Ready for a nerve-wracking final week of the Yankees’ regular season?
Well, it could be more stomach-churning. Just imagine if they hadn’t already clinched a postseason spot.
Fitting for this weird 2018 Yankees campaign, their final home game of the regular season started promisingly, turned sour and then featured a postgame dagger to the heart: After the Yankees lost to the historically awful Orioles on Sunday afternoon, 6-3, Aaron Boone divulged — only upon questioning — that Didi Gregorius had torn some cartilage in his right wrist while scoring Saturday’s playoff-securing run on Aaron Hicks’ walk-off double. In the worst-case scenario, Gregorius — who received a cortisone shot on Sunday — would not play again this season.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Boone said, addressing what sort of a blow it would be to lose Gregorius for the long term, “but hopefully we’ll get some good news in a few days here if it responds how we hope.”
Moreover, it’s not like the Yankees can chillax in some baseball waiting room until they get the Gregorius prognosis, likely on Wednesday. They’ve got games to win and a home-field advantage to lock up for the American League wild-card game on Oct. 3. Their defeat on Sunday kept their lead over the A’s (who fell to the Twins, 5-1) for that right at a game-and-a-half, and their magic number to host the loser-goes-home contest stands at five.
And off the Yankees go for a schedule-closing road trip at Tampa Bay (four games) and Boston (three), two locales where they hold a combined 2-11 record (1-5 at Tropicana Field, 1-6 at Fenway Park). While they have now won two consecutive series for the first time since Aug. 6-12, their double-setback on Sunday — the defeat and the Gregorius news — zapped Yankee Stadium of any positive energy.
They jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, throwing the homer-haters a bone by delivering a sacrifice fly (Gleyber Torres) and a pair of singles with runners in scoring position (Miguel Andujar and Gary Sanchez). Then their offense shut it down, and when J.A. Happ needed 107 pitches to get through five innings, Boone — his primary relievers all fatigued from recent workloads — turned to A.J. Cole, the first-half genius pickup turned second-half cooked goose.
“We had him for the righties, which is where he’s been the most successful all season, and then [Stephen] Tarpley against lefties,” Boone said.
Eh. When Cole pitched on Friday night, he served up a homer to righty-hitting Renato Nunez, who on Sunday followed a double by Trey Mancini and game-tying homer by Tim Beckham, both righties, with what proved to the game-winning homer. Cole now has a 9.60 ERA in his last 14 appearances, totaling 15 innings. While Boone’s preserving his main guys made sense, he would have been better off going to nearly any other pitcher on his roster. Like Luis Cessa, for instance, who gave up one run as he threw the final three innings.
“Frustrating way to end this homestand,” Boone said, “but we’ve got to get past it and get on.”
The rookie skipper said that before he let the Gregorius cat out of the bag, and it’s hardly splitting the atom here to note how much the Yankees will be hurt this high-pressure week by their starting shortstop’s absence, let alone the significantly increased degree of difficulty to win a 28th championship without one of their best all-around talents.
“Things like this happen to other players,” Gregorius offered in a quiet clubhouse, “but some of them play through it.”
Imagine if this season meets its ultimate demise on the cruelest of ironies: Their postseason ruined thanks to the very run that punched their postseason ticket. It meshes well enough with what we’ve seen so far, doesn’t it? We’ll see if the Yankees can both make their own luck and get some good luck this coming week, and all that can be guaranteed at this juncture is it sure won’t be a boring final stretch.
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