They will clinch the wild card spot and the New York Yankees expect that to happen. But when? Maybe Thursday night in the Bronx or weather permitting a weekend series in Baltimore to wrap up the season. They could have finished business Wednesday night and prepared for the Tuesday night elimination game, but they failed.
And fail they did because the pitcher they expect to have on the mound Tuesday night had no command, and the Yankees offense was once again pathetic. It took 11-innings to lose the third of four games to the Boston Red Sox and the 9-4 outcome should have been decided earlier.
Alex Rodriguez reached base four times drawing two walks and his 33rd home run in the sixth put the Yankees ahead 5-4. That should have been the deciding run but the Yankees could not score against an inept Red Sox bullpen and left 15 on base.Worse was an offense that went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position and that goes for pathetic for a team that is supposedly playoff bound.
Well, playoff bound for at least one game. And for good reason there is every reason to say that the Yankees won’t have more playing time beyond Tuesday unless there are different results in the final four games.
It goes as pathetic, also because the bullpen a strength of this team has failed. In particular, Dellin Betances has not been doing the job and allowed Mookie Betts to tie the game at 5-5 with a solo home run in the seventh inning. The first of two long balls for Betts went to left center field off a 97-mile fastball.
Betances knew the ball was gone and won’t admit he has an overused arm and is tired at the wrong time of the season. And the Yankees know clinching is becoming more difficult than they envisioned, but as the manager Joe Girardi said again, “This is baseball.”
However, excuses by the manager at this juncture are not acceptable. There are a lot of factors as to why the Yankees are not getting it done and it starts with the starting pitching. Tuesday night they want to give the ball to Masahiro Tanaka, but he was pathetic after nursing a minor hamstring pull and not seeing mound action for 11 days.
Like the night before when Michael Pineda gave up six runs in the first inning, Tanaka played a similar role giving Boston a three run advantage in the first. Monday night Ivan Nova was respectable but not good enough. The Yankees don’t want to take a chance with CC Sabathia for Tuesday night, and the rookie Luis Severino may not be up to the pressure of getting the start for a one game elimination.
So the assumed task goes to Tanaka, and after tossing five innings and getting a no decision that could be in question. There was no command on his pitches and the Red Sox went to work early. Tanaka seemed to adjust a bit, but the five hits and three runs he gave up don’t indicate he is up for the task to get the ball Tuesday night.
You can’t throw 36 pitches in the first inning and expect to be effective. And that won’t work against the Angels, Twins, or the Astros, three of the possible teams the Yankees will have to get ready for next week for that one game.
The split pitch was an issue that had no command. Girardi is out of excuses, but what else can he say because Tanaka in the end becomes his only and best option for Tuesday night and a normal work schedule hopefully will get the righthander back on track.
“He looked rusty like a guy who hasn’t pitched in 11-days,” Girardi said. “He’ll throw a bullpen and it will all just kind of fall into line. He went a lot of days without throwing a bullpen because we were trying to give his legs as much time as possible so I’m not too concerned about that.”
Concern should be a factor though, because Tanaka in those first few innings did not resemble any type of control pitcher that is ready for a game that would get the Yankees back in the AL division series for the first time in two years.
“Yes, absolutely,” said Tanaka through an interpreter when asked if he was up to the challenge of accepting the challenge Tuesday night. There were no issues about the hamstring that put him on the sidelines or about over extending an elbow that has been cooperating with all that fuss about possible Tommy John Surgery.
It was simply as Girardi, said rust and nothing else. Again there is no longer time for excuses and it all comes down to one important game. Tanaka said it was difficult coming back from the mild hamstring pull and that first inning it showed. And he says, whether it can be believed or not, that he is not sure that he is the starter Tuesday night.
“I have not been told if I’m pitching the wild card game or not, but I think it was a good sign that I was able to come out from this game pretty strong,” he said. “It may have had something to do with the long layoff but I’m pretty confident it will be better next time out.”
But where else would Girardi and the Yankees hierarchy go if Tanaka is not ready? There is not much time to make that decision, and perhaps a good outing from CC Sabathia Thursday night could change direction as to who gets the ball Tuesday night.
Girardi said, “Our focus is on winning games and we have to win a game.” One more win,the final game at home should secure the wildcard spot. But as pathetic as the Yankees were the past three nights in the Bronx, and with Tanaka not at his best, there may only be one more game left and that could be Tuesday night again in the Bronx.