Final week giving new Yankees a chance to shine

As season ends, club gets to evaluate kids such as reliever Gómez, who dazzles in debut

September 29th, 2023

TORONTO -- The role of spoiler has been unfamiliar for the Yankees, who were officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday. Yet, in part because of examples set by Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge, manager Aaron Boone believes that his team is continuing to play hard as it finishes out the string.

“Nobody wants to be out of the race like we are now, but I give these guys a ton of credit for their professionalism, their focus,” Boone said before the Yankees’ 6-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday night at Rogers Centre. “That’s what we’ve tried to drive home with them, and from Gerrit and Aaron and the leaders on this team, they’ve set that example really well.”

Though the surge arrived too late to save their playoff aspirations, Thursday’s defeat marked just the Yanks’ 10th loss in their past 29 games (since Aug. 28).

The circumstances have given the Yankees an unexpected opportunity to evaluate young talent, including Yoendrys Gómez, who made his Major League debut with two scoreless innings. Gómez, 23, is rated as the Yanks’ No. 26 prospect by MLB Pipeline.

“That moment in the bullpen when they call for you, you get nervous,” Gómez said through an interpreter. “You feel your heart beating at a thousand miles an hour. Then you get on the mound, and everything goes away. You just make pitches.”  

Entering for the seventh inning, Gómez retired the side in order, including a swinging strikeout of Kevin Kiermaier -- Gómez’s first in the big leagues. After that inning, Boone noticed Gómez’s beaming smile, telling the right-hander: “Hey, you’re going back out [for the eighth inning].”

“He’s definitely a guy with a lot of talent and somebody we’re excited about,” Boone said.

Gómez pitched around a single and a hit batter in that frame, striking out Matt Chapman, Daulton Varsho and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. After dealing with injuries early in his Minor League career, including Tommy John surgery in 2021, Gómez said that getting a taste of the Majors was “a dream.”

“I never gave up; I kept working,” Gómez said. “I just kept working until I had an opportunity to come here.”

After the Yankees tossed back-to-back shutouts in the first two games of the series, including Cole’s complete game on Wednesday to stamp an exclamation point upon his American League Cy Young Award bid, right-hander Luke Weaver was nicked for two runs over four innings.

Varsho and Chapman homered off Weaver, who has made three starts with New York since being claimed off waivers from the Mariners on Sept. 12. The 30-year-old Weaver showed an ability to limit damage, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, and he has pitched to a 3.38 ERA with the Yankees.  

“This isn’t the year that [the Yankees] wanted, but they have so much talent and so many young guys that it’s going to be great for years to come,” Weaver said. “One blip isn’t going to be a big thing for the future. It’s really cool to go home and say some of these stories, that the pinstripes were on me.”

As the Blue Jays continued to look toward nailing down an AL Wild Card spot, Toronto starter Chris Bassitt blanked New York on five hits over 7 2/3 innings, striking out Judge on his final pitch to end his season with exactly 200 innings.

“I know a lot of people are talking about [Ronald] Acuña [Jr.], and rightfully so, but I still think Aaron Judge is the best player on this planet,” Bassitt said. “To get that [milestone] on him, it’s going to mean a lot to me for the rest of my life.”

Brandon Belt hit a three-run homer in the sixth off Zach McAllister that helped the Jays pull away. With their record at 81-78, the Yankees need one win in their final three games this weekend at Kansas City to extend their streak of winning records to 31 seasons (since 1993).

They’ll lean on some of those young players to help them get there, hoping the experience proves valuable.

“It’s all important; it all matters,” Boone said. “You go through a lot in this game, ups and downs, and you’ve got to learn from all of it. To be around some of the veteran guys and see how guys go about it and approach things, it’s all part of the development process.”