CLEVELAND — Poor Sonny Gray must have thought he’d been trapped in a nightmare where he joined the 1919 White Sox — and they didn’t invite him to partake in the fix.
He will get over his very first inning in a Yankees uniform, a comedy of (three) errors Thursday night at Progressive Field. His team, however, faces a real nightmarish scenario:
What if this group of pinstriped youngsters falls well short of the expectations it created?
Gray’s pinstriped debut produced a 5-1 loss to Corey Kluber and the Indians, and that doesn’t remotely reflect just how well the 27-year-old performed. His teammates performed terribly, however, and now the Yankees find themselves owners of a three-game losing streak and two games behind the Red Sox (one in the loss column) in the American League East.
“We continue to pitch well, which I think is really important. Because that’s how you put together winning streaks,” manager Joe Girardi said afterward. “But we have to do the other things.”
Last week, Todd Frazier’s first Yankee Stadium at-bat in the home team’s uniform wound up as a triple play, a mind-blowing scenario. Gray’s initial frame in a Yankees uniform, however, made Frazier’s oddity seem as pedestrian as a brown dog.
Yankees give Sonny Gray no help in ugly-looking loss
His first batter, Bradley Zimmer, knocked a bouncer to the right side that converted first baseman Chase Headley couldn’t handle. His third batter, Michael Brantley, stroked a grounder that rookie second baseman Tyler Wade failed to glove. And his fourth batter, Jose Ramirez, lined a base hit to right field that Clint Frazier fielded cleanly and, in an attempt to nail Brantley, threw well past third baseman Ronald Torreyes and out of the field of play, allowing Brantley to follow Zimmer home and moving Ramirez all the way to third.
“That’s probably as bad a first inning as we’ve had all year,” said Girardi, who easily could have substituted “existence” for “year” and no one would have blinked.
“That’s just part of the game,” Gray said. “You look back at the fourth inning, there were a couple of plays that were made that really kept us in the game.”
If you were a Yankees fan watching Gray pitch and listening to him address the media afterward, you had to really like him. The 5-foot-10ish right-hander battled his tail off. He stranded Ramirez at third in the first inning, striking out Edwin Encarnacion and retiring Carlos Santana on a flyout to Clint Frazier. He lasted six innings, allowing two earned runs (four altogether) and four hits while walking three and striking out six. He picked up six outs on the ground.
“I thought he was great. I thought he was awesome,” Headley said. “I thought he threw the ball great.”
“I feel like I threw the ball OK,” Gray said. “But at the same time, if I can shut that sixth inning down [Yan Gomes hit a two-run double], it’s a completely different ballgame.”
He didn’t so much as passively-aggressively float the notion that he hopes he gets more teammate support for his next start. Gray owned his results despite deserving far better. Impressive.
Far less impressive are the Yankees as a whole, who have totaled four runs in three August games after slashing a season-worst .237/.313/.400 in July. You naturally credit Kluber, one of the game’s best pitchers, who went the distance while giving up three hits and a walk, striking out 11. “But we have been sluggish,” Girardi conceded, “and we’ve got to figure it out.”
Sonny Gray and those who know him best confident he’ll thrive
The Yankees ramped up considerably in July, acquiring Jaime Garcia, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson, as well as Todd Frazier and Gray.
So far, those haven’t masked the Yankees’ offensive woes. Girardi sat Aaron Judge on Thursday in an effort to reboot the slumping dynamo, and the flailing veterans Todd Frazier and Matt Holliday also got the night off.
They can spin these as long-term moves, with Gray, Kahnle and Robertson all under control beyond this season. Nevertheless, they raised the volume and sacrificed farm-system depth with these transactions, so a fallback would hurt.
It’s no nightmare yet. On the other hand, this is not at all what the Yankees dreamed when they loaded for battle with the game’s best.