After losing two straight heartbreakers at Fenway Park, the New York Yankees trudged home to battle the Cincinnati Reds in a sneaky tough three-game set. After all, the Reds are a near-.500 team since their catastrophic 2-22 start, just swept the Tampa Bay Rays, and plan to throw Luis Castillo in the finale.
At best, this would be an annoyingly scrappy three-game tussle before the Red Sox closed out the first half at Yankee Stadium. At worst, the Yankees would overlook Cincinnati and throw a pile of unnecessary dust on themselves ahead of a showdown with their chief rivals.
In Tuesday’s opener, a worst-case scenario beyond pre-series comprehension unraveled. Gerrit Cole was as good as he’s been all year, completing seven shutout innings with 11 strikeouts and very little sweat. The Yankees offense, on the other hand, scored two runs off Reds prospect Graham Ashcraft before an out was recorded, but did precious little else, tacking on only an additional early run and seemingly preferring to sim to the Clay Holmes portion of the evening.
They did, pulling Michael King after a dominant 11-pitch hold instead of riding the hot hand and giving Holmes some extra rest. Fresh off surrendering the tying run at Fenway on Saturday before buckling down, Holmes unfortunately had the least control he’s displayed in a Yankee uniform, throwing 11 balls on 16 pitches to allow two runs and leave the bases loaded without retiring a batter. He struck two Reds with sinkers and nearly drilled Tommy Pham with the first pitch of his outing.
It was brutal, and when Wandy Peralta nearly climbed out of a 10-foot hole before surrendering the game-winning single with two outs on a 0-2 count anyway, the narratives of doom only got louder — and Red Sox fans began to take credit.
Red Sox yapping about breaking Yankees’ Clay Holmes
The worst part, of course, is that before Sox fans even began to chirp, the thought already had probably entered the back of your mind. You had to tamp it down and smack at the rear of your head, but there it was, briefly festering at the very least.
In Pittsburgh, before Matt Blake got a handle on Holmes’ electric sinker, the right-hander was known for a distinct lack of control, walking 25 men in 42 innings before turning on a dime with the Bombers and walking just four men in his next 28. In 2022, his numbers are still immaculate, with only seven free passes and five HBPs in 39.1 innings of work.
Odds are extremely high in Holmes’ favor that the singular implosion on Tuesday was the outlier, and not the 39 spectacular, near-perfect innings that preceded it. This week’s meltdown only hit so disastrously because of how spotless and stress-free his outings had been up to the point of no return against the heart of the Reds order.
But, still … bad things happen to the Yankees in Boston. People get twisted. Ruts get dug. Never mind that Holmes regrouped from Verdugo’s game-tying single to throw a 1-2-3 ninth before Peralta struggled in the 10th. Red Sox fans crowing about the closer (with a mess in their own backyard) were only feeding the flames Yankee fans had been trying to ignore.
Holmes is still the closer, of course. It’ll take plenty more than that wonky outing to remove him from the role he’s entrenched himself in (and no, before you ask, Aroldis Chapman should not have been given the chance to escape, and are you kidding me?).
These two losses aren’t the end of the world. They’re just the ceremonial planting of a seed of doubt that no Yankee fan needed hurtling towards the second half.