The B-squad Bombers almost pulled it off. They led the first-place Red Sox, 3-1, entering the bottom of the ninth with their best active reliever on the mound in Chad Green. It should’ve been a win.
It wasn’t. Green didn’t have quite as bad an outing as he did in Houston, but this one won’t make his career highlights package. Two hits from the bottom of the Boston lineup combined with Kiké Hernández’s two-run double off the Green Monster to tie the game at 3-3. Green got the last batter, but once the game was in the hands of Triple-A reliever Brooks Kriske in the 10th, it was almost a given that it would be a loss. We just had no idea how chaotic it would look.
Briefly given a lead thanks to Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly, Kriske unleashed a zany inning for the ages, uncorking four (!) wild pitches to score Rafael Devers to tie the game again and sending Xander Bogaerts to third after a walk. It was the first time in Yankees history that a pitcher threw that many wild ones in a single frame (just the second time in a single game). Kriske somehow fanned J.D. Martinez, but Hunter Renfroe won the game with a sacrifice fly, giving Boston a bizarre 5-4 victory.
By the time Kriske was throwing pitches with the accuracy of a man who had just downed five shots of moonshine, it had reached comical proportions, but it was no joke that Jordan Montgomery got screwed tonight. The Yankees’ southpaw once against pitched well with essentially no run support. He blanked the powerful Boston lineup over 5.2 innings of shutout ball, and only the weather interfered with his outing lasting longer.
It took until the fourth for a single run to cross the plate, and it happened in about as quiet a manner as one could imagine. Red Sox starter Tanner Houck picked a bad time to issue his only free passes of the night, walking Gardner and Giancarlo Stanton to begin the frame. He fanned Rougned Odor, but both runners advanced when Red Sox catcher Christian Vázquez couldn’t handle one of Houck’s pitches, leading to a passed ball. Gleyber Torres then grounded out to shortstop, but it wasn’t hit hard enough for a play to be made at home.
Bogaerts took the sure out at first base and it was 1-0, Yankees. Amazingly, it was the first time they’d scored a single run of support for Montgomery since June 15th against the Blue Jays, a span of five full starts.
Montgomery threw a perfect fourth, and then came the rain. Shortly after the fifth inning began, it poured at Fenway Park. The teams tried to play on, but when Tyler Wade reached on a two-out infield single that looked like it might as well have been skipping through a swamp, the umpires called for the tarp.
The rain only continued for another 15 minutes or so, but it was enough to force a 55-minute delay. When the game resumed, Houck was out after 4.2 innings of effective one-run ball. Reliever Josh Taylor walked DJ LeMahieu but retired Gardner on an easy grounder to end the inning. The lefty then tossed a scoreless sixth to keep the Yankees’ offense at bay, and Darwinzon Hernandez continued the trend of superb relief with a perfect seventh.
Meanwhile, Montgomery returned to the mound after the delay showing no signs of rust whatsoever. He fanned two Boston batters in a 1-2-3 fifth, then got the first two outs of the sixth on grounders before allowing a single to Bogaerts. Although Montgomery had retired nine batters in a row, he’d told manager Aaron Boone that — perhaps due to the delay — he was tiring prior to the sixth. So the skipper pulled him after 83 pitches ... in favor of new reliever Sal Romano, who most recently bombed out of the Reds’ bullpen before surfacing in Triple-A Scranton.
It was a risky move, especially with the always-dangerous Martinez up next. Sure enough, the DH singled to right to put the tying run at third, but Romano managed to induce a fly ball to right from Renfroe to cut the rally short.
The Yankees’ bullpen would not be so lucky in the home half of the seventh. With one out and none on, Lucas Luetge entered the game, and Alex Verdugo greeted him with a chopper to second that Torres couldn’t quite handle. It was technically an infield hit, though Torres would surely say that it should’ve been an out. Bobby Dalbec smoked another single to the right side to put runners on the corners for Michael Chavis.
