ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- One day after two horrid displays of hustle and situational awareness, the New York Yankees find themselves at their first real crossroads of the Aaron Boone managerial era.
As the hours until the announcement of the Yankees' Tuesday night lineup tick by, the one question shared by so many between Southwest Florida and the Bronx is this: What will Boone do about Gary Sanchez?
Will the first-year skipper bench his struggling catcher who just gave lackadaisical effort Monday on a pair of crucial plays in a one-run loss? Or will he stay true to his mostly patient coaching demeanor and continue to start him? Also, if a benching does come, how long will it last? One game? Two? Three? More?
Many Yankees fans sounding off on social media want to see Sanchez sit.
He cannot play tonight.😡— Stephen Nixon (@Stephen28157618) July 24, 2018
HE SHOULD BE BENCHED— Sal Lisanti (@SalBigMouth12) July 24, 2018
Should have hustled on the first Rays run too. You don't get a pass when you can't stop a ball in the dirt and are hitting .180. I hope to see Romine starting today.— TrigStar (@TrigStarr) July 24, 2018
At the end of the day, though, it's up to the man in charge to determine what if any punishment will be levied. (And no, Twitterverse, Sanchez won't be cut or offered right now for trade bait. His right arm is still a threat to would-be base stealers, and his bat, despite this season's struggles, is fierce, too.)
If one report Tuesday morning is true, Sanchez could be getting benched Tuesday, but not for performance-based reasons. According to Fancred and MLB Network's Jon Heyman, Sanchez in Monday's game may have re-aggravated a groin injury that put him on the disabled list for nearly a month. He just came off it last week.
Per Heyman, Sanchez didn't initially tell the team about possibly re-aggravating the injury over fears of heading back to the DL.
Just after the game, though, Sanchez said through an interpreter that the groin strain was "definitely behind me." Boone expanded upon that, saying, "He should be able to get after it. He's here and back, and should be fine getting after things."
If Sanchez, who comes into Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays batting just .188 doesn't get benched, it could send a problematic message to other Yankees players.
In case you missed it, here's what Sanchez failed to do in Monday's 7-6 loss:
With a runner at second base and two outs in the first inning, he and starting pitcher Luis Severino got their signals crossed up. Sanchez called for a fastball, but Severino thought he saw him ask for a slider.
When the catcher was unable to handle the breaking pitch, the baseball rolled well up the third-base line. After having trouble locating the ball for a moment, Sanchez practically jogged after it once he spotted it.
Rays baserunner Jake Bauers saw that slow effort -- and took advantage. Bauers made his turn at third and continued home, where he slid in headfirst ahead of Sanchez's rushed late throw.
After the inning, cameras caught Sanchez and Severino having what Boone later called "an animated conversation." The players said it was about how they got crossed up, and not about Sanchez's lack of sprinting after the ball.
But Sanchez -- who did contribute an RBI single during a sixth-inning Yankees rally -- carried his poor defensive effort with him to the basepaths in the ninth inning in a bases-loaded, two-out situation.
It all comes down to Gary Sanchez ...— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) July 24, 2018
Similarly to how he jogged over to his passed ball, Sanchez came slowly out of the batter's box after scorching a hard grounder right at a defender up the middle. He expected a fast forceout would end the game.
"It was a chance [baserunner Aaron Hicks] was going to be out at second base," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "But that didn't happen."
That didn't happen because Hicks, desperate to keep the game alive and to give his hitter a chance to reach, sprinted hard from first base.
Even with the Rays having been well positioned near the bag to pull off a quick flip from second baseman Daniel Robertson to shortstop Willy Adames, Hicks somehow sneaked in safely at the base. That forced Adames to fire to first to try to salvage an out. Had Sanchez been sprinting hard like Hicks, he probably would've beaten the throw. That would have meant Aaron Judge would have scored from third, and the game would be tied, with Greg Bird batting next.
Sanchez's alarming disregard for picking his feet up a little quicker was similar to a completely apathetic showing at another ballpark Monday night.
Instead of even running down the first-base line after a bunt attempt that went awry, the Nationals' Trea Turner slammed his bat and helmet in disgust and walked up the third base line, starting to take off his batting gloves as Brewers pitcher Jhoulys Chacin fielded the bunted ball that bounced back fair.
Turner didn't even attempt to run and was called out.
As the Yankees continue losing ground in the American League East to the rival Boston Red Sox -- who now lead by six games -- the importance of every play becomes magnified. In turn, that means every run becomes that much more important.
It can't be forgotten that Boone has benched Sanchez before. Back in June, he sat the catcher in consecutive games as he tried to help him snap his way out of an offensive funk. Sure, Sanchez has 14 home runs and a couple of timely hits this season, but he largely hasn't hit well. Which is why Boone is standing at a potential crossroads.
The fact the Yankees lost by a run in a game in which Sanchez cost them two can't be overlooked. Neither can it be overlooked that the day after their starting catcher had issues with hustling, the Yankees' backup catcher, Austin Romine, was tabbed the team's "Heart and Hustle Award" winner.
The award, handed out by the Players' Association, goes to the player who "best embodies the values, spirits and traditions of baseball."
Sanchez contends he will learn from what happened Monday night. But if Romine is the player on the team who best exhibits the above qualities, maybe starting him instead of Sanchez will help reinforce the lesson.
By 4 p.m. ET, the Yankees universe will know what Boone decides.