CLEVELAND — As Aaron Boone sat in the visitors’ dugout Sunday morning, he did the things a manager does: He revealed his starting rotation for the coming games, allowed that he keeps an eye on the rival Red Sox (“I see they win every day,” he said with a smile) and laid out his own plans for the All-Star break — a trip to Six Flags and plenty of pool time and barbecue with his four kids.
But Boone also did something that many managers do not — admit he was wrong.
Boone, in fact, offered up two mea culpas during the Yankees’ weekend series against the Cleveland Indians, which concluded on Sunday with a 5-2 loss for a split of the four games.
Boone acknowledged second-guessing himself after Friday night’s loss, in which Aaron Judge — with the tying run at the plate — was thrown out trying to steal at the end of the eighth inning. And after Boone was ejected from Saturday night’s game for arguing — with plenty of profanity — that Giancarlo Stanton’s strikeout should have been called a foul ball, he realized after looking at replays that the umpires had made the correct call.
And so Boone said so.
He added on Sunday morning that it was important to acknowledge that the umpires had gotten it right.
“You asked me,” Boone said. “I want us to be accountable and honest about things. So when I’m asked about it, I think it’s important to say; I was pretty hot with them last night, and they got it right.”
What sounds straightforward, though, rarely is in the alpha male-driven world of professional sports, where any vulnerability may be pounced upon as a perceived weakness.
Boone’s frankness, though, may be the trait that distinguishes him most from his predecessor, Joe Girardi. Many things about this Yankees team are indiscernible from last year’s incarnation. They are still relentless in their offensive approach, the clubhouse culture remains largely unchanged and the only tactical difference is that Boone may give his players a little more rope on occasion.
That Boone’s episodes played out here is striking because Cleveland was the scene of one of Girardi’s most fraught moments in his 10 years as the team’s manager.
Last October, Girardi committed a rare tactical blunder when he did not challenge a call that the Indians’ Lonnie Chisenhall had been hit by a pitch when replays showed that he had not. Instead of a strikeout — and the end of an inning — Chisenhall went to first base and Francisco Lindor followed with a grand slam as the Indians rallied from a five-run deficit to win Game 2 of their American League division series in 13 innings.
Afterward, the unforgiving Girardi said he had not asked for a video review because he did not want to break the rhythm of pitcher Chad Green — an explanation that immediately rang hollow.
The criticism was so fierce that Girardi walked into a news conference the next day and did something he rarely, if ever, did. He apologized.
“I screwed up,” Girardi said repeatedly, and then apologized the next day, before Game 3, in front of the team.
The only self-flagellation after Sunday’s game came from the players.
A crisp, artful pitchers duel between Masahiro Tanaka and Trevor Bauer was decided in the eighth, when Michael Brantley’s solo shot off Green, pitching in relief, just cleared the glove of Stanton, who had climbed the right-field wall. The shot broke a 2-2 tie, and Stanton expressed frustration at having come so close to making the catch.
“You don’t want that to happen with three outs left for us,” Stanton said.
The Indians added a run when Jose Ramirez’s headfirst slide got him to the plate an instant ahead of catcher Kyle Higashioka’s tag after Stanton’s pinpoint throw from right field off Rajai Davis’s fly ball. Another run crossed on a wild pitch, giving closer Cody Allen a margin for error that he did not need in the ninth inning.
The loss put the Yankees in a peculiar position entering the All-Star break.
They are 62-33, the second-best record in baseball and their best mark at the break since 1998. But they trail the red-hot Red Sox, who have opened up a four-and-a-half-game lead, their largest over the Yankees since April 23.
Boone waved off a suggestion that the deficit might be getting alarming.
“You drive yourself crazy in July trying to keep track of that,” Boone said. “Let’s just take care of our own house and start with a good series and a good game Friday against the Mets.”
That temperament, especially for a rookie manager, is especially welcomed in the Yankees clubhouse. First baseman Greg Bird said he looks for three qualities in a manager: Someone who is even-keeled, stands up for his players and knows the game well — the latter of which, he said, is a given in the major leagues. “He took a good group and lets us be us,” Bird said.
Stanton, who endured a rough first month in New York, said what he appreciates most in a manager is “confidence in the game’s process. Not getting too high, too low and good plays, bad plays. He’s done a great job of picking guys up and showing how he appreciates our hard work and being the guy that’s always there.”
And part of that is being accountable.
“We know the right and wrong answer,” Stanton said. “For him to be able to admit it — I made a mistake, I was in the moment — cool. It’s done with and it doesn’t linger on with, well, I thought this and I thought that.”
It is also true, though, that these judgments are hardly summary ones. Now that the Yankees are back contending for World Series, they will be assessed by how they do in October, when mea culpas by the manager — or anyone else in pinstripes — may not be so eagerly accepted.
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