The Subway Series could not have begun much better for the Yankees.
Aaron Judge — second batter of the game — delivered the kind of homer to right-center that he hits often in New York, just in a different borough. But there could be no claims of short-porch favoritism on this 423-foot blast. It would have been a homer in every park in the majors except against the high right-field wall in Oracle. Free-agency alert: That is the home of the Giants, the team Judge grew up rooting for and the one currently viewed as the biggest offseason threat to the Yankees to land the slugger.
Anthony Rizzo also went deep to the opposite field on the next pitch, and on consecutive offerings Taijuan Walker had surrendered as many homers as he had in his previous 12 starts and 80 ²/₃ innings.
It played like a flex. Like the Yankees had come into Citi Field to say there may be two first-place teams in New York, but one continues to be the true engine of the Subway.
But the Yankees are in a wobbling state these days. Their starters look as if they left their best in May and June. Injuries have softened their depth. And the big hits are not coming the way they did when they were in the same sentence as the 1998 champion Yankees.
Aaron Boone mentioned it was “tough to keep up that pace” after the Mets not only erased the Yankee lead in the opening inning, but generated enough runs in the first six batters to ultimately win 6-3.
It left the Yankees 10-11 in July. They still have an 11 ¹/₂-game lead in the AL East. But they suddenly are playing like a team that could use the upgrades and zap of energy that would come from a meaningful trade-deadline deal or two (or three).
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“We have lost a handful of games the last couple of weeks that could go either way that we won early,” Boone said. “We can play better. We were playing about as well as you can play. We’ve played a little less than that so far [the past few weeks], and we haven’t pulled out some of those games we had been pulling out.”
The rotation, in particular, is not performing close to the peak from the early-season dominance, and Wednesday, in the finale of this two-game Subway Series, faces perhaps its biggest mismatch of the season, sending Domingo German versus Max Scherzer.
That burdened Jordan Montgomery to perform well in the opener. Instead, he made his shortest start (2 ¹/₃ innings) since September 2020 because he simply could not finish off Mets hitters. Montgomery reached an 0-2 count eight times, and three of those at-bats ended with extra-base hits, including a homer and double by Starling Marte. In all, Montgomery reached 0-2 or 1-2 10 times and had 16 foul balls afterward.
“I was making decent pitches, but they must’ve had a really good game plan against me, and it’s a good lineup,” Montgomery said.
The lefty’s failure gave the Yankees five starts of 3 ²/₃ innings or fewer in July — or as many as they had from April-June. Is it possible that the exertion for excellence over the first few months has taken life out of a Yankees rotation operating now without Luis Severino? Does this accentuate the Yankees need to land Reds ace Luis Castillo or Marlins stalwart Pablo Lopez before next Tuesday’s 6 p.m. deadline?
Montgomery had not given up more than three extra-base hits in a start this year. He gave up four in the first six batters: a Marte homer, doubles by Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso, and a two-run homer by Eduardo Escobar. Montgomery did not survive a third inning, which included an unearned run ushered by a Josh Donaldson throwing error.
The Yankees’ bullpen of Ron Marinaccio (now up to 17 consecutive scoreless innings), Jonathan Loaisiga, Aroldis Chapman and Wandy Peralta did not allow another run through eight innings before Albert Abreu permitted one in the ninth.
But the Yankees’ offense failed to rally because of iffy baserunning and lack of big hits (0-for-8 with runners in scoring position). Isiah Kiner-Falefa was picked off first with runners on the corners and one out in the second inning. Rizzo was thrown out as the trail runner on a double-steal attempt with Aaron Judge with two on and one out in the seventh. It came with Adam Ottavino pitching. Base stealers had been 10-for-10 this year versus Ottavino; playing for Boone in his two Yankees seasons, Ottavino allowed 19 out of 20 in steal tries.
But this is how it has been in July. The Yankees have not been as crisp or healthy (Giancarlo Stanton went on the IL on Tuesday with Achilles tendinitis) as when they were being compared to the greatest teams ever.
At least on Tuesday they were not even the best team in New York. Walker settled down in the way Montgomery did not, and the first 2022 Subway Series game was more of the July same for the Yankees. The trade deadline is a week away. Brian Cashman has to see that he suddenly has a team in need of a jolt.