Clay Holmes has been so automatic this season that when he was handed a three-run lead in the ninth inning Tuesday night, the buses would have been smart to start warming up.
Instead, the freshly named All-Star closer never found his command, throwing the Yankees’ win away like he did with a few pitches to the backstop.
The Reds did what no other team had this season, scoring four runs off Holmes in the ninth inning to stun the Yankees, handing them a 4-3 loss and only their second three-game losing streak of the season.
The Yankees (61-26) have been 49-0 when leading after the eighth inning this year. But in a rare clunker, Holmes allowed more runs on Tuesday than he had all season combined (three) while failing to record an out.
“That can’t happen,” said Holmes, who threw only five of his 16 pitches for strikes as his ERA ballooned from 0.46 to 1.37. “I gotta be a little better at making some in-game adjustments. …there [were] a couple pitches that the sinker just didn’t feel right and I think I just started to let myself lose some direction there. Once that happened, it was really hard to right the ship. Just a ton of uncompetitive pitches.”
Entering the game with a 3-0 lead, Holmes faced five batters and retired none, loading the bases on a walk, single and hit-by-pitch, leading to a visit from pitching coach Matt Blake. But his struggles continued from there, allowing an RBI single that got under the glove of a diving Isiah Kiner-Falefa before hitting Kyle Farmer to make it 3-2.
“He just didn’t have the command,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Just uncharacteristically really out of the zone.”
Boone then yanked Holmes for Wandy Peralta, who nearly pulled off the escape act. He got Donovan Solano and Nick Senzel to ground into fielder’s choices, though both may have had chances to become double plays.
On the former, catcher Jose Trevino caught the force out at home before bobbling the transfer and losing a chance to throw to first. On the latter, Josh Donaldson fielded a ground ball at third and threw home to take the sure second out instead of trying to start a 5-4-3 double play. Boone said he thought it was the right play in real time.
“The only ball that I was going to go to second base with in that moment was like a one-hop ball at me that had enough steam,” Donaldson said. “Knowing how well [Senzel] runs, it’s going to have to be a perfect throw to second, perfect transfer, perfect throw to first base.”
The Reds (33-54) took advantage, as Jonathan India came up next and with two strikes lofted a broken bat, two-run single to right-center field for the 4-3 lead.
Holmes’ off night wasted seven shutout innings from Gerrit Cole, who struck out 11 and looked primed to get the Yankees back on track after back-to-back losses to the Red Sox over the weekend.
“[Holmes has] picked us up so many times, it’s just a bummer we couldn’t pick him up tonight,” Cole said. “Sometimes these nights are gonna happen. We’re going to look for the next opportunity to pick him up, that’s for sure.”
The Yankees had at least one base runner in every inning but couldn’t muster more than three runs. Gleyber Torres was their main source of offense, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, a walk and two runs while also playing strong defense. It marked his sixth multi-hit effort over his last eight games, this one coming out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup on a night when Aaron Judge rested.
But it was all for naught as Holmes’ rough night led to an equally rare three-game skid for the Yankees.
“Obviously the last few games are not indicative of who we are,” Donaldson said. “It happens, it’s baseball.”