“It’s a tough day,’’ outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Anytime you lose two games in one day, that’s about as frustrating as it gets.”
Worst of all, the Yankees dropped to five and a half games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. And the dispiriting day of desultory baseball led the Yankees right into — what else? — a four-game weekend series against those same Red Sox that Yankees Manager Joe Girardi called “the most important games of the year.”
And with the Baltimore Orioles surging — having won eight of their past 10, they are now just two and a half games behind the Yankees in the American League wild-card hunt — everything about the Yankees’ quest for a spot in the postseason is becoming more precarious.
“Well, you got to move on, you got to put this behind you,’’ Girardi said. “There’s 30 games left. Let’s just try to win a game tomorrow.’’
If there was a saving grace on Wednesday, it is that Girardi did not have to use David Robertson, Dellin Betances or Aroldis Chapman in either game, meaning his high-octane back of the bullpen will be fresh for the Red Sox series. Even better will be if the Yankees can get a lead against the Red Sox, which they never did in 18 innings against the Indians.
What the Yankees did get on Wednesday was a well-pitched game, or at least a portion of one, out of Jaime Garcia, the left-hander they acquired from the Minnesota Twins for two minor league pitchers at the trade deadline. Still, the two runs Garcia (5-9 over all, 0-2 as a Yankee) surrendered in the first inning of Game 1 — one on another passed ball by catcher Gary Sanchez — were too much for the Yankees to overcome, even though they put nine runners on base in the six innings that Indians starter Trevor Bauer was in the game.
Time and again in Game 1, the Yankees could not muster a timely hit, with the exception of a run-scoring double by Didi Gregorius in the third inning.
And the only real moment of drama came with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, when Girardi sent the slumping Aaron Judge to the plate as a pinch-hitter with a chance to tie the game with a home run. With the crowd on its feet, Judge got into a favorable 3-1 count against Indians closer Cody Allen but then swung through the next two pitches, the final one a high fastball that might have been ball four. Game over.
“Obviously, you face a closer in your first at-bat, that’s tough,’’ Girardi said. “That’s a pretty tall order.’’
Judge had not been in the starting lineup since Sunday, but he was back in the middle of the batting order for Game 2. However, by the time he came to bat for the first time, the Yankees were already trailing, 4-0.
Indeed, it took Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery, recalled from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and activated between games, eight batters and nearly 20 minutes to get his second out of the game, by which point the Indians already had five hits, including a run-scoring single by Edwin Encarnacion, a run-scoring double by Carlos Santana that hit third base and caromed into left field, and a two-run single by Yandy Diaz.
Montgomery settled down to pitch three scoreless innings, but his successor, Chasen Shreve, surrendered a long home run to Encarnacion, the first batter he faced, in the fifth inning and two hard-hit doubles by Erik Gonzalez and Austin Jackson in the sixth. By the time Indians catcher Yan Gomes launched a two-run homer into the right-field seats off Caleb Smith in the seventh inning, what had once been a robust crowd of nearly 40,000 fans had dwindled to a murmuring throng of several thousand. And there were just a handful of paying witnesses to Francisco Lindor’s home run off Smith in the eighth.
The Yankees’ offense was just as anemic against Ryan Merritt, who, like Montgomery, was called up from the minors earlier in the day, as it had been against Bauer. The Yankees managed five singles, one of them an infield hit by Judge, in five and a third innings, and after Greg Bird’s run-scoring single in the second inning, did not get a runner to second base until the ninth, at which point Bird launched a three-run homer, window dressing on an awful day at the ballpark.
Brian Cashman is on a trip to Japan to scout pitcher and outfielder Shohei Otani, who is expected to play in the United States next season.