Last season, it was supposed to be Dave Roberts of the Dodgers who needed to win, or else. Or so we heard. We heard this despite the fact that Roberts had been to the World Series two of the previous three seasons and had lost a division series to the Nationals in 2019 after winning 106 regular-season games. As great a manager as Roberts is -- and I believe he is a great manager -- his team still hadn’t won it all. Until it finally did.
Now we hear the same thing about Aaron Boone as he is about to begin his fourth season as manager of the Yankees, where the hot seat is even hotter in New York than it is in L.A. Disagree? The guy before Boone, Joe Girardi, took his team to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in 2017 and lost his job. The Yankees were up three games to two on the Astros but scored just one run in the last two games at Minute Maid Park. The one who took the fall for that was Girardi.
Boone, the Game 7, home-run hero of the ALCS for the Yankees 14 years prior, then replaced Girardi and promptly became the first Yankees manager in history to win 100 regular-season games in each of his first two seasons.
By the way, Boone’s regular-season record entering 2021 is 236-148. Roberts’ record over the same period is 241-144. But Roberts’ Big Blue Machine finally closed the deal against the Rays. As a manager, Boone hasn’t yet made it to the World Series, which would be the Yankees’ first since 2009.
In 2018, New York ran into the best Red Sox team in history, one that had just won 108 regular-season games. The AL Division Series was tied 1-1 going back to Yankee Stadium. Boone's ace, Luis Severino, allowed seven runs and six hits in three innings in Game 3. Boone got it afterward, for leaving Severino in too long on a night when the relievers who followed him allowed 10 more runs during a 16-1 beatdown.
The Yankees lost, 4-3, the next night after allowing Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, New York's biggest bats, combined to go 0-for-7 with their team’s season on the line.
In 2019, New York lost the deciding Game 6 of the ALCS to the Astros on a walk-off homer from Jose Altuve off the Yankees’ star closer, Aroldis Chapman. Of course, there was the suggestion later -- because of what we found out about the Astros’ sign-stealing -- that Altuve knew what pitch was coming. Maybe he did. But New York had still lost with its top guy on the mound.
Then there was October 2020, and Game 5 against the Rays, when Mike Brosseau hit a game-winning home run off Chapman in the eighth inning. Again, Boone had lost with his best on the mound. Again, the Yankees hadn’t made it back to the World Series. Now, they are as big a favorite as anybody to make it back in 2021, declared a powerhouse again despite all the injuries over the past two seasons, despite all the questions about their bullpen and despite the fact that they are expecting big things from four starters -- Severino, Corey Kluber, Domingo Germán and Jameson Taillon -- who pitched a combined whopping one inning last season.
If New York doesn't win it all the way the Dodgers finally did, is this is somehow going to be Boone’s fault? In what universe? Wait, I’ve got it. Yankee Universe.
Buck Showalter once managed the New York Yankees. His general manager was Gene Michael, with whom Showalter rebuilt the Yankees in the early 1990s. But Showalter wasn’t working for Hal Steinbrenner, he was working for George Steinbrenner. And after New York lost Game 5 of an epic ALDS against the Mariners in 1995 -- a series the Yankees led, 2-0 -- Steinbrenner fired Showalter and hired Joe Torre. The rest, as they say, is history.
I asked Showalter about Boone on Saturday.
“He’s a good man, and he’s a good manager,” Showalter said. “I mean, look at all the injuries he’s had, and look at all the games he’s won despite that fact.
“[Boone] is one of those guys who I believe could have managed in -- and adapted to -- any era in baseball. Including this one.”
Showalter didn’t say an era like this one so dominated -- and sometimes suffocated -- by analytics. So much so that a terrific manager like Kevin Cash went with the numbers instead of what his eyes were telling him and pulled Rays ace Blake Snell from Game 6 of the 2020 World Series, the night when the Dodgers finally won it all. That was clearly Showalter's meaning, at least to me.
Maybe the Yankees finally win it all under Boone, or maybe they once again have too many injuries, and not enough pitching, and fall short. If that happens, if New York's blueprint for pitching fails again, the idea that this will somehow be the manager’s fault is for the birds. And that doesn’t mean the Toronto Blue Jays.