An epic Yankee fall?

Aaron Boone

Aaron Boone—how often does a four-game division lead feel like the next rung down of a collapse?

“If we don’t dig ourselves out,” Yankee manager Aaron Boone told reporters after the Yankees lost to the Rays 2-1 Saturday night, “you’ll have a great story to write.” Sometimes, greatness is in the eye of the beholder. If the beholder is a typical Yankee fan, this kind of greatness is the last thing the Yankees need.

There’s always been a trunk full of cliches about the Yankees. The two most significant have been a) they don’t like to lose; and, b) their fans consider no postseason legitimate unless the Yankees are in it. (The third most significant, at least since a certain man bought the team in 1973: To err is human; to forgive is not Yankee policy.)

Even the terminally optimistic Boone feels the weight. If he’s telling reporters they’ll have a “great” story to write unless the Yankees find a way out of their current spinout, there’s no joy in half of New York. The other half is hanging with the Mets, who may have a mere two-game lead in the National League East but whose fans aren’t exactly ready to call for summary executions despite their team having ended May 10.5 games ahead of their divisional pack.

The Mets’ faithful learned from the crib that there’s no such thing as an entitlement to success. (Quick: Name any Yankee team ever called a miracle team.) The Yankee faithful were spoiled so rotten by their 20th Century success that their descendants still think the World Series trophy is fraudulent unless it has the Yankee name on it.

Maybe the Yankees will dig themselves out of their present funk. But maybe they won’t. They’re 15-16 in the second half so far and went 10-18 in August alone, but they awoke Sunday morning having lost six of nine. Dropping the first pair of a weekend set with the second-place Rays is one thing, but entering that set splitting four with the sad-sack Athletics and two of three to the equally sad-sack Angels is not the look the Yankees wanted going in.

Their toughest opponents the rest of the way will be those same Rays for a three-game set in Yankee Stadium starting 9 September. They return home from Tampa Bay to host the Twins for four, and the Twins are no pushovers, but they’re not exactly up to the Rays’ performance level just yet. They’re also not quite up to the level of the suddenly-amazing Orioles, whom the Yankees host to end September and open October.

The Orioles—who looked as though they’d surrendered their heart and soul when trading Trey Mancini at the trade deadline, which could have threatened their unlikely sightline to the wild card picture. While almost nobody was looking, the Orioles not only finished July with a 16-9 month but they consummated a 17-10 August and opened September with three straight wins—one against the AL Central-leading Guardians and two against the A’s. Once upon a time the victims of a miracle team (in 1969), these Orioles may yet <em>become</em> a miracle team themselves.

They were as deep as 23 games in the AL East hole as of 2 July. They were 35-44. They’ve since gone 36-25. This regular season may yet finish with a debate over which was greater, the Yankees’ collapse from a one-time 15.5 game AL East lead or the Orioles’ resurrection from a 23-game divisional deficit to a postseason berth.

Yankee and other eyes concurrently train upon Aaron Judge’s pursuit of the 60 home run barrier across which two Yankees have gone (Hall of Famer Babe Ruth’s 60 in 1927; Roger Maris’s 61 in ’61) and—after a healthy leadoff belt in the top of the ninth off Rays reliever Jason Adam Saturday night—Judge himself is only eight shy of meeting. Some think Judge is so locked in he may even meet the 70-bomb single-season barrier head-on before the regular season expires. He’d be the first player to reach it without being under suspicion of actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances, anyway.

But Yankee cynics make note that, for thirty days including Saturday night, the Yankees’ team slash line of .213/.289/.325 is only that high with Judge, himself the possessor of a .279/.446/.593 slash for the same span. Without him, they’d be .208/.268./.295. Their Lost Decade of 1965-75 looked better than that.

How on earth did the Yankees get here? Easy enough. Hal Steinbrenner isn’t the man his father was, good and bad. The good side: Prince Hal isn’t exactly the type to decide one bad inning is enough to demand heads on plates, and if he fires a manager he wouldn’t have the gall to say, “I didn’t fire him. The players did.” The bad side: He doesn’t like to invest half as much as his father did.

