The Yankees rediscovered their swagger in the tented clubhouse beyond the left-field wall at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., where a team meeting was cited as a season turning point. They’ll need to find that mojo once more.
As manager Aaron Boone shuffled his rotation to prepare Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka for the postseason, Michael King made an early exit from his spot start and the Yankees suffered their second lopsided defeat in as many days, falling 11-5 to the Blue Jays on Monday.
“Some teams feel like you can just flip a switch when the playoffs come,” said Aaron Judge, who went 1-for-4 in his fourth game since returning from the injured list. “But I like our team, focused on every pitch, not giving at-bats away -- especially like tonight, when the score gets out of hand early.”
One evening after the Yankees exercised social distancing by clinking champagne glasses to toast their playoff entry, the showing was a far cry from the pounding that they inflicted on Toronto’s staff last week in The Bronx, when they set a Major League record with 19 home runs in a three-game sweep.
Gio Urshela drove in a pair of runs and Mike Tauchman stroked a three-run double in the ninth inning, but the outcome was never in doubt. With their chances of catching the Rays (36-19) atop the American League East almost nil, the Yankees (31-23) trail the Twins (33-22) by 1 1/2 games for the AL’s fourth seed.
“Today was rough, but we’re good,” Giancarlo Stanton said. “We’re where we need to be. We’ve got to try to solidify these last few games to get home field. We know what’s at stake. We’ll be ready either way, but we understand how important these last games of the season are.”
King hurled two strong innings but stumbled in a 30-minute third, during which the rookie right-hander was thumped for five runs.
“They did a lot of their damage with two strikes,” Boone said. “The inability to put guys away tonight really cost us and had the game get away from us.”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had three hits and drove in three runs for the Jays, who batted around in the third and fourth innings to build a 9-1 lead at the time. Alejandro Kirk had four hits, including the catcher’s first big league homer.
King exhibited a sharp slider and a moving fastball early, helping him generate six strikeouts, but he had issues working from the stretch and was unable to record the final out of the third inning.
“I’ve got to figure something out, because I feel very comfortable from the windup,” King said. “Once I go into the stretch, I feel like I lose a lot of command and control, and then it just spirals.”
Jonathan Loaisiga relieved King and was also ineffective, charged with four runs (three earned) on five hits and two walks in one inning.
“A couple of mistakes is all it really takes, especially with a good-hitting team like the Blue Jays,” Judge said. “You can’t leave too many pitches over the plate.”
Coming off a 10-2 loss to the Red Sox on Sunday, the Yankees fell to 1-3 in four games at Sahlen Field, the Blue Jays’ temporary home.
It was there that general manager Brian Cashman spoke to the team on Sept. 8, his first such in-season address since 2009, and the players responded the next day by sparking a season-high 10-game winning streak.
Boone will look for a similar turnaround as Cole and Tanaka start the next two games, aligning for optimal rest as they eye a first-round playoff series that they continue to believe can take place at Yankee Stadium.
“Our goal is not just to get into the postseason, it’s to finish the job and be the last team standing,” Judge said. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us. We’re still focused on bringing it back home.”