Though I am still reeling from the disappointment of Friday’s loss, as I am sure many of you are, now that I have had 24 hours to cool off I have begun to examine what went wrong through a less emotional lens. Mike Brosseau may have delivered the coup de grâce, however it was a decision two innings prior that set the wheels in motion, ultimately culminating in that knockout blow.
If you would have told me that the ALDS would come down to a Game Five matchup between Mike Brosseau and and Aroldis Chapman, well I’d suspect you were a burner for Rob Manfred. Between Chapman throwing 101 at his head earlier in the season and the two-home run game Brosseau delivered after that incident, you could not have scripted a more dramatic ending to the ALDS. It never should have gotten to that point.
When Aaron Boone stepped out of the dugout in the sixth inning Friday night and pointed to the bullpen, he betrayed the twelve years of attempt after attempt to get Gerrit Cole in pinstripes. Let me preface this by saying this is not a piece criticizing Aaron Boone. In fact, I very much doubt it was his decision to pull Cole from the game in the situation. Instead, I want to revisit the motivations for signing Cole this past offseason, and why yanking him from Game Five negated that entire framework.
I understand the reasoning behind lifting Cole from the game in that situation. His pitch count stood at 94 in his first ever start on short rest. He looked like he was flagging in the previous inning as his command turned a bit erratic, leading to Austin Meadows’ game-tying solo shot. And he came inches away from surrendering the go-ahead home run to Randy Arozarena on what would be his final pitch of the night and season. I still contend that Cole was the Yankees’ best option to finish off the sixth.
Pulling Cole so early meant going to a taxed, highly compromised bullpen with few trustworthy options to get the final eleven outs of the game. It meant giving the two highest leverage arms in Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman — who were not fresh after their combined three innings and 45 pitches of work the night before — an unreasonable workload in a tie game with little to no cover for the final innings. And it violated the very principle of signing Cole.
The whole reason the Yankees were so resolute in their pursuit of Cole was for exactly this scenario. The Game Five/Seven with the season on the line. The pocket ace on the mound who you know is going to shove with everything at stake. And in that aspect they failed Cole and themselves. You don’t let the Rays beat you by homering off an aging reliever. If the Rays are going to beat you, it’s because their best effort beat that of your ace and top-three pitcher in baseball, in which case you tip you hat and say, “well played.”
The Yankees crossed the Rubicon when they burned practically their entire starting staff and bullpen outside of Gerrit Cole to get to Game Five. They knew they were pushing all their chips into Cole’s corner, that their season would live or die on the back of his performance. But when the time came, they got cold feet and tried to turn back. Only the bridge had long since washed away.