How Yankees’ trade deadline helped decide an Aaron Boone/Alex Cora chess match

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Aaron Boone with hand on hip at pitchers mound
Aaron Boone with hand on hip at pitchers mound

The first game of Wednesday’s Yankees-Red Sox doubleheader was a barnburner, climaxing with Jonathan Loiasiga pumping his fists and screaming to celebrate a bases-loaded escape to seal the win.

For all the drama of that moment, it was two innings earlier when the Yanks’ successful trade deadline put direct pressure on Boston manager Alex Cora, and ensured that Aaron Boone would have the pieces to win this particular chess match with his friend and competitor in the other dugout.

Boston led 3-2 in the fifth inning when Cora called for Garrett Whitlock to replace starter Tanner Houck. Whitlock, a Rule 5 draft choice snatched last winter from the Yankees, has been one of the Red Sox most effective relievers all season.

On this day, he lacked command, walking Brett Garder and Aaron Judge to begin the inning.

Cora made a surprising leap from the dugout to remove Whitlock. And here is where the Yanks’ new lineup made a significant difference.

For a few years now, Yanks general manager Brian Cashman has drawn criticism for building a lineup that is overly right-handed.

His front office has stewed over this knock at times, noting privately that defensive shifts helped to neutralize the likes of Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira in their later years, taking away some of the purpose of stacking lefty sluggers at Yankee Stadium, despite the short porch in right field.

But in acquiring Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo in advance of the July 30 trade deadline, Cashman did create additional challenges to opponents.

With two on and nobody out in the fifth, Gallo was due up. That forced a calculation for Cora that did not exist when he faced the Yankees earlier in the season: Should he bring in a lefty to face Gallo, or stick with Whitlock?

The three-batter rule created an additional wrinkle, because a new pitcher would have to then face the right-handed Luke Voit. Lefty Rougned Odor was to follow.

Cora opted to call for the lefty, Josh Taylor. Taylor walked Gallo. Oops.

Voit followed by dunking a go-ahead single into the no-man’s land of shallow right center. Then, Boone pulled a crafty move on Cora, who is typically one of the game’s best strategists: He sent righty Giancarlo Stanton to pinch hit for Odor. Stanton drove in an additional run.

After the game, Boone acknowledged the new lineup came in handier in this game than at any time since the trade deadline.

“Yes,” he said. “Now you’ve got some decisions to make as an opponent, especially in a close game … Because of that balance, there’s a good chance that we will have a favorable matchup at some point. That’s definitely something that has helped us.”

In this case, it helped them pull even with Boston in the loss column. Now that would have been hard to imagine a month or two ago.