From a comfortable 15.5 game lead to just two games in the loss column, the 2022 Yankees may be nearing the finish line of a historic collapse.
The Rays rolled into the Bronx on Derek Jeter night and watched the bruised and battered Yankees struggle to a 4-2 loss. The Bombers, who are loaded with minor leaguers up and down the lineup, were unable to create or capitalize in any offensive situations.
However, left tackle Aaron Hicks’ defensive blunders were glaring. In the top of the fourth, Frankie Montas walked into a first and second situation with two outs. Vander Franco lofted a ball down the left field line that was dropped by Hicks. Hicks didn’t realize the ball was in fair territory and stalled for a few moments, which allowed two runners to score to make it a 3-0 game.
The very next batter, Randy Arozarena singled to left field and it appeared that Hicks misplayed it allowing it to go to the wall scoring another run.
The disgruntled – to say the least – Bronx crowd had seen enough and so had coach Aaron Boone. In the top of the fifth inning, Estevan Florial was patrolling left field. Boone pulled Hicks, a rare in-game statement from a Yankee manager.
“I just felt like I had to get him out of there at that point,” Boone said. “I felt I had to do it at the time. There is a level of feeling about him. He was quite disappointed and upset. There hasn’t been much talk about it yet. It wasn’t a punishment,” Boone added, adding that he felt the crowd’s reaction played a factor in pulling Hicks.
“I was benched,” Hicks said. “I stayed on the bench during the match. This is difficult, especially when all you want to do is produce for your team. I have to make those plays and help our team win.”
Regardless of the defensive blunders, the Bombers had some chances to get into the game and came up empty. Giancarlo Stanton pinch-hit for Oswaldo Cabrera in the bottom of the sixth with two runners on and a runner on second. After Aaron Judge singled to Oswald Peraza in the seventh, Gleyber Torres ended the inning.
Kyle Higashioka added a solo shot in the ninth to suddenly knock the Bombers off. Judge drew a walk to set up Torres as the tying run with two outs. The second basemen flew to the wall in right center to end the game at 4-2.
The box score is not indicative of Montas’ performance on Friday night. The right-hander was charged for four runs after being pulled with two outs in the sixth inning. Hicks’ blunder was not recorded as an error, therefore, inflating his line a bit. Montas kept the Yanks in the game and gave them a chance to win. The Bombers just didn’t give themselves a chance.
“I thought he [Montas] he fought really well, he deserved a better fate,” Boone said. “We didn’t make some plays behind him. I thought he raced really well and got into a decent rhythm. I think he [was] very close to going six innings and giving up a run.”
Lucas Leutge and Ryan Weber finished the game out of the bullpen for the Yankees. Both pitchers combined for three and a third of scoreless baseball, limiting the damage and giving their offense every chance to get back into the game.
With just a two-game lead in the loss column, what seemed unthinkable just over a month ago could happen once the weekend is over. The American League East is very much up for grabs.