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The Yankees must kill Gary Sanchez, break down Adam Ottavino



A manager spends a season building confidence, especially with his best players. He will show faith during a downturn, endure a bad week with the big picture in mind.

But there is only a small focus in the playoffs, when every day feels like a whole season and every game swings. One day, winning the ALCS opener in Houston, improving to 4-0 this postseason, feels like a team riding on a magic carpet. Blink twice and the Yankees are now down two games to one.

"You don't make friends during the season," Joe Torre told me Tuesday before ALCS Game 3. "You're trying to win the games."

Torre understands that he, you know, has succeeded in most of the season games in history (1

42). In his first playoffs with the Yankees, in 1996, he placed stalwarts Wade Boggs, Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill for World Series Games 3 and 4, and sat out all but O'Neill for Game 5 as well. He instead played Charlie Hayes, Cecil Fielder and Darryl Strawberry, who joined that season already going on. The Yankees won everything.

"Zim taught me that you cannot have any patience during times," Torre said of his then bench coach Don Zimmer.

Boone must lose patience now. He has to bench Gary Sanchez and stop using Adam Ottavino in anything resembling high leverage.

They weren't the only reasons the Yankees lost 4-1 Tuesday to the Astros in the first Bronx game of this ALCS. But they hurt the Yanks too much to keep going with them.

  Adam Ottavino; Gary Sanchez
Adam Ottavino; Gary Sanchez Charles Wenzelberg (2)

Houston leads this best of seven 2-1. The Astros have won the games started by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and these pitchers weave at least once each.

The Yankees forced Cole to work Tuesday, but ultimately did not deliver a major blow. They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring in the right-handers' seven innings. After Jose Altuve came home as the second batter in the game, DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge opened the bottom of the first with singles, but Brett Gardner flew out and Edwin Encarnacion jumped out. Gleyber Torres went before Didi Gregorius founded others.

That inning essentially cuts the Yankee offense in this ALCS. In the two open games, LeMahieu, Judge and Torres were 10 for 27 with two homers, seven RBI and three walks. The rest of the Yankees were 9-for-50 with two homers, two RBIs and three walks.

In Game 3, Torres made for the Yankees lone drive. Gregory fell just under a three-run in the fifth inning that would have given the Yankees the lead.

Sanchez is hardly alone in offensive assault. It's just that he has essentially been a deep season his entire career. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Game 3. That makes him 1-for-11 with six whiff in this ALCS, 2-for-21 with 10 strikeouts and without an extra base hit in those playoffs and 16- pre-92 with 34 strikes in full after the season.

He also failed to block what went for a Zack Britton wild pitch in the seventh inning. At this point, Boone has to ask if Austin Romine can be worse and if he can only be better? He may also ask for Aaron Hick's strong bats in his first start since August 3, if he would be a better option to beat third than Brett Gardner (2-for-13 in this series and 0-for-4 Tuesday beats third after having beaten sixth and fifth in the first two games).

The seventh inning was set up for Ottavino's failure. He went in with Houston 2-0 after six innings and walked George Springer who led. Then, with Springer running, Altuve bounced a single to the vacant second base to put runners on first and third. Ottavino was removed, but the two runners later scored.

Boone had lamented the soft touch that has hurt Ottavino in this series – and Altuve's ball probably would have been a double without Springer moving. But Springer moved that Ottavino is slow to the plate (15 of 16 successful thefts against him this year). And everything has not been soft contact. Springer's homer on Ottavino's first pitch of Game 2 – a hanging slider in the fifth inning – tied that game 2-2.

Ottavino has allowed nine of the 16 strokes he has faced to reach safely in these playoffs. The only time he's held to pitch a full inning was when the Yankees led the Twins with seven runs and the Astros with five. It feels like his role for now. But Boone has continued to insist that the Yankees can't get where they want to go – think Canyon of Heroes – without Ottavino getting big outs.

But they have been stripped from that path, in part, because Ottavino has not received key outs. This is not May or June, when you let a talented player work through it. It's October. It's no time to make friends. It's time to win the games.


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