ANAHEIM — What started as a positive trip to the West Coast is now threatening to upend the Yankees’ season.
The Yankees lost 6-4 on Tuesday night in a game that manager Aaron Boone warned could be a bit of a trap after Shohei Ohtani was scratched from making his scheduled start on the mound. The trap grabbed hold of the Yankees bats and did not let go until after they hit into five double plays and went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
“We had our chances and tonight was a night we felt like, man, we probably should have broken it open,” Boone said. “We just couldn’t get that big hit tonight to break it open and that was the story of the night.”
The loss was the Yankees’ fourth straight and second in a row to the Angels, a team that has been devilish to their playoff chances. While the Yankees are still in a good position to grab a Wild Card spot, the Rays’ ongoing streak of nine consecutive wins paired with the Yankees’ recent slip has made the AL East crown a distant pipe dream.
It’s been a band of unlikely heroes taking the Yankees down in their first two nights in Anaheim. On Monday, journeyman infielder Jack Mayfield’s grand slam and light-hitting outfielder Juan Lagares’ late-game single sucked the win probability out of the Yankees’ dugout. On Tuesday it was Ohtani’s fill-ins on the mound, first spot starter Jaime Barria and later long reliever Jimmy Herget, who teamed up to hold the Yankees to two runs through the game’s first six innings. At that point, it was already a 6-2 game in favor of Los Angeles, and several well-intentioned comebacks from the visitors’ bats couldn’t make up for the hole they’d already dug.
Getting a measly two runs off Barria and Herget was made worse by the Angels pummeling Jameson Taillon for five hits and six earned runs in just 4 2/3 innings. Like Corey Kluber on Monday, Taillon skated through his first tour of the Angels’ offense, keeping them hitless for the first three innings. His night made a turn for the disastrous in the bottom of the fourth when Jared Walsh socked a three-run homer.
“I thought he had really good stuff and he breezed through that first time through,” Boone said of Taillon. “It looked like he got a pitch in the middle and that really cost him on a night I thought he threw the ball well.”
That came a half inning after the Yankees had built a 1-0 lead, continuing the theme from Monday night’s game, when the pitchers handed each lead they got right back to the Halos.
The Bombers’ initial run was the product of Anthony Rizzo’s first homer since Aug. 4. Gary Sanchez added a solo shot of his own in the fifth to bring the Yanks within one, but again, the Angels had an answer for that. The specter of a win faded into the Orange County night during the bottom of the fifth, when Boone may have left Taillon in for one batter too many.
With two outs and runners on second and third, Boone smartly handed Ohtani an intentional walk. Joely Rodriguez was warming in the bullpen, but Boone trusted Taillon to face right-handed hitting Phil Gosselin, a same-handed hitter for Taillon. Gosselin fares slightly better against lefties (.287 batting average) than he does against righties (.275), which could explain why the southpaw Rodriguez stayed in the bullpen. Taillon was at only 85 pitches when the at-bat with Gosselin began, but by the end, he was at 92 and had given up a two-run single to extend the Angels’ lead.
Ohtani motored to third on the single and then scored on a play seen more often on Little League diamonds than major league ones. Gosselin broke for second on a delayed steal, and by the time Sanchez noticed it, his throw was both too late and an invitation for Ohtani to take home.
That made it 6-2 Angels, the Yankees having just 12 more outs to work with. They found a way to squeeze in two more double plays — one in the sixth and one in the seventh — before cutting the lead in half in the eighth. Giancarlo Stanton nearly followed Rizzo’s RBI single with a game-tying, three-run homer, but it fell harmlessly to Angels left fielder Jo Adell at the warning track for a sacrifice fly. Jake Petricka came in for two massive outs, getting Gio Urshela and pinch hitter Luke Voit to wave at 3-2 change-ups for a pair of gutsy strikeouts.
Sanchez, Brett Gardner and DJ LeMahieu went peacefully in the ninth against Angels closer Raisel Iglesias, and all of a sudden, the team that swept three series in a row from Aug. 17-24 is on the verge of getting swept by the third-place Angels.
The good news for the Yankees is that they will send ace Gerrit Cole to the mound in Wednesday’s series finale.
“Winning is a lot better than losing but at the same time we have a chance to salvage a game with Gerrit on the mound before heading back to New York,” Taillon said.