Prior to today’s game against the Pirates, the Yankees awarded the 2013 Minor League Pitcher and Player Awards to pitcher Shane Greene (A-Tampa and AA-Trenton) and infielder Greg Bird (A-Charleston). Plus, pirates (coincidentally, perhaps) from the local Gasparilla Festival (a big party and tradition here in Tampa) sang the national anthem. Then, Dan Marino threw out the first pitch to Jorge Posada, and then he threw out the first football. Literally, he threw a baseball and then a football to Posada. And let me tell you, it was very obvious which one the former QB was more comfortable with.
And the CC Sabathia took the mound and never let up. For seven innings, Sabathia and a slew of great plays by the team kept the Bucks scoreless. He allowed just 4 hits and a walk, striking out 7 Pirates (not the singing kind). Matt Thornton and Shawn Kelley split the 8th inning, keeping Sabathia’s win intact. And presumed closer David Robertson came on in the 9th to ensure both Sabathia’s win and his job as Rivera’s successor.
And the Yankees only had a bit of success off the Pirates’ pitchers; well, one and only at the beginning. But that was enough to deliver another well-earned win for Sabathia. In the 1st, with 2 outs (and a couple of fouled-off balls off Jeter’s previously injured left ankle, he’s just bruised), Carlos Beltran singled, Mark Teixeira walked, and Brian McCann doubled, scoring Beltran. Teixeira would then score on a wild pitch. So the Yankees were quickly up 2-0.
In the 2nd, Kelly Johnson walked, Brian Roberts singled, and Ichiro Suzuki singled to load the bases. Brett Gardner’s force out on Ichiro at 2nd (they can’t make the double play for Gardner at 1st) still scores Johnson. Derek Jeter’s ground out scores Roberts and plants the Yankees firmly at what would end up their final score 4-0 over the Pirates. There were other opportunities throughout the night for the Yankees to add to their score, but the Pirates’ pitchers are still pretty good, despite the initial early scoring by the Yankees, and kept the Yankees from doing any further damage.
I think tonight was the first game where I’ve finally seen what the Yankees are going to look like for 2014. I imagine the starting lineup to be rather similar to what we will find come Opening Day (with a few minor exceptions). And I’m guessing that this is the team that’s going to function as such all the way through the season. And I’m already really liking what I’m seeing. Johnson is really pretty spectacular at 3rd (despite a fielding error, or rather a ball bobble). Roberts is beginning to display the kind of well-rounded player-ness that made him the face of the Orioles for so long. And McCann is proving himself as a pretty great catcher, complete with 2 very successful outs at 2nd base, on a great strikeout-caught stealing double play twice (in the 1st and in the 3rd).
But that isn’t where the Yankees’ strength ends. No, the guys they send in toward the end of the game, the 40-man guys (or those trying to get on the 40-man) are also rather sharp. I really like watching players like Zelous Wheeler, Yangervis Solarte, and Antoan Richardson, just to name a few. The 48 players left in camp, to be whittled down to the “magical 40” in a week, are all really good, from the veteran players (like Teixeira) to the bench guys (like Cervelli) to the 40-man (like Solarte) to what will end up on the farm (like Russ Canzler). And honestly, it’s an honor to watch them in action.
Ones to watch: Wheeler, Solarte, and Richardson. All three made crucial plays in the latter part of the game, and all three have been rather consistent on both sides of the diamond. Some days, it’s really hard to pick someone for this category, and some days, it’s hard not to pick more than three. Perhaps what would have been easier to do would be to pick someone “not to watch”, but that would defeat the purpose of a positive blog. Easier? Perhaps. Better? Not a chance. And so much like in life, better is always worth the extra effort, especially if the pay-off is positive, encouraging, and uplifting.
Kind of like how I’m feeling about the Yankees and their potential for 2014 right now… and that’s something I can live with.