Baseball is a game of inches and the Yankees have been literally giving them away.
If the Yankees are going to turn things around in the American League Championship Series, they are going to need play a much better mental game. Physical errors are one thing, but if the Yankees continue to make mental mistakes - coaches included - they will fall to the team that is not. The Yankees have received solid pitching, but their offense has been dominated by Houston's starters, which makes the mental miscues all the more important.
This Bird is not fast
Sometimes the correct baseball play has to be altered.
In Game 1, Yankees first baseman Greg Bird made the first consequential mental mistake of the series when he failed to get a solid lead off of second base (he noted after the game being concerned about being picked off) and then get a better jump off Dallas Keuchel with a 3-2 count. Bird is not the fastest runner - he may be among the slowest Yankees in fact - so it was imperative that he get as good a lead as possible and a proper jump. He missed on both counts.
In my view, not all of this play was on Bird. It becomes very important for third base coach Joe Espada to be reading the play before and as it develops. He has to get Bird as far off the bag as possible and then see the jump. This way when the ball is put into play, he can see the play develop and make a judgment as to the runner's chance to score.
When Aaron Judge ripped the ball to left field, Marwin Gonzalez was not playing deep. The ball went directly to him and he was already moving toward home plate. This allowed Gonzalez to get all his momentum toward home and his 97.4 mph throw was on target. Espada cannot assume the throw will be a perfect one, thus the initial decision to send Bird home. But he could have seen that Bird was just touching third base when Gonzalez got the ball in his glove.
Espada could have stopped Bird halfway up the line had he bothered to move out of the third base coach's box. Espada not only stayed cemented in the coaches box, he was less than emphatic about sending Bird as well, pointing his fingers home instead of displaying some urgency behind a windmilling arm. The nonchalant finger-pointing may have indicated to Bird he had some time. Of course, he didn't and was nailed at the plate.
Gardner's ill-advised try for the extra base
In Game 2, Brett Gardner was one of the few hitters to get good wood on one of Justin Verlander's pitches. Gardner's line drive to right field got to the wall and his mistake was not busting it out of the box, likely believing it was just a double. Houston's right fielder, Josh Reddick, made a very good relay throw to shortstop Carlos Correa, who then threw a seed to third base. Gardner was initially called safe, but replay showed he was easily out.
Espada's role here was to put the brakes on Gardner, who had not been running full speed from the beginning. Instead, Espada was urging Gardner to come to third, trying desperately to make something happen for a sluggish offense.
The problem is there were two outs. While Gary Sanchez, the on-deck batter, has had a rough series, he could have had a chance to bring Gardner in from second base. That went by the wayside and the Yankees fell that potential run short in the game.
Relay in Game 2
Perhaps the largest mistake of the series was the final play of Game 2. With Jose Altuve on first base with one out, Correa's drive to the right field gap was cutoff by a hustling Judge. After watching the play many times, I believe the play fell apart at various points.
Judge made the throw on the run into shortstop Didi Gregorius (Yankees manager Joe Girardi indicated post game that this was the appropriate play) who was practically on second base. Neither Gregorius nor second baseman Starlin Castro were in a decent position to accept a relay throw from Judge. I also believe Judge may have had enough time to stop his forward motion and then fire to Gregorius, instead of the looping throw that came in. In all, Judge's throw was the least of the concerns with the play.
Maybe most importantly, it didn't seem - even in real time - that Sanchez was ready for the play that developed. Sanchez looked as if he thought the play was at second base. Once Sanchez realized the play was coming to him, he failed to remove his mask as he set to receive Gregorius' off-balance throw from second. Moreover, Sanchez had enough time to actually catch the ball on the fly versus allowing the soft hop it took and he subsequently bobbled.
If just one of the instances in the play went well, from the way Judge threw the ball, the place in which Gregorius received the ball for the relay, to Sanchez's inability to play the ball appropriately on what should have been an easy out would have prevented the game-winning run.
It's unrealistic to say that if one or all of these plays turned out to the Yankees' advantage, they would have come out on top. However, when these plays come to fruition, the slightest mishap gives the other team an unwarranted edge and that can most certainly lead to a loss. So far, the Yankees have failed at each one and it has to change over the remainder of the series or else the Astros will continue to make New York pay.