Say what you will about George Steinbrenner, but the man didn’t care how much he had to spend, either on the free agency market or on keeping the farm reasonably fresh. Prince Hal’s running the most profitable franchise in the American League as if they were a minor league outlier or the A’s, whichever comes first. Nobody wants the bad side of The Boss resurrected, no matter how often Yankee fans demand it now. But nobody wants the good side buried interminably, either.

Which means general manager Brian Cashman, the longest-tenured man in his job in baseball, had little choice but to cobble a roster with one proverbial hand tied behind his back. But that acknowledgement goes only so far. Cashman’s eye for diamonds in the rough has failed him long enough. The present Yankee roster makes some rebuilding teams (the Orioles, anyone?) resemble threshing machines.

Which also means Boone—the only man in Yankee history to manage back-to-back 100-game winners in his first two seasons on the bridge—looks a lot larger for his faltering in-game urgency managing and getting less than the best of the men not named Judge or (relief pitcher) Clay Holmes on his roster. So do the three Yankee hitting coaches who can’t seem to shake the non-Judge bats out of what one of them is quoted as calling the wrong case of the “[fornicate]-its.”

The definition to which those coaches hold is translated admirably by strongman designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton: “We’ve just got to give whoever is on the mound a tough at-bat, even if we get out. We’ve just gotta wear ’em down a little bit. Just be a little tougher on them.” The definition to which the Yankee bats have held mostly of late seems to be unintentional surrender.

Yes, the Yankees have been injury-addled. Yes, they’ve been playing a curious chess game with minor leaguers brought up to the club to the point where they had to send two promising pitchers back down because the roster was about as flexible as an iron gate. But the lack of urgency the Yankees seemed to feel when they looked like AL East runaways hasn’t been resolved just yet with the team looking as though they can be overtaken before this is over.

Once upon a time, New York was rocked by a Brooklyn Dodgers team that looked as though it was shooting the lights out in the National League but found itself overtaken into a pennant tie by a New York Giants team that was 13 games out at one point. That tie and subsequent playoff, of course, turned out to be as tainted as the day was long. (The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!)

To the best of anyone’s knowledge, nobody’s cheated their way back into the AL East race. If the Yankees keep up their current malaise, nobody would have to. Collapsing entirely from a 15.5 game lead would stand very much alone on the roll of Yankee infamy.

Cabrera and the Yankees have it right

Miguel Cabrera

A free eighth-inning pass after going 0-for-3 to that point Thursday outraged Tiger fans far more than it outraged Miguel Cabrera to remain one knock short of 3,000.

I don’t want to pour any more gasoline onto the fire of Tiger fan’s outrage, but Yankee manager Aaron Boone did the absolute right thing Thursday afternoon. And it wasn’t as though Miguel Cabrera lacked for shots at his 3,000th lifetime hit.

Boone ordered Cabrera walked on the house in the bottom of the eighth rather than risk the righthanded-hitting Cabrera clobbering his lefthanded relief pitcher Lucas Luetge with runners on second and third, two outs, and the Tigers ahead a mere 1-0.

Now, the move backfired, sort of; Austin Meadows ripped a two-run double to make it 3-0. So think of it as the Tigers’ revenge if you wish. But since when is the other guy “entitled” to make history on your dollar? Since when are you just supposed to be nice guys and let him make his history when he might put a game a little further out of reach against you?

Cabrera was 0-for-3 on the day when his eighth-inning plate appearance approached. He didn’t exactly lack for chances to plant number 3,000 somewhere in Comerica Park. He knew it. Understandably, the Comerica crowd wanted history. Understandably, too, the Yankees wanted to come back and win a baseball game.

But a Hall of Famer is more aware of the big picture than the fans booing the Yankees lustily for ordering the free pass before he could even check in at the plate. He simply dropped his bat in the on-deck circle and make the trek to first base without so much as a wince. He waited until he reached the pad to have a word with or toward Boone.

To which Boone replied, perhaps in good humour, “Miggy was jawing at me after I called for the walk. I told him we’re even. He cost me a World Series in 2003, so now he can sleep on 2,999.” (The reference was to Cabrera then being a member of the Marlins who beat the Yankees in six in that Series—into which Boone’s legendary ALCS-winning home run put the Yankees in the first place.)

