If this felt familiar to you, it should have. Look, Aaron Boone isn’t the first manager or coach to show either blind stubbornness or blind loyalty to a player. Yankees fans probably didn’t want to hear the litany of logical explanations Boone had for sending Joey Gallo up to hit for Isaiah Kiner-Falefa Tuesday night, in the opening game of Subway Series ’22.
Yankees fans, in fact, probably feel the way a certain faction of the criminal underworld felt back in 1972, when Gallo’s famous gangland namesake was — um, shall we say, “dispatched” — at Umberto’s Clam House in a bloody ambush.
(Yankees fans will settle for bloodlessly dispatching this Joey Gallo to another baseball team, any baseball team besides their baseball team, and as soon as possible.)
But Boone did have his reasons. And in a vacuum they make perfect sense.
“It’s not [just] about getting a hit in that situation,” Boone said after the Mets beat the Yankees 6-3, helped along by Edwin Diaz coming in to overpower Gallo, the first out of a four-out save for the Mets’ closer. “The other component is forcing their hand to at least get their closer in there for a four-out situation.”
Nothing unreasonable about that.
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“It’s a situation where you need two runs and Joey is one of the best power hitters the last couple years, and I got zero [home runs on the season],’’ Kiner-Falefa said, proving himself a highly capable wingman for Boone. “There’s nothing I can say. You give him an opportunity right there. If I get a single, we’re still down two runs. I’m OK with it.”
Nothing unreasonable about that, either.
But these games aren’t played in vacuums. They are played in front of 42,000 people live, and hundreds of thousands of others watching, listening and following along. No manager worth his salt should ever be influenced by the howling masses, but it’s another story when it looks like he’s turning the volume up to 11 on them.
Which — fairly or not — is what Boone does every time he writes Gallo’s name in the lineup, every time he summons him to pinch hit, and every time Gallo does what he’s done 38 percent of the time this year — strike out, and walk dejectedly back to the bench.
If you are a Knicks fan, there had to have been a bit of a callback for you. You may recall Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 1994. You may recall that John Starks took 18 shots that night in Houston and missed 16 of them. You may recall that he was 0-for-11 from 3. And you may recall what you and an army of your fellow Knicks true believers were screaming as the Knicks were trying valiantly to stay close to the Rockets in a close game they’d lose 90-84. And all of those oaths looked something like this:
“WHY THE $#$@^& IS HE NOT PUTTING *%$#$#$ ROLANDO BLACKMAN IN THE &%$#@& GAME?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?”
Or, you know, literally anybody else.
“We wouldn’t have been here without John,” Pat Riley said that night, and has always said whenever the subject comes up for debate, and it is a tough place to be when you’re second-guessing a guy with the basketball résumé Riley happens to have. It just happens to be a legitimate second-guess.
(And a horses**t answer, even now.)
But it was certainly a reasonable one.
But coaches have their points of view, and sometimes it’s hard to change it. Hey, it nearly took an act of God for Pop Fisher to trust his eyes and finally give Roy Hobbs a couple of at-bats. An old basketball coach named Butch van Breda Kolff once kept Wilt Chamberlain on the bench in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals in favor of Mel Counts. When Chamberlain tried to re-enter the game, VBK cinched his demise with six regrettable words:
“We’re doing well enough without you.”
The Lakers lost 108-106. Poor Butch was barely back in the locker room when he was axed.
So yes: this isn’t unusual, Boone’s unwillingness to roll with the anger and angst of his fans. Surely it will be over soon, when Brian Cashman finds a taker and arranges a mercy-deal. But until then … Well. It could be worse for Gallo. He could have a hankering for linguini and clam sauce on the wrong night, in the wrong place.
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