Aaron Hicks must have felt exactly like the most jaded fan in the Bronx. His head was down in disgust, the ball was sitting on the left field line, and just like everyone watching in the stadium and at home, he couldn’t believe he didn’t make the catch.
Of greater consequence, when he looked up deep in the left-field corner Friday night, Hicks couldn’t believe that Rays were actively running around the bases and went home.
They say the ball chases you when you struggle on the field, and Hicks found out the hard way they say that for a reason. Right after he dropped Wander Franco’s fly on the run in the fourth inning, and then incorrectly assumed it was a foul ball, Randy Arozarena sent Frankie Montas’ next pitch screaming into left. That twisted Hicks into a gap as he retreated in futile pursuit, jabbing at the liner that rattled off the wall.
If the fans were all over Hicks, as they have been all summer (they even chanted Joey Gallo’s name), well, it sure looked like Montas and manager Aaron Boone wanted to slaughter him, too.
No, this upset 4-2 loss to the Rays on Derek Jeter’s big Hall of Fame ceremony night it wasn’t just Hicks’ fault any more than the Yankees’ disappearing division lead is solely his fault. At one point, the Yankees held a 15 ½-game division lead and invited comparisons to Jeter’s 1998 team, which won 114 games on its way to another World Series crown.
Now the 2022 Yankees are 3 ½ games ahead of Tampa Bay, and just two ahead in the loss column. Two. And given that they don’t face the Twins again in their final 23 games, the unfathomable is now a possibility: The Yankees could enter the postseason as a mere wild card.
Sensing the extreme urgency of the moment, and applying the mercy rule to a beleaguered athlete, Boone removed Hicks from the game in favor of Estevan Florial. At least the manager didn’t pull Hicks in the middle of an inning, the way a furious Billy Martin once famously pulled Reggie Jackson during another life at Fenway Park.
“I just felt like I needed to get him out of there at that point,” said Boone, who maintained that his move was not punitive.
But this was an embarrassment all the same, with Hicks standing (and then sitting) as the most obvious symbol of a failed team. He’s an outfielder in the middle of a seven-year, $70 million contract who is no longer a working major leaguer, and yet somehow he keeps playing in September while all the important October goals look less and less attainable.
In the end, it was strangely fitting that this fell on the night of Jeter’s homecoming ceremony. The captain always played through the whistle, never assumed anything, and never gave up on a loose ball.
How do you think the Flip Play came about? How do you think a thousand other charming things happened during the dynastic course of Jeter’s career?
But as great as he was, Jeter was never, ever a one-man show. In fact, he was elevated by the organizational talent and resources around him, the ultimate team player on the ultimate team.
Aaron Judge, good for 55 home runs and 119 RBI so far this season, just wishes he could lean on the likes of Mariano, Bernie, Paulie, Andy, Tino, Coney, Jorge and the rest.
“He carries the team,” Jeter said of Judge at his Stadium press conference. “It’s pretty remarkable what he’s been able to do here under the spotlight of New York.”
yes it is But too often, when Judge isn’t fielding balls deep into the night, the Yankees quickly run out of ideas on how to win. They have lost the creativity and resilience they showed in the first half of the season, and the mounting injuries alone are not to blame.
Could this second-half plunge actually affect Judge’s upcoming free-agent decision? If he wants to go to the highest bidder this offseason, especially one with a history of winning, so be it. Most people in most industries base their career choices on the bottom line.
The Yankees could end up being that highest bidder, of course, as a $6 billion franchise that is baseball’s most valuable by far. And if Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t weigh in with the best offer for the slugger who seems certain to break the all-time team, American League, and non-PED record for home runs in a season (see Roger Maris, 61), he will. has a lot of explaining to do to a fan base that let him hear it again during the Jeter ceremony.
If the Yankees have an advantage here that goes beyond pure dollars, it’s the currency of mythology and tradition that no club can touch.
The kind they showed on Friday night.
But then the home team didn’t bother going after a loose ball, and didn’t bother doing any of the little and not-so-little things Jeter’s teams did to win games. Now everything these Yankees are supposed to stand for is in grave danger.