Yankees’ downward spiral worse than ‘tough patch’ after latest disastrous loss

This isn’t just a “rough time,” as manager Aaron Boone sometimes calls it. No, this isn’t just a rough time.

This is a Yankees team that looks like it’s in trouble. If this team wants to get where it wants to get, it’s going to have to play like a champion.

In fact, it needs to wake up.

This is a team full of solid, seasoned veterans and it’s not playing like it should. The 5-3, 10-inning loss to the hated rival Red Sox on Friday before a sold-out stadium crowd is a new low in a rising storm of theirs.

Yankees third baseman Oswaldo Cabrera reacts as he walks back to the dugout after grounding out for the final out of the 10th inning. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning homer to Red Sox contact man Masataka Yoshida wasn’t even the low point. And neither was Ceddanne Rafaela’s two-run homer in the 10th.

In falling to 4-14 in their last 18 games, the Yankees made what will probably go down as the dumbest play of the year — a double-double blunder more likely to be seen in a high school game. Worse yet, it followed a memorable blunder the day before (more on that below).

With runners on first and third and the force play off after Red Sox first baseman Romy Gonzalez reached first on the second out after fielding Ben Rice’s grounder, Anthony Volpe inexplicably slowed just before home to watch DJ LeMahieu run out the final out of the inning. The young Volpe ran as if he didn’t understand the rule, but the ultra-experienced LeMahieu should surely know how to get himself into a rundown.

Alex Verdugo hit a pop-pop in the 10th inning. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

If Boone doesn’t want to take the drastic step of cutting starters while the team is struggling with player shortages and problems, perhaps it’s time for him to acknowledge that this isn’t just a “rough time,” as he likes to say, and that looking at things positively isn’t always the way to go.

I get it. Player positivity in the press is a winning strategy for Boone.

If this doesn’t work out for Boone, he can make it in politics. Or better yet, in diplomacy.

Red Sox center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela (43) attempts to tag New York Yankees third baseman DJ LeMahieu (26) at second base during the third inning at Yankee Stadium. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Boone continues to rely on finding the kindest way to describe every mistake and misplay. While it has worked well for him — he is in his seventh year as Yankees manager, the longest stretch without a championship — he can sometimes be too gentle with his troops, as he was the day before.

That is where we may need to intervene. A counterbalance is necessary. Reality needs to come back to the surface. Unwashed honesty can be healthy. (More below.)

Boone drew the ire of some fans when he threw a pass to Gold Glove reserve center fielder Trent Grisham after Grisham’s obvious carelessness had cost the Yankees a base on Sunday. (When he caught a single, the normally excellent outfielder looked like me picking up the Mail when it arrives at 6 a.m.) And even the next day, Boone continued to argue that the play didn’t look good because Grisham is so talented and plays so easily.

That’s undeniable, but it was also a shockingly bad move that should have been criticized as such.

“I try not to be so emotional because we’ve lost or won a couple of games,” Boone explained before Friday’s game. “I have the conversations that I need to have.”

Give Boone this. As for the bigger point, Boone talked to Grisham, and he apparently said it to him straight in the face. Either way, Grisham got the message, and that’s what counts.

“I should have made the play,” Grisham told me bluntly.

Boone has handled that internally, but after another unfathomable play, it might be time to try something else.

Aaron Boone has downplayed the recent decline. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Managing a team comes down to a series of calculations, and Boone clearly decided long ago to keep things positive when talking to the press about his players. It’s not hard for Boone to express happy thoughts, because he’s a naturally kind person (except for referees) and sees the positive side of every situation.

Now, a little reality check. They’ve been playing at a .222 clip since they started slipping in Boston three weeks ago, and they look worse. In their last 11 losses before Friday, they hadn’t led. Not an inning or a moment. You don’t have to be a math whiz to know that’s at least 99 innings without a lead. That feels about right for where things stand.

Boone, meanwhile, used the phrase “rough patch” on Friday to describe the past few weeks, which have been nothing short of abominable (not a word he would use). While I like Boone a lot (and I’m not just diplomatic), it’s time for someone to use words that fit the situation.

Clay Holmes allows the tying run in the ninth inning. Robert Sabo for NY Post

Boone also noted how “unfortunate” it is that their starters’ mistakes result in home runs. But that’s what major leaguers do with mistakes, they hit them.

The rotation, once easily the best in baseball, has been underperforming of late, with Carlos Rodon, Luis Gil and Marcus Stroman having regressed from stellar starts.

Let’s face it, not much is going right, except for 1) Judge, who is still on Babe Ruth’s pace, 2) Juan Soto, who is not that far off, and 3) Gerrit Cole, who is back.

Yankees bench during the tenth inning as the New York Yankees play the Red Sox on Friday, July 5, 2024. Robert Sabo for NY Post

Boone talks as if this is just a small mistake. But it doesn’t feel that way at all.

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