Steinbrenner Field felt fresh and new as its gates opened this morning for nearly 9000 fans. The stadium finished its $40 million makeover, complete with all sorts of new features, best of all brand new seats. A guest high school marching band (Steinbrenner High School in Tampa), ceremonial first pitch (by the city and organization leaders who made the makeover possible), team introductions, the national anthem (by a student at Steinbrenner High School), and fireworks. And at 81° on this Friday afternoon, the first pitch of the season kicked everything off.
The Philadelphia Phillies came over to Tampa for the first game of Spring and the 2017 season, and the Yankees pulled together their strength to maintain a bit of a perfect game for the first 6 innings. A combined effort of pitchers Bryan Mitchell, Tyler Clippard, Tommy Layne, and Luis Cessa kept the Phillies off the bases for a strong show of force for a good portion of the game. All four pitchers spent time in the majors last year, and I expect we’ll see them once again this year.
But the final two pitchers kind of had some struggles. Montgomery had a really rough 7th inning, backed up mostly by non-roster invitees, who were quite a bit shaky in this year’s debut. The first Phillies batter reached first on a fielding error, and then with another runner on base with a single, another single scored the Phillies first run. A force ground out ended with a runner at 2nd on a fielding error and another scored run before Montgomery pulled it together and got out of the inning shortly thereafter. He returned in the 8th for a quick 3-up, 3-down inning to get things back on track.
However, Gallegos’ 9th inning was problematic. With 1 out, he gave up the Phillies’ first solo home run. After a great strikeout, the Phillies hit another solo home run. A single and defensive indifference put a runner in scoring position, but an easy ground out closed out the game on the Phillies.
The Yankees’ offense, in counterpoint, was in command from the beginning. With 1 out, Didi Gregorius hit a beautiful home run into the new seats out in right field to get the Yankees on the board as the Bronx Bombers. DH Matt Holliday made his pinstriped debut today, going 2-for-2, hitting 2 of the Yankees total 11 hits this afternoon. In the bottom of the 5th, Aaron Judge hit one of those monster home runs everyone always talked about — this one bounced off the big scoreboard in left-center field, barely missing clearing the board entirely. It was certainly a thing of beauty.
After all the major defensive changes had been made in the 6th, the Yankees were essentially the farm team on display fully that inning. In the bottom of that inning, with 2 outs and Tejada on base with a walk, Miguel Andujar hit a big triple to score Tejada. Then on a weird throwing error (the cut-off man threw the ball into the dugout), Andujar was granted home.
And after a rather messy top of the 7th, the Yankees needed a strong show in the bottom to come back and regain their strength. They got it. With 1 out, Fowler kicked things off with a triple and then scored on Torres’ sacrifice fly. Kyle Higashioka added another run with a solo home run of his own into the new seats out in left field.
But they weren’t don’t yet. In the 8th, with runners in scoring position, Clint Frazier’s triple scored both runners before he then scored on Refsnyder’s single to cap off all the Yankee offense this afternoon.
Final score: 9-4 Yankees.
I’m bringing it back again this year. I’m recognizing a Player of the Game (formerly the “One to Watch”) in every home Spring Training game (and the occasional away game). The player is not on the active roster, usually a non-roster invitee (especially in the beginning of the Spring). This game’s POTG is 3rd baseman Miguel Andujar.
Sometimes, it’s hard for younger players to shine behind the starting guys or those expected to shine (like those listed on the prospect list). But Andujar seemed to shine from his first appearance in the top of the 6th at 3rd base, along with the entire roster change-out. Offensively, he went 2-for-2, with that RBI in the 6th. Plus, he was fantastic at 3rd base, instinctively grabbing a line drive out of the air, and covering the infield with the finesse of a natural infielder with seasons in the MLB under his belt
Not a bad way to start the 2017 season. Well, with maybe a bit cooler temperatures, but I’ll take a win any day.