There was a moment in the second inning Wednesday night, when Gerrit Cole broke off an 0-2 slider to Christian Arroyo that dove exactly as it was supposed to, then followed it with a 1-2 fastball that exploded in the zone for strike three, when it looked like it might be OK.
That was the end of the second inning, when the Yankees trailed 2-0. Rather than settling in, Cole began the third by allowing a home run to Kyle Schwarber, a single to Kiké Hernandez, and a walk to Rafael Devers.
Aaron Boone came to fetch him, and he walked off to vicious mocking from the home fans and a reputation that cannot recover in New York for at least another calendar year.
The game turned on that and one other heartbreak. In the sixth inning trailing 3-1, Giancarlo Stanton crushed a ball to left off Ryan Brasier that looked like it was about to tie the game.
But what might have been a season-saving home run bounced off the top of the Green Monster instead. Third base coach Phil Nevin waved Aaron Judge around third in an indefensible send, Judge was out easily, and Stanton stood on second, screaming “F–k!”
It was the right word, delivered in the perfect tone for a franchise that hasn’t been this frustrated in years. This 6-2 loss to Boston in the American League Wild Card game will cast a long shadow all winter, and elevate the frustration around this franchise to a roar equal to the one that poured from Stanton when he lost the crucial RBI.
As the bitter Octobers have piled on top of one another, the energy around the Yanks has grown heavier.
The 2017 run to the ALCS arrived ahead of schedule, and hinted at a burgeoning dynasty. In 2018 the Yanks could tip their hats to the juggernaut Sox and say that it was simply Boston’s year. In 2019 they could focus their anger on the cheating Astros.
Last year’s division series loss to the Rays seemed to cause a different kind of hangover. The onetime Baby Bombers appeared joyless out of the gate this season, burdened by the pressure of time passing and goals unfulfilled.
What does it feel like to be the Yankees, or to love the Yankees, now? With Cole failing to play the role of this decade’s CC Sabathia in consecutive Octobers? With the season ending at Fenway Park — of all places — embarrassed by a Red Sox team that fizzled and limped into the postseason?
With Judge one year away from free agency and zero World Series at-bats? With a wide gulf remaining between the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays?
In the days to come, many fans will surely vent their anger on the front office, on Boone, and on Nevin (who, one has to think, could pay for the mistake with his job). Boone could have clinched another contract with a win in this game, and now we’ll have to check on his status amid the wreckage of this brutal end.
As a player, Boone was the final Yankee to reinforce a team’s old alpha dominance of Boston and the American League. His ALCS-winning home run off Tim Wakefield in 2003 seemed at the time to be the latest in a series of stories that always ended the same way.
That dynamic has long since shifted, with the Red Sox winning four championships to the Yankees’ one in the 19 seasons since.
But has it ever felt more stark than it did on this cold night in Fenway, when the team regressed even further — when the chants of “Yankees suck” were accurate rather than wishful? Even the 2004 collapse was a painful anomaly for the Yanks, not a trend.
It’s almost never smart or rational to put undue weight on a single baseball game, but this one was different. This was the sort of bad loss that will echo in New York like bad losses once did in New England.