When Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon connected with the baseball, the sound reverberated off the bat in that crisp, unmistakable sound of square contact between two rounded objects.
Among the capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium, there was little doubt about the ball’s destination. It was headed deep into the bleachers in left field.
Leon’s three-run sixth-inning home run was the decisive, crushing blow that sent the Yankees to a 5-2 loss on Saturday, their second consecutive defeat coming out of the All-Star break.
Time will tell if it will be the crowning blow in a broader sense, one that sways the Yankees’ management into a decision it seems willing to make only grudgingly: punting on this season and dealing off outfielder Carlos Beltran and reliever Aroldis Chapman, a pair of attractive players who will become free agents after the season, for prospects who might help the team win in the future.
The defeat dropped the Yankees a season-high nine and a half games behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East, and the scales that measure whether the Yankees should buy or sell were tilting more toward peddling with each passing day.
As Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira continued in the worst slumps of their careers, and C. C. Sabathia watched the promising start to his season become an increasingly distant memory, a new object of the Yankees’ frustration emerged on Saturday: the dirt around home plate.
The dirt is heavily watered, taking the life out of baseballs that are beaten into it. That makes sense, given that the Yankees have the highest ground-ball ratio of any pitching staff in the American League. But it has not been much of a home-field advantage against the Red Sox.
Boston has managed five hits in this series off balls that a pitcher might have viewed as harmless — dribblers to the left side of the field. But the Red Sox’ fleet runners have beaten them out. Two of them, slow grounders by Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz, paved the way for the Red Sox to take a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Leon’s ground single.
And another, by Aaron Hill, preceded Leon’s booming home run in the sixth when third baseman Chase Headley, who had barehanded the ball, threw it past Teixeira at first.
“It’s maddening,” Headley said. “I certainly don’t want to say the field’s the cause of that, but today and yesterday it felt like there were 10 of those balls. When you see a guy pitching well and he’s getting exactly what he’s supposed to get and he’s not getting rewarded for it, it’s frustrating.”
Bradley Jr. said that the area around home plate “can chalk up a lot” and said of the infield hits: “It’s one of those things where, as an offensive player, you’re loving it, but as a defensive player, you’re not liking it because they didn’t really hit you hard, but they were able to get on base or get a little rally going.”
Xander Bogaerts, who hit into a double play that ended the first, may have been spared another in the third when his bases-loaded grounder to shortstop Didi Gregorius was hit just slowly enough to prevent the Yankees from turning a double play. Bogaerts was initially ruled out, but the call was reversed on replay review, allowing Brentz — who had reached on a throwing error by Gregorius — to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.
As Sabathia said: “It’s baseball. They count.”
Brett Gardner evened the score with a solo home run in the bottom of the third, but the Yankees did little else against the left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who entered the game with an 8.59 E.R.A in his six previous starts. Headley’s solo homer in the eighth off reliever Matt Barnes was the Yankees’ other run.
The Yankees’ few threats ended meekly. Teixeira, who had earlier crumpled to the ground in agony when he fouled a ball off his foot, compounded his misery by grounding into a double play that ended the fourth with two runners aboard. His average dropped to .186. A leadoff double by Gregorius in the fifth also went to waste.
Although Sabathia allowed five runs or more for a fifth consecutive start, Manager Joe Girardi said he could not be too displeased when the Red Sox had hit so few balls hard.
“I’ll take my chances if it’s soft contact and believe his luck is going to change,” Girardi said. “To me, I’d rather see that than balls being hit hard all over the place and maybe making plays. I’m encouraged by the contact that he’s getting. That means there’s deception and he’s hitting his spots, but he hasn’t had much luck.”
Neither, it seems, have the Yankees.
Continue reading the main story