'Not good': Crucial error ends Yanks' 1st half on sour note

Germán throws six-plus innings of one-hit ball in New York's final game before All-Star break

July 9th, 2023

NEW YORK -- draped a duffel bag over his shoulder and pointed his steps toward the All-Star break on Sunday afternoon, but the second baseman’s thoughts were still in the seventh inning, when he’d booted a ground ball that opened the door for three unearned runs.

Nothing has seemed to come easily for this Yankees team, and this was just the latest example. After having concluded the first half with a 7-4 loss to the Cubs at Yankee Stadium, Torres needed just two words to summarize his team’s performance thus far: “Not good.”

“I don’t think we’ve played really good baseball,” Torres said. “I believe the bullpen has done a really good job the first half. Every night, we give the credit to those guys. They’ve pitched outstanding. On the offensive side, we’ve made too many mistakes. We didn’t produce like we should. We have to figure out a way.”

The Yanks stumbled into the break with a 49-42 record, good for fourth place in the American League East, eight games behind the division-leading Rays.

While it’s certainly preferable to be seven games above .500 than below, they are 14-17 since Aaron Judge crashed into the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium, with the lowest batting average (.218), lowest on-base percentage (.288) and third-fewest runs (117) in the Majors over that span.

That performance contributed to the dismissal of hitting coach Dillon Lawson, who was relieved of his duties after Sunday’s loss. A replacement was not immediately named.

“We’re not all the way where we want to be yet,” said manager Aaron Boone, who briefly addressed the team on Sunday. “But these guys are competing their butts off, and that’s been evident from Day 1. We’ve faced a lot of adversity so far. We’ve obviously been pretty banged up, and guys have stepped up.

“What I love is, we’re walking into the second half with everything in front of us. As Reggie [Jackson] always said, ‘We hold the pen.’ We’re in control. We haven’t dug ourselves a hole or anything like that. It’s certainly not been exactly how we wanted the first half to go, but we’re in position to go do something special and reach all of our goals.”

Zooming in on Sunday’s contest, Boone’s decision to lift right-hander  after just 74 pitches was one that the manager acknowledged was “understandable to question.”

Germán had been excellent, permitting only one hit through six innings -- Seiya Suzuki’s fifth-inning homer to left field. Two starts removed from the 24th perfect game in Major League history, Germán was lifted after issuing a leadoff walk to open the seventh.

Boone explained that he felt as though the bullpen was “lined up there” and lifted Germán, who struck out nine and walked three, to “get him out of there on a real high note heading into the [second] half.”

“I’m feeling healthy and ready to pitch in games like this,” Germán said through an interpreter. “At the end of the day, it comes down to Boone making a decision. He has the knowledge to do so, and he did.”

As Torres mentioned, the Yanks’ bullpen has been its most reliable asset throughout the season’s first 90 games. Ian Hamilton did his job, inducing a pop-out and then a Christopher Morel grounder to Torres at second base.

Torres said he “tried to be a little bit more faster than normal” on the ball, which loaded the bases. He’d later say that the error “cost us the game.”

“He just made an error; kicked it,” Boone said. “It happens. It’s part of it. Unfortunately, it kind of got us today.”

Tucker Barnhart added a run-scoring double off Nick Ramirez in the ninth, further souring a tough loss to swallow.

Anthony Volpe and Kyle Higashioka hit back-to-back homers in the sixth, highlighting the attack against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who permitted 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

“We know we haven’t played our best, and we know that we have another gear to get to,” Volpe said. “I think it’s going to be a big second half.”