The Yankees’ sad truth of what should have been their worst loss of 2023

MIAMI — Even the sadness all sounded the same.

“We have to flush this one,” said closer Clay Holmes, who blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning.

“Just kind of flush it and get back on the process,” said starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, whose six-inning, two-run performance was wasted.

“Flush it and get ready for tomorrow,” said right fielder Aaron Judge, the captain charged with rallying his teammates.

If Sunday’s 8-7, walk-off loss to the Miami Marlins felt like it was the Yankees’ worst loss of a season filled with terrible, no-good, ugly defeats, it’s a feeling that likely lasted only a little while.

Because no matter how stunning it was to watch Holmes collapse or how shocking it was to see the Marlins’ on-field celebration — replete with nightclub strobe lights fresh out of a South Beach nightclub — after the Yankees, behind their ace Cole, manhandled them much of the afternoon, there was a sensation lying right below the surface of all of it:


“There’s no sense like we’re defeated,” Holmes said, “but at the same time, maybe there’s a sense of urgency that we know we have to put together some good baseball and start stringing together some wins.”

The problem: That’s been the Yankees’ refrain all season, and especially after their true Worst Loss of the Season, which saw them fall, 8-7, in walk-off fashion to the Rockies on July 16. That day, the Yankees blew three separate leads to the lowly Rockies, including a two-run cushion in the 11th inning before Colorado stormed back with three runs to end it. At the time, manager Aaron Boone said it was “garbage” to question whether he still believed the fading Yankees were a championship-caliber club.

On Sunday, there were no questions as to whether the Yankees (60-58) believed they could still win a championship. Simply reaching the playoffs seemed like too tall of an order for a team that had fallen to five games behind the third and final wild-card spot with just 44 games remaining. The Blue Jays beat the Cubs on Sunday to extend their lead for the last wild-card position over New York.

Fangraphs pegs the Yankees’ chances of making the playoffs at 6.3 percent. Those odds could drop further over the next few days, considering the Yankees will be heavy underdogs when they play a three-game road set with the Atlanta Braves, owners of MLB’s best record, that starts Monday. The Braves have become the Yankees’ antithesis — a club with young, athletic stars all over the diamond running a luxury tax payroll about $50 million lower than the Bombers’.

Boone said the Yankees can’t dwell on a loss like Sunday’s, regardless of how rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe slugged his third home run in two games or how the Yankees held a 7-1 lead going into the bottom of the sixth.

“We’re going to play a great team (Monday),” Boone said. “We’ve got to be ready to go. We know we’ve got to rack wins, and as tough as this one is to swallow, you’ve got to move on from it.”

Said Holmes, “Every loss matters. Especially ones like this, where Gerrit had a good start, (and we) put some runs up on the board early.”

“If we’re dragging anything behind us,” Judge said, “it makes it that much harder.”

The loss may have been the Yankees’ worst of the season if not for how the front office performed before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. Despite glaring needs in left field and at third base, and though it could have been argued they could have used a starting pitcher, the Yankees did virtually nothing. They traded for middle-inning reliever Keynan Middleton and traded for pitcher Spencer Howard, a failed top prospect, from the Rangers, as the teams ahead of them in the standings improved their rosters via trades. On Sunday, the Marlins’ trade deadline additions stole the show. Jake Burger, whom Miami acquired from the White Sox, drove in the game-winning run. Luis Arraez (triple) and Josh Bell (reach via throwing error), two other Marlins trade acquisitions, also contributed in the fateful ninth inning.

At the deadline, the Yankees crossed their fingers, hoping their underperforming stars would suddenly turn it around, and that their health would rebound, even though recent history wasn’t on their side. It’s turning out to be a bad bet, and it’s blunting the sting of even their worst losses because an empty Yankee Stadium in October feels as likely now as it did then.

“Maybe when the season’s over, you can reflect on games like this,” Judge said. “But you’ve got to move forward. We’re facing a great team (Monday) and this (loss) is going to suck right here. Especially with the lead we had and the at-bats we had. But we’ve got to show up (Monday).”

That time for reflection of which Judge spoke might be coming sooner than the Yankees think, thanks to the devastating losses that are feeling all too familiar.

Yankees injury updates

• Boone said that he expects infielder DJ LeMahieu back in the Yankees’ starting lineup for Monday’s game in Atlanta. LeMahieu (calf) hasn’t played since Aug. 7.

• Carlos Rodón threw two innings in a bullpen session on Saturday, and he will continue his rehab at the team’s player development complex in Tampa while the Yankees travel to Atlanta.

(Photo of Clay Holmes leaving the game in the ninth inning: Sam Navarro / USA Today)

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