Yanks 'pen caves: 'Worst feeling in the world'

September 8th, 2020

The concept of “lanes” is frequently discussed in the Yankees’ dugout, where manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake debate optimal situations for their relievers. With their highest-leverage arms ready to protect a four-run lead, they envisioned a wide-open highway toward a crucial victory.

Instead, and combined to record only one out, enduring a nightmarish 10-run sixth inning that saw 13 Blue Jays bat. The 43-minute half-inning featured five hits, four walks and an error, capped by Danny Jansen’s grand slam in the Yankees’ crushing 12-7 loss on Monday evening at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y.

• Box score

“I’ve never had an inning quite like that before,” Ottavino said. “It’s the worst feeling in the world. You let your team down. It hurts a lot.”

With the loss, the Yankees (21-20) fell two games behind second-place Toronto in the American League East. A cocktail of injuries and underperformance has sent Boone’s club to 14 losses in their last 19 games, bearing little resemblance to the favored juggernaut that opened the season on a 16-6 tear.

Improbably, the Yanks are in danger of falling out of the postseason picture.

“We're going through a lot collectively right now,” Boone said. “We’ve got to find a way to continue to lean on each other and pick each other up. We trust that the work we're doing behind the scenes will start paying off for us.”

12 outs from victory, Boone planned to have Green and Ottavino hand the ball off to Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman for the final two innings. They didn’t get close; Green walked the first hitter, induced a flyout, then surrendered a walk and single before Luke Voit booted a run-scoring Rowdy Tellez grounder.

“The leadoff walk came back to kill us,” Green said. “Once we have a four-run lead late in the game like that, we expect to win those games. For whatever reason, we’re not getting it done right now.”

Ottavino faced six men and retired none, greeted by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s two-run single and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s game-tying RBI hit. Travis Shaw followed with a two-run single that gave Toronto its first lead of the evening.

The light-hitting Jansen delivered the knockout blow, launching a 3-1 sinker toward the I-90 on-ramp for his first career grand slam. Ottavino said that he reviewed the inning on video and found it “bizarre” that he and Green generated only one swing-and-miss out of the 58 pitches they threw.

“We’re both above-average swing-and-miss pitchers,” Ottavino said. “It’s an indication that either my stuff wasn’t good, my location wasn’t good or that they had something on me – they had a great approach or knew what was coming. I don’t have any of those answers right now. All I know is that I didn’t get it done.”

Early power
As the Yankees’ hitters huddled in a prefabricated clubhouse for their pre-series meeting on Monday afternoon, they spoke about how a stress-free blowout victory would do wonders to snap their recent slide. They seemed to be on that path in the first inning, as Voit and Aaron Hicks hit back-to-back homers.

Miguel Andújar went deep in the fourth off Hyun Jin Ryu, who had permitted only one long ball in his previous six starts. It was Andújar’s first homer since Sept. 27, 2018. Clint Frazier added a two-run double off Ryu in the fifth, and Hicks’ bases-loaded walk in the sixth set the Yanks’ bullpen playbook into motion.

“I thought we had a lot of good at-bats up and down the lineup tonight,” Boone said. “Hopefully we can build on that.”

Nowhere to turn
Jordan Montgomery tossed 84 pitches in 3 1/3 innings of two-run ball, an inefficient outing that had a ripple effect on the bullpen. When Jonathan Holder recorded five outs to get the game to the sixth inning, Boone said that he could not deviate from his plan to bank on Green and Ottavino.

“I couldn't go to the bullpen,” Boone said. “I was desperately trying to stay away from some guys or we were going to get into a position player situation. At that point, with not getting a lot of length out of Monty, we had to ride with [Ottavino].”

That was why, even as the four-run lead vanished, Ottavino remained on the mound with no activity in the bullpen. Luis Cessa began warming when Shaw’s two-run single gave the Jays their first lead of the night, and the right-hander entered after Jansen’s grand slam cleared the left-field wall.

“Not many things suck more than that,” catcher Kyle Higashioka said. “You’re trying to figure something out to stop the bleeding. We didn’t seem to do that until they cleared the bases. By then, it was too late.”