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NEW YORK — Look down at the dugout, if you must, and ask why Aaron Boone is still waiting to call on his stacked bullpen. Look up in the sky, if you wish, and ask why that Gary Sanchez fly ball in the ninth inning couldn’t stretch far enough to become a game-winning grand slam.
Or look to the starting rotations, because in three of the four games in a division series that felt close and one-sided at the same time, the Boston Red Sox held a decided advantage over the New York Yankees.
Look where you will, but understand this: After 162 regular-season games and four more over the last five days, the Red Sox were simply the better team. They ended any debate with their series-clinching 4-3 win in Game 4 on Tuesday night, and they left the Yankees to ponder all that went wrong.
That might sound cruel for a Yankees team that won 102 games, if you include their American League Wild Card Game win over the Oakland Athletics and their Game 2 win over the Red Sox. But a team that fell a win shy of going to the World Series a year ago and spent the last 12 months planning to go a step further instead ended up falling one round earlier.
“We’re chasing greatness here,” manager Aaron Boone said when it was over.
If that’s the standard, it’s not cruel to say the 2018 Yankees, with nearly $180 million in high-powered talent, failed. They were good, even very good at times. They weren’t great.
Greatness is reserved for the teams still playing, maybe even for the team that down the corridor was drenching Yankee Stadium’s visiting clubhouse with champagne for the second time in three weeks.
“They outhit us and they outpitched us and they outplayed us,” Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said.
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Boone’s in-game decisions didn’t help. For a second straight night, he was too late to pull a faltering starting pitcher, as he left CC Sabathia in to give up three third-inning runs Tuesday. But it’s a bit much to claim Boone cost the Yankees either game, given that they were already trailing by the time anyone would have wanted him to act.
Maybe a quicker hook from Boone would have given the Yankees a better chance at a comeback, but as it turned out, the deciding run Tuesday scored on Christian Vazquez’s fourth-inning home run off Zach Britton, one of those relievers everyone wanted Boone to call on.
The Vazquez home run was a Yankee Stadium special, dropped into the front rows of the right field seats. Hit that at Fenway Park, and it’s just another out.
Then there was the Sanchez fly ball in the ninth, the one that came with the bases loaded and already one run across in an inning in which Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel struggled to find the plate. MLB.com’s Statcast said Andrew Benintendi caught it 346 feet from home plate, which was maybe five or 10 feet too short.
“If that was on the road, it’s probably a home run,” said Neil Walker, who watched it from first base. “If it was to right field, it was probably a home run. That ninth inning was a synopsis of our season, if you ask me.”
Fair enough, because it ended with the Yankees just a little bit short and the Red Sox dancing around in another celebration. It ended with the Yankees crediting their most bitter rivals for being just that much better and playing just that much better.
It’s true and also unfortunate Sabathia chose to use his postgame time to sound off on umpire Angel Hernandez, calling him “absolutely terrible,” according to a tweet by Tim Healey of Newsday.
Sabathia wasn’t wrong, but his timing was bad. Hernandez didn’t decide this series. The two teams did, and the better team won.
The Red Sox won in part because the aging Sabathia is still part of the Yankees rotation, while the Sox have starters like Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello, who combined to pitch 19 innings in the series and allowed just four runs. Meanwhile, in the three games the Yankees lost, their starters pitched eight innings and allowed 14 runs.
In the last two years, the Sox traded for Sale and Eovaldi, and the Houston Astros traded for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, while the Yankees traded for Sonny Gray, J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn.
Is it any wonder the Sox and Astros are meeting in the American League Championship Series while the Yankees are going home?
Is it any wonder the team that signed J.D. Martinez (six RBI in the series) is still playing while the team that traded for Giancarlo Stanton (six strikeouts in the series, and zero extra-base hits or RBI) is going home?
Boone spoke about “chasing the perfect offense,” and this series made it all too clear the Yankees don’t have that. They have plenty of power, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but as they found out time after time in four games, the Red Sox simply have more ways to score.
“I think one of their goals in this series was to keep us in the ballpark,” Boone said. “And then coming here where we’re so good at [hitting home runs], they were able to do it.”
He’s right. While Eovaldi dominated in Game 3 and Porcello and the bullpen took over in Game 4, the Yankees sent 68 batters to the plate and didn’t hit a single ball out of the park.
It was only the second time all year the Yankees were held without a home run in consecutive home games. The other time was in April against the Baltimore Orioles, who still managed to lose one of those games.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, scored their first 14 runs in Game 3 without ever hitting the ball out of the park. They scored their first three runs Tuesday without a home run, too.
The Sox moved on, and rightfully so. The Yankees entered another winter of chasing the perfect offense and chasing greatness, and now they can get ready for another season of chasing the Red Sox in the American League East.
As this season and this series both proved, they have a ways to go to catch up.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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