Tonight will be only the second night Cabrera sleeps on 2,999. After pulling up that short following Wednesday’s play, during which he went 3-for-4 to get there in the first place, he purred, “Who the [fornicate] cares? We lost. When has this game ever been about individual accomplishments?”

Well, fair play. Baseball has been as much about individual feats as team victories since the game was born, more or less. Cabrera may downplay his failure to reach 3,000 Wednesday—and try calming the Comerica crowd down after the free pass and the eventual Tiger win today—but he can’t really be foolish enough to deny that particular feats resonate as deeply as World Series rings.

If he’s rejecting the idea that individual accomplishment is not something to which a player is “entitled,” good for him and better for the game. There’s nothing in the written rules, and little enough unwritten in the Sacred Unwritten Rules, that says a team’s supposed to roll over and play dead so the other guy can reach a landmark.

But there’s plenty on the ethical side that says you’re supposed to achieve your milestones in honest, unmanipulated competition. Including the part that says the other guys have just as much right to try to beat you as you have to try to beat them, history be damned for the moment.

Few teams are quite as conscious or respectful of history and milestones as the Yankees. But they’re also conscious of the season at hand. They took the chance on a lefthander-lefthander matchup offering the best chance to escape the inning unscathed and try once more for victory.

Meadows and thus the Tigers turned out the winners there, fair and square. The Yankees also had a shot at closing the gap and even tying the game in the top of the ninth, when Joey Gallo beat out an infield hit with one out, until Isiah Kiner-Falefa dialed Area Code 6-4-3 for the side and the game.

The Yankees made a smart move and it backfired. That, too, can happen. If Tiger fans want to call it the vengeance of the baseball gods, they’re, ahem, entitled to that. But they shouldn’t condemn the Yankees for putting honest competition and a chance to come back and win ahead of history.

Tiger fans should also heed manager A.J. Hinch’s counsel. “Boonie’s obligation is to his own team and their chances of winning,” Hinch said postgame. “He had the matchup behind Miggy that he wanted. So you could see it coming. I know our fans responded accordingly, but I totally get it.” That’s called being a gracious winner.

Cabrera’s sound counsel, however crudely expressed, is: We still won, and tomorrow’s another day. Especially with the Tigers still at home for this weekend, hosting the Rockies. Cabrera has three more games in front of the home audience to plant number 3,000, fair and square, in honest competition.

Mystique and Aura have left the building

Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts throwing the perfect strike to the plate to bag Aaron Judge, after Yankee third base coach Phil Nevins didn’t stop Judge rounding third at the moment Bogaerts released the throw. This is the kind of thing that used to make Red Sox life living hell—in the last century.

If we must suffer the wild card system still, we hope yet that the wild card games themselves have potential for excitement, and maybe even a little transcendence. The kind that happened in the American League wild card game Tuesday night, in Fenway Park, was everything the Yankees didn’t have in mind.

Their season ended in a 6-2 loss to the Red Sox that flipped the too-long script of Yankee-Red Sox surrealities past and ancient. Because something that usually happened in the last century to the Red Sox, when they could just taste even a piece of glory, happened to the Yankees Tuesday night.

Two teams about whose seasons it could be said most politely that they threatened to implode at too many points collided. The Red Sox played like a championship team. The Yankees played like a team whose destiny was disaster. This was not the natural order of things for either side before the turn of this century.

That was the Twentieth Century: Dubious decisions with games on the line or close enough to it compounded what seemed ages of Red Sox disaster. This was Tuesday night: A dubious decision when the Yankees could have had a clean chance at possibly tying the wild card game all but guaranteed their homegoing instead.

Much as you’d like to see the sports goat business put out of business once and for all, it’s going to be hard to resist planting those horns squarely upon the head of Yankee third base coach Phil Nevin for what transpired in the top of the sixth.

Nevin only thought he could send Aaron Judge all the way home from first, when Giancarlo Stanton drove one off Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier that looked like it was going to fly into the Green Monster seats. Until it didn’t. It banged off that notorious wall and to the ground in left center, where Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo overran the ball but center fielder Enrique Hernandez running right played the carom almost perfectly and threw in.

