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Yankees 3, Reds 4: Clay Holmes and the nightmare ninth

The Yankees’ All-Star closer melted down as New York blew a 3-0 lead in the ninth.

Cincinnati Reds v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Just three days after blowing just his second save of the season, Clay Holmes absolutely imploded in the ninth inning on Tuesday night, turning what should have been an easy win into a heartbreaking loss. Asked to preserve a 3-0 lead, he walked Tommy Pham on five pitches, allowed Joey Votto to hit a single up the middle, plunked Tyler Stephenson, gave up a groundball single to Tyler Naquin, and plunked Kyle Farmer. His command looked absolutely atrocious and could not find a strike zone that had been generous for most of the game, throwing just five strikes out of his 16 total pitches.

For the first time in a very long time, Aaron Boone went out and took the ball from Holmes, bringing in the lefty Wandy Peralta in with the bases loaded, nobody out, and clinging to a 3-2 lead. Pinch-hitter Donovan Solano hit a comebacker for a fielder’s choice at home, and Nick Senzel bounced into a force at the plate as well (though a Jose Trevino bobble might have missed a chance at two). Peralta was within a strike of the improbable save, but Jonathan India muscled a single to center that brought in two runs, giving the Reds a 4-3 lead. The damage was done, and after a quiet bottom of the ninth, the Yankees dropped the first game of this three-game set to the Cincinnati Reds.

Up until the ninth inning, the game had gone much more smoothly for the Yankees. When you send your ace out against a team with a lackluster starting lineup, you want him to shove. And that’s exactly what Gerrit Cole did tonight. He absolutely mowed down the Reds’ lineup, striking out 11 batters in 6 shutout innings (his fifth outing this year with at least 10 K’s, third-most in baseball), surrendering just four hits and walking only one. He turned the strike zone into his personal canvas, utilizing Trevino’s elite framing skills and a generous bottom of the zone to paint its edges and befuddle Reds batters all night. When Cincinnati hitters did make contact, it was largely of the soft variety: Cole allowed just five hard-hit balls all night and kept Cincy to a paltry .193 batting average.

That isn’t to say that the Reds didn’t threaten. Mike Moustakas led off the third inning with a double, advancing to third when Brandon Drury hit a two-out single to left field. India, meanwhile, opened the sixth with a double of his own before stealing third two batters later.

In both innings, however, Cole punched out — excuse me, slapped out — Pham, ending the third and setting the stage for Votto to pop out for the third out in the sixth. To cap off his electric outing, he struck out the side in the seventh after allowing a leadoff single to Tyler Stephenson. Cole’s 113th and final pitch of the night was also his fastest, a 101 mph fastball that he blew past Moustakas — absolute domination from the get-go.

Part of the reason Cole as able to settle in so easily was the fact that the offense struck early. With Aaron Judge out of the starting lineup, the top of the order got right to work. DJ LeMahieu singled to open the game. Gleyber Torres then doubled, putting runners on second and third with nobody out. Anthony Rizzo hit a single up the middle, driving in both runs. Three batters, two runs — it would be hard to draw up a more perfect sequence to open a game that didn’t include a home run.

The lineup would be quiet in the second, with Isiah Kiner-Falefa stranded at first after a one-out single, but things got interesting again in the third. Torres and Rizzo worked back-to-back walks to open the inning, with Torres advancing to third on a Giancarlo Stanton fly ball to right. Josh Donaldson then lifted one in the air, which off the bat looked like a sacrifice fly that would extend the lead to 3-0. But Cincinnati center fielder Nick Senzel slipped and was unable to come up with the ball on the fly; not only was Torres able to score, but the Yankees had runners on first and second with only one away.

And that, unfortunately, is where the inning — and the game — went sideways. Aaron Hicks fouled a ball hard off his right shin; the outfielder crumpled to the floor immediately, and eventually had to be helped off the field.

During the game, the Yankees announced that precautionary X-rays had come back negative, and that the initial diagnosis is a right shin contusion.

Although we’ll probably have more information in a day or so, fingers crossed that this simply looked worse than it is, as Hicks has become an integral part of the lineup after slumping over the first two months of the season. In the moment, it didn’t well either, as Marwin González came in with a 2-1 count and struck out, as did Trevino to end the frame.

At this point, the Yankees’ bats went oddly quiet, as Graham Ashcraft worked around a two-out walk and hit in the fourth and a leadoff single in the fifth to keep the Yankees off the board, while a trio of relievers allowed just one walk and two hits across three innings. For awhile, it looked like those three runs were all the Yankees would need. All-Star snub Michael King tossed a perfect, 11-pitch eighth, inducing a pair of groundouts to third and striking out Drury. With Holmes, who has been the best closer in baseball this year, coming on for the ninth, the game should’ve already been in hand; unfortunately, we already know what happened there, as he allowed five baserunners without recording an out.

Reiver Sanmartin gets credited with the win, improving to 2-4, while Holmes falls to 4-1. With the loss, the Yankees drop to 61-26 and now have a season-worst three-game losing streak. That said, this is not the time to hit the panic button, as the team is still 14 games up in the division.

These two teams return to action tomorrow night with the middle game of this three-game set, with Luis Severino getting the ball in what is likely his last start prior to the All-Star Break; he will go up against Mike Minor. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 pm ET.

Box Score