As the Yankees gathered in a makeshift clubhouse tent beyond the right-field wall at Sahlen Field on Wednesday afternoon, general manager Brian Cashman did not raise his voice, nor could he point fingers. The pitching, offense and defense have all taken turns in the doghouse during the club’s recent slide back to the break-even point.
If Cashman’s impromptu arrival proves to be a turning point for this Yankees club, as a similar address did in 2009, the results were not immediate. J.A. Happ poured his heart out in a gutsy 113-pitch performance, but the bats remained mostly silent in a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays in Buffalo, N.Y.
“We’ve got to get back to what the New York Yankees are,” first baseman Luke Voit said. “I feel like teams aren’t really scared of us right now, and it's kind of a sad thing. We were probably favored to win the division this year and that obviously has gone away. We’ve got to step it up.”
With the loss, the Yankees are back at the .500 mark for the first time since July 25, when they were 1-1 in their season-opening series at Washington.
That is a staggering development for manager Aaron Boone, whose club entered the shortened season viewing the expanded postseason as something of a necessary annoyance. Now, they seem fortunate that each league is granting three additional clubs entry to the dance.
“We're .500 right now. That's the reality of the situation,” Boone said. “But the other reality is, it's there for the taking for us. We don't need anyone's help right now. We need to play well, and if we do that, the season will take care of itself.”
The Yankees have lost 15 of their last 20, flushing the fruits of a torrid 16-6 start, and they must play eight of their remaining 18 games against a youthful Blue Jays club that Happ described as playing with “a lot of confidence.”
New York has not finished below the .500 mark since Buck Showalter oversaw an 86-loss campaign in 1992, when Mélido Pérez and Scott Sanderson anchored the rotation.
“I feel like we're better than that,” infielder DJ LeMahieu said. “We're a better team than a .500 team, but that's where we're at. We just can't even worry about that right now. We’ve just got to take care of business.”
Running a 10-K
Happ’s 10-strikeout performance matched his most in a Yankees uniform, having also recorded double-digit whiffs last May 25 against the Royals. The left-hander has spoken about needing to pitch to his strengths, and he leaned heavily on his two-seamer and four-seamer, which accounted for 82 of his 113 pitches.
“It was definitely a goal going in,” Happ said. “They had a lot of good at-bats [Monday] and we felt like we really needed to get ahead to try and force the issue. I knew we were also a little bit light as far as reserves in the bullpen, so I wanted to try to be efficient as much as I could.”
Toronto’s damage came in the second inning, as Joe Panik blooped a two-out single and Happ pumped a 93.2 mph four-seamer over the heart of the plate, which Davis powered over the left-field wall.
Happ scattered four hits, walking two. Despite his climbing pitch count, Boone asked him to help a taxed bullpen by facing Panik in the seventh; Happ rewarded that trust with a strikeout.
“I think the next couple of weeks will tell you a lot about us, how we respond,” Happ said. "We’re trying. That was a baseball game tonight.”
Walk, don’t run
The Yankees had early opportunities against an erratic Taijuan Walker, who issued five walks over four innings. New York couldn’t cash in on a trio of first-inning free passes, then stranded two more in both the second and fourth innings.
“It’s how it’s been going lately for us -- we can't get that big hit, that big knock,” LeMahieu said. “We're too good a team [for this], and we all know it.”
Two singles and a walk loaded the bases with none out in the fifth against Shun Yamaguchi. After a flyout, Mike Tauchman lifted a sacrifice fly, but Yamaguchi struck out Gary Sánchez to end the inning. Sánchez finished 0-for-4 in his return to the lineup following a two-day benching.
Overall, the Yankees finished 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, stranding 10. They produced only five hard-hit balls (exit velocity of 95 mph or greater), four by LeMahieu, who finished 1-for-5. Sánchez’s fourth-inning lineout was the other.
“We've just been playing like crap,” Voit said. “We're getting beat by teams that we’ve handily beat the last couple years, and they're outplaying us. It's frustrating for us too, trust me. Every time we think we have a chance, somehow we end up doing something wrong. We just need to go back to having fun. This game is already hard enough. We're making it really hard on ourselves.”