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Aaron Hicks benched for defensive misplays in loss to Rays

NEW YORK — On a clear night that saw the Yankees honor one of their most beloved players, the atmosphere grew stormy before a single pitch was thrown. Derek Jeter expressed surprise to hear boos at his expressions of thanks to managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman.

Jeter would later explain that he believes “Yankees fans boo because they want to win,” noting that the franchise’s expectations are for excellence. More Bronx jeers would come, directed at outfielder Aaron Hicks, who was removed from the game after defensive misplays in a 4-2 loss to the Rays on Friday at Yankee Stadium.

“I got benched during the game,” Hicks said. “That’s rough, especially when all you want to do is produce for your team.”

The Yankees’ lead in the American League East is down to 3 1/2 games over Tampa Bay, their smallest advantage in the division since May 9, when they led the Blue Jays by three games.

It has been a miserable season for Hicks, who arrived this spring with the sunny proclamation that he would hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases, statistical goals that he has since acknowledged to be an overreach.

The nadir may have come in the fourth inning, as Hicks dropped a Wander Franco fly ball near the left-field line and paused, believing he had touched the ball in foul territory.

Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Díaz raced around the bases as Hicks tossed the ball back toward the infield, wearing a stunned expression as he retreated to his position. The next batter, Randy Arozarena, ripped a Frankie Montas slider over Hicks’ head for a run-scoring double, and the fans’ outcry intensified.

“I just felt like I needed to get him out of there at that point,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It was just a decision I made.”

The historical parallel is unavoidable. To pull a veteran early in a game against a division rival had echoes of another Yankees manager, Billy Martin, who removed outfielder Reggie Jackson from a June 1977 game at Fenway Park for a perceived lack of effort.

Boone chose his remarks carefully after the contest, noting several times that Hicks’ removal was “not a punishment.” Boone also said that the crowd’s reaction was “baked into why I made the decision” to have Estevan Florial trot to left field in Hicks’ place when the fifth inning began.

“It was having an effect,” Boone said of the booing. “I just felt like I needed to do it. He was pretty frustrated and upset.”

Said Hicks: “I don’t know how I missed [Franco’s ball]. It was in my glove and all of a sudden, it’s out of my glove. Next thing you know, runners are running all around and scoring. It’s a play you’ve got to make.”

Hicks has three years and $30 million remaining on a $70 million deal he signed in the spring of 2019, when Cashman told the switch-hitter: “I’m betting on you.” Despite a .211/.326/.296 slash line, Hicks had seen more playing time of late because of injuries to Yankees outfielders, particularly Andrew Benintendi.

Boone said that he does “not necessarily” need to play Hicks and restore his confidence; some outfield alignment of Aaron Judge, Florial, Tim Locastro and Oswaldo Cabrera could be possible for the week ahead.

Gold Glove center fielder Harrison Bader is also set to begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Sunday with Double-A Somerset. Hicks said that he aims to turn the page quickly and hopes to get back into the lineup as soon as possible.

“When stuff like that happens, all you want to do is fight,” Hicks said. “You want to find a way to produce for your team. The next time you come up or you’re on defense, you try to find a way to somehow impact the game that kind of evens it all out.”

Stifled through six innings by Drew Rasmussen, who scattered six hits while striking out 10, the Yanks got on the board in the seventh as Judge singled home Oswald Peraza.

Kyle Higashioka hit a ninth-inning homer off JT Chargois to draw New York within two runs before Gleyber Torres came a few feet shy of a game-tying homer, seeing his drive fall shy of the right-field wall.

“We had some chances, but didn’t do a lot of damage,” Boone said.



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