NEW YORK — What a mess.
The New York Yankees entered Game 3 of the American League Division Series coming off a convincing win in Game 2, with home-field advantage now in their favor, and with their best starting pitcher on the mound.
They exited it the victim of a lopsided 16-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox, with their typically strong bullpen looking battered and beleaguered, their manager mired in questions about communication and decision-making, and facing the real possibility of watching their hated rivals celebrate an ALCS berth in their home park Tuesday.
It was ugly. Football-score ugly. Most lopsided postseason loss in franchise history ugly. Backup-catcher-pitching-in-a-playoff-game ugly.
According to the TBS broadcast, things got off to an odd start for the Yankees before the game even began. During the telecast, analyst Ron Darling reported that starter Luis Severino, confused or misinformed about the game’s 7:40 p.m. ET scheduled start time, did not arrive to the Yankees’ bullpen to begin warming up until less than 10 minutes before first pitch. After the game, Severino, manager Aaron Boone, catcher Gary Sanchez and pitching coach Larry Rothschild all denied the report, insisting that Severino followed his normal pregame routine.
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“It wasn’t an issue,” Boone said. “He had plenty of warmup. He did what he intended to go down there and get done, and (Rothschild) said he was able to get through his normal routine, where he faces a couple of hitters and everything.”
“I came out (to the field) 20 minutes before the game, like I always do,” Severino said. “A game that big is your game. You’ve got to remember what time it is. There was no confusion with the timing.”
If Severino did complete his usual warmup routine, it did not achieve its usual effect. The 24-year-old righty allowed a couple of hard-hit balls that found gloves and worked around a two-out walk to escape the first unscathed, but things began falling apart shortly thereafter.
The Red Sox rallied for a run in the second after Rafael Devers led off the inning with a line drive to right field that left his bat at 116 mph and reached the wall so quickly that Devers was held to a single. Severino allowed seven batted balls of more than 100 mph in the game, his highest total on the season. Four of those rockets came in the third inning alone, when the Red Sox plated two more runs on three singles and a sacrifice fly.
“The fastball command wasn’t there,” Severino said. “When you’re not commanding your stuff against a lineup like this, you get in trouble.”
Despite the warning signs, the Yankees left Severino in to start the fourth.
“It was the bottom of the order coming up, and he’s the guy that has pitched well for us all year,” Rothschild explained.
The Sox’ No. 7 and 8 hitters, Brock Holt and Christian Vazquez, opened the inning with back-to-back singles. Believing, for whatever reason, that No. 9 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. would attempt a sacrifice bunt — something he has not done successfully since 2015 — with no outs and two runners on in the fourth inning, Boone kept Severino in the game.
“Once those two guys got on and it became a bunting situation, we were just going to ride (Severino) through that spot.”
Severino walked Bradley, and Boone — with a full stable of live-armed relievers in his bullpen — tapped Lance Lynn for the job of facing likely AL MVP Mookie Betts with no outs and the bases loaded. Lynn, a starter in the overwhelming majority of his career appearances and unaccustomed to entering games with runners on base, walked Betts on four pitches, then allowed a bases-clearing double to Andrew Benintendi.
“Certainly, in hindsight, we should have started the fourth inning with (David Robertson) or something,” said Boone, “but we really felt like (Severino) could at least get us a couple outs in that fourth inning before turning it over to Lynn, and then we’d roll out our guys. We just couldn’t stop the bleeding at all. That was the thinking behind it.
“The matchup we wanted was Lynn through the top (of the Red Sox’ batting order) against the righties.”
To Boone’s credit, Lynn did fare well against right-handed hitters in the regular season, holding them to a .674 OPS. But Robertson, Dellin Betances and Chad Green — all of whom were available, and all of whom are full-time relief pitchers — all performed even better in the split.
“We feel like Lance, in a lot of ways, against righties gives us our best chance,” Boone said. “He just really didn’t have it tonight, but stuff-wise, the reason he’s down there and in that spot is for that part of the lineup. He just came in struggling right away with his command. So the inning just got away.”
“Got away” is an understatement. By the time the fourth was over, Lynn was gone in favor of Green and seven Red Sox runs had crossed the plate. The Sox would tack on another run in the seventh, three more in the eighth, and two off backup catcher Austin Romine in the ninth.
“Unfortunately, I had to pitch in that game,” Romine said. “I wouldn’t make too much of it. The big story is, we didn’t get the job done.”
The game got out of hand so swiftly and so convincingly that Boone was able to spare Robertson, Betances and closer Aroldis Chapman from action. But then, perhaps, that’s the problem: If the Yankees’ bullpen is one of their greatest strengths, why were none of its best members called upon when they could’ve kept the game within reach?
“The good thing about today is it’s one game, and as awful a night as it was for us, we’ve got to turn the page,” Boone said. “(Tuesday), obviously, is do-or-die.”
The Yanks’ woeful and baffling performance Monday makes only one of those outcomes easy to envision.