Shoddy defense denies Yankees series sweep against Guardians in Cleveland

Anthony Rizzo and Anthony Volpe are defending during the Yankees vs. Guardians game on April 14, 2024.
Michael Bennington
Monday April 15, 2024

Table of Contents

Two early defensive errors by Anthony Rizzo proved costly for the Yankees in Game 3 against the Guardians. The first miscue came in the opening frame when the first baseman failed to secure a low throw from third baseman Oswaldo Cabrera. Shortly after, in the second inning, Rizzo struggled to field a ground ball hit by Andres Gimenez, resulting in another error. Although the play would have been close at first with Nestor Cortes covering, Rizzo’s miscue handed the Guardians an early advantage.

Unfortunately, Rizzo wasn’t the lone culprit in the defensive lapses. In the bottom of the 10th inning, two more errors by the Yankees’ infield opened the door for a Cleveland comeback. These defensive breakdowns ultimately culminated in an 8-7 defeat for the Yankees, preventing a series sweep.

Despite the defensive woes, the Yankees offense started strong, building a comfortable 3-0 lead in the third inning thanks to a mammoth three-run home run by team captain Aaron Judge. However, Cleveland chipped away and tied the game in the fifth inning, setting the stage for a tense back-and-forth battle.

The momentum appeared to shift back in New York’s favor in the ninth inning when rookie Anthony Volpe delivered a game-tying double off Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase. Rizzo then followed suit with a clutch two-run single in the top of the 10th, putting the Yankees in a winning position.

But the baseball gods had other plans. The bottom of the 10th inning proved disastrous for the Yankees. A series of defensive mistakes unraveled everything, leading to a stunning reversal of fortune and a heartbreaking loss that snatched victory from their grasp.


Ferguson escapes jam, but glovework let Yankees down

While the box score might pin the 8-7 walk-off loss on left-handed reliever Caleb Ferguson, a closer examination reveals a different narrative. Ferguson navigated a precarious situation in the bottom of the 10th inning, only to be undone by a defensive lapse that ultimately cost the Yankees the game.

Ferguson entered the fray with a daunting task – facing Cleveland’s All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez with the bases loaded. After a grueling six-pitch battle that saw Ramirez foul off six consecutive pitches, Ferguson managed to induce a single to center field, advancing the automatic runner on second base to third.

Now facing a two-run deficit, Ferguson needed a ground ball to escape the inning unscathed. He delivered, coaxing a sharp grounder towards second baseman Gleyber Torres off the bat of cleanup hitter Josh Naylor. Torres made a diving stop, pivoted quickly, and fired a laser throw to shortstop Volpe at second for the force out.

However, disaster struck as Volpe attempted to transfer the ball to his throwing hand. The ball squirted loose, resulting in a costly fielder’s choice that allowed Cleveland to score a run and keep the inning alive. This defensive miscue proved to be the turning point, as the Guardians capitalized on the opportunity to secure the win in dramatic fashion.

“I just bobbled it,” Volpe admitted in a subdued tone in the visiting locker room after the game.

Subsequently, Ferguson faced a challenging situation. First baseman David Fry appeared to hit a potential walk-off home run deep into center field. However, the ball remained in the ballpark, and Aaron Judge executed a skillful play by playing the rebound off the bottom of the wall effectively, preventing Naylor from crossing home plate.

Costly misplays lead to a walk-off loss for Yankees

Cleveland Guardians designated hitter Josh Naylor (22) crosses the plate beating the tag by New York Yankees catcher Austin Wells (28) during the tenth inning.
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The pivotal moment of the Yankees’ heartbreaking 8-7 walk-off loss revolved around a series of defensive lapses that unraveled their one-run lead in the bottom of the 10th inning.  

With the infield drawn in for a force play, a sharp ground ball hit by Guardians center fielder Will Brennan directly at second baseman Gleyber Torres presented a golden opportunity to retire the runner at the plate. A clean fielding play and a quick throw would have easily erased Naylor, the automatic runner on second, who isn’t renowned for his baserunning prowess (ranked in the league’s 8th percentile for speed).

However, disaster struck as Torres mishandled the grounder, momentarily losing sight of the ball. Though he managed to recover and throw a strong strike to catcher Austin Wells, the delay proved costly. Naylor slid home safely ahead of the tag, tying the game with a dramatic run.

