NEW YORK -- The Yankees’ recent offensive malaise being what it is, Aaron Boone joked Saturday morning about picking the day’s lineup out of a hat, Billy Martin-style, just to shake things up. A few hours later, he was slamming his right hand on the table with his voice cracked, a fortnight of frustration boiling over after another listless loss in an August full of them.
“We've been asked all these questions, and we can answer them until we’re blue in the face,” said an angry Boone after New York’s 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays. “We gotta go out and do it. I gotta quit answering these questions. … We got to play better, period. And the great thing is, it's right in front of us. It's right here. And we can fix it. It's right here. It's there. We can run away with this thing. We’ve got the dudes in there to do it. We’ve got to do it.”
A day after admitting his team “should be a little pissed off” by their ice-cold August, the typically mild-mannered Boone followed the club’s 25th loss in 37 games with a defiant, impassioned defense of his sputtering first-place club.
“We’ve got great freakin’ players,” Boone continued. “It’s a tough stretch. OK? We're all pissed off and frustrated about it. We've done it for four months. OK? The offense has struggled for 12 days. OK? We’ve got great players. They know it. They know what they're capable of. It’s a tough time, and it's gut-check time, and it's hard right now. Everyone is yelling and screaming at them, and that's part of it. But that's what gives me confidence. I know we're a great team when we're right. And we get it. And that's still right in front of us. Let's go grab it.”
The Yankees held a 15 1/2-game lead in the American League East as recently as July 8. More than a month later, the division doesn’t seem quite so sewn up. Saturday’s defeat shrank New York’s advantage to just seven games over second-place Toronto, with Sunday’s series finale and another three games in late September between the clubs still on deck. The Yankees’ cushion is their smallest since June 10.
The culprit Saturday was one blowup inning from Gerrit Cole, alongside the Yankees’ sputtering offense, which only mustered an RBI single from Estevan Florial – who replaced Josh Donaldson after he was a late scratch due to a stomach bug – a solo homer by Gleyber Torres. This, despite the fact that Boone ultimately did tweak the lineup slightly, inserting slumping outfielder Andrew Benintendi in the two-hole and dropping Aaron Judge to third.
The Yankees have scored more than three runs just once over their last 11 games and have managed two runs total across Cole’s last three starts -- all defeats.
“If we don't score, it’s tough to win,” Boone said. “I’ll answer these same questions. Am I perplexed? Yeah. I am. We’ve got to do better.”
Cole breezed through the first four innings, with the Yankees’ defense shining behind him, but trouble found him in a four-run fifth. Judge provided an early highlight with a leaping catch at the right-field wall to take extra bases away from Bo Bichette in the second. Rookie Oswaldo Cabrera delivered another in the third, ranging far up the left-field line to corral Jackie Bradley Jr.’s foul popup. This, a day after Cabrera robbed Lourdes Gurriel Jr. of a home run at the right-field wall.
“Those are the things we need to feed off of,” Judge said. “We gotta have a little better energy in the dugout, kind of push each other a little bit. We're just missing that a little bit right now.”
All told, the Yankees have lost nine of their last 11 games, and per the Elias Sports Bureau, they took a sixth straight series loss (with no minimum for games played) for the first time since Aug. 10-28, 1995.
“We gotta have that mentality of, ‘Hey, every time we step up to the plate, I'm gonna be the guy that goes out there and gets it done,’” Judge said. “It's about us picking ourselves up and not forgetting we’re the New York Yankees. We gotta go out and show people that.”
The good thing, Boone made sure to point out, is the Yankees are still in first place. They are 25 games over .500, own the fourth-best winning percentage in baseball and boast the fourth-largest division lead, despite their dreadful month-plus. But the dog days have been frigid, and they’re feeling the heat.
“Reggie [Jackson] tells me all the time -- we’ve got the pen,” Boone said. “We get to write our own script. But we have to stop talking about it. We’ve got to go do it.”