On an uncomfortably hot and sticky afternoon to begin the Yankees’ and White Sox’s Sunday doubleheader in the Bronx, the home team played a fittingly lethargic game.
Then Aaron Judge stepped to the plate in the eighth inning and with one wave of his mighty bat, briefly turned things around. Judge’s solo home run tied the game, incited M-V-P chants at Yankee Stadium, and helped his team get off the mat, but AJ Pollock matched him with a solo shot of his own in the next inning. Pollock’s jack gave the White Sox a late lead that blossomed into a 3-1 Chicago win and, with the game-clinching shot coming off Aroldis Chapman, invited more questions about who the Yankees’ closer should be moving forward.
In addition to giving up a poorly timed home run, Chapman also threw a pitch to the backstop, had to be visited by the training staff after throwing a pitch, and failed to get a single swing and miss on his once untouchable fastball. When he left the game after Adam Engel put an RBI insurance run double into the left field corner, Chapman was serenaded by boos on his way to the dugout, where Judge was waiting for him at the top step with an encouraging pat on the butt.
“He’s not been as fine with his command,” Boone said of the struggling southpaw. “He’s just not quite as sharp as we’ve seen him. He was getting some treatment on his Achilles. When he was moving around, he wasn’t moving around great. But he wanted the ball. Today, to me he didn’t look great on his legs, so I think that was probably an issue today.”
The Yankees started their double dip by getting blanked by Johnny Cueto, a wonderful pitcher who’s also years removed from his prime. Cueto twisted and turned his way through six innings, five strikeouts and roughly one million different wind ups. The Yankees mustered six hits against him — all of which were singles — and got zero runs.
The final two of those singles did knock Cueto out of the game with no outs in the seventh inning. Trailing by one run at the time, the Yankees were very much still in the game. Cueto’s replacement, the fiery Joe Kelly, shut that down fairly quickly.
Kelly struck out his first hitter, Marwin Gonzalez, on four pitches. During the next at-bat, he picked Aaron Hicks off of second base. Hicks tried to make a break for third while Kelly wasn’t looking, likely anticipating that the reliever would start his delivery during the mad dash. Instead, Kelly simply stepped off the mound, realized that Hicks was in no man’s land, and tossed the ball to second base for an easy out. Hicks was the second Yankee to get picked off, joining Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who Cueto picked off of first in the second inning.
“Almost had him timed up,” Boone lamented after the game.
The squandered opportunity in the seventh looked like it would be the Yankees’ best scoring chance of the day, but Judge’s ability to transform things in a single swing changed that pretty emphatically before the White Sox landed their counter punches.
Hicks’ rally-killing pickoff brings more ammunition to the people calling for him to be benched. Entering Sunday’s action, Hicks was hitting .200 with an on-base percentage much higher than his slugging percentage. His 20 hits included just one double and one home run, and in his previous 15 games coming into Sunday, he was in a vicious 3-for-40 (.075) slump. In the first game of the doubleheader, he did go 2-for-4, but also popped up on the infield with the game tied in the eighth inning.
While he’s still taking a lot of walks, and is tied for the team-lead in stolen bases, Hicks is a tough sell for many fans, especially the ones advocating for the Joey Gallo-Aaron Judge-Giancarlo Stanton outfield to be a more regular occurrence.
The White Sox deployed Liam Hendriks for the last three outs, and facing the bottom of the Yankees’ order, the All-Star closer had no trouble at all.
The Yankees cannot relate.