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The Yankees Were Butt On The Basepaths

Jose Trevino avoids a pitch
Alika Jenner/Getty Images

If there's one thing that baseball players absolutely love, it's long games on the road in the middle of August. And on Tuesday night in Seattle, ahead of a day game on Wednesday and then a cross-country flight to Boston, the Yankees did their best to squeeze out as many innings as possible before everyone finally had to leave the ballpark. Carpe diamond, as they say.

With Gerrit Cole and Luis Castillo on the mound, this was already set to be a tight pitching duel, but both starters exceeded expectations with a combined 15 innings of scoreless ball on 219 pitches. Cole allowed just four hits and no walks in a great bounce-back showing over seven while onetime Yankees trade target Castillo gave up just three and two across eight. The bullpen did just as well, as Aroldis Chapman and Clay Holmes each shut down the Mariners while Andrés Muñoz struck out the side in the top of the ninth to help send the game to extras.

But extra innings in modern baseball are not designed to accommodate lengthy stalemates. With the ghost runner starting out on second, there is in fact a 62.2 percent chance of a run scoring in any given half-inning, compared to just 27.4 percent in a normal nine. So the Yankees, specifically, had to get creative to defy the odds and keep playing. Their pitching did its job, keeping the Mariners without a hit in the 10th, 11th, and 12th, but to get to the bottom of the 13th with the score still 0-0 took some next-level blunders on the basepaths. It was a banner night for the Twitter account "Thrown Out on the Basepaths," and they collected them all here.

In order, players on the Yankees

    • Got caught in a rundown between second and third by trying to steal before a pitch was thrown, with nobody out in the top of the 10th.
    • Got doubled off second after a lineout to begin the 11th.
    • Um. Hit a sharp grounder right to the pitcher at the start of the 12th, had a runner caught between second and third for an out, and then had the hitter also be called out for running outside the basepath to escape a tag while greedily aiming for second.

Then in the 13th, with the bases loaded and one out, Gleyber Torres stuck out and Miguel Andújar grounded out. Nothing revolutionary, just a workmanlike way to keep the scoreboard empty. But the Mariners stopped playing along in the bottom half, as Luis Torrens got the glory with a walk-off single that moved the Mariners ahead of the Rays and into the second wild-card slot. They were psyched about this in Seattle.

"I just kept thinking to myself, ‘What inning are we going to win? What inning are we going to win?' Thank God we got the victory," Castillo, long gone by the 13th, said after the game.

The Yanks, on the other hand, are asking themselves even more desperate questions. After establishing themselves as the most dominant force in baseball during the first half of the season—and they're still 71-40 with a strong grip on the AL East—the Bombers slowed down to just a .500 record in July and have outright crashed in August, where they've won just two of eight. Sometimes it's the hitters that have been the problem, like on Tuesday and in another 1-0 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday. Sometimes it's the pitching, like when deadline acquisition Frankie Montas disappointed in his debut, a 12-9 defeat against those same Cards on Sunday. With a combination of injuries to key players like Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, and Matt Carpenter, plus that expected regression from the early .700 pace, the toll of the dog days has chipped away at New York's prior aura of invincibility.

"Knowing we're playing good teams right now and they're playing for a lot, and we'll get their best shot a lot, we've got to go out and match that," manager Aaron Boone said on Monday. "I just think we've gotten beat here a little bit. Even when things are going really well, you never take for granted winning games. It's not easy to win games in this league."

Just like the Padres, who almost blew it but then produced a potential season-defining win on Tuesday, it's not time to panic about the Yankees, either. With the kind of cushion they built, these next few weeks should be as much about setting themselves up for peak performance in the playoffs as they are about watching the standings day by day. They proved early on that they have the pieces to be a strong contender, and now they can take their time reassembling it, patiently building up their players' health and confidence again. They do now have to go face their arch-rivals the Red Sox, who are a mess, and if the Yankees look weak in that series people will take note. But thankfully they don't play in the kind of city that overreacts to small things over a long season.

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