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Mudville: December 3, 2022 11:45 am PDT
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3-2-1 Contact

BY KEVIN KERNAN

When you live by this mantra, you are asking for trouble when it comes time to face the best pitchers in October.

Hit Strikes Hard is the Yankees mantra.

What about putting the ball in play?

What about making contact against the best pitchers?

You can’t always hit strikes hard. And sometimes when you hit strikes hard they are hit right at defenders. You have to be able to create as an offense. You have to be able to make things happen, put the ball in play.

The Yankees philosophy under hitting coach Dillon Lawson is a recipe for disaster. Same goes for the philosophy of pitching coach Matt Blake, who lives for his pitchers to spin the ball. Both men were hired by Brian Cashman as was Aaron Boone, who once again is getting out-managed, this time by Dusty Baker.

No, the Yankees are no longer playing a young, inexperienced and pretty mediocre team in the Guardians, the Yankees are playing the Houston Astros, who make it a regular occurrence to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs and this October, it’s a total embarrassment.

The Yankees were swamped, 5-0 by the Astros on Saturday night, shutting down the Yankees crowd and completely shutting down the Yankees offense to take a 3-0 lead in the ALCS. These Yankees are not the 2004 Red Sox. This will end soon for the Yankees.

For the entire eight games this postseason the Yankees are hitting .161 with a .250 on base and a .344 slug. They have 40 hits, 11 home runs and 94 strikeouts.

The team that lived by the sword: Hit Strikes Hard, is a soft opponent for the hardened Astros led by Baker. The Yankees continue to swing from their heels or guess and take strikes and continue to embarrass themselves at the plate. Hit Strikes Hard may work against mediocre pitchers who can’t command, and there are plenty of them in the regular season, but it is not working against the super talented Astros staff. The Yankees have no chance and on Saturday night it was young, unflappable Cristian Javier who had the Yankees hitting nothing but air, again.

He allowed one hit over 5 1-3 innings and had only pitched 1 1-3 innings since October 1st and still beat the Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.

In three games against the Yankees this season over 17 1-3 innings, Javier has given up three hits, count ‘em, three and only one earned run with 21 strikeouts.

“Hit Strikes Hard.”

What about contact, what about putting the ball in play? That doesn’t register with the Yankee Nerds. And now Aaron Judge isn’t there to save them like he was during the regular season. This time all the Yankees flaws are being exposed.

Brian Cashman’s team once again can’t hang with the big boys.

Once again, the Yankees were in double digit strikeouts with 11. In the three losses this series the Yankees have struck out an astounding 41 times. When Lawson came up with his Hit Strikes Hard mantra, I immediately questioned it, knowing that 3-2-1 Contact is needed in this game, too.

Especially when facing the best –  but the Yankees did not want to hear any of it. They were arrogant in their approach, both hitting and pitching but now the truth of October is hitting them hard.

True baseball people see what is happening and are disgusted by it because they are on the outside looking in and in their baseball souls they instinctively know what needs to be done and they see this approach and it gnaws at them.

Beyond all that, throw in the Yankees poor defense and they have no chance. Once again the Yankees started a lineup where the left fielder was the DH in Giancarlo Stanton and it cost them dearly in the three-run sixth inning when the Astros broke the game open. Stanton made no effort to dive for Christian Vazquez’ floating two-run single and also could not keep two runs from scoring when Yuli Gurriel read the ball well from second base and scored easily behind Kyle Tucker who was at third base.

Vazquez’ two-run single was hit at 91 mph. Gurriel’s hit to right in the inning that set it all up was 73 mph. I bring this to your attention because the Yankees were whining that Alex Bregman’s three-run home run in Game 2, a 3-2 Houston win at Minute Maid Park, was hit only 91 miles per hour.

Under their Hit Strikes Hard mantra the Yankees have been brainwashed to believe it only counts if you collect an exit velo over 100 mph.

That is how warped this Yankees philosophy has become under Cashman’s Nerds.

Baseball is about getting the key hit any way you can. It’s about making contact and putting the ball in play. It’s not about whining that your team hit the ball 101 mph into an out and your opponent hit it only 91 mph for a “cheap’’ three-run home run. Bregman did exactly what he was supposed to do with that hanging slider by Luis Severino in Game 2, lift it into the left field seats.

Those two runs on Vazquez’ soft single finished the Yankees. Stanton also was so unsteady on a sacrifice fly hit to left field, earlier in the inning by Trey Mancini, backing up in the ball instead of getting under it and getting in a throwing position, that one run scored while the other two baserunners moved up to set it up for Vazquez.

On the Astros front, that’s good baseball.

AMBS knows baseball and so does his family.

My son Casey immediately texted me on Stanton’s play in left, noting, “Stanton is not even attempting to play LF … dive for that ball! On the fly ball before with bases loaded he drifted back on it, allowing all 3 runners to tag up. Plus throw it to second on the tag up … you always want to keep the double play in order … Yankees can keep their analytics, they don’t know how to play baseball.’’

Nailed it, Casey.