Hernandez fired a perfect strike to Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts as the cutoff man, and—as Judge rounded third barreling home on his long legs—Bogaerts whipped around to fire a perfect strike to Red Sox catcher Kevin Plawecki. Judge started his dive as Plawecki caught the throw, and Judge was a dead pigeon with his right hand about two feet from touching the plate.

Instead of first and third and one out, after finally ridding themselves of Boston’s lights-out starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, the Yankees settled for Stanton on second and two out. With Joey Gallo coming to the plate and popping out to Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers playing it back on the short outfield grass for the side.

And, with every cheering jaw in Fenway Park still dropped over Nevin turning Judge into a kamikaze.

Yankee manager Aaron Boone takes an excessive share of abuse for the Yankees’ in-season hiccups and postseason shortfalls—especially with his contract expiring now, but just about since he first took the Yankee bridge. Never mind that Boone managed back-to-back 100+ win seasons in his first two years on that bridge, which no Yankee manager did before him. Never mind the Yankees averaging 98 wins a year in his three full seasons on that bridge.

But even Boone’s worst critics can’t get away with hanging this one on him. Not that they’re not trying. From almost the moment Boone took the bridge in the first place, the first Yankee shortfall of any given series or season—a bad pitch, a bad plate appearance, a bad inning, a one-game losing streak—has brought demands for Boone’s perp walk and summary execution. Preferably five minutes earlier.

You’d think Yankeetown still hasn’t grasped the concept that it’s entirely possible for the other guys to play better and smarter when it means the most. Which is exactly what happened Tuesday night.

Boone once broke Red Sox Nation hearts with his pennant-winning blast in the bottom of the eleventh in Yankee Stadium in 2003. Now the poor man seemed as befuddled himself as everyone else in Fenway Park and in the ESPN television audience for making sense of Nevin’s send.

“I think . . . the ball coming in looked like it was going to be kind of an in-between hop to the infielder,” Boone said postgame about Hernandez’s throw in to Bogaerts. “Bogaerts did a good job of creating a hop, catching it clean and and obviously throwing home and getting him. And that kind of squashed the potential rally there, so I think what [Nevin] saw was what he thought was going to be kind of an in-between hop and really a tough chance.”

“Create” the hop? Bogaerts was simply standing on the short center field grass waiting for the throw and the hop created itself, right into Bogaerts’s glove held out to his left. He turned at the split second the ball hit his glove and threw home perfectly.

Bogaerts talking postgame said that play and his part in it meant even more than the two-run homer he drilled into the center field bleachers off Yankee starter Gerrit Cole in the top of the first. Small wonder. The Red Sox were the American League’s most defensively challenged team of the regular season. On Tuesday night they found it in them to play far above their own defensive heads when it mattered the most.

“That [play] was better than a homer for me, personally,” he said. “I mean, if that run scores, it’s 3-2. Stanton is at second base, the whole momentum is on their side. The dugout is getting pumped up. As Judge was out at home, I saw Stanton was pretty mad. He probably wanted a homer there, but also an RBI, and he didn’t get that, and he probably felt like he didn’t do much because that run didn’t score. But that changed the game.”

The Monster factor was made only too vivid in the bottom of the sixth, when Alex Verdugo sent a high liner to deep right off Yankee pitcher Luis Severino working in relief. The ball bounced off the lower part of the fence, a clean enough double, well enough to enable Bogaerts (aboard with a one-out walk) to score the fourth Red Sox run of the night.

Three times Tuesday night Stanton hit what looked like certain home runs. Aside from the sixth-inning rip that indeed turned out to change the game irrevocably, he ripped one so high toward the Monster that even the Red Sox thought it was going to disappear. Until it didn’t. Stanton was so certain that he settled into his home run trot and was held to a measly single.

In the top of the ninth, against Red Sox relief pitcher (and former Yankee product) Garrett Whitlock, Stanton sent a parabolic launch the other way into the right field seats just past the Pesky Pole himself. By then it was an excuse-me! shot for only the second Yankee run. Whittaker ended the game by getting Yankee second baseman Gleyber Torres to pop out to right.

