BOSTON — The Commissioner’s Office made public the postseason schedule Thursday afternoon. A few hours later, the Yankees all but wrote themselves an invitation to the Oct. 3 wild-card game.
In fact, if the Yankees’ play does not improve markedly from the past two days, they very well will be battling to keep home-field advantage in that wild-card game and maybe just desperately trying to hold off the A’s and Mariners to make sure they get in at all.
Third-base coach Phil Nevin ripped into the Yankees during a matinee sleepwalk Wednesday against the Orioles. A kind spin could have been the Yankees were overlooking the atrocious Orioles with a pivotal four-game set against the Red Sox looming.
But there were no excuses Thursday night. The competition rose and the Yankees fell even farther. They did not look as if they belonged on the same field as the Red Sox — much less in discussion to win the AL East. The Red Sox beat the Yankees and the Yankees beat the Yankees, and together that resulted in a 15-7 Boston triumph.
“It bothers me when we do not play well one day,” Brett Gardner said. “Two days is worse. It can’t continue.”
The Red Sox opened a 6 ¹/₂-game lead in the AL East — their largest since Sept. 29, 2013. The Red Sox won their last World Series that year.
They are on pace to win 112 games this year and prior to this series Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had said, “You wonder what [the Red Sox]record would be if they weren’t playing us. Because when we go head-to-head, we do some damage against them and it doesn’t seem like anybody else is capable.”
That quote did not age well. The Yankees opened a series more critical to them than the Red Sox by playing like the Mets — clearly inferior to an opponent, and worsening matters with inattentive, inept play.
Boston knows CC Sabathia does not like to throw the ball to first on pickoffs, having done so just six times in the last four seasons. That helped the Red Sox toward four steals in the game.
Jonathan Holder made three bonehead defensive plays, allowed Boston to run at will and faced seven batters without retiring one in a pitching performance from the Jose Reyes collection — just worse because, you know, Holder’s an actual pitcher.
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Miguel Andujar cost the Yankees by delivering two throws lethargically and Gleyber Torres did not run hard out of the box on a ball that probably is a hit if he does.
And what was not self-inflicted was inflicted by the Red Sox. They had 10 extra-base hits, including three homers by Steve Pearce, who along with Ian Kinsler are minor acquisitions playing major roles. A big Yankee acquisition, Zach Britton, was slow to cover first base in the eighth inning — humiliation on top of embarrassment.
By game’s end, it was easy to forget these teams had the majors’ best records. This was the latest the rivals had faced each other in that circumstance since the 1978 one-game playoff to determine the AL East title. The Yankees’ famous charge from 14 games back was highlighted by the Boston Massacre, a four-game sweep at Fenway in which they outscored the Red Sox 42-9.
Perhaps this was just one game or two games, including Baltimore, in what Aaron Boone called a “long arduous season in which you are going to hit bumps in the road.”
But the Yanks need to worry about being on the wrong side of another Boston Massacre, largely because their pitching is a mess.
Sabathia, nibbling more and not able to overcome shabby defensive work behind him like in his power past, was out after three innings when the Yanks needed length. Luis Severino, who has not gone beyond the fifth and has an 8.84 ERA in his last four starts, goes Friday.
Luis Cessa, who was slated to start Saturday after J.A. Happ was put on the DL, was needed for 3 ²/₃ innings Thursday. Boone indicated someone not present — perhaps Chance Adams in his debut — will start Saturday. That it will not be Sonny Gray, yanked earlier in the day from the rotation, speaks to his status.
This would be more survivable if the Yanks had that long bullpen they believed they had constructed. But Holder and Chad Green were pummeled in this game, continuing recent slides for both.
And this beat-up pitching will have to tame the majors’ highest-scoring offense at Fenway, where the Red Sox are 39-15 this year.
That would be a job for a team that has produced the majors’ second-best record over the long season. Not a team that has played like the 2018 Mets the past two days.