The New York Yankees are one loss away from going home for the offseason. Saturday night the Yankees dropped a heartbreaker to the Cleveland Guardians, blowing a 5-3 ninth inning lead in an eventual 6-5 walk-off loss in Game 3 of the ALDS. Wild Card Series hero Oscar Gonzalez had the walk-off two-run single. Cleveland leads the best-of-five series 2-1. Game 4 is Sunday night.
The New York Yankees were 167-0 in postseason history when leading by multiple runs entering the ninth inning- until tonight.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 16, 2022
Rookie righty Clarke Schmidt allowed the walk-off hit after setup men Lou Trivino, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Wandy Peralta pitched earlier in the game. Closer Clay Holmes did not pitch in Game 3 after pitching in Game 1 on Tuesday and Game 2 on Friday. Holmes missed the end of the regular season with a shoulder issue and Yankees manager Aaron Boone said they didn't want to use him on back-to-back days so soon after the injury.
"I mean, part of the thing with him being available for this series was not really in a back-to-back situation yet. He just hadn't thrown any live or anything. So while he was pretty good today and I fully expect him available tomorrow, it just felt like we needed to stay away there," Boone said after Game 3. "... It was really the emergency situation [only for Holmes to be available]."
Boone told SNY that, to him, an emergency situation meant extra innings and every other pitcher had been used. That is dubious logic -- trying to close out a postseason game with the tying and winning runs on base seems like an emergency to me -- though the larger issue is Holmes said he was available to pitch Game 3, and was surprised not to hear his named called. It wasn't communicated to him that the Yankees were trying to stay away from him.
"I prepared today to do my job. Sometimes those decisions aren't mine. I feel like I'm available to pitch. Whenever my name is called, I'm ready to go out there and give it everything I've got," Holmes told MLB.com after Game 3. "They asked and I said I was good to go if needed."
On one hand, every player is going to say he's available in the postseason, and it's on the manager and the coaches to protect the player from himself. On the other hand, Boone admitted Holmes was available, but only an emergency, and apparently the ninth inning of Game 3 was not an emergency. Other players in the clubhouse were surprised Holmes was not used as well.
"He's our closer. So of course I was surprised," Game 3 starter Luis Severino told MLB.com. "I don't know if he was down. There shouldn't be people down in the playoffs. That's something you guys need to ask Boone or [pitching coach Matt] Blake to see what was going on there."
It takes a lot -- A LOT -- for players to publicly question decisions made by the manager and coaching staff, so Holmes and Severino speaking out after Game 3 is notable. Losing a game because a reliever gets hit around is one thing. Losing a game and then the players saying they didn't know why the manager made the decisions he did is another. It's bad, bad look for Boone.
The Yankees will hand the ball to Gerrit Cole with their season on the line in Game 4 and Boone said Holmes will be available. That's important not only because it's a win or go home situation, but also because others like Loáisiga and Peralta may not be available after working extending outings the last two days. And, if they are available, will they be compromised at all? New York's bullpen is in rough shape.
Beyond Game 4 (and the rest of the postseason should the Yankees stay alive), there are questions that must be answered about the state of the clubhouse and the players' trust in Boone. Players openly questioning the manager should set off alarms for the front office. For the players to be pushed to that point, there must be more going on behind the scenes. The Game 3 loss was bad, though what happened afterward might be worse for the Yankees in the grand scheme of things.