Kyle Schwarber

The Schwarbinator became the first of two former Cubs batting leadoff Tuesday night to strike big . . .

Legends real and alleged used to include longtime Chicago newspaper star Mike Royko’s postulate that the team with the most ex-Cubs lost. The Red Sox and the Yankees may have really tempted real or imagined ancient fates with their chosen leadoff men Tuesday night: World Series-winning ex-Cub teammates Kyle Schwarber (designated hitter, Red Sox, by way of the Nationals) and Anthony Rizzo (first baseman, Yankees, at this year’s trade deadline).

Those moves came of dire necessity, actually. The Red Sox lacked designated hitter J.D. Martinez after he rolled his ankle in the Red Sox season finale, and the Yankees lacked second base regular D.J. LeMahieu thanks to a sports hernia. So, naturally, the Elysian Fields gods decided to have a little mad fun. Right?

Schwarber struck first. With Cole already having a miserable evening in the hole 2-0, the Schwarbinator led off the bottom of the third by driving a 1-2 service no doubt and about twelve rows into the right field seats. Rizzo struck back with one out in the top of the sixth, hitting Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi’s first service on a high line inside that Pesky Pole for the first Yankee run. Then Judge promptly beat out a tough bouncer to shortstop.

The good news for the Yankees is that that finally got Eovaldi out of the game, after he’d manhandled them brilliantly through five and a third including eight strikeouts and no walks. The bad news was Judge on the threshold of disaster on the Stanton home run that wasn’t and the Nevin send that shouldn’t have been.

No Yankee reached base on walks all night. Seven Red Sox reached on walks from Cole and three Yankee relievers. Only Clay Holmes out of the Yankee pen, facing five batters, didn’t walk a single Red Sox batter while surrendering one hit and striking one out. The walks really burned the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh, when Verdugo sent the insurance runs home with two out, slashing a two-run single against Yankee reliever Chad Green to score Hernandez and Schwarber—both of whom had reached on walks.

That Yankee sixth is what used to happen to the Red Sox when they could just taste even a piece of glory in their mouths. Something surreal. Something from The Twilight Zone. Something else from The Outer Limits. Something more from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Leaving the Red Sox yet again fallen to the rocks below when they’d gotten to within one mile or a few innings of the mountaintop.

Why, even B.F. Dent himself—hitter of the home run that broke an earlier generation of New England hearts in the 1978 American League East playoff game—was in the Fenway stands and chatting for one minute with ESPN analyst Buster Olney. (He admitted he’s still asked about that three-run homer into the ancient Monster net—about two or three times a day.)

Except that the ESPN audience probably noticed Dent a lot more than the crowd around him in the stands did. They were too well and appropriately occupied with the Yankees incurring the kind of outrageous malfortune that once seemed the birthright of Red Sox baseball.

Before the game Dent predicted to Boston Globe columnist (and author of The Curse of the Bambino) Dan Shaughnessy, “I think Gerrit Cole will pitch a great game, and I think the Yankees will beat ’em.” That’d teach him. Cole pitched two full innings in the hole 2-0 and got nobody out while facing two more batters after Schwarber’s leadoff launch in the third.

This time, it was the Yankees crushed by trans-dimensional furies and a fatal miscalculation. It’s starting to become as much a Yankee thing this century as a Red Sox thing last. From Dave Roberts stealing second to launch that surreal 2004 Red Sox self-resurrection to Jose Altuve’s pennant-winning two-run homer, it looks as though Mystique and Aura really have left the building.

The ladies didn’t have to take Phil Nevin’s baseball brain with them, though.

Wherever the Red Sox go from here, and they know it won’t be easy tangling with the AL East champion Rays in a division series, nothing can change the extraterrestrial triumph over the Empire Emeritus that gives them that chance in the first place.

Entering 9/11’s anniversary losing . . . 9/11

Gary Sanchez, Jonathan Villar

Sanchez’s bail-and-reach tag attempt on Jonathan Villar only started the Mets’ scoring Friday night.

