Inside Ned Yost’s head on odd use of closer Greg Holland

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Scene 1: March 31, 2014. Opening Day. The Royals and Tigers took a 3-3 tie into the bottom of the ninth inning in Detroit. Reliever Wade Davis put runners on first and third with one out with a walk and a single. Royals manager Ned Yost brought in closer Greg Holland — with the game tied on the road — to wiggle out of the jam. Instead, Holland served up a walk-off RBI single to then-Tigers shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

Scene 2: April 26, 2014. The Royals and Orioles took a 2-2 tie into the bottom of the tenth inning in Baltimore. Reliever Danny Duffy loaded the bases following a hit batter and two throwing errors on bunts. Though Holland had been warming up, Yost brought in Louis Coleman. Coleman recorded a strikeout before serving up a walk-off RBI single to first baseman Nick Markakis.

Scene 3: April 27, 2014. The Royals lead the Orioles 9-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning in Baltimore. Yost brought in Holland to protect the seven-run lead. Ostensibly, Yost was giving his closer work because he hadn’t pitched since Friday. Though Holland allowed a run, the Royals walked away with the easy 9-3 victory.

The folly of Yost’s bullpen management is obvious to most observers but Yost vowed to never use his closer in a tie game on the road again. Via Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star:

“That’s the first time I’ve ever used my closer (in that situation),” Yost said. “Because I really wanted to win that game on opening day. But don’t look for me to do it. I’m not going to do it. Because I’ve got confidence in everybody down there.”

The Royals may never take that lead for which Yost is saving Holland. That means, as is evident from the April 26 game, the Royals will lose games with their best reliever sitting in the bullpen. But Yost’s comment is perplexing even beyond the obvious strategic shortcomings.

Yost says he “really wanted to win” on Opening Day, so he used his closer. Thus, by his own logic, using his closer in a tie game on the road gave his team the best chance to win. That he didn’t do it on April 26 means he was either lying or not putting his team in the best position to win. Either situation is not a good look for him.

As many point out when the bullpen management debate arises, Yost is just one of a gaggle of managers who use — and miuse — their closers in the same way. It’s hard to place all of the blame on him when 99 out of 100 managers would do exactly the same thing in his position.

Blue Jays clinch 1st playoff spot since 2016, beat Yanks 4-1

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Barred from playing in their own ballpark this year because of COVID-19, the vagabond Toronto Blue Jays have found a home in the playoffs.

The slumping New York Yankees, meanwhile, look likely to play on the road in the postseason, where they’ve struggled all year.

Hyun Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round series.

New York lost for the fourth time in five games following a 10-game winning stretch and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.

“We’ve got to get it rolling again, obviously, if we’re going to get to where we want to go,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I’m confident we can do it.

New York went 21-7 at home this season but was 11-18 on the road. Boone said he’s not concerned about that split even as a potential road playoff series looms next week.

“We’ve got to get ourselves in order and start playing really good baseball if we’re going to give ourselves a chance,” Boone said.

Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason. The Blue Jays had endured three losing campaigns since their previous playoff trip, going 67-95 last season.

“I’m just so proud of my club and everything we’ve gone through all year,” second-year manager Charlie Montoyo said.

Canada’s federal government refused to allow games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre this season, citing the closed Canada-U.S. border and the travel risk associated with the pandemic. Stuck on the road to start the season, the Blue Jays eventually ended up at their Triple-A ballpark, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, but didn’t gripe about their fate.

“They never complained,” Montoyo said. “They had their mind set on getting to this moment right now.”

Blue Jays players embraced after Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end it, donning blue T-shirts that said “Respect Toronto.”

“This is something we want to make an every year thing,” infielder Cavan Biggio said. “For us, we’re happy, we’re excited we’re able to put ourselves in this position, but this is only the start of hopefully something special for a long time.”

The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo this weekend while the Yankees host the Marlins.

New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest streak since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.

“I’m concerned with the way we’ve played recently,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Any time you’re not playing your best baseball and the postseason is right around the corner, something needs to be corrected rather quickly.”

New York loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center, where Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.

“It’s good to see him get a really good swing off in a big spot,” Boone said of Sanchez. “Just unfortunately, that short.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto, his eighth.

Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out, and retired Gio Urshela on a groundball.

“He’s an ace and he did what an ace does,” Montoyo said.

The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.

Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.

Guerrero opened the scoring with a solo homer off left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-3) in the second.

The Blue Jays extended their lead when Biggio and Bo Bichette hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third.

Toronto made it 4-0 in the sixth. Grichuk chased Montgomery with a single and Guerrero singled off Adam Ottavino before rookie Alejandro Kirk hit a two-out, two-run double.

Montgomery lost for the first time in four starts. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) was activated off the injured list and RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. . RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a second bullpen session Friday.

Yankees: Aaron Judge came on as a pinch-hitter but is expected to start all three remaining regular season games, Boone said.

SHARED DUTY

Boone said he expects to use both Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka at catcher in the postseason. Higashioka has hit well while working with ace Gerrit Cole, while Sanchez has struggled with both offense and his defense down the stretch.

SEVEN UP

Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh. It had been an MLB-record 88 games since RHP Jacob Waguespack pitched into the seventh at Dodger Stadium last year.

UP NEXT

Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25) starts Friday as New York returns home to begin a three-game series against Miami. RHP Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12) starts for the Marlins.

Blue Jays: RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 2.86) starts Friday in the opener of a three-game series against Baltimore. The Orioles have not named a starter.