Game 1: HOU vs. NYY — Opening Day foibles and protests

Today in the Bronx at first pitch it was 36° and sunny. The sun was a great addition after a rather sloppy weekend and Monday. The sky — pure blue and cloudless for miles. The air — freakishly cold and windy at times. I found out that the freezing bathroom sinks are warmer than the temperature outside today, enough to warm up my hands. Skipping all cold treats, I thanked the powers-that-be for things like hot tea and coffee at the stadium shops. I also did something I never do during a game — I roamed the gift shop for an inning just to warm up some. Fortunately, John & Suzyn were broadcasting loud and clear throughout the stadium, so I didn’t miss a second.

And in front of a nearly sold out crowd of 47,820, the Yankees hosted the Astros for their delayed Opening Day this afternoon. Hideki Matsui threw a beautiful strike for the ceremonial first pitch. Matsui and Suzyn Waldman (from the Yankees’ radio game broadcasts on WFAN with John Sterling) were honored last night at the Yankees’ homecoming dinner; Matsui received the “Pride of the Yankees” award, and Waldman was celebrated for her 30 years in broadcasting.

Masahiro Tanaka took the mound to start today’s chilly game and just shut down the Astros’ roster the first time through. For three straight innings, it was 9 consecutive batters denied any access to the bases. In the 4th, back at the top of the batting order, the Astros finally got a hit off him to lead off the inning — a double. A single put runners in the corners, and a forced ground out scored the first Astros’ run. But despite a few minutes of scare when the runner stole 2nd and Gregorius came up limping, Tanaka got out of the inning with that lone run. A 2-out solo home run in the 6th pushed the Astros up to 2 runs scored, and with a walk on base, Tanaka’s day was over — 4 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, striking out 4 Houston batters over his 5+ innings today.

So the Yankees turned to the pitcher they’ve come to trust as ultra-reliable this Spring — Chasen Shreve. Shreve shut down the 6th in a couple of pitches with ground out, and only gave up 1 hit in the 7th before chalking up 2 strikeouts and escaping cleanly.

Now, before things look bleak, the Yankees actually got things started off right. In the 2nd inning, Beltran got on base with a 1-out single and McCann walked. Headley’s messy ground out moved them up to scoring position, which they did on Starlin Castro’s nice double.

So the game was tied going into the 8th inning, and then it all went sideways. Dellin Betances on the mound for the Yankees, he allowed a walk and stolen base to the lead-off runner before getting a fly out. Then the next batter kind of hit the ball weird and it dribbled into the infield. Betances charged the ball and tried to throw over the runner down to first but shot it too far above his head. The runner was safely at 1st and the other runner scored. And the fans (what was left of us freezing in the stands) cheered on Girardi as he stormed out to protest the play as interference as the runner was too far in the base path to get a clear shot. Surprisingly, he did not get ejected, the umpires conferred with one another, the call came back as it was called, and then Girardi declared the game under protest.

(To clarify: this means, that if MLB decides to side with Girardi on this, the game will have to be replayed from the point of protest at some point. However, more times than not, MLB dismisses the case as erring with the side of the umpires as “judgement calls” in the moment unless there is a severe grievance to the rules.)

Anyway, so from the protest: the runner at 1st stole 2nd base. At first, it looked like McCann got him out, as was the original call. But the Astros deemed it worthy to review, and we had our first challenge and replay of the season. Honestly, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove he was out; it looked like the tag was late, and the runner never left the bag once tagged. So the right thing to do (unfortunately) was to overturn the call and give him the stolen base. A walk put another runner on base, before Betances got a much-needed 2nd out. A single scored 2 more runs (all unearned this inning due to the error earlier, the protested play), but Betances’ day was done.

And it was on to Johnny Barbato who, despite a questionable hit-by-pitch, got out of the 8th inning unscathed and continued this through the 9th inning with a flawless outing for him today, racking up 3 nice strikeouts.

Didi Gregorius’ efforts to lessen the Astros’ lead paid off with his lead-off solo home run into the right field seats to start the 8th inning. Unfortunately, no one else after him for 2 innings came up with anything to help.

Final score: 5-3 Astros.

Okay, the Yankees’ pitchers did manage to get 10 total strikeouts, which means that despite the outcome and mess that was part of this game, they are off to a decent start. And here were a couple of firsts for the Yankees this year: first walk – Aaron Hicks; first hit – Carlos Beltran; first RBI – Starlin Castro; and first stolen base – Alex Rodriguez (no one saw that one coming).

Roster update: Bryan Mitchell had surgery on his foot yesterday at the orthopedic specialist in North Carolina. He is expected to be out about 4 months, though the timing on when he can resume baseball activities is still rather vague.

Keep your heads up, people. It’s a long season — 1 down, 161 to go.

Go Yankees!

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