Even if you hate everything Yankee because it’s everything Yankee, this is the kind of cruel symbolism to which the Empire Emeritus didn’t deserve to awaken on the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities. Even the Yankees didn’t deserve to awaken on 9/11 having lost . . . 9/11, if you look at it one way.

If all you know of Friday night’s game against the crosstown Mets in Citi Field is the line score, it looks on the surface as though the Mets pasted the Yankees 10-3, even with three errors charged to the visitors.

But if you saw the game itself, you know the Mets did benefit from more than a little inadvertent Yankee generosity.

“Just a poor performance, period,” said Aaron Boone, the Yankee manager for whose head Yankee fans have called since, oh, the first Yankee loss of the season. That’s the painful reality of wearing the fabled Yankee pinstripes.

Of all the cliches around the Yankees and their fans, the truest is that they don’t like to lose. Of all the sub-cliches to that, the truest is, alas, “To err is human; to forgive must not become Yankee policy.” If one loss draws calls for heads to roll, nine losses in eleven games probably calls for public executions.

“It’s a bit of a broken record,” Boone said, speaking of the game itself even though he could have been speaking about Yankee fans and their expectations and demands. “We got to keep grinding at it. We got to keep working at it and we will, and trust that it will turn, but it’s obviously going to take everyone and, obviously, that starts with me and making sure we’re ready to roll.”

The Yankees seemed to get a roll going early Friday night, with Brett Gardner scoring on Aaron Judge’s ground out up the middle to second in the top of the first and Joey Gallo—the trade deadline import from Texas, who walks a ton, hits home runs a ton when he hits them, and does little else otherwise—hitting Mets starter Tylor Megill’s first one-out service into the right center field seats in the second.

In between, in the bottom of the first, the Mets offered up a leadoff single (Jonathan Villar), a one-out single up the pipe (Michael Conforto), and a two-out RBI single (Javier Baez, one of the Thumb Bunch) off Yankee starter Jordan Montgomery. The trouble on that hit was Gallo throwing home almost perfectly from left field but Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez bailing on the throw that had Villar a dead duck twenty feet from the plate.

It took a replay review to confirm it: plate umpire Ted Barrett’s initial out call was overturned. Inexplicably, Sanchez stood, bailed backward just enough, and reached up on the play, letting Villar get his foot on the plate before Sanchez got the tag on his helmet.

“He got in between Gary’s legs,” Montgomery said postgame. “It was unfortunate.” Alas, it’s par for the course for the hapless Sanchez this season. Only Baltimore’s Pedro Severino has been as bad behind the dish as Sanchez—each is worth -8 defensive runs saved, the worst mark in the American League.

Still, Gallo’s go-ahead bomb in the second gave the Yankees every right to think they’d hold the Mets off yet. They just didn’t bargain upon their own further misbehaviour starting in the bottom of the third.

Villar opened again with a base hit. Montgomery walked Thumb Buncher Francisco Lindor to set up first and second, then wild pitched that pair of Mets to third and second before walking Pete Alonso to send Villar home with the tying run. Then Baez whacked a feeble grounder up toward third. Uh, oh. Yankee third baseman Gio Urshela picked the ball slickly enough as he hit the ground sliding, but he threw it past Sanchez enabling Lindor to score.

Then Jeff McNeil, spotting the Yankee infield playing a little too deep, dropped a bunt past the mound on the second base side, catching every Yankee around the infield by surprise enough that Conforto came home unopposed. Kevin Pillar of the Thumb Bunch sent Gallo back to the track to haul down his sacrifice fly making the proceedings 5-2, Mets, and counting.

One busted double-steal bid later, McNeil taking second but Baez thrown out at third, Mets catcher James McCann, not exactly one of their more threatening hitters, sent a line double bouncing into the left field corner to score McNeil with the fifth Met run of the frame. Lucky for Montgomery that his next batter was a guaranteed out—even after opening Magill with two balls before striking him out swinging on three straight to follow.

And if the Yankees weren’t able to find bullpen relief for Montgomery just yet, the Mets thought nothing of making his night miserable even further in the fourth. With one out, Lindor going the other way kind of snuck a home run past the right field foul pole. Then the Yankees went to the pen, but an infield hit and a fly out later off Joely Rodriguez, Baez bounced an RBI double off the right center field fence. Making it 8-2, Mets.

