It is possible no Yankee in their 119-season, 18,000-plus game history needed a hit — much less a big hit — more than Joey Gallo did in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday.
He had been among the majors’ worst hitters (maybe the worst) since arriving from Texas in late July, and his struggles were, if anything, worsening. He was on an 0-for-17 skid. He had managed to hit two balls out of the infield. He was being booed by the fans and beating himself up as failure mounted upon failure.
So when he lined a Jorge Lopez pitch into the right-field seats to tie the score, there were exhales and exaltations. And now expectations, too. Expectations that the Yankees would beat the Orioles despite an afternoon of playing down to the worst team in the sport.
Instead, Aroldis Chapman raised another four-alarm alert about his trustworthiness as Baltimore scored a ninth-inning run to win 4-3.
The Yankees’ 13-game winning streak had provided a sense that all was right with the team — that they were going to blow away the wild-card field and spend September hunting down the Rays. But Tampa Bay is now that speck far ahead of the Yankees and the wild-card field is crowded and uncertain. The Yankees lead that race, but certainly not with comfort.
The regret — if they are going to have regret — is not trouncing the Orioles this year. A 9-6 record against an opponent, in general, is strong. It translates to 97-65 over a full season. But considering Tampa Bay is 18-1 against Baltimore and, you know, the Orioles are embarrassing, that makes 9-6 unacceptable for a club with the Yankees’ aspirations. No loss against a team that had won three of its previous 28 games is acceptable.
While this one is easy to lay at the feet of Chapman (and, yes, he continues to raise concerns about being given the ball in the big spots to come), this is the reality: Gallo’s homer was the lone legit hit the Yankees mustered against the worst pitching staff in the sport. Gleyber Torres had an infield RBI single in the seventh that could have been scored the Orioles’ third error of the game and DJ LeMahieu dribbled a ball about 40 feet for an infield single before Gallo’s homer.
But that was it. The Yankees have split the first two games of this series against the Orioles and are a combined 9-for-67 (.134) with five runs in 20 innings. Manager Aaron Boone bemoaned that hard-hit balls did not translated into anything in the first two innings. But he wasn’t taking back Torres’ and LeMahieu’s “hits.” Against the Orioles, there have to be more than a few line drives and alibis.
Baltimore began this series with a 5.84 ERA and the slash line against it was .272/.345/.468 — or pretty much Jose Altuve’s season (.270/.343/.467). The ERA was 7.64 in the 3-24 span the Orioles took into this weekend.
The Yankees’ additions of Gallo and Anthony Rizzo were supposed to eliminate serial offensive dips. But the Yankees have followed the 13-game winning streak by scoring four or fewer runs in six of seven games.
“This last week we haven’t put up the runs we expect,” Boone said.
The names alone are not going to produce runs. I remember then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland lauding the 2006 Yankees as “Murderers’ Row plus Cano,” before Detroit pitched all those stars out of the AL Division Series. The past few years of playoff elimination have come baked with the Yankees being unable to hit enough at the biggest moments. So there is Chapman, for sure, but also this.
Gallo went into this game hitting .139 since his first Yankees game July 30 — 35 points worse than anyone else allowed to accumulate at least 100 plate appearances. Only rookies Brandon Marsh and Patrick Wisdom had a higher strikeout percentage than Gallo’s 38.3 percent. Perhaps this homer will unlock him.
Rizzo was performing well before contracting COVID-19. He has not been the same since his return, and after all the early criticism that the Red Sox blew it by not giving up enough to get Rizzo, Boston’s acquisition, Kyle Schwarber, has far outperformed Rizzo offensively.
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have covered a lot of Yankees blemishes. But the pedigrees say that the support should be far greater. The Yankees need September to be their best offensive month to assure October, and — so far — that has not occurred. It is unpardonable not to bludgeon this Baltimore pitching.
The nickname is the O’s, but they can’t be hanging those on the scoreboard against the Yankees.