Margin of error. It’s a Helluva thing. The coin comes up heads, so to speak, and that’s it. That’s the entire difference. Well, the good news is that in Game 3 of the ALCS, the margin of error wasn’t what (solely) crushed the Yankees. Instead, offensive incompetence was the villain du jour (as it has been throughout this entire series), although margin of error conspired with staggeringly poor defensive timing to help put the dagger in the Yankees in Game 3, and likely in the ALCS.
When Aaron Judge grounded out in the bottom of the eighth to kill the Yankees’ only Game 3 rally, all I could think was “this is how the rivalry ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” Can’t go wrong with T.S. Eliot. If it wasn’t apparent before today, it is now. Houston absolutely outclasses New York.
The Houston Astros are an excellent baseball team. It was already apparent before this game that your margin of error against them is infinitesimal. Heck. Even if it’s not an actual error, they make you pay. If Luis Severino throws that two-strike pitch to Alex Bregman two inches farther inside in Game 2, for example … but he didn’t, and Bregman somehow turned it into a three-run home run, the only runs Houston scored in a 3-2 win.
So of course, the margin of error bugaboo came up early in Game 3. I shouldn’t have to point out the history of MLB teams coming back from 3-0 down in the playoffs to win the series. This game was capital-M Must. Capital-W Win. And what makes winning more difficult? Stupid mistakes. And, on brand for this outfield defense in the playoffs, this stupid mistake was an unforced error on a fly ball that is an out 99 times out of 100.
Harrison Bader and Judge are both brilliant defenders. But that doesn’t mean much when they converge on a harmless fly ball and it somehow ends up on the outfield grass. Gerrit Cole should have thrown a seven-pitch second inning, set up to face the nine-hitter and a frigid Jose Altuve in the third inning, with the score at worst tied at zero. Instead, a brutal, unforced, unforgiveable, back-breaking mistake turned into a 2-0 Astros lead after Cole gave up a short porch special to the next batter.
This, against an Astros pitcher who no-hit them for seven innings the last time they faced him. You can’t make mistakes like the one Judge and Bader made against the best team remaining in the playoffs and expect to get away with it. Especially considering how useless the Yankee offense is. That 2-0 lead felt like 20-0.
But let’s not get bogged down in the massive outfield brain fart that led to Cole giving up that dinger. Instead, let’s talk about the Yankees’ bats the first two innings, a microcosm of this game and series more broadly. Anthony Rizzo and Judge? Infield pop ups. Giancarlo Stanton? Whiff. Gleyber Torres walk. Matt Carpenter? Whiff on three pitches. Bader? Pop up to the catcher. Josh Donaldson? Strike out. And it’s not as though none of these guys had anything to hit. Sure seems like a lot of middle-middle pitches were just begging to be hit a long way. Instead, not an expected batting average above .020 to be found.
Cole wasn’t blameless in this sinkhole of missed opportunities and unforced errors. After the Bader/Judge catastrophe, he failed to retire Chas McCormick, the eight-hole hitter in the Houston lineup, instead surrendering the dinger. And with the score 2-0, knowing New York would need every bullet he has in his arm to survive this game with a win, he nibbled around in the third and walked Trey Mancini with two out. No further damage, but the full-count walk and then the pitches to the next man up meant pitches Cole had to throw in the third rather than later in the contest.
It’s not like the Yankees NEVER had chances to score in this one. Leading off the fifth, Bader worked a leadoff walk. Donaldson though, popped up harmlessly on a 3-1 pitch from a seemingly on the ropes Cristian Javier. Then, after Javier threw over to first twice in a row, Bader inexplicably tried to steal second. The pitch was a glorified pitchout and Bader was out easily. Oswaldo Cabrera promptly whiffed and Javier was out of the inning.
In the sixth, with Cole’s pitch count climbing, the wasted pitches early may have come back to bite him. He followed a leadoff double by walking Kyle Tucker, then got BABIP’d on a bloop hit to right field. And that was it. Feels like he deserved a better fate than the Yankees bestowed upon him today. Gave his team a chance to win into the sixth inning. But a non-existent offense and a defense that decided to become awful at the worst time of the year meant he left this game on the hook for the loss.
With Cole out of the game, the Astros put on a masterclass in the sixth on how to make a team pay when you get runners on base. A stark juxtaposition to the Yankees’ glaring incompetence. A sac fly and a single cleared the bags and put this game to bed. The differences between these two teams are glaring and obvious. The Astros are relentless and seemingly never fail to step on the throat of the opposition.
The gap between the Astros and Yankees is staggering.— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) October 23, 2022
It cannot possibly be overstated how pathetic the Yankees offense is right now. One hit, and three runners who reached scoring position, in a must-win game at home. Unacceptable. Repeatedly popping up hittable pitches on the infield. Unacceptable. Yes, injuries are always a complaint. “But DJ. But Benintendi.” The universe doesn’t care. The guys who are healthy need to come through. And it’s not like there are no stars in the Yankee lineup.
It’s probably borderline blasphemy to go after Aaron Judge considering his 2022 season, but boy, this game was not it for the AL home run king. The outfield miscue sure looked like the lion’s share of the blame rests on his broad shoulders. And his at-bats: gross. Pop up, strike out swinging, strike out swinging. With two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth down by five: weak ground out to third. He hasn’t looked like himself at the plate for weeks. But man. The giant slugger has come up small when his team needed him the most.
The baseball gods have exquisite senses of humor. Yordan Alvarez came into this series on absolute fire. He singlehandedly destroyed the Seattle Mariners and their dreams. He is 1-for-9 with a singular total base against the Yankees. Altuve? 1-for-11. If you’d told Yankees fans prior to the series that through three games, those two would have those stat lines? I suspect most would have been making plans for a trip to the Fall Classic.