NEW YORK – Over the course of 54 postseasons and 394 games, never before had the New York Yankees suffered as severe a beatdown as they did Monday night. Questionable managerial decisions. Anemic hitting. Worse pitching. The 16-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Division Series featured a triumvirate of horror that left Yankee Stadium a quarter-full by the end of the seventh inning, lest any of those exiting early further imbibe in the self-immolation of a 100-win team.
They missed history two innings later, when a wee utilityman stepped to the plate. About 24 hours earlier, Red Sox manager Alex Cora texted Brock Holt to let him know he would be starting the third game of a best-of-five series that was tied at a game apiece. Holt’s response didn’t exactly inspire oodles of confidence: “Are you sure?” In his previous 15 at-bats against Yankees starter Luis Severino, Holt had mustered all of one single.
Nonplussed, Cora kept his word, inserted Holt in the lineup’s seven spot and watched him single, triple and double. And here he was, in the ninth inning, due up fourth, begging one of his teammates to get on base against pitcher Austin Romine, who up until Monday night’s shellacking had always been catcher Austin Romine.
If any Yankee was going to yield a home run, Romine was the prime candidate, and the confluence of events ensured Holt would receive the opportunity he begged for teammates to give him. After Romine walked Ian Kinsler, Holt stepped up, blitzed a 79.1-mph fastball, watched it land 355 feet away in the right-field bleachers and put himself alone in quite the category. In all of baseball history, a player had hit for the cycle 323 times. Brock Holt was No. 324 – and No. 1 ever in the postseason.
Of the tens of thousands of individual playoff games, none had one player going single, double, triple, home run. And that on a team with Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi was especially jarring, Holt being who he is, them being who they are. The latter are stars. And Holt – well, Holt is a born-and-bred Texas kid with 20 career home runs to his name who, upon Romine’s entrance, knew his chance for a cycle had drastically increased.
“You get a little antsy when a position player is on the mound,” Holt said. “I told everyone, ‘Get me up. I need a home run for a cycle.’ I was going to try to hit a home run, but I figured I’d ground out to first, be out in front of something. But I scooted up in the box a little bit, and I was going to be swinging at anything and try to hook anything. Obviously, you don’t expect to hit a home run, but I was trying to. I was trying to hit a home run. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever tried to do that.”
Not a bad strategy from Holt. A ninth-round pick in 2009 by Pittsburgh, he excelled in the Pirates’ organization as a big-skill, short-tool prospect – i.e., while his baseball knowledge and approach were nonpareil, his size kept scouts from projecting him to be anything more than a low-end utility type. They got the utility part right at least. When Holt came to the Red Sox in 2012 as the second player in what otherwise is remembered as the disastrous trade for Joel Hanrahan, Boston realized it may ultimately have more in Holt.
It manifested itself in spectacular fashion during Game 3, a showcase in which the 108-win Red Sox beat down the Yankees early and spent the game’s final two hours addressing the wounds as though they were Salt Bae. A sprinkle here, a sprinkle there, each painful, all a reminder that Game 3 of a tied best-of-five series is integral and Brock Holt was cycling and driving in five runs against their ace and the panoply of pitchers who followed.
Never did Yankees manager Aaron Boone find a solution, either for Holt or his own problems. He let Severino, already wobbly headed into the fourth inning, load the bases then and cede to starter-turned-reliever Lance Lynn, who promptly issued a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk. Andrew Benintendi cleared the bases with a double, and the rout was on.
The margin grew so large that Holt could break with the standard approach to a cycle. Don’t talk about it, don’t address it, don’t acknowledge its possibility. No, Holt was loud and clear: He wanted it badly. He’s 30 years old now. He has missed enough time to make him savor these opportunities, not just as a team but as a player who might never find himself with a chance similar to this.
Injuries had derailed most of Holt’s late 20s. A concussion waylaid him and the vertigo that accompanied it left him distraught and other soft-tissue injuries piled up. He wanted to be the same guy who made the AL All-Star team in 2015, or at least a reasonable-enough facsimile of it.
“We know what he can do,” Cora said. “It was just a matter of to use him out there in the right matchup.”
Even if the batter-vs.-pitcher numbers didn’t speak to success, Holt’s splits do. He hits right-handed pitchers much better than lefties. After starting Ian Kinsler at second base in the series’ first two games, Cora went with Holt and wound up with one of the all-time great playoff performances – even with the last hit coming off a pitcher whose fastball is a misnomer, because while it’s a ball, it sure wasn’t fast.
“I feel like I’m a good baseball player when healthy and when right and given an opportunity,” Holt said. “So you try to stay ready. In the position I’m in, you try to stay ready, and whenever your name’s called, you try to do what you can to help the team. I was able to do that.”
Enough that the expectation is Cora will start Holt again as the Yankees try to salvage their season and send the series back to Boston for a do-or-die Game 5. The quandary with that: Cora sparingly uses him against southpaws, and the Yankees’ Game 4 starter is CC Sabathia, the crafty veteran lefty.
What that holds for Holt is anyone’s best guess, though no matter how keen a crystal ball one may possess, nobody could’ve foreseen Monday. The ugliest playoff loss in Yankees history was bad enough. This was gravy, an unforgettable gift, a lifetime achievement – and a text he’ll never delete, a reminder that Alex Cora being sure got the Boston Red Sox one step closer to the World Series.
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