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BOSTON — It makes perfect sense in this senseless Yankees season that, just as they seemed to be coming together karmically, their bullpen is unraveling in a way we haven’t seen for the entirety of their 28-year run of finishing above .500.
They weren’t going to cover up the sins of their beleaguered relievers forever. Forever ended on Thursday night at Fenway Park, a particularly bad time and place.
A spirited Yankees effort fell short when Chad Green coughed up a two-run advantage in the ninth inning and Brooks Kriske melted down historically in the 10th, handing the Red Sox a 5-4 victory that ended a four-game winning streak and sent the Yankees to eight games behind their division-leading rivals in the American League East.
“In this stretch of baseball where we’ve played really well and won a lot of games, we’ve also had some incredibly tough losses like tonight,” manager Aaron Boone said. “And time and time again, the guys have bounced back. And that’s what we expect to do tomorrow.”
Despite that slew of soul-crushing defeats, all of them fueled by bullpen malfunctions, the Yankees remain very much in the playoff race and own a 9-4 record in their last 13 games. Ace Gerrit Cole, set to start Friday night, could change the conversation again by delivering a third straight strong start and erasing the memory of his poor performance here June 27.
Except at some point, the Yankees likely will need to put together again their once-vaunted relief corps, which has turned to jelly even though Aroldis Chapman has risen from the ashes.
Thursday marked Green’s second ninth-inning implosion during this stretch; interestingly, he has excelled when called upon in the earlier frames. Zack Britton, just back from his second injured-list stay, is way off. Jonathan Loaisiga resides on the COVID-19 injured list; arbitrage All-Star Lucas Luetge lacks his early dominance; and Kriske followed his first big league win Wednesday night with a thoroughly humiliating performance, becoming the first Yankee to throw four wild pitches in one inning.
“It was just one of those nights I wasn’t executing,” said Kriske, who was optioned to Triple-A Scranton following the loss. “It’s not fun. There’s a lot of guys battling their butts off and it sucks to be the one to blow it for the team.”
(Narrator: “It was not ‘just one of those nights.’ It was a night for the ages.”)
As for why Kriske found himself trying to protect a one-run lead in the 10th … sorry, I’m not gonna blame Boone, who has more than met his quota of 2021 late-inning blunders, for this one. Chapman and Britton each had pitched the prior two nights. Justin Wilson, who warmed up, had thrown 1 ¹/₃ innings Wednesday. Luis Cessa, who tossed an easy eighth, had unleashed 29 pitches Tuesday, so that’s why Green got the call for the ninth. And Kriske actually looked sharp Wednesday as he picked up his first major league win against the Phillies.
What the Yankees really could use is some more blowout wins, like their 9-1 pounding of the Bosox on Sunday in The Bronx, to rest their high-leverage relievers. That seems ambitious for the moment, though, with three more here in New England and then three games at Tropicana against the Rays. They’ll probably just have to settle for the returns of Loaisiga and perhaps Nestor Cortes.
“When you have guys absent, everyone kind of protects each other a little bit, and that’s why you’ve got to lean on an entire bullpen to get big outs in different spots,” Boone said. “We have the people down there to certainly close these things out.”
Right now, the prognosis is more uncertain than certain during this highly unpredictable Yankees campaign.
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