Do you think any of the Yankee Nerds were making similar comments?

Oswaldo Cabrera #95 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out against the Houston Astros to end the fifth inning in game three of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 22, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

No, they were probably lamenting soft sac flies, soft hits to right field and soft singles to left field. They have no clue.

The Astros hit strikes hard on occasion but they also put the ball in play on occasion when a sac fly or a soft single is needed. Don’t give in as a hitter. Make an adjustment. Make contact. The Yankees have made zero adjustments this postseason because the people in charge of making adjustments, don’t know how or arrogantly don’t care about making adjustments.

Swing from your butt is their mindless game plan.

That sixth inning from the Astros was textbook winning baseball with Bregman starting it all off with a hard hit double to left off Gerrit Cole. Then a terrible walk from Cole to Tucker, Gurriel’s single, and here is where it got even more nerdy for the Yankees.

Lou Trivino came on to relieve Cole and Mancini and Vazquez did their thing, but Trivino was trying to spin the ball instead of throwing sinkers and it cost the Yankees. That all gets back to Blake’s fool ‘em philosophy. Aaron Boone’s pitching change blew up in his face again. His management of the bullpen is horrendous.

The Yankees best reliever Clay Holmes has yet to throw a pitch in the ALCS. There is no creativity whatsoever from Boone. It’s all pre-planned, a Nerd infested game plan that gets written up hours before the game instead of reacting to the game.

While all this was happening, my phone was blowing up.

One longtime scout, one of the best advance scouts in the history of the game, sent me this text: “Thank you Yankee Nerds for calling off speed for Trivino when he has 95-plus in his pocket.’’

That’s the thing. True baseball people see what is happening and are disgusted by it because they are on the outside looking in and in their baseball souls they instinctively know what needs to be done and they see this approach and it gnaws at them.

Same for the Yankee fan.

The scout added: “Located fastballs are still the best pitches in the game.’’

He is right and earlier in the season I wrote just such a column, called Fastballs Forever.

And there’s more. I am not letting Yankee ace Gerrit Cole off the hook. In a time the Yankees needed a pick me up from their $324 million man, they didn’t get one.

Once again shoddy Yankee defense led to woes.

Harrison Bader (R) of the New York Yankees drops a fly ball by Christian Vazquez of the Houston Astros in the second inning of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Oct. 22, 2022, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)

Centerfielder Harrison Bader dropped a fly ball in the second inning with two outs when Judge crossed in front of him. Judge would have been better off snatching the ball. Bader did not squeeze the ball hit by Vazquez, who was making his first start at catcher in the series.

Okay, these things happen but there was two outs and Vazquez nearly handed the Yankees a third out even after the drop because he did not hustle on the play and he should have been standing on second base after the error. Instead he was actually making his way through the infield, thinking Bader caught the ball until he was alerted that the ball was in play. It was similar to the terrible base-running of Josh Donaldson who thought he hit an October home run earlier in the playoffs but the ball stayed in the park and he was embarrassingly thrown out. It’s not that hard to run hard.

Instead of Hit Strikes Hard how about Running Hard. That makes a lot more sense. But I digress.

After the error, you could see Cole signal to Bader in centerfield and mouth the words: “I got you.’’

After all, now No. 9 hitter Chas McCormick was up. Certainly Cole would take care of business. Evidently he wasn’t watching because McCormick, to his credit, has been trying to shoot every ball to right field these playoffs.

McCormick got Cole.

Chas McCormick of the Houston Astros hits a two-run homer in the second inning of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees on Oct. 22, 2022, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)

Cole sent one of his patented home run pitches right down Broadway, right where McCormick was looking for the pitch and he slashed a Yankee Stadium home run to right for the 2-0 Astros lead. That might have been all the Astros needed against the Hit Strikes Hard and Swing at Air Yankees offense on this night.

That gave the Astros a spark and they never let up on the Yankees. Cole failed against the No. 9 hitter, who was looking to hit the ball the other way, unlike most of the Yankees hitters like Gleyber Torres or rusty Matt Carpenter, who seemingly try to hit every pitch out of the ballpark. The Yankees collected all of three hits in the game and went 0-for-6 with RISP.

So far in this series they are 1-for-14 with RISP and you wonder why they have only four runs in the three games. To recap: 41 Ks in the ALCS and 1-for-14 with RISP. And the Yankees are whining that the Astros are scoring runs on 91 mph three-run home runs and soft singles and sacrifice flies.

It makes you wonder, does the Yankees braintrust know anything about baseball. Have the Yankees become so Over-Nerded that they can’t compete in October despite a payroll that is enormous. Looks that way but I’m sure Hal Steinbrenner is happy because he is making his money from the embattled Yankee fans, who give it their all and get little in return.

One baseball insider in a John Sterling like voice also sent me this text: “Thaaaaaaaaa Yankees can’t hit!’’

They might win a little more in October if they tried to put the ball in play in key situations instead of the current mantra: Hit Strikes Hard.

Winning is hard. Striking out is easy. The 41-K Yankees are proving that once again this October.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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