Somewhat late in Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers’ classic takedown of war, the tragically dimwitted Chicolini finds himself on trial for the attempted burglary of Freedonia’s war plans. After a series of increasingly outrageous miscommunications on the stand, Groucho’s Rufus T. Firefly begins his suggestion for sentencing by delivering this classic insult:
“Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you: He really is an idiot.”
As I wasted my Friday night watching the Yankees get blown out by the Tampa Bay Rays in a maybe-not-quite-must-win-but-still-very-important game—a game, mind you, that felt extremely winnable for about three quarters of the evening—I couldn't help but laugh. I probably should’ve been frustrated, but I honestly couldn’t let myself get to that point because this collapse has been so deeply funny that it’s turned itself into a farce.
Don’t get what I mean? To start, we have to go back a few games to the series in Oakland.
August 25-28: Oakland Coliseum
After jumping out to a quick 2-0 series lead, the Yankees looked to claim a series victory against Adam Oller, one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball this season. Instead, they managed just one hit and one walk in eight innings against him. Okay, that’s fine. Sometimes even bad pitchers have good nights, and thankfully Domingo Germán threw up a bunch of zeroes too. Fine.
But then the funniest thing happened.
In the 10th inning, the 2021 MVP made a surprise appearance, as both Andrew Benintendi and Josh Donaldson came around to score on one A.J. Puk wild pitch. The game was well in-hand, folks. Surely this would be a sixth-straight Yankees victory.
One wild pitch leads to a pair of Yankees run and breaks a scoreless tie in the 10th! Andrew Benintendi and Josh Donaldson both touch home!#YANKSonYES pic.twitter.com/0p1eH2n2WA— YES Network (@YESNetwork) August 28, 2022
Oh, no, dear reader. Remember, we’re living in a farce here, and that’s just not how things work in this type of world.
In the bottom of the 10th, Stephen Vogt, who I genuinely did not realize was still in the league, hit a two run shot off of the formerly infallible Ron Marinaccio and we were all square once again. After the bottom of the order went quietly in the top of the 11th, the Athletics walked the Yankees off in the bottom half of the frame when Anthony Rizzo was unable to corral an errant throw from DJ LeMahieu, who committed his first throwing error from second base in over two years.
DJ LeMahieu makes a bad throw on a would be double play. The Yankees challenged for possible interference but the slide was clean. Yankees lose pic.twitter.com/A7cgfcXHHr— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) August 28, 2022
As if that wasn't bad enough, the Yankees would end the most winnable four-game set of the season with an equally embarrassing 4-1 loss, where they managed just four hits against someone named Adrian Martinez and split the series against the second-worst team in baseball.
August 29-31: Angel Stadium
Surely that was just a fluke, right? Surely the Yankees would be able to get back on track against the lowly Angels, right? Well...
After splitting the first two games of the series, Gerrit Cole was on the bump in game three for a team desperately searching for a series victory. Instead, he got a sixth inning that saw Josh Donaldson make an excellent play but throw the ball away and Isiah Kiner-Falefa boot a routine grounder that was quite literally right at him on back-to-back plays. Up stepped Shohei Ohtani for an at-bat that never should’ve happened, and, well, we all knew where this one was going...
Ohtani takes Cole deep and propels the Halos into the lead #GoHalos | @Angels pic.twitter.com/E6o9k6B6fF— Bally Sports West (@BallySportWest) September 1, 2022
The Yankees offense would do absolutely nothing for the rest of the game and wound up dropping both the game and the series.
September 2-4: Tropicana Field
And that brings us to the series against the Rays, who suddenly entered this matchup just six games behind the Yankees.*
Author’s note: I’m writing this after game one of the series because I’m in desperate need of something to distract me from that performance and I don’t think I can stomach watching tomorrow’s game.
After popping up to short to open the fourth inning, cameras caught Donaldson mouthing off to Rays’ starter Jeffrey Springs, apparently asking him to throw a fastball or something I guess. The bringer of unwanted attention promptly responded by committing back-to-back errors—one fielding and one throwing, for good measure—with one out in the bottom of the fourth. After being saved by an Oswaldo Cabrera assist on the latter error, the Rays took the lead on a David Peralta RBI single.
And then the bottom of the eighth happened.
Down 3-0, Greg Weissert gave up a single to start the inning, induced a pop up, gave up a double, and then got a strike out. Then, with two outs, runners on second and third, and a batter whose sporting a cool 61 wRC+ on the year at the plate, whatever the hell this is happened:
Things just keep gettin worse pic.twitter.com/9IOHqfNfAj— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) September 3, 2022
I’m willing to concede that this was a tough play for Weissert to make, but if that isn’t physical comedy at its finest, I’m not sure what is. Anthony Banda came in to relieve Weissert of his duties and let another three runs score on the back of two hits and three walks before Marwin González came in to put us all out of our misery.
Entering a very important game, the Yankees limped to a 9-0 loss. The offense managed just five hits, while Weissert and Banda teamed up for an improbable six hits, three walks, and six runs in a combined one inning of work.
A farce in motion
One of the key elements of the farce is a character who does not belong in the wildly exaggerated, absurd environment they find themselves in; a character so lost at sea that every single one of their movements through space is hilarious simply because they’re incapable of making sense of their surroundings.
In this case, that’s us. We’re lost, and the joke’s on us for watching these games and expecting anything more than slapstick comedy. Rather than being frustrated, I find myself laughing as I see balls skip past the first baseman’s glove or bats harmlessly wave through the night sky, because of course that’s going to happen here, night-in and night-out. Why wouldn’t it? We need to embrace the absurdity of this collapse, because not doing so would make us look a whole lot like poor Chicolini.
To paraphrase Rufus T. Firefly, this team may field like a farce and hit like a farce, but don’t let that fool you: They really are a farce.