When a bat and a ball make contact, it gives the chance for a game to suddenly shift. It could be an out, a hit, a grand slam, even an error as a result of a single swing of the bat.
Today, the Yankees hosted the Rays, and like expected, a good portion of today’s crowd was cheering for their “hometown team”. The Rays were smart not to just bring their “b-team” guys, as is usual practice for traveling teams, because the Rays’ fans in the crowd were able to cheer on the names they knew from the regular season. But unfortunately for them (and my brother), it wasn’t the “names” that made much of an impact.
On the Yankees side of things… when I got the lineup today, I smiled. It gave me a glimpse of what will probably be the Opening Day lineup, now less than a month away. Ellsbury, Gardner, Beltran, Headley, Gregorius, Drew, Teixeira, McCann, and Rodriguez filled the field (and DH spot) behind today’s starter Michael Pineda (though I think the Opening Day starter will probably end up being a more veteran-standing pitcher, like usual). And honestly, it was quite the privilege to watch these guys play together. It just all clicked, both defensively and offensively, and it just confirmed my suspicions that this is going to be a pretty good team this year.
The Yankees kept sending the Rays back to the dugout scoreless after every inning well into the game. Pineda’s 2 innings only allowed 1 hit; Nathan Eovaldi’s 3 innings gave up 3 hits and struck out 5 batters; Carpenter gave up a walk in his inning but no hits; and Wilson’s 7th inning was a 1-hit wonder. The pitching, for the most part, for the Yankees was rather top-notch. Girardi and the farm system managers will have their hands full of some pretty good pitching if today was any indication of the bullpen status in the organization.
In the mean time, the Yankees racked up a few runs of their own. In the 2nd, Brian McCann doubled and then landed at 3rd on a fielding error off Chase Headley’s at-bat. Alex Rodriguez (who would go 2-for-3 today) singled home McCann, and Drew’s walk loaded the bases. Didi Gregorius’ groundout scored Headley and put the Yankees up 2-0 over the Rays very early in the game.
Then in the 7th, after the “big transition” (and the lineup read like what I assume will be eerily similar to AAA Scranton’s Opening Day lineup this year), Refsnyder’s lead-off single allowed him to steal 2nd and then score on Slade Heathcott’s single; Heathcott ended up on 2nd due to a throwing error. Heathcott ended up scoring on Greg Bird’s nice double. And going into the 8th inning, the Yankees were up 4-0 over the Rays.
But it wasn’t over just yet. And the 8th inning gave much to awake the sleepy Rays’ crowd. Pitcher Diego Moreno had some trouble keeping the Yankees’ lead — a lead-off walk, hit-by-pitch, a force-out and a throwing error scored a Rays’ run, a line-out, 2 RBI singles, a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and finally a much-needed strikeout. It put the Rays within striking distance and left the Yankees clinging barely to a 4-3 lead. That threat alone kept them persevering and, in the end, succeeding.
And not without some interesting drama… in the very last moment of the game, with 2 strikes already on the board, pitcher Chris Martin threw a low ball that the Rays’ batter swung at for a swinging strikeout. Which should be enough drama, but the bat slipped from the batter’s hands and flew into the crowd. No worries, the fan was a little shaken up and a little bruised, but now has a great story. A similar thing happened yesterday, and visiting special assistant and spring regular Reggie Jackson made sure the lady got to keep the bat and was well taken care of by stadium medical staff. (Cheers to the stadium security and medical staff who are always busy with foul balls and the occasional bats flying into the seats targeting unsuspecting fans.)
Like I said, sometimes the lone swing of the bat changes everything. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good, but it’s always full of possibilities.