ATLANTA — You’ve got to hand it to the Yankees. Who else could return to work after an unscheduled five-day break and pick up precisely where they left off?
Good grief. If this team can’t profess to be in serious peril, not with eight American League teams advancing to October, it sure can inspire a thousand memes of dread. For things continue to go absolutely dreadfully for Aaron Boone’s bunch.
Of course it wasn’t enough that they suffered a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Braves Wednesday, 5-1 and 2-1 at Truist Park, extending their losing streak to five games following the respite prompted by the Mets’ COVID scare and bad weather. No, the low point actually occurred at a rare moment in Game 2 when the Yankees were actually winning, when Boone went to home plate umpire Mike Estabrook and alerted him that, as Chad Green jogged in from the bullpen to relieve a near-flawless Masahiro Tanaka, Brett Gardner would enter in left field to replace Clint Frazier, who would slide over to right field to replace … Aaron Judge.
Yup, Judge in his first game back in action after yet another stint on the injured list, didn’t even last a full work shift — in a seven-inning contest! — before aggravating the right calf injury that placed him on the IL, a placement the outfielder lamented during his inactivity.
Hence a lightning-quick return to the IL is “possible,” Boone acknowledged, although the manager said the parties would have a better feel late Wednesday into Thursday.
Oh, and Green proceeded to serve up a two-run, game-winning homer to Braves stud Freddie Freeman, the cherry on this sundae of doom.
“We thought we had a pretty good chance to win two games,” Green said. “Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
It didn’t happen because Game 1 starter Gerrit Cole suffered his first loss in a Yankees uniform and his first regular-season loss since May 22, 2019 as he gave up three homers over the first three innings while receiving minimal run support.
It didn’t happen because Game 2 starter, Tanaka, after not permitting a Brave to so much as reach third base through his five innings, requiring only 66 pitches, conceded to Boone that, “[T]he tank was starting to empty a little bit,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “Basically, I told him, ‘I’m good with whatever you decide on.’ ”
Well, Tanaka has more than earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his toughness, so you can’t question his heart, and once a manager hears that from his starting pitcher, he really has no choice but to call on his relief corps, all the more so when everyone is rested. And Green has been terrific, and he gave up a two-out infield single to Dansby Swanson before the incredible Freeman worked his magic.
Nope, the blame — fully for Game 2, partially for Game 1 — rests with the offense, which totaled two runs in 14 innings and very well might find itself without Judge once more as DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres all rehabilitate their respective ailments. Just brutal.
“Losing sucks. We don’t like it,” Boone said. “We’ve got to play a little better.”
Following another off day Thursday, the Yankees play five games against the Mets over three days at Yankee Stadium, then welcome back the rival Rays, who got this snowball rolling. If they don’t pick things up — start hitting, stop getting hurt — the dread will only intensify as the questions about their October viability smolder.
Time to not pick up where they left off. The Yankees’ season depends on it.