Aaron Boone's galaxy brain bullpen decision backfires for Yankees thanks to ex-Mets reliever

Aaron Boone's risky bullpen decision backfired for the Yankees thanks to an ex-Mets reliever.
Apr 10, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA;  New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone (17) at Yankee Stadium.
Apr 10, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone (17) at Yankee Stadium. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

One huge reason why the New York Yankees enter play on Saturday with a solid 17-10 record is because of the brilliant pitching of Clay Holmes.

Holmes has been one of the best relievers in baseball ever since he got to New York but he has stepped his game up another level so far in the 2024 campaign. He began play on Friday with 12 appearances and innings pitched, having not yet allowed an earned run to score. He had a league-leading nine saves in nine tries as well.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has not shied away from using the 31-year-old but there are limits as to just how much he's willing to let Holmes pitch in the early parts of the season. The Yankees learned that the hard way on Friday as his tricky decision backfired in the worst way.

Aaron Boone's risky bullpen decision backfired in worst way for Yankees

The Yankees were looking for a bounceback performance in Friday's series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers following a disappointing series split at home against the lowly Oakland Athletics.

The matchup was a tough one with Milwaukee entering play on Friday with an NL Central-leading record of 16-8, but the Yankees were looking to prove they were up for the challenge. After struggling to score for much of their recent homestand they scored five runs in the first four innings but Luis Gil struggled, allowing five runs in his five innings of work.

Ron Marinaccio, Dennis Santana, and Caleb Ferguson all pitched scoreless innings for New York to help keep the game tied heading into the ninth. Holmes, unsurprisingly, dominated the Brewers in the bottom half to send it to extra innings. This is where things get a little bit tricky. New York had to navigate the game with primary set-up man Ian Hamilton unavailable. The only relievers he had left to use were Victor Gonzalez and Michael Tonkin.

The Yankees scored a run in the top of the tenth to give themselves a 6-5 lead. Using Holmes for a second inning given the fact that he needed just ten pitches to get through the ninth made a whole lot of sense, but Boone refused to do that. This was his reasoning:

“He’s on about an 80-game pace in April, and with some of the attrition we’ve had in our bullpen, I wasn’t going to send my closer out,” Boone said. “I’ll do four outs this time of year, but I wasn’t going to send him out for a second inning.”

The reasoning makes sense. Holmes has been used a ton, and the last thing that this Yankees team wants is for its best reliever to flame out when they need him most later in the season. However, with how difficult the AL East is, every game matters. This is a tough game for them to put in the hands of Tonkin or Gonzalez.

The Yankees went with Tonkin who made his team debut after being DFA'd twice by the New York Mets and once by the Minnesota Twins over the last month. The reason for that was the fact that there were righties due up and Gonzalez is a left-handed reliever. This was the real mistake.

Tonkin, predictably, allowed the tying run to score in the bottom of the tenth and then once New York failed to score in the 11th, he'd allow a walk-off hit to hand the Yankees a crushing defeat.

If the Yankees threw Holmes for a second inning there's a good chance they win that game, but at what cost? Boone is prioritizing 162 games over that one. We'll see later in the year whether that was the right decision.

Using Tonkin, a reliever who has been DFA'd three times in a month over Gonzalez who has a 2.87 ERA this season and has held lefties to a .587 OPS on the season is what makes no sense here. Aaron Boone is to blame, but not for refusing to go a second inning with Holmes. He's at fault for using Tonkin over a far better option.