NEW YORK -- The popup soared behind home plate as Gary Sánchez ripped off his mask, squinting against the sunlight in search of the rotating sphere. It spun, spun and spun some more, sending the Yankees’ catcher stumbling as the ball plopped harmlessly in foul territory.
The batter, Oscar Mercado, halted his trudge back to the visiting dugout and Sánchez squatted, neither with any inkling that a door had swung open for a seven-run inning. Sánchez’s error proved costly as the Yankees were walloped by the Indians, 11-3, on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
“It’s definitely a play there that I’m used to making, especially this year,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “I’ve been very good at catching those flies; I think it’s the first one I missed this year. Just a bad read there with a fly ball. I think I got under it too much and when the ball is coming down, it’s got backspin.”
The routine play changed the course of the inning, dealing the Yankees a tough blow as they attempt to keep pace in the American League Wild Card chase. New York fell a half-game behind Toronto for the second American League Wild Card spot and 1 1/2 games back of Boston for the first spot with 13 games remaining.
“We’ve got to play well, whatever games left we have,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s right in front of us. We’ve got to win a lot of these games if we’re going to be where we want to be. Especially this time of year, these losses sting a little bit more.”
Instead of rookie right-hander Luis Gil pitching in a two-out, none-on situation, Cleveland sent 10 men to the plate in the inning, highlighted by Andrés Giménez’s three-run homer.
“Gary’s usually really good with popups,” Boone said. “I think he probably got a little too upright and didn’t move enough as [the ball] worked its way back to the field. But yeah, you’ve got to make that play.”
Yu Chang contributed a two-run double as part of a three-RBI performance for Cleveland, which also had run-scoring hits from Franmil Reyes and Owen Miller in a big frame that spoiled Don Mattingly Bobblehead Day at the Stadium.
It has been a rough week for Sánchez, who was criticized for a lackadaisical tag attempt in a Subway Series game against the Mets at Citi Field, then saw two costly wild pitches on his watch in a devastating loss to the Orioles on Thursday.
Boone described his catching situation as “day to day,” indicating that Sánchez could lose playing time to backup Kyle Higashioka.
“I’m here to play every day,” Sánchez said. “That’s the way I see it. I’m here to help this team and play every day. Decisions like that, I don’t make those decisions. They do.”
As Sánchez saw the ball drop, the Yankees already trailed by a run, with Chang having slugged a second-inning homer. Gil’s command has been a developing issue in his recent starts, and the hurler accepted responsibility for his role.
Gil plunked Mercado with a pitch, then issued a walk before yielding to right-hander Albert Abreu. Gil was charged with three runs (two earned) across 4 1/3 innings in his sixth Major League start, scattering three hits. He was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre following the game.
“We’re humans and we’re going to make mistakes from time to time,” Gil said through an interpreter. “It was a difficult fly ball there for Gary. Following that, I was trying to execute a good fastball in and unfortunately ended up hitting the batter. But I can tell you that [the error] did not affect me at all.”
Five of Cleveland’s runs were charged to Abreu (three earned).
Andrew Heaney then surrendered a two-run homer to Reyes in the sixth inning that put Cleveland up by double digits, leaving the Bombers to peek at the out-of-town scoreboard.
One day after slugging five homers off Indians pitching, the Yankees’ boom-or-bust offense was stymied by right-hander Aaron Civale, who held New York scoreless on four hits over six innings.
“He was throwing five pitches today and didn’t really make a lot of mistakes,” first baseman Luke Voit said. “I feel like we just missed some balls.”
Giancarlo Stanton, meanwhile, hit a solo home run in the seventh, securing the sixth 30-homer season of his career. He has homered in four of his past seven games. Voit continued to produce despite inconsistent playing time, adding his 11th big fly in the eighth, a two-run shot.
“We need to win tomorrow,” Voit said. “We’ve got to go in tomorrow, do our homework, prepare and get ready. We’ve got to be a goldfish and have a 10-second memory.”