Game 8: NYY vs. BAL — A soggy Tuesday night in Charm City

The rain never really did taper off completely in Baltimore tonight. It stopped the harder consistent rain just before the first pitch, but it kept to a drizzle in the lightest moments and a steady light rain in its harder moments during the entire 9 innings of play.

CC Sabathia took the mound for the Yankees tonight and really had a decent outing — throwing 91 pitches over 7 innings, allowing 7 hits, 4 runs, and a walk, and striking out 7 Orioles. The first Baltimore run came in the 1st inning — a 2-out solo home run by the team’s best power-hitter. That same batter hit a sacrifice fly in the 3rd to score a previous walked player. In the 4th, a runner scored on a 2-out RBI single. And finally in the 7th, the lead-off batter tripled and then scored on a sacrifice fly to get the Orioles’ 4th and final run of the evening.

It should be noted that tonight Sabathia passed former teammate Andy Pettitte for 36th on the all-time strikeout list during tonight’s game. After the 7 he got tonight, he has 2,452 career strikeouts, currently leading all active pitchers. (And in case you were wondering, the great Nolan Ryan sits atop the list with 5,714, followed by Randy Johnson at a distant 2nd with 4,875.)

Yankees reliever Chris Martin came on for the Yankees’ 8th inning, striking out 2 batter and keeping those Orioles off the bases rather effectively with just 11 pitches.

On the other side of things, the Yankees were hitting, almost matching the Orioles for total hits (6 to the Orioles’ 7). It just cobbled together for a bit less of a desired outcome. In the 6th, Ellsbury led-off with a single, advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then scored on Mark Teixeira’s solid double into the right field corner.

Going into the 8th inning, the Yankees were trailing the Orioles 4-1, and the Orioles called in their first reliever of the game. Gregorius and Headley each singled and ended up on the corners. Then Gregorius scored on Beltran’s ground out. Teixeira reached 1st on a fielding error, which Headley took full advantage of and scored. A pitching change shut down the rally and left the Yankees within 1 run. But they ran out of innings.

Final score: 4-3 Baltimore.

Brett Gardner sat out tonight’s game, resting that bruised up arm from yesterday’s hit-by-pitch. While available today and most likely tomorrow to pinch-run, steal bases, and defend, he probably won’t be back in the batter’s box until this weekend’s series in St. Pete against the Rays.

Also, today marked the 60th anniversary of Elston Howard becoming the first African-American player of the New York Yankees. Good old #32 got a hit in his first at-bat in pinstripes, eventually getting a home run in his first at-bat in the 1955 World Series (against the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson). Howard was considered the back-up catcher (having studied under the great Bill Dickey) to Yogi Berra, a good friend throughout most of his life, but was often called on to play the outfield and at times 1st base because they considered him too good a player to mostly warm the bench.

He was a 12-time All-Star, 2-time Gold Glove winner (1963, 1964), and the 1963 AL MVP. Howard went on to win 6 Championships with the Yankees, 4 as a player (1956, 1958, 1961, 1962) and 2 as the first base coach (1977, 1978). Howard became the first African-American coach in the American League, coaching from 1st base for just over a decade (1969-1979). A brief stint in the Yankee administration was cut short due to his declining health, eventually being diagnosed with a rare heart disease and died in 1980 at the age of 51. The 1981 team wore black armbands, and his #32 was posthumously retired in 1984 to Monument Park.

Howard did more for the game than just breaking the “color barrier” for the Yankees, who I’m sad to say took far too long to adapt to the changing face that was the desegregation of baseball (the Red Sox were the last team to integrate in 1959). Howard is often credited with being the first to use what has become the usual sign for 2 outs today — extending just the index and pinky fingers for clarity at a distance. He is also credited as being the first to use the batting donut, the weight some batters put on their bats in the on-deck circle to increase the weight so that in the box the bat will feel lighter and thus easier to swing.

And I have no idea why Howard isn’t in the Hall of Fame other than he played in that Golden Age of Baseball with the likes of Mantle, Berra, Ford, and Maris on just the Yankees and Campanella, Musial, Williams, Banks, Mays, and Aaron across the league. Howard was the one to come in quietly, do his job well, and exit stage left when it’s all over. For him, it wasn’t about flash or making a point or making headlines. He was the same kid who gave up multiple scholarships to college because he just wanted to play ball. And that he did.

Ellie Howard was revered by his teammates as “a man of great gentleness and dignity” (as it says on his MP plaque). A man of class and character who could play ball really well, he really was one of the great ones, and it is an honor to remember him and his legacy today.

Go Yankees!

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