Manager Aaron Boone knew the tall task his team would face when two-way star Shohei Ohtani took the mound at Yankee Stadium. Before Wednesday night’s game against the Angels, Boone emphasized the one area of weakness his team would benefit from targeting, saying: “We gotta make sure we’re controlling the strike zone on him a little bit — you know, he has walked some guys.”
That statement became prophetic mere hours later, as the Yankees rode four walks to a seven-run first inning off Ohtani — the most they have scored in any frame this season. But in a game that extended into the early-morning hours due to a pair of rain delays in the Bronx — totaling two hours and 13 minutes — it was the ninth inning that mattered most and the Yanks’ own walks that hurt the worst in an 11-8 loss.
Staked to a four-run lead, closer Aroldis Chapman allowed free passes to three of the first four batters he faced. Then, against Jared Walsh — who had homered in the fifth — Chapman allowed the first grand slam of his 12-year big league career to tie the game. The only other time the Yanks had given up a game-tying grand slam in the ninth or later dating back to at least 1916 was to Toronto’s George Bell on June 20, 1986.
“[I was] just struggling trying to command my fastball,” Chapman said. “It’s tough when you’re trying to get strikes with it and you’re not getting it. … When you’re trying to locate and use that pitch and it’s not the way you want it, you run into trouble, and I think that’s the main cause for me now.”
Reliever Lucas Luetge took over and didn’t fare much better, allowing a four-pitch walk to Phil Gosselin, the first batter he faced, and then giving up a pinch-hit, two-out, two-run single to Luis Rengifo and a subsequent RBI double to Taylor Ward. That was the seven-run inning that ended up deciding the game.
“Terrible loss,” Boone said after the game. “[We] continue to have good at-bats and give ourselves chances to blow the game open and couldn’t get it done. Let them hang around enough and then it was obviously a struggle there in the ninth.”
“That’s about as bad as it gets right there,” added Giancarlo Stanton. “We got about six hours to sleep, and then dust this off and it’s a brand new game tomorrow. As crushing as this is, it can’t linger into tomorrow. We got a quick turnaround and we can flip the script also, and that’s what we need to do.”
A sold-out crowd of 30,714 fans at Yankee Stadium had arrived with high expectations of the clash against Ohtani and the Angels. They were treated to first-inning fireworks when the Yankees — without the services of Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela — drew three straight walks in the opening frame, Stanton and Gleyber Torres laced RBI singles to tie the game and Miguel Andújar added an RBI groundout to take the lead.
Ohtani then walked Brett Gardner, the ninth batter of the frame, with the bases loaded on four consecutive balls. Angels manager Joe Maddon had no choice but to remove his starter and leadoff hitter after 41 pitches — just 20 of which were strikes — and only two outs recorded. When DJ LeMahieu cleared the bases with a double against reliever Aaron Slegers, Ohtani’s line was complete, with the Yankees charging him for seven earned runs — the most he has allowed in a game this season.
Aside from a Gardner solo homer in the eighth, that was all the offense the Yankees could muster, however. They grounded into a double play in four of the next eight innings the rest of the way. Despite heavy rain and severe thunderstorms descending upon the Bronx, fans waited for the completion of a game that ended up lasting nearly six hours, but what they witnessed was a stunning turn of events instead.
“Feel terrible for them,” Boone said. “They deserve better than this, especially staying late. We’re past 1 in the morning, hanging in there to want to see us finish that off. Obviously, we certainly share in their frustration.
“We’ve spoken a ton. Everyone’s said everything they need to. The guys have spoken to one another. As I’ve said here several times, talk is cheap right now. We need to go out and play full games and start hammering some people.”
With a quick turnaround ahead of Thursday afternoon’s series finale, the Yankees (41-39) are under no illusions as to what needs to be done to correct the course. But with that game standing as the midway point in their season, they are running out of time to address the concerns that plague the club. And a loss like Wednesday’s can be particularly demoralizing for a group that has already been teetering on the edge.
“You gotta erase what just happened and be ready to go for a brand new game,” Stanton said. “There’s really no other option. The other option is failure, which is letting this drag on, saying you’re tired from yesterday’s game, all this crap — no … let’s go tomorrow.
“We’re all just as frustrated. We gotta pick this [expletive] up. That’s it.”