The 2020 Yankees’ defining moment might not be the coronavirus, if they continue to be diligent and fortunate.
It might be issues and opponents they know all too well, ones that haunt them during even non-pandemic times.
It sure feels like it’s happening right now — no matter that they don’t know when or whom they’ll play next.
The Tampa Bay Rays, low-budget miracle workers, completed their hostile takeover of the American League East on Thursday with a 10-5 smoking of the Yankees at the Stadium, capping a three-game sweep and, at 17-9, leaping a half-game over the Yankees (16-9) to remove the defending division champs from the top perch for the first time this season.
Fitting of this “Next Man Up” pinstriped era — MAD Magazine in its prime probably would have called it “Next Scan Up” — the Yankees didn’t merely suffer a brutal loss and call it a day. There were casualties. After placing vital reliever Zack Britton (strained left hamstring) on the injured list well before first pitch, they saw two more extremely valuable players depart early due to injury concerns, first Gleyber Torres with tightness in his left hamstring and then, even more daunting, starting pitcher James Paxton with left elbow/forearm discomfort.
“Adversity’s coming our way, whether we like it or not,” Aaron Boone said. “That’s part of this game. That’s part of being a major league athlete and player, and I don’t care how great of a season we have — and we expect to have a great season and hopefully finish with a championship.
“But adversity, we know, is inevitable. It’s going to come in different ways, unexpected ways, and certainly in 2020 it’s been a lot of unexpected ways. I do feel like we’re uniquely equipped to handle it and deal with it, and that’ll be the expectation as we grind through a tough spell here with some injuries and a tough series.”
Fittingly for 2020, right after he finished his Zoom news conference, Boone learned that the Yankees’ next game, scheduled for Friday night against the Mets at Citi Field, had been postponed due to a pair of positive COVID-19 cases on the Mets. It wouldn’t surprise at all to see the entire weekend wiped out, due to the proper caution Major League Baseball has exhibited whenever a team receives this bad news.
The Yankees’ bad news for the moment is more of the standard baseball variety: They now own a 1-6 record against the Rays this season, with three more head-to-heads to go. Their offseason renovation of their training and strength/conditioning programs, headlined by the hiring of Eric Cressey to oversee these departments, so far has gone about as well as Anthony Scaramucci’s time in the White House. The Yankees began this series with Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton already out of commission and their vaunted depth is getting a serious test with mixed results: an F against the Rays and an A against everyone else.
“It’s crazy it’s happening again,” Luke Voit said. “But you know what? We’re going to fight through it.”
Voit clubbed his fourth homer in four days and added a pair of singles; the Yankees’ offense hasn’t slowed down due to him nor his fellow arbitrage All-Star Gio Urshela, who doubled and ripped a go-ahead, two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning; that 4-3 edge didn’t hold up for as long as three outs. With Paxton done after five innings, Boone turned first to Adam Ottavino and then, questionably, to southpaw Luis Avilan, who teamed to permit a game-changing five runs, leaving their teammates in an 8-4 hole. This Yankees’ lineup, having endured this Yankees week, wasn’t going to climb out of that hole.
The inevitable adversity has arrived. Can the Yankees shake off this beatdown and keep pace with the mighty Rays until they meet again at the end of this month? Can they ever stop getting guys injured?
Thanks to the era’s greater problem, they’ll get at least one day to rest. Whenever they start playing again, though, how they respond to these multiple punches in the mouth will define them.
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