BOSTON — It took 107 games, but we are about to find out precisely what the rookie manager of the Yankees is made of. It’s hard to define as “crisis” anything involving a team that is still 29 games over .500 despite absorbing a 15-7 pounding at the hands of the Red Sox on Thursday night.
But “crossroads” is certainly a fair word.
And that’s where the Yankees firmly reside after this preposterous meltdown Thursday. They are now 6 ½ games behind the Sox, and couldn’t reverse field and cut into that gap despite being spared Chris Sale, despite jumping to a 3-0 lead four batters into the game and a 4-0 lead after 10.
And now we will learn a thing or three about the manager, about Aaron Boone, who has been spared the usual initiations of a first-year manager because his roster is so deep and his first four months behind the wheel have been so smooth.
“It’s frustrating,” Boone said when the Thursday-night carnage was complete. “We have to do a better job, play a cleaner brand of baseball, especially when things are hard and you’re up against a good opponent.”
We were never going to learn much about who Boone is, and what he can be as a skipper, when the Yankees were playing close to .700 ball for as long as they did. It’s easy to be a manager when times are good, when wins are plentiful, when the runs come in bunches and opponents lay down submissively in front of the steamroller.
Anyone can manage then. Heck: Mickey Callaway looked like Joe McCarthy for 12 games this year, too.
Right now, in the other dugout at Fenway, Alex Cora is still awaiting his first critical hour managing the Olde Towne Team.
But as Callaway found out the hard way, baseball has been unforgiving to managers for 150 years. In the same way the ball inevitably finds the guy in the field you’re trying to hide, the game always finds a rookie manager.
Mostly, it tests the ability to “manage.” It isn’t an accident, after all, that baseball is the one sport that opts for a different title than “coach” for its on-field boss. At this level, you can advise a pitcher what to throw and how to throw it, and you can counsel a hitter on his swing and his approach, but if they need you to coach them you’re in for a long stretch of bad road.
They need you to manage them, to handle them, to figure out ways to avoid trouble and maximize the good stuff. It’s a credit to the job Brian Cashman did building this team that for 106 games Boone could grow comfortably into the job without his team turning its lonely eyes to him, looking for answers and clues.
But in Game 107, a 4-0 lead became an 8-4 deficit, and then 14-5, and the Red Sox looked like the Yankees have looked on so many of the nights when they’ve just overpowered and overwhelmed opponents. The Sox were crisper, more confident, and by the time they hit their stride they looked every bit like a team on pace to win 111 games.
Coupled with the unforgivable effort the Yankees turned in the day before — a performance so poor that during a brief rain delay third-base coach Phil Nevin decided to go all Andy Sipowicz bad cop on the team in the dugout — it’s fair to say the Yankees are certainly at a crossroads, though not yet bad enough for the dreaded closed-door meeting.
“I talk to this team all the time,” Boone said. “Nothing will change with that. We’ll continue to compete. I have zero issue with the mindset of these guys. I know we’ll be ready to go.’’
Can they muster a second wind to get after the Sox? Can they rediscover the swagger they had for so much of the first three and a half months of the season? Can they make any kind of statement with the three games they have left in this city this weekend?
“It’s a long, arduous season,” Boone said with a smile. “You’ll hit bumps in the road.”
And crossroads. Joe Torre was a master at this part of the job, and for all the slings and arrows Joe Girardi absorbed he willed plenty of Yankees teams to records substantially higher than their talent level.
Now it’s Boone’s turn. Now it’s Boone’s time. Across town, we saw how a rookie manager struggled to slam the brakes on a rough patch of ball, and what the consequences were. Boone has a better roster than Callaway; now we’ll get a genuine sense if Boone’s players have a better manager than Callaway’s.
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