Yankees, Juan Soto played some mind games in Dodgers' 11-inning victory

Teoscar Hernández and Yoshinobu Yamamoto were the night's heroes, but all eyes were on the star who didn't play

NEW YORK — Shohei Ohtani’s dog might be named Decoy, but Juan Soto was the real decoy Friday night.

The supersonic slugger was kept out of the lineup after discomfort in his left forearm forced him out of Thursday's game against Minnesota. For 16 hours, YankeeLand sweated bullets and gnawed fingernails, but the worst-case scenario did not come to be. Imaging revealed that Soto’s pain was simply inflammation and not structural damage. The team, its fans and Soto breathed a collective sigh of relief. Still, Yankees skipper Aaron Boone determined that a day off wouldn’t be the worst idea.

And so the most anticipated showdown of the regular season, a potential World Series preview, went forward without one of its biggest stars.

For 10 innings, the Yankees and Dodgers traded zeroes despite a starting pitching matchup that, on paper, looked like a mismatch. It was the Dodgers' $325 million, flame-throwing ace, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, against a gentleman named Cody Poteet thrust into duty by a wave of ill-timed Yankees injuries. Yamamoto was overpowering and Poteet was careful, but the result was the same: a run of goose eggs.

But in the top of the 11th, after a few high-wire bullpen moments, Dodgers outfielder Teoscar Hernandéz broke things open with a two-run, gap-splitting double to left field. The Yankees edged one across in the bottom half on an Aaron Judge single, but neither Giancarlo Stanton nor the scuffling Anthony Rizzo could find success against Los Angeles reliever Yohan Ramírez.

The Dodgers escaped the opener of this three-game set with a nail-biting 2-1 win.

“It was a great ballgame,” Boone admitted afterward during his news conference. “Good pitching, good plays, tough at-bats. Both sides had a couple opportunities to break through but couldn't, just a very well-pitched game.”

When asked whether his ailing superstar had been available to pinch hit, Boone smiled coyly, shook his head and said “not tonight.”

Throughout the evening, Soto was a fixture on the top step of the Yankees dugout, from time to time with batting gloves on and a bat in his hands. In the end, it’s clear that Boone, Soto and the Yankees weren’t planning, under any circumstances, to shoehorn the to-be free agent into the game. The season is long and full of terrors. Soto needed a day, but the Yankees didn’t want the Dodgers to know that.

“We have a plan,” Soto told reporters postgame, implying that his in-game antsiness was just his way of staying sane. Boone revealed that Soto didn’t take a single swing or warm up during the game. It was all fugazi, not that it mattered in the end. This was a game calling out for Juan Soto. The Dodgers won because they executed. Multiple things can be true.

The entire scene, Soto or not, was certainly unique.

This is only the third time since interleague play began in 1997 that the Dodgers have traveled to the Bronx for a regular-season series. MLB’s new balanced schedule will make these homecoming trips a biennial occurrence for the Dodgers. Perhaps, in time, the frequency will diminish the luster. But for now, there is still something of a novelty to the spectacle.

For a century, the story of baseball flowed through these two franchises, both before and after the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957. For the next 40 summers, the two clubs never saw each other as they made history in their own leagues and on their own sides of the country. Every so often, the baseball gods would send the two powerhouses into the same World Series for a high stakes, bicoastal reunion.

This series, given the current state of these franchises, has a bit of a Fall Classic feel. The Yankees and Dodgers entered Friday with the two best championship odds, according to FanGraphs and any sportsbook worth a damn. Calling this matchup a potential World Series preview is equal parts sensationalist and sensible. The Yankees have MLB’s best record. The Dodgers have MLB’s best roster. Nobody would be surprised.

On Friday, an announced crowd of 48,048, the Yankees’ largest paid attendance of the season, crammed into The House That Jeter Built. Long lines snaked outside the yard’s home plate gate just minutes before first pitch. Throngs of invited guests and assorted lookie-loos lingered on the infield warning track during batting practice. An overwhelmingly large media contingent filled the press box to the brim. A late-night wind, with an ever so slight crispness, conjured thoughts of autumn weather.

But the decisions made on the evening were a reminder that this is still June, and these games still mean relatively little. In October, Soto would be in the starting lineup, his inflamed arm full of medical remedies. At the very least, he would pinch-hit for Rizzo in the 11th. Yet even if Soto had been available, it’s unlikely Boone could have made such a ruthless statement on this night, substituting out what is supposed to be one of his key players.

There is such a thing as living for tomorrow.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' Teoscar Hernández (37) celebrates with teammates Jason Heyward (23) and Andy Pages after the Dodgers beat the Yankees 2-1 on Friday in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
The Los Angeles Dodgers' Teoscar Hernández (37) celebrates with teammates Jason Heyward (23) and Andy Pages after the Dodgers beat the Yankees 2-1 on Friday in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Whether Soto will play when these two clubs run things back for Game 2 on Saturday is a whole different story.

Said Boone, “We’ll check in tomorrow and see where we’re at.”