Torres explained that he momentarily lost track of the play, resulting in a delayed throw that proved too late.

“It was definitely a play we could have made at the plate,” echoed Yankees manager Aaron Boone, highlighting the missed opportunity.

The defensive breakdown continued. With the game tied and one out, shortstop Anthony Volpe, who earlier committed a key error, had another chance to get Naylor out at second on a ground ball hit by Andres Gimenez. Unfortunately, similar to Torres, Volpe’s miscue wasn’t officially scored as an error.  

This deflated the Yankees’ momentum, allowing Gimenez to remain on base. Up next was Amed Rosario, who delivered the game-winning hit – a line drive to right field that brought Naylor home, securing a dramatic victory for Cleveland.

Despite navigating a tough situation earlier in the inning and not being officially charged with an error, these defensive miscues ultimately resulted in Caleb Ferguson being saddled with two earned runs, taking the loss for the Yankees.

A pinch of salt for the Yankees

In the aftermath of the Yankees’ heartbreaking 10th-inning loss, manager Aaron Boone shed light on his pitching decisions. Ideally, he would have avoided deploying Ferguson, who had thrown a significant number of pitches (25) in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. However, with the closer Clay Holmes already utilized in the ninth inning to preserve a 5-5 tie on Sunday, Boone’s options were limited.

Boone commended Ferguson’s performance, praising his command and effectiveness on the mound. Regarding outfielder Aaron Hicks’ fly out to shallow right in the bottom of the 10th (which would have been the final out with a clean play at second), Boone acknowledged that while Hicks made solid contact, the ball landed in an unfortunate location, potentially leading to a double play opportunity in a different scenario.

The 10th inning’s defensive lapses sparked concerns among Yankees fans on social media, particularly regarding the team’s infield. Rizzo’s two errors in the game added to his existing total of four for the season at first base. Gleyber Torres has had his share of defensive struggles throughout his career, and rookie Oswaldo Cabrera is filling in at third base while DJ LeMahieu recovers from an injury. On a brighter note, Anthony Volpe, last year’s Gold Glove shortstop, has continued his defensive mastery in 2024.

When questioned about his confidence in the infield, Aaron Judge emphasized the talent of the players involved. He pointed out Rizzo’s past success as a Platinum Glove Award winner with the Chicago Cubs. Similar sentiments were echoed by starting pitcher Nestor Cortes, who reminded everyone that errors are an inevitable part of the game. From the Yankees’ perspective, this single game shouldn’t overshadow the overall defensive capabilities of the infield throughout the season.

Judge acknowledged that frustrating games like this occur, but the key takeaway is to learn from them and move forward. He expressed unwavering faith in the team’s infield defense, a unit he considers a significant strength. Volpe further elaborated, highlighting the infielders’ dedication to defensive excellence through consistent practice drills. However, he acknowledged the team’s shared disappointment when mistakes happened during games.

Yankees’ infield defense under lens

While the Yankees have enjoyed a strong start to the season, their infield defense has raised some eyebrows. According to Statcast’s advanced metrics, the team’s overall defensive performance ranks a mediocre 17th in the league for runs prevented (minus-1). 

The root of the concern lies in plays requiring infielders to move “in,” where the Yankees rank a concerning third-to-last with a minus-4 Outs Above Average (OAA). This translates to several missed opportunities to convert outs, as witnessed in Sunday’s 10th-inning collapse against the Guardians.

In the aftermath of the loss, manager Boone chose to focus on the team’s resilience rather than solely dwelling on the squandered lead. He acknowledged the missed plays but commended the team’s fighting spirit and emphasized the importance of protecting leads late in games.

However, veteran first baseman Rizzo, usually a defensive stalwart, endured a forgettable outing. Renowned for his reliability, boasting four Gold Glove awards, Rizzo committed two costly errors that directly contributed to the Yankees’ downfall. This uncharacteristic display brings his season error total to four, a stark contrast to his usual consistency and his impressive record of only four errors in 92 games last season.

Rizzo’s atypical miscues, coupled with the team’s overall struggles on plays moving “in,” have placed the Yankees’ infield defense under scrutiny. While the team remains optimistic, a closer examination of defensive fundamentals may be necessary to sustain their early season success.

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