Yes, the Yankees lost last night, but I’d like to revisit the sweep of the Blue Jays for a moment. Every game was a nail-biter, with the Yankees coming from behind to win in all three contests. A huge part of their triumph over the Jays in Buffalo turned out to be Aaron Boone pulling all the right strings and pushing all the right buttons in every decision-making situation.
It’s no secret that the Yankees have not started the season in the way that they or their fans anticipated. They’ve been dragged down by an offense that was expected to lead the majors, but instead has looked inconsistent at the best of times and lifeless at the worst. And there is no person in the organization who receives more hate for their collective failures than Aaron Boone.
There is a common thread of complaints that arise whenever the team is underperforming:
“He’s too laid back.”
“He doesn’t motivate his players.”
“He isn’t truthful to the public.”
“He’s just a puppet for the front office.”
I really started to take notice this season following the extra-innings loss to the Red Sox. Somehow, people have equated him not getting tossed from that game to him not caring. For some people, anything short of screaming and swearing is not enough.
These are kind of ludicrous positions to take; how does getting ejected from a game or lambasting his own players make things better? Besides, as you’ll see from the next clip, Boone clearly cares deeply about his team and about winning and losing.
Aaron Boone takes issue with the idea that the Yankees are getting used to losing:— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) June 13, 2021
"I know them too well. I don't think there's any getting used to freakin' losing. Hell no. Get the hell out of here with that." pic.twitter.com/GyoACZjdbl
There’s an edge and fieriness in his response that you wouldn’t get from someone who wasn’t passionate and invested in what they were doing. However, his demeanor is not what I wanted to focus on today. The overwhelming criticism of Boone throughout his tenure as Yankees manager involves his roster decisions both before and during a game.
Don’t get me wrong, I have taken umbrage with a handful of his high-profile moves: Lance Lynn in Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS, J.A. Happ in Game 2 of the 2019 ALCS, and Deivi García in Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS all come to mind. However, we tend to overweigh the importance of a few bad decisions, drowning out the majority of ones that went well.
If we want to blame Boone for losses, then we also have to credit him for wins. And there have been a whole lot more wins during Boone’s tenure than losses. All of his detractors crawl back into the woodworks when his moves yield positive outcomes, something he did to perfection against the Blue Jays.
In the top of the eighth of a tie game on Tuesday, Boone brought in Tyler Wade to pinch-run for Miguel Andújar, who led off with a single. After Wade stole second, Clint Frazier came in to pinch-hit for Brett Gardner. Despite struggling mightily on the season, Frazier still had Boone’s confidence, and boy did he deliver. His double to left plated Wade as the winning run.
The next night, the Yankees were down 2-1 heading into the seventh. Andújar again led off with a single, at which point Boone brought on Gary Sánchez to pinch-hit for Kyle Higashioka. Sánchez had been looking so much more locked in at the plate as of late, and rewarded Boone’s confidence in a big way. His monstrous. 446-foot two-run home run proved to be the difference in the game.
Then in the final game with a chance to sweep, Boone made in my opinion the gutsiest call of the series. With a slim 5-4 lead in the seventh and runners on second and third with two outs, Boone brought in Gittens to pinch-hit Tyler Wade. This decision came down despite Frazier’s success pinch-hitting two nights prior and Gittens’ ugly 1-for-17 start to his major league career.
It proved to be the perfect lever to pull, as Gittens slapped a clutch two-run single to right to give the Yankees a much-needed cushion. He even added a third RBI with a sac fly in the ninth.
The fact that Boone batted 1.000 with these in-game moves is not purely coincidence. That’s knowing your guys, understanding who is going to get the job done in a high-pressure situation despite what the larger sample size might say about them.
Boone also hit the mark with every pitching decision he made. Despite struggling through four innings, Boone stuck with Jordan Montgomery in the first game, knowing he needed some length to mitigate a fatigued bullpen from the prior series. The next game, he left Cole in for eight innings despite the Yankees ace having diminished spin rates and a low strikeout total. He also knew exactly who to go to out of the bullpen: the relievers gave up only one earned run across twelve innings over three games.
This isn’t all to say that Boone should be immune from criticism. When he makes the wrong in-game move, he deserves to be called out for it. When he is disingenuous with the media, he invites scorn. By and large though, he has done a good job as Yankees manager. He has earned the right to see out his contract, just as we reserve the right to question the lineups he puts out, the players he rests, and the pitching changes he makes.