The Yankees were mostly futile against Megill (ten strikeouts in seven innings) and the Mets’ defense from the second forward. But they weren’t finished being generous to the crosstown rivals. With the bases full of Mets in the seventh—after a one-out single (Baez) and back-to-back plunks (on McNeil and Pillar)—Yankee reliever Michael King fed McCann a ball that had inning-ending double play stamped on it.

Uh, oh, again. Yankee second baseman D.J. LeMahieu picked it and shoveled it perfectly to shortstop Gleyber Torres on the run. But Torres threw on about two stories above first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s glove, and home came the two plunk victims unmolested. By the time Rizzo whacked his own leadoff bomb in the top of the ninth, likewise sneaking it inside the foul pole, there were few real thoughts of any Yankee comeback.

Mets reliever Yennsy Diaz made sure those few thoughts disappeared swiftly enough from there with two swift air outs, before Sanchez tried to battle him from an 0-2 count: two balls, a foul, ball three, and then the game-ending fly out to deep right.

“It gives me all the confidence in the world,” Megill said post-game, “just to throw the ball over the plate in a way and attack hitters more confidently knowing I have, I guess, room for mistakes pitching. The offense killed it today. It’s awesome, they’ve been playing really well.” The Empire Emeritus went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded four on the night, including Gardner after a two-out single in the third when the Yankees still had that 2-1 lead.

The Mets needed only Diaz and Heath Hembree before him out of the pen Friday night. They’ll need all pen hands on deck the rest of the weekend. Especially if the Yankees are only too conscious of losing 9/11 entering the twentieth anniversary of those atrocities.

Can’t we teach the thugs a real lesson?

Alex Verdugo, Alex Cora

Alex Verdugo’s (left) generosity turned into a particularly nasty piece of Yankee fan foolishness.

If you want to know why baseball players come to see baseball fans with contempt, as some always have and always will, you can point to the Yankee Stadium doings Saturday night. Even knowing the eternal rivalry between the Empire Emeritus and the Olde Towne Team, this was above and beyond the call of insanity.

All Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo did before the bottom of the sixth started was see fit to toss a practise ball to a young Red Sox fan in the bleachers. The ball didn’t quite reach that young fan’s hands, but it did reach a Yankee fan to whom Red Sox generosity might just as well have been a home invasion leaving none alive.

That Yankee fan threw Verdugo’s should-have-been gift ball back to the field and hit Verdugo squarely in the back. Verdugo was anything but amused. He turned toward the bleachers hollering to the fans. Highly-touted Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran hustled over to pull Verdugo away. Umpires, stadium security, and Red Sox coaches sought only to find the miscreant.

Miscreant found. And ejected from the ballpark posthaste. Eliciting a few cheers and a few more boos among the fans in that section. Red Sox manager Alex Cora wasted no time pulling his team off the field after coach Tom Goodwin urged still-steaming Verdugo out of the outfield and toward the Red Sox dugout.

Cora even had to debate with the umpires over letting Verdugo have a few minutes to compose himself in the dugout. It shouldn’t even have been a debate point. This time, it was only Verdugo’s back. It could have been his head.

“I know my left fielder, I know Alex,” Cora said post-game. “He needed time to breathe and to get his thoughts.” Tell that to the umpires, as Cora ultimately did.

It seemed like nobody was listening to me. Like, imagine getting thrown at with an object in a sport and you’ve got to be out there right away because we have to continue to play the game — that part I didn’t agree. But Alex was OK with it. But you never know. What if he jumps the fence? What if he goes out there and attacks somebody? Whatever. That’s what I was telling them, just give us a chance to collect our thoughts, breathe a little bit and we’ll go out and play the game. That was the whole thing.

Verdugo knows the score only too well. Talk all the trash you want. Hammer all the family members you can think of. Chant your little heads off. Even holler “[Fornicate!] Verdugo” until your throat resembles a pair of sand blocks rubbing together. Throw a ball or other debris? Not so fast.

