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Why does Aaron Boone give up winnable games before they’ve been lost?

The Yankees continue to throw in the towel in games when the team is losing by just a run or two.

Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has received his share of criticism following the team’s 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday night. While some of the negative judgments are extreme, as the Yankees’ inability to score runs is the real problem here, Boone fully deserves a lot of the criticism he’s received after seemingly giving up on a game that was within reach.

Fans don’t merely disagree with Boone’s decision to use both Sal Romano and Andrew Heaney in relief. Rather, they are puzzled and cannot understand the logic underlying the decision to go with Romano, who has now been designated for assignment four times this year, and Heaney, who’s given up 26 runs in the 30.1 innings he has pitched for the Yankees. The Yanks are in a Wild Card race with the Jays and were trying to avoid being swept at home in the Bronx.

Wandy Peralta later appeared in this game; if he was available, why didn’t Boone go with Peralta — a reliever who’s proven himself in high-leverage situations — in a game tied 2-2 against a tough opponent? At the very least, why not have him relieve Romano when he ran into a jam? Furthermore, why would Boone send out Heaney to pitch the ninth if the game was still within reach?

Of course, the game’s outcome wouldn’t be so dependent on Boone’s pitching decisions if the Yankees’ lineup were more productive. Offense has been scarce, to say the least. But the lineup is so unproductive that the team is constantly in a tight spot, or a close game, with no breathers; that has led to an overworked bullpen as well. It seems like every win is a grind. If the Yankees want to be postseason contenders, they need to play with more urgency than they have shown. Moreover, Boone must show more flexibility and willingness to pivot as circumstances change, and if game situations demand it. Boone’s answers during postgame interviews seem to imply that, before each game, the Yankees draft a script. And the Yankees’ script is the Yankees’ script. Boone cannot deviate from the original plan, no matter what happens during the game.

“No, I was gonna close with Greenie today if I got to that point. Sal was up here. We liked the matchup of him against righties,” Boone told YES Network’s Meredith Marakovits when she asked him why he went with Romano to pitch the seventh, rather than Chad Green. “We were lined up there to go to Jordan, and then some combo of Wandy and Greenie.”

Boone’s comments to Marakovits suggest pitching decisions are made before the game. Boone isn’t inclined to deviate from the preconceived plan, regardless of how the pitcher looks or feels, or what the score is. Who will pitch when and who won’t be used under any circumstances is a done deal, or so it seems. It feels like there is a detour due to hazardous conditions and the Yankees insist on forgoing the detour and sticking to their original driving directions.

It’s hard to understand how a ballclub that is notoriously obsessed with winning could be OK with a strategy of punting on games in favor of ensuring guys get enough rest. Boone provides a convenient outlet for Yankees fans to dump their frustration, but is it really him calling these uncompetitive and ineffective shots?

Historically, MLB managers had more autonomy when it came to making lineup substitutions and overseeing overall game strategy, but in 2021 it’s generally accepted that most managers function as extensions of their ballclub’s front office. As a result, it’s hard to pinpoint who ultimately gave the go-ahead for Romano and (for goodness sake) Heaney to enter the game. Who thought this was a good idea? Was it the Yankees’ analytics team? Pitching coach Matt Blake? Boone himself? As manager, Boone may not have conceived of the idea to have Heaney “close out” the game, but he must have been on board with it. Either that, or he is acquiescent enough to go along with the strategy.

Ultimately, the Yankees’ lack of offense is to blame for their struggles in tight games. That doesn’t make Boone’s managerial decisions any less frustrating to bear, however. That Boone doesn’t take full advantage of Luke Voit — his one player who is hitting — is also aggravating. There was a definite opportunity for Voit to pinch hit in Thursday’s game against the Jays, with Tyler Wade representing the tying run in the seventh. Inexplicably, the Yanks failed to take advantage of Voit’s opportunity to get another at-bat. This would have put the team in the best position to take the lead.

By choice, the Yankees have endured a good portion of this losing streak with one of their biggest bats on the bench. Taking the bat out of Voit’s hands isn’t exactly the same as giving up on a close game, but it means the Yankees aren’t playing the best players available. It makes it seem like winning isn’t the Yankees’ top priority.