Yankees Opening Day notes: Aaron Boone’s perspective, Juan Soto’s emotional challenge and more

Aaron Boone seemed to have completed his pregame news conference at Yankee Stadium on Friday morning, even rising a few inches from his seat. Then he sat again, with one more point to make.

“I just want to say it real quick, with all the excitement of Opening Day, we get reminded all the time of the perspective,” he said.

It was now clear that Boone was referring to the death of Cathy Tusiani, the wife of longtime, highly respected Yankees executive Michael Tusiani. Cathy Tusiani, 50, died on Wednesday night when a tree fell on the car she was driving near her Westchester County home.

When Boone and the rest of the organization learned of the news on Thursday’s off day, they took it hard.

“This is our livelihood,” Boone said. “It really matters, but it is just a game. And our family, our Yankee family — heavy hearts today. As you know, Michael Tusiani lost his wife ..."

Boone paused, his voice breaking. He buried his face in his arm and began to sob, unable to speak.

This is a manager uncommonly in touch with his emotions, as evidenced in 2020 when he left a Zoom news conference in tears after a reporter asked how widespread civil rights protests were impacting him as the father in a mixed-race family.

This time, nearly 30 seconds elapsed. The air in the room grew heavy, and one’s mind easily spiraled toward the worst thoughts about their own families.

"We'll be playing for them today and all season,” Boone said, barely, before walking out of the room.

After a few quiet moments, baseball talk resumed among the dozens who remained. But not before we sat with a brief but intense reminder of the fragility of life – and gratitude that a baseball game would soon provide such a beautiful and consuming distraction.

About that baseball game

As if we needed another hint about forces greater than us, an earthquake rumbled while the Yankees took batting practice. Then, finally, the day turned to baseball, and the Yanks were shut out in a home opener for the first time since 1967.

But for those who watched the game, that result was not as concerning as the scoreboard suggested.

The 2024 Yankee offense has so far been defined by long at-bats and relentless grinding of opposing pitchers. It’s as if Juan Soto’s selectiveness is contagious. Anthony Volpe deserves an honorable mention for his massive leap in judiciousness since his 2023 rookie season, in which he posted a .283 on-base percentage.

Friday wasn’t much different. The Yankees worked hard on Toronto starter Yusei Kikuchi, pushing him near 70 pitches by the third inning. Kikuchi settled in after that, and the Yanks went mostly quiet against the Toronto bullpen.

But it wasn’t a day filled with first-pitch groundouts, expanding the strike zone, and looking silly against offspeed pitches. It was a typical Yankee day, if a low-grade one, in which they had a few too many quick innings and never got a big hit. Nothing appeared dramatically different from what worked during the 6-1 road trip.

Apr 5, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Juan Soto (22) during the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.

An emotional challenge for Soto: His eye is too good

Major League umpires display elite strike zone judgment nearly every moment of every game. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be newsworthy when they miss a pitch.

But one of the many aspects of Soto’s nearly supernatural skill set is his eye. He is almost never incorrect about balls and strikes, including when the ump misses one.

On a 2-0 pitch during Soto’s eighth-inning at-bat, home plate umpire Edwin Jimenez called a strike that was well outside the zone. Soto protested; soon after, he struck out and flung his bat and helmet onto the ground.

This made me wonder if it was challenging for Soto to stay mentally and emotionally focused during an at-bat after being absolutely certain that the ump had been wrong. After the game, I asked him.

“It is tough,” Soto said. “It’s tough to see those calls, you know? Tough moments, and it depends where you are in the at-bat, but definitely it’s really hard on me. It’s been a little bit tough now [with the pitch clock] because we don’t have too much time to keep thinking. [You have to] get yourself going. It’ll probably be there for one pitch to another, but at the end of the day, we gotta forget about it and just keep grinding, keep going through the at-bat.”

Silver lining for Stanon?

Giancarlo Stanton has 13 strikeouts in 24 at-bats this season – a troubling fact for a player who looked lost in 2023 and reported to spring training with a trimmer physique and chippier shoulder. But his at-bat in the third inning might have suggested better results to come.

When Stanton is slumping, his strikeouts are often quick and ugly. In this case, rather than expanding the strike zone and chasing bad pitches, Stanton worked the count full, laid off a few close ones, and finally whiffed on a curveball.

It might be silly to trumpet a strikeout as a sign of progress, and perhaps no progress is coming. But this was not the ice-cold Stanton; it was a competitive at-bat. If he does break out soon, we’ll look back on it as a hint.

And what happened to Burdi?

Early in spring training, reliever Nick Burdi was the talk of camp. One Yankees person even said he had the best stuff of any pitcher in the organization, and just needed to stay healthy.

But on Friday – the day the Yankees lost a key reliever in Jonathan Loaisiga for at least two months with a flexor strain – Burdi put the game out of reach by throwing three wild pitches in a ninth inning that saw Toronto’s lead jump from 1-0 to 3-0.

What the heck happened there?

In Boone’s view, Burdi might have been a victim of his own electric repertoire.

“Stuff like his … it can get away a little bit,” the manager said.