[T]he moment somebody throws — as players, we’re throwing balls in the stands to try to give people souvenirs, try to make little kids’ days and things like that. Just to hear people saying, ‘Throw it back’ and then someone actually throws it back and it felt like it was targeted towards me, it doesn’t sit right with me.

Throwing enemy home run balls back is a tradition almost as old as the live ball in some ballparks. Wrigley Field’s storied Bleacher Creatures have made it so much so that if you happen to watch a Cubs home game without a Creature throwing back an enemy home run ball (unless, of course, it’s a particular milestone mash with dollar value attached) it’s one step short of breaking-news bulletin time.

But no such Creature has ever been known to try separating an enemy outfielder from his assorted anatomy or his brains throwing a ball back. And not even the worst, most bombed out of his or her trees fan was ever been known (unless it just hasn’t been reported, until Saturday) to throw back a ball an opposing player tried to give a visiting fan as a souvenir.

Things weren’t hard enough between the Red Sox and the Yankees with the scheduled series opener last Thursday postponed after several Yankees—including right field star Aaron Judge—turned up COVID-positive? Things weren’t testy enough already Saturday, with a near-hour rain delay before the game and continuing rain during it?

Red Sox Nation should know that they now have an ally in Yankee manager Aaron Boone, who made no secret of his hope that the bleacher idiot ended up behind bars. Cora should also know that Boone would have acted the same as he did if the game had been in Fenway Park and a particularly brain-damaged Red Sox fan did likewise to one of his players.

It’s awful, embarrassing, unacceptable. My understanding is they did catch the guy. Hopefully he’s in jail right now. That’s just a bad situation. If I was Alex Cora, I would have done the same thing as far as going out and getting his guys off the field. There’s zero place for that in this great game, and in this great rivalry. Players should never feel like they have to worry about anything like that. I already reached out to Alex Cora, just to apologize, and to Alex Verdugo that, you know, that’s just a terrible, bad, sad situation. And sorry about that.

This during a season in which Reds first baseman Joey Votto—after getting ejected early in a game over an argument with an umpire, then learning a little girl named Abigail was heartbroken that she wouldn’t get to see her favourite Red play for just about all game long—reached out and sent Abigail a ball he signed, “I’m sorry I didn’t play the entire game. Joey Votto.”

Saturday’s game was supposed to be about Duran’s major league debut. (He went 1-for-2 with a base hit and a run scored, both in the top of the second.) And, about a pitching duel between Nathan Eovaldi (five innings, one earned run) and Gerrit Cole (six innings, one earned run, eleven punchouts).

The nasty weather ended the game after six in a 3-1 Yankee win. (Back-to-back solo bombs from Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres in the bottom of the sixth took care of that, on Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura’s dollar.) The nasty weather in the left field bleachers became the story of the game, unfortunately.

The Yankees travel to Boston for a set in Fenway Park starting this coming Thursday. Red Sox Nation, beware: don’t even think about trying any similar stupidity if any Yankee decides to toss a practise ball to a visiting Yankee fan before an inning begins.

Maybe the thing for baseball government and the players union to consider together is mandating a forfeit to the opposing team, when a team’s own fans get as thuggish as the thug who thought Verdugo’s reward for generosity to a visiting young fan should have been a ball attack upon the left fielder’s back.

Once upon a sad October 1971 time, umpires awarded the Yankees a forfeit after heartsick Washington Senators fans—with Second Nats reliever Joe Grzenda one out from saving what should have been a win, and the Senators playing their final game before moving to Texas—stormed the RFK Stadium field. Grzenda never got to throw a single pitch to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke.

Those fans didn’t blame the Yankees or try to mangle, bangle, or dismember anything in a Yankee uniform. They’d have preferred decapitating duplicitous Senators owner Bob Short. (Banners with his initials proliferated in the stands.) Absent that, they took it out on RFK Stadium.

If you can forfeit to the visitors over breaking an entire ballpark, you ought to be able to forfeit to the visitors when a home fan decides a baseball offered a visiting fan should be the instrument for spontaneous back surgery upon the visiting player who offered it. Maybe (big maybe) that’ll teach the jackasses a few lessons.