The Tigers brought some big guys to Tampa to face the Yankees tonight, and at first, it seemed like they held all the cards. And part of that was due to a really rough start by Esmil Rogers, who did admit that tonight just wasn’t his night.
Rogers threw 3 innings, giving up 5 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs (only 1 earned), and striking out just 2 Detroit batters. It was a messy first couple of innings. The lead-off batter singled, stole 2nd, and ended up scoring on a single to give the Tigers an early lead.
The Yankees got that one back in the bottom of the 1st when Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira went back-to-back with doubles to tie up the game.
But the 2nd inning was easily the most discouraging for Rogers. A walk, a fielding error (by Rogers), and 2 outs had runners in scoring position for a deep single to score them both. Another walk to put another runner on base meant a double scored two more runs. And it was suddenly 5-1 Detroit.
In the 3rd, the Yankees got a run back due to Brett Gardner. Gardner led-off with a walk, stole 2nd, advanced to 3rd on a ground out, and scored on Beltran’s sacrifice fly. 5-2 Detroit.
Reliever Miller got some work in the 4th inning, keeping the Tigers from adding to their score, but his replacement Betances wasn’t so lucky. A lead-off walk scored on a 2-out single, but he kept it under control, getting a quick out after that. 6-2 Detroit.
Then the Yankees watched reliever Wilson keep the Yankees in the game in the 6th as the Yankees traded out their starters as usual, but his 7th inning reliever Nick Rumbelow had mixed results. After back-to-back strike outs of two of the best batters on the Tigers’ roster, Rumbelow found a bit of trouble. A single, an RBI double, a walk, and a fielding error (the ball bounced off the glove of the fielder) that scored another run all before Rumbelow could find that 3rd out of the inning.
The Tigers were up 8-2 as “God Bless America” filled the stadium, and shortly thereafter, many fans (both Yankee and Tiger alike) started filtering out of the stadium. I think we can excuse those with long drives or early mornings, but giving up because of the score at this point (especially in Spring Training) is rather ridiculous. I imagine there will be quite a few people kicking themselves for not hanging in there for just a half-hour more.
Young led-off the bottom of the 7th with a nice double and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ double. Heathcott was hit by a pitch, and Galvez walked to load the bases. A strikeout with bases loaded for Francisco Arcia, who hit into a force out at 2nd, scoring Gregorius’ pinch-runner Noonan and leaving runners on the corners. A pitching change for the Tigers came as a breath of relief for the Yankees when two back-to-back walks (after a couple of close calls and a hit by pitch, I think the pitchers were a little scared of pitching “too inside”) walked in the next Yankees run. 8-5 Detroit.
That lead was being chipped away, and Yankees relievers Pazos and Moreno kept the ball rolling, giving the Yankees one more opportunity to make up the difference.
And into the bottom of the 9th, with now just a handful of loyal fans watching under the clear, cool night sky. Judge walked, stole 2nd, advanced to 3rd on Arcia’s ground out, and scored on John Ryan Murphy’s single, putting the Yankees within 2. A strikeout puts 2 outs on the board, but a walk has two base runners. And it’s up to Ramon Flores, who works a count of 2 balls and 2 strikes. Tigers fans crossing their fingers for that 3rd strike; Yankees fans praying for that storybook miracle.
Tonight, it was a storybook miracle. I looked out at the outfield fence cluttered with local sponsors and whispered to myself that Flores should just pick his favorite and aim for it. On the very next pitch, he decided it was Fifth-Third Bank as his giant swing landed the ball just over that sign for a monster 3-run walk-off home run. Game over. Yankees win 9-8.
Tigers fans stunned into silence, shaking their heads. Yankees fans rejoicing and singing along with Sinatra, as is the custom. Okay, truth time: the Tigers did play very well. They brought the big guys to play, and their starter is one of their better pitchers. The Tigers have made it to the play-offs a lot in the past few years because they have a team that is good and continues to be good, and Spring Training (especially this late in Spring) often showcases that. It would not have surprised me in the least to have the Tigers win tonight. I even said that if the last pitcher got out of the 9th with the Tigers’ win, that pitcher certainly earned the save he was due. But I never discount those minor league guys. They’re really, really good, and they just never give up.
I mean, that’s what being a Yankee is all about — sticking it out and playing as best as you can until the game is over, regardless of what the score was when you started and what it is when you end. Just keep playing, and play well, and don’t give up.
On a fun note: a handful of Yankees got together and recreated the famous scene from The Sandlot. If you’ve seen the baseball classic, you’ll get the references. If you haven’t, it’s rather charming to watch some Yankees be a little silly. (Yankee cast: Headley, Betances, Gregorius, Sabathia, McCann, Ellsbury, and Gardner) Enjoy!