It turned out to be, in every way, the exact opposite of the narrative the Yankees wanted to craft Friday night.
One young pitcher’s encore falling short of his debut. A second pitcher’s debut occurring in about as tough a spot as you would construct for your worst enemy. Two streaks of dominance screeching to a halt.
A season remaining in peril.
A long day in Baltimore concluded with a 6-3 loss to the Orioles on Friday night, ending the Yankees’ overall 19-game winning streak over the O’s as well as an 18-0 Oriole Park at Camden Yards run. Both of those rolls peaked with a 6-5, nine-inning victory in Game 1 of this doubleheader, a roller coaster of a contest that spoke as much about these Yankees’ travails as their successes.
At 21-17 overall and 5-11 in their past 16 games, the Yankees swallowed the moral that even the arrival of young, promising arms can’t efficiently cure what ails them. Instead of talking with excitement about Clarke Schmidt’s highly anticipated introduction to the big leagues, we found ourselves debating the circumstances of that introduction.
The bottom line: Yup, Aaron Boone put his rookie in one tough spot, asking the starter Schmidt to relieve his fellow prodigy, Deivi Garcia, with two outs, runners on first and second and a one-run lead in the fifth inning. And while the Orioles hardly welcomed Schmidt to prime time by mashing his pitches, they placed their hits well enough — a Ryan Mountcastle single, Rio Ruiz single and Pat Valaika double — to plate four runs before the 24-year-old recorded the third out.
I was ready to go rip city on Boone for this poor timing. Yet after hearing who else the Yankees, their bullpen in tatters from the schedule and the club’s struggles, had available — Albert Abreu and Miguel Yajure — it’s pretty hard to go too hard on the manager. Sticking with Garcia, whose 95th pitch had just been lined to left field for a Pedro Severino single, would’ve been a terrible idea, too. With no good options, Boone wound up, not shockingly, with bad results.
“Not an ideal situation to bring him in,” Boone acknowledged, “but by need. I’m glad he got out there to get one under his belt now.”
“To make it to the major leagues, I’m very very blessed and very, very thankful,” Schmidt said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do, obviously, and I’ve got to be better next time.”
The Yankees remained tied for second in the AL East with the Blue Jays, who split their doubleheader with the Red Sox, and they remained sputtering overall. If their Game 1 win spoke to their determination, as Miguel Andujar — just recalled to replace the injured Gio Urshela — delivered the go-ahead single that scored Jonathan Holder (not a misprint) from third base — it also reflected their mediocrity, as they repeatedly blew chances early to blow the game open and had to turn over a 4-3, fifth-inning lead to Ben Heller, who quickly served up a gopher ball to Renato Nunez and wound up optioned to the alternate site after the game to make room for Schimdt.
It was Game 1 starter Michael King, of all people, who acknowledged (between games), “There’s definitely a little bit of pressure on us. We talk about it a lot in the bullpen.”
How could there not be? On the heels of signing Gerrit Cole to a $324-million contract (that dropped to $301.3 million thanks to the pandemic shutdown), the Yankees entered this shortened season as the American League favorites and instead went 2-8 against their low-payroll rivals the Rays as, crushed by injuries for the second straight year, they’ve failed to re-enact their “Next Man Up” masterpiece of 2019. Urshela (right elbow bone spur) and Jonathan Loaisiga (unspecified medical condition) became their 14th and 15th players to go on the injured list this season.
“I feel like it’s difficult for us right now,” Boone said after Game 1, and Game 2 proved him a soothsayer. The Yankees can’t create a functional narrative right now. Not even in the ballpark that had inspired them like none other.