his lack of rushing was “one of the things that caught my attention, for sure.” Still, Boone defended LeMahieu’s effort on Friday.

The Yankees’ blunders didn’t stop there. In the eighth inning, with a runner on first base, Ceddanne Rafaela hit a ball that landed directly in front of home plate. Yankees catcher Austin Wells failed to make a good throw to second base for the forceout. Although the throw was low, it ricocheted off Oswaldo Cabrera’s glove. Two batters later, reliever Luke Weaver threw a pickoff attempt into center field. Weaver got out of the jam, but it was another display of sloppy baseball.

The Yankees started the ninth inning with a fall when Holmes threw seven consecutive sinkers to Yoshida before the eighth straight one reached the right-field seats. Holmes said he didn’t consider throwing a slider, his best swing-and-miss pitch, to Yoshida because the sinker registers a low slugging percentage for opponents. The sinker is a pitch designed to draw soft contact, but such are the risks Holmes runs by not opting for a whiff pitch.

“I really liked Clay’s stuff,” Boone said. “They made him work, even when he was retiring batters and messing up (pitches). And then finally that middle-down right in Yoshida’s hot spot there and he didn’t miss it. Kudos to him for not missing it. I think the amount of foul balls and not being able to finish a player hurt us tonight.”

With the game in extra innings, the Yankees brought in Tommy Kahnle from the bullpen. Kahnle immediately allowed Rafaela a two-run homer, giving Boston a 5-3 lead. Kahnle, a changeup pitcher, opted for consecutive fastballs against Rafaela, who was not fooled.

The Yankees still had a chance to win in the final inning. They had two runners on base and no outs. Aaron Judge was retired. Alex Verdugo hit an infield popup. And Cabrera grounded to first to end the game with the score still 5-3.

The Yankees have now lost 15 of their last 20 games. Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes said he doesn’t think anyone is panicking in the locker room. Volpe attributed the team’s long-term struggles to the ups and downs of the baseball calendar. Boone said he thinks this three-week stretch of poor play is a result of not capitalizing on certain moments in each game.

Friday night’s poorly played game was the second straight day the team has looked flat and lackluster. Center fielder Trent Grisham failed to catch a clean hit in the ninth inning of Thursday’s loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Boone said it’s a play Grisham has to make, but he had no problem with the Gold Glove outfielder not taking the game seriously because he plays with a “slow heart rate.”

Given the lack of urgency and sloppiness evident in Friday’s loss, Boone was asked if he was concerned about his team’s lack of starting skills.

“We’ve got to play better than that. No question about it,” he said. “We certainly understand that and invest a lot in that. We’ve got to play clean baseball, especially when it’s tough and things are hard to find. We’ve got to get better, period.”

Two years ago, with the Yankees on the brink of elimination in the American League Championship Series, Boone gave his team a highlight reel: the Boston Red Sox came back from three games down to none to win the 2004 ALCS, giving his team hope that they too could defeat the Houston Astros in seven games in 2022.

There will be no replay of this game to help motivate the 2024 Yankees in what was their biggest loss of the season so far.

“We’ve got to dig deep and have (a) quick turnaround (Saturday) to get ready to play and kind of find out what we’re made of,” Boone said. “You’re tested all the time with tough times in the season, which we’re obviously having right now. Extremely tough losses when you’re going through them. This falls into that category. We’ve got to turn the page quickly and finish a game.”

(Photo of Ceddanne Rafaela trying to tag DJ LeMahieu at second base in the third inning: Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

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