Four 'What Ifs' Yankees fans will spend the winter asking themselves
Thanks to a heart-stopping, 4-3 win at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, the Red Sox are moving on. Over the course of four games, Boston proved that it was the better team -- it won 108 games in the regular season for a reason, after all -- and a blockbuster ALCS matchup with the Astros awaits.
For the Yankees and their fans, though, the next few weeks (heck, the next few months) are going to be full of nothing but what-ifs -- what-ifs that, in the interest of catharsis, we've broken down in detail below.
We'll get through this together, guys.
What if they came up with the big hit in Game 1?
Five early runs against J.A. Happ put New York in a Game 1 hole. But its bullpen kept it within striking distance, and as the game wore on, the Yankee offense seemed to finally stir to life. Two singles in the sixth knocked Chris Sale out of the game, allowing New York's lineup to attack Boston's more vulnerable middle relief -- a plan that very well could've worked, were it not for the torrent of runners left in scoring position.
The opportunities are almost too numerous to list. Didi Gregorius came up with runners on the corners in that sixth inning, but could only manage a run-scoring fielder's choice. A wild pitch and two walks later, with the Red Sox 'pen seemingly on the ropes, Gleyber Torres worked a full count against Brandon Workman ... but swung through ball four:
The seventh was much of the same: two singles and a walk put the tying run on first with no one out, but all New York could manage was a strikeout, another fielder's choice and a groundout.
In all, the Yankees went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, made even more painful by the fact that they wound up losing by just a run. If any of those at-bats go the other way, does New York steal Game 1 and put the pressure on Boston? Do they take a 2-0 lead back home to a raucous Yankee Stadium? And if they do, would Games 3 and 4 have panned out differently?
What if Aaron Boone pulled CC Sabathia sooner?
Even in his age-38 season, Sabathia was a steady hand in New York's rotation, so you can understand why Boone wanted to stick with his guy. Still, after a shaky first two innings, it was clear by the third that the lefty just didn't have it -- three hits, a hit-by-pitch and a wild pitch gave the Red Sox an early 3-0 lead and put the Yankees in a position they desperately wanted to avoid in an elimination game.
What if Boone had gone to the bullpen sooner -- say, after J.D. Martinez hit a booming sac fly to score the game's first run? The Yankees bullpen went on to allow just three hits and one run over six innings of work, and they might've kept things tighter.
What if Aaron Hicks' line drive stays fair?
Rick Porcello largely cruised through his five innings of work. But he ran into a little trouble in the fifth, when two hits and a sac fly got New York on the board and the crowd back into the game. Next up was Aaron Hicks, and on an 0-1 pitch, Porcello made a mistake by leaving a fastball middle-middle ... only for Hicks to rip it just foul:
Even Porcello thought it was out off the bat:
The Yankees hit a few balls hard that just couldn't find fair territory (or avoid Boston's frankly unfair outfield defense), but none loomed larger than that.
What if literally anything about the ninth inning of Game 4 plays out differently?
Yankees fans will probably spend the entire offseason replaying that sequence of events, and it's hard to blame them. Elimination games rarely go quietly, and sure enough, Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius both got on to lead off the bottom of the ninth against Craig Kimbrel. That brought up Giancarlo Stanton as the potential tying run -- but he struck out swinging.
Then things really went off the rails: Luke Voit walked and Neil Walker got plunked -- 14 of Kimbrel's first 17 pitches were out of the zone -- to bring the winning run into scoring position with just one out. This was it; the moment New York had waited for. Come through here, and all the other missed opportunities melt away in a winner-take-all Game 5. Alas, Gary Sanchez's potential walk-off grand slam fell just shy, Eduardo Nunez's throw to first was just in time to get Gleyber Torres and the series was over.
New York, whenever you're ready to move on from the grieving process, allow me to draw your attention right here.