Sunday was a very, very bad time for Yankees fans.
It’s still too early to call anything a true dagger when it’s really all a mess, but blowing a typical Gerrit Cole performance and a four-run lead in the walk-and-error aided fashion we saw on Sunday sure feels like a dagger. On the aggregate, Holmes has been quite steady, but when he doesn’t have it, he really doesn’t have it. That such a talented pitcher can unwind to the degree that they lose critical games down the stretch that they have no business losing is about as frustrating a way to go down as there is.
Holmes’s meltdown on Sunday awarded him at a whopping -.810 WPA for the game, meaning his outing dropped the Yankees’ chances of winning by 81 percent. By that measure, it’s the worst Yankees relief outing in over two years, and the third-worst in Aaron Boone’s entire tenure.
It’s up there with some of the more memorable jaw-dropping losses in recent memory. The only recent instances of a Yankees pitcher taking home a worse WPA came within a month of each other in 2021, when the Astros put six runs on Domingo Germán and Chad Green (-.953 WPA) in the ninth for a stunning 8-7 comeback. This was just a month after Aroldis Chapman’s all-world start to the season came crashing down with a single-homer-single-homer sequence that gave the Twins a 7-5 win in early June.
If that 2021 campaign felt a bit cursed in some ways, it’s even worse now. And in some ways, Holmes actually managed to outdo Green and Chapman. The latter was only given a two-run lead, of course, and while the former had a five-run lead when he entered the game, he also already had two runners on base, courtesy of Germán.
To find another one this bad, you have to go all the way back to when New York was playing out the string in September 2016. The last dominant reliever remaining from the sell-off, Dellin Betances, was handed a 5-2 lead in Fenway Park and managed to make it to two outs before back-to-back-to-back hits from David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, and Hanley Ramírez sent him home with a brutal loss.
Even then, though, that was just a two-run lead, and a pitcher blowing a two-run save after getting a team down to their last out isn’t the most outrageous thing we’ve ever seen.
To find the last time a Yankees reliever came on in the bottom of the ninth with a lead only to get tagged for at least five runs, like Holmes did, we have to go all the way back to 2002, when nonpareil closer Mariano Rivera suffered a rare absolute meltdown. Cleveland dropped six on Mo in the ninth, the only time in his career as a reliever allowing that many and one of two times blowing a three-run lead. The baserunners involved — Ellis Burks, Jim Thome, and the disgraced Omar Vizquel — all probably had more memorable moments, but I’m sure Bill Selby (??) is still talking about this one.
So basically, Holmes’s ninth inning on Sunday was about as bad as a handful of the worst outings of Mo’s career. And somehow, it feels par for the course. We just saw one of the most uniquely brutal blown saves in Yankees history, and it doesn’t feel out of place. What a season.
Beyond Selby, the list of comparisons gets pretty short. The other three-run lead that Mo blew single-handedly came against Kansas City in August 1996, before he was the regular closer. Dwight Gooden and Kevin Appier dueled with nine shutout innings each, and with John Wetteland having thrown 1.2 innings the previous day, Rivera blew the save after the Yankees scored three in the 10th. I can’t even find video of it.
There was also 1985, when Dave Righetti gave up a three-run lead to the Tigers in the ninth — in a sequence that included Kirk Gibson driving in Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell — and was allowed by Billy Martin to go back out for the 10th, at which point he walked two runners and was handed the L after leaving the game when one of them scored on a wild pitch. Imagine if Twitter was around for that one.
Those are all still three run leads. The number of four-run leads blown by a single pitcher is even sparser. Usually, if a closer winds up with five runs on their line, it’s because a few of them are superfluous thanks to a grand slam or three-run homer to walk things off. If the game is tight enough that the closer is in the game, they usually don’t even have a chance to give up more than a few runs otherwise.
That’s the last thing that makes Sunday truly unique: the fact that, true to form, none of the runs on Holmes’ line came via the long ball. The list of Yankees players who have begun the final inning with a lead near that and blown it without giving up a home run is just he, Rivera, Righetti, Ken Johnson (1969), and Hall-of-Famer Herb Pennock (1926).
The list of players who have blown it to the tune of five runs without anybody going deep? It starts and ends with Holmes.
You sure do see something new every day. Leave it to the 2023 Yankees to make unwanted history.