Rays will put Aaron Boone’s Yankees honeymoon to the test: Sherman

Joe Torre won a World Series in his first season managing the Yankees, Joe Girardi in his second and here is Aaron Boone in his third. What would he give to be an ordinary Joe?

The history of the job, after all, is defined by Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel, not by Bucky Dent and Stump Merrill. Boone is the 33rd manager in franchise history. Here is the list of those allowed to manage a fourth season without winning a title in their first three:

1. Clark Griffith. And the team was still the Highlanders early last century. Griffith also had this benefit and protection — he was hired as player-manager as a personal favor to the head of the American League, Ban Johnson.

2. Miller Huggins. He won the pennant in Years 4 and 5, the World Series in Year 6 and was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.

3. Buck Showalter. Who took the baton pass of a horrible team from Dent and Merrill and didn’t even have the benefit of a World Series to win in his third year. The Yankees held the best record in the AL in August 1994 when a players’ strike led to the cancellation of the rest of the season.

As bizarre as this season is, Boone at least in Year 3 is getting the back end that Showalter did not in ’94.

Now, many managers came and went in the George Steinbrenner era before the business cards with their job title were even printed, much less made it to Year 3 or 4.

These are kinder, gentler, saner Yankees under Hal Steinbrenner. Actually, even dating back to The Boss, the Yankees have as much stability in managers as any organization. There have been 169 managers since 1992 and the Yankees have only employed four of them — Showalter, Torre, Girardi and Boone. By contrast, the Mets have had nine — not even counting Carlos Beltran.

Recently on Jon Heyman’s “Big Time Baseball” podcast, Brian Cashman acknowledged the club option the Yankees hold for 2021 after Boone’s three guaranteed years expire, but said he hoped his current manager would have the longevity in the role of Torre (12 years) and Girardi (10).

All signs are that Boone’s bosses appreciate and admire him. He is doing the job as they envisioned, namely incorporating a vast information cache into in-game strategy, unifying the clubhouse and presenting the most vanilla, positive public spin on the Yankees. Boone can bench Gary Sanchez in Game 1 of the wild-card round and hit him ninth in Game 2 and make it sound like he is handing his catcher the MVP award rather than a dis.

So no matter what occurs within the AL Division Series against the Rays, Boone will be back. Of course, we probably all felt that way about Doc Rivers no matter what happened in the Clippers’ recent playoff series against the Nuggets, and today Rivers is the coach of the 76ers.

Even with strong job security, Boone is at a defining moment. The Yankees were eliminated in 2017 under Girardi and in 2018-19 under Boone by the AL’s top-seed — Houston, Boston, Houston. They were the underdogs in those series. Boone has tried, perhaps tongue in cheek, to make the Yankees the underdog to the AL-best Rays for this Division Series. But regardless of records or odds, the Yankees are never going to be truly viewed as the underdog against the Rays because of payroll, star power and history.

The Yankees were supposed to win the AL East in 2020 and didn’t, and will not be easily pardoned if they lose a best-of-five in which the Rays do not even have the advantage of playing in their dreary, catwalk-laden Tropicana Field. The site is neutral (Petco Park in San Diego), but the reviews of Boone will not be if this goes wrong. For this is going to be a manager’s series because:

1. There are no off-days. So the need to use especially an entire pitching staff to its best advantage will be vital. The Rays are built for this style with so many mix-and-match pieces.

In this round there will, for example, be no ability to run away from Adam Ottavino and make it sound like you still trust him. Boone is going to have to use the righty fully knowing that, the way Tampa Bay is constructed, a run of lefty pinch-hitters will probably be at the ready to thwart the strategy.

This is going to be a move and countermove series, and Rays manager Kevin Cash has shown himself adept at that dance.

2. There is real animus. The Rays went 8-2 against the Yankees this year and one reason is that they aggravate the overdog. Every threat of beanballs and retaliation is an advantage to Tampa Bay, which loves playing guerilla baseball, antagonizing an opponent by exposing weaknesses and relentlessly picking at them.

The more the Yankees allow the Rays to find strength in David versus Goliath — you know, underdog versus overdog — the better for Tampa Bay. Boone needs to keep his Yankees sharp and passionate, but not distracted by all that will be said and heard in a neutral, empty stadium. The Yankees shouldn’t back down to the Rays, but the best way to back up any fury is by outplaying Tampa Bay on the field.

Boone needs to steer his players toward that mindset and the ALCS. If not, he is going to learn that the “savages” are not only in the batter’s box.

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