As Bullpen Stumbles, Yankees Fall to Five Games Back of Red Sox
he Yankees’ gold-plated bullpen, the one with more closers than Manager Joe Girardi can shake a binder at, imploded at the most inopportune time.
The Yankees were poised to open their critical series at Fenway Park with a rousing victory Friday night, but the bullpen coughed up a late three-run lead and started the Yankees’ weekend instead with a dispiriting 9-6 defeat to the Boston Red Sox.
Mitch Moreland’s pinch-hit, two-run single off Tommy Kahnle capped a four-run seventh inning, and the Red Sox got another two runs off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth, capping a win that dropped the Yankees to five games behind Boston in the American League East.
The Yankees face the prospect of having to defeat the Red Sox ace left-hander Chris Sale on Saturday night to keep from falling further adrift.
Friday’s game was constructed almost exactly to fit the vision that General Manager Brian Cashman had when he acquired David Robertson and Kahnle from the White Sox to team with Chapman, the All-Star setup man Dellin Betances and the emerging Chad Green.
Green had a rare hiccup, and Kahnle’s stumble was forgivable, but Chapman’s latest untidy inning was the most disturbing, if for no other reason than the fact that the Yankees gave him a five-year, $86 million free-agent contract with the expectation he would be a rock-solid closer.
While Chapman has had a difficult season, he has been dreadful this month, giving up at least one run in each of his last four appearances – the longest such skid of his career. It likely would have been five had left fielder Brett Gardner not leapt at the wall to steal away an extra-base hit at Cleveland on Aug. 5.
“You can’t get frustrated,” said Chapman, who was held out of the last two games with a tight hamstring. “Definitely the last couple outings haven’t been what I wanted them to be. I’m going through a tough moment right now. You’ve just got to work hard and get out of it.”
Chapman’s bad inning was compounded by his poor comportment. Rafael Devers, who hit a 102.8-miles-per-hour fastball into the left-field bullpen off Chapman last weekend at Yankee Stadium, began the eighth with a line single. Chapman followed by walking Christian Vazquez, after which the crowd began chanting Chapman’s last name in singsong fashion.
As it did, Chapman did not pay attention to Devers, who took a huge walking lead and stole third without a throw. Vazquez followed his lead and took second on the play. Jackie Bradley Jr. then fouled off two pitches before stroking a slider up the middle. Both runners scored while Chapman neglected to back up home plate, instead standing, stunned, in front of the mound. That drew Girardi out of the dugout to bark at Chapman.
“That frustrates me,” Girardi said of Chapman not backing up home. “You’ve got to be there.”
Third baseman Todd Frazier, who helped the Yankees begin to crawl back from a 3-0 deficit with a two-run homer, said he had never seen Chapman struggle like this during their four seasons together in Cincinnati.
“It’s tough to see him go through this,” Frazier said. “He throws 100 miles an hour and you see lefties hitting the ball hard against him. I guess it’s back to the drawing board. I don’t know, because he’s a great pitcher.”
Girardi, who has maintained over the last week — including before Friday’s game — that Chapman would remain his closer, struck a different tone after the loss.
“I’ll sleep on everything and we’ll talk about it like we always do and we’ll go from there,” Girardi said, though he later brushed aside a suggestion that Chapman might benefit from working out his problems in lower-leverage situations.
I think closers a lot of time feed off adrenaline and feed off those situations,” Girardi added. “He’s a guy that needs to pitch in the back end and get it right.”
If Chapman was the most disconcerting problem on Friday night, he was not the only one for the Yankees on a night when Boston starter Drew Pomeranz, who had beaten the Yankees three times this season, left with back spasms after throwing three and a third scoreless innings.
When Ronald Torreyes delivered a two-run, bases-loaded single off the Green Monster to put the Yankees ahead in the seventh inning, it was their only hit with a runner in scoring position in 11 at-bats (though Aaron Hicks did manage to get hit by pitches twice).
Aaron Judge, who singled and walked, came away empty from two at-bats with the bases loaded. He grounded out to end the sixth against Joe Kelly and struck out against Addison Reed with one out in the eighth, marking the 35th consecutive game in which Judge has struck out, equaling the major league record set by the former pitcher Bill Stoneman.
“Those are the at-bats you want to be in — big situations, bases loaded and try to come through there,” Judge said. “But I wasn’t able to get the job done.”
Neither, in the seventh, were Green and Kahnle.
Green, who pitched a hitless sixth, retired Devers on a soft fly ball and had two strikes on Vazquez before the Red Sox catcher lined a single to left. After Green walked Bradley on four pitches, Girardi turned to Kahnle.
Kahnle, who proved to be the costliest for the Yankees to acquire in their seven-player deal with the Chicago White Sox, could not stem the Red Sox rally. Eduardo Nunez beat out a dribbler to the left of the mound, and Mookie Betts followed with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Vazquez and brought the Red Sox to within 6-4. Andrew Benintendi followed with a line single to right, Hanley Ramirez walked and Moreland – after whiffing badly on a pair of changeups – lined another one back up the middle, scoring two runs.