For the last few years, the Orioles have been rather a challenging team in the AL East. Not so much this season, it seems. Don’t misunderstand me, though; the Birds can still become a threat and within striking distance (6 games behind the Yankees now). But they aren’t coming with the same kind of consistent power and strength as I’ve seen in recent seasons. And I can’t say as a Yankees fan that I’m complaining all that much because the Orioles still give the Yankees a pretty good measure of competition.
Ivan Nova got the start for the Yankees today, his 5th after coming back from Tommy John surgery last year. Nova threw 94 pitches over his 6 full innings, giving up just 3 hits, 2 runs, and 3 walks, striking out 3 batters. Those two runs were when the lead-off batter singled in the 3rd and then scored on a big 2-run home run. But Nova’s toughest inning was the 5th, which shot his pitch count upwards, though he was able to get out of the inning thanks in part to the strong defense of the team playing behind him.
In the mean time, the Yankees took an early lead and never gave it up. In the 1st, Ellsbury led-off with a double and then scored on Brett Gardner’s single. And then Mark Teixeira’s 1-out 2-run home run into the right field seats gave the Yankees an early 3-run lead.
After the Orioles came close with their 2-run homer in the 3rd, the Yankees got their insurance run in the bottom of the 5th with Alex Rodriguez — his 20th home run of the season, a 1-out solo shot just above the visitor’s bullpen in left-center field. It would be his biggest homer this season — an estimated 453 feet. They would need the insurance run.
After Nova stood strong to earn the win, the game was turned over to the bullpen, calling for Chasen Shreve, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller for the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, respectively. Betances took just 8 pitches for his 1-2-3 8th inning, including 2 strikeouts. Though Miller’s 9th seemed to follow Betances’ lead in efficiency, getting a quick 2 outs, a well-placed pitch found the bat of the Orioles’ best hitter as it sailed into the right field seats to put the O’s back within 1-run of the Yankees. But Miller shut down the next batter and got out of the inning, throwing just 10 total pitches and earning his 22nd save.
And I can’t end this post without mentioning the defense again. Stephen Drew was really the star defender tonight — with an unassisted double play in the 1st and a diving stop in the 2nd (they are easily tied for my favorite plays of the night). Add in an example from Chase Headley in the 5th, and there’s a reason that the Yankees continue to be a strong force in the AL East.
Final score: 4-3 Yankees.
Also, Gardner was also selected as the Yankees’ Player of the Month for June. Though I’d be more surprised if he wasn’t at this point. Honestly, the team is just really clicking right now, with everyone just really pulling their own weight — Teixeira, Rodriguez, Gardner, Ellsbury, Betances, Miller, Drew, Headley, Beltran, McCann… basically anyone in a Yankee uniform these days.
I feel like sometimes I have to be selective as to which players I choose to write about because some games it feels like they all have something worth talking about for that game. And isn’t that supposed to be what makes it a “team sport”? Yes, it’s great to honor a well-pitched game. But how many no-hitters really depend on their strong defense to get the outs that aren’t strikeouts? And yes, let’s honor the guys who hit those monster home runs, but the guys who get the little hits or move guys over to set-up a power hitter are just as important to scoring those runs. And a starter may have a great outing, but without his bullpen, he doesn’t get the win. It’s all about the team.
And that’s why I love it when the players are really acting like a team, giving each other credit, cheering each other on, looking out for each other, having each others’ backs — on and off the field. Because that’s what makes baseball a team sport — the team. Otherwise, it’s just a guy in the batter’s box taking glorified batting practice. And we only have the Home Run Derby once a year.