Chavis hit a sharp grounder to Tyler Wade at third, and he made a nice stop, but like Torres, couldn’t come up with the ball. This time, it was scored an error, and the bases were loaded with hearts palpitating around Fenway. At the very least, Luetge escaped with minimal damage — Hernández lifted a fly ball to center to score Verdugo with the tying run, and Dalbec gave the Yankees an absolute gift:
Yes, Dalbec — who began the play on second — tried to score on an infield hit by Devers. It was a questionable decision regardless that was made even worse by the fact that Bogaerts and the Martinez were due up next. Credit to Torres for making a good throw, but the inning should’ve still been alive.
Instead, it was still 1-1, and thank the baseball gods for that because the Yankees finally did something against old friend Adam Ottavino. The right-hander had handled the Bombers over his first four appearances with Boston since his offseason trade, but on Thursday night, the version of Ottavino that often made Yankees fans nervous in 2020 reared its head.
Ottavino began the inning by walking LeMahieu, allowed him to get a huge jump on a stolen base, and then walked Gardner to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Stanton flared a hit to left-center and Verdugo couldn’t handle it cleanly. The Yankees were up, 2-1.
It was a familiar sequence, except this time, the Yankees were the benefactor.
Odor then attempted to drag a bunt for a hit, and while he was unsuccessful, he did move the runners over on the sacrifice. That allowed Torres to drive the runner from third home with a 361-foot fly to deep right that would’ve been a homer at Yankee Stadium. Alas, at Fenway, it was just a sac fly and the score was 3-1, Yankees.
Luis Cessa set the heart of the Red Sox lineup down in order on five pitches in the eighth, inadvertently setting up a ton of second-guessing for Boone. Why take Cessa out for Green? Well, Green is a better reliever — one of the best in the game — and it’s as simple as that. Even with that bad outing in Houston, Green has a 2.76 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 0.796 WHIP, 1.8 BB/9, and 10.1 K/9 in 39 games. Meanwhile, Cessa has a 2.89 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 1.286 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, and 7.5 K/9 in 28 games.
The odds were on Green succeeding because he’s a great reliever. Cessa’s also good, but trust the superior arm. Usually, it works out. Today, it didn’t. (Frankly, if Cessa had tired in his second inning of work and allowed baserunners, then fans would be mad that Green wasn’t given a clean frame.)
As for why Kriske got the 10th? The bullpen was just out of steam. It sucks, but it happens, especially when a team is without its back-end starters and has to start the likes of Asher Wojciechowski. This was the relief corps’ pitch chart entering Thursday night:
Recent Yankees pitcher usage as this 4-game series starts at Fenway...busy bullpen the last two nights...Sal Romano comes up from Triple-A (Asher Wojciechowski DFA'd) pic.twitter.com/qvmMwKoSzy— James Smyth (@JamesSmyth621) July 22, 2021
Green, Cessa, Luetge, and Romano all pitched on Thursday and everyone else would’ve been working on fumes. Boone did have Justin Wilson and Aroldis Chapman warming up shortly after Kriske went on his wild pitch rampage, but he said they were only available in an emergency.
For the record, I’d quibble and say that at that point, it was an emergency, but oh well. If we’re playing armchair manager, I also probably would’ve walked the bases loaded and tried someone else rather than letting Renfroe walk it off. But, well, the Yankees were going to have an awful hard time winning anyway at that point. Kriske probably shouldn’t even be on this roster*, even with the COVID-induced absences. As another Yankees manager once said, “It’s not what you want.”
*Update: Kriske is now no longer on the roster; he was demoted after the game.
Anyway, that was a loss, and a big ol’ loss at that, as the Rays also won to push the Yankees further back in the AL East (and that’s to say nothing of Tampa acquiring the menacing bat of Nelson Cruz). They’re eight behind Boston, seven behind Tampa Bay, and 4.5 behind the A’s for the second Wild Card spot since Oakland beat Seattle tonight.
The Yankees will turn to Gerrit Cole tomorrow and ask him to go deep to give the bullpen a rest and even this series against Eduardo Rodriguez. First pitch is at 7:10pm ET.