The Nationals are in town for a quick 2-game mid-week series, which the Yankees bookend with days off. The Yankees enter this series hoping for their 3rd consecutive sweep, and tonight was a very good start in that direction.
Well, there was quite a bit of talk about seeing a pitchers’ duel as the Yankees put up Masahiro Tanaka versus one of Washington’s great starters (actually, one of the things Washington has going for them is their plethora of really good pitchers). And honestly, this game was as promised, with both pitchers matching each other pretty well for a good portion of the game. That is, right up until that pesky 7th inning.
Tanaka threw just 87 pitches through his full 7 innings, and I half-expected him to come out for the 8th (but he didn’t, as he wasn’t really needed). In addition to the 6 strikeouts, he gave up just 5 hits, no walks, and the only run the Nats would score tonight — a solo shot deep to center field in the 4th inning.
To counter this, the Nats starter threw 116 pitches to the Yankees’ batters, striking out 7 batters and giving up 8 hits, 1 walk, and 4 runs. Initially, it was Stephen Drew’s big solo home run (and 1,000th career hit) to lead off the 3rd inning that got a run on the board for either team, so that run from the Nationals tied up the game and kept it there. The Yankees pushed the starter’s pitch count up with some decent attempts to score, and some bad base-running in the 6th that kept the score tied.
But again, it was that pesky 7th inning that changed it all. Going into the break, right before “God Bless America”, I remarked to a friend watching the game with me that all the Yankees needed to do was scored a few runs because Tanaka really deserves the win for his outing tonight. And apparently, the baseball gods agreed with me.
With 2 outs and Flores and Gardner on base with singles, Rodriguez hit a sharp ground ball to a diving shortstop, who opted to throw it to 3rd to get Flores. The ball instead hit Flores and bounded into the stands, allowing for all runners to advance safely — Flores scored, Gardner went to 3rd, and Rodriguez to 2nd. The winning run had scored, so the Nationals went to their bullpen to bring in a former Yankee to shut down the scoring. Didn’t work. He intentionally walked the red-hot hitting Teixeira (understandably), but then a quick single from Brian McCann scored both Gardner and Rodriguez, moving Teixeira easily to 3rd. Teixeira then scored on a Carlos Beltran single before a line out ended the Yankees rally.
Like I said, Tanaka’s night was through, but he was now on for the coming win as Dellin Betances took the mound for the 8th inning and 14 pitches (and a 1-2-3 inning) later, it was looking good.
In the bottom of the 8th, Drew added an exclamation point on the Yankees’ scoring with another solo home run into the 2nd deck seats in right field to just make sure the Yankees were set for the win.
And with no save situation possible, the Yankees turned to Chasen Shreve for the 9th. Shreve got 2 outs, but also allowed 2 base runners with a single and a walk. To ensure the win, the Yankees called on what has become almost a sure thing these days — Andrew Miller. 1 batter, 9 pitches, and a ground out to end the game and secure the win.
Final score: 6-1 Yankees.
That makes the Yankees on a big winning streak — seven straight games now. They win with pitching, with the bullpen, with home runs, with singles, and (for the most part) with defense. Ah, well, they can’t be perfect…
And can I talk about Ramon Flores for a moment… he was my “one to watch” this spring because he was the “one to watch” in Spring Training. I knew it was only a matter of time before we’d see him in the Bronx, and I really like being right. I’m sure he likes that too, and I’m sure the Yankees are liking that about now as well. Flores went 3-for-4 tonight with a run scored (the winning run, by the way) in the batter’s box alone, but he also got a couple of really great plays in left field (like this one in the 8th). He’s still “one to watch”.
Also, in case you were wondering, here’s the update on the Yankee draft picks so far (round 1-10 over days 1 and 2): RHP James Kaprielian (16th overall, 1st round); SS Kyle Holder (30th overall, 1st round); LHP Jeff Degano (57th, 2nd round); RHP Drew Finley (92nd, 3rd); CF Jeff Hendrix (123rd, 4th); RHP Chance Adams (153rd, 5th); 2B Brandon Wagner (183rd, 6th); RF Jhalan Jackson (213th, 7th); 3B Donny Sands (243rd, 8th); 1B Ryan Krill (273rd, 9th); and LHP James Reeves (303rd overall, 10th round).
And fun draft fact: Mariano Rivera’s son, also named Mariano Rivera, was selected by the Nationals in the 4th round of the draft, the 134th selection overall. Last year, Rivera was selected by the Yankees in the 29th round, 872nd overall, but Rivera opted to continue his studies at Iona and build up his pitching arm with their baseball team. This paid off because it got him recognized beyond just being the son of a legend.
Like all the draftees, he will need to decide whether to sign or decline the offer. Each young man makes a decision based on many factors — position in the draft, academic choices, professional aspirations, team selection, among other things. And there’s still one more day of the draft left to go. Some sign, some don’t, some work out, some never make it past initial training camp, and somewhere there’s a potential legend in the making, whether he’s the first guy on the list or the very last. You just never know. But I hope he’ll be wearing pinstripes very soon.