A beautiful Saturday for baseball in Tampa. Under clear blue, cloudless skies. Just a little too warm. A crowded ball park. And a great game to watch on the field.
Plus, we have the return of “Tanaka Time”, something I’ve enjoyed since they signed the young pitcher two years ago. Masahiro Tanaka threw 4 innings and just plowed through the visiting Tigers’ roster. Of his 12 outs, 7 of them were strikeouts, 6 of those were the first 6 outs of his outing. Yes, it was just spectacular.
Bryan Mitchell also threw a pretty good 4 innings. His only struggle was in the 5th inning. With 2 outs, he gave up a walk and a single (though the infielders crossed signals and neither ended up with an easy out ball) to give the Tigers their first base runners of the afternoon. The next batter singled and score the Tigers’ lone run of the day, but one of the runners was sharply tagged out going for 3rd base, thanks to the quick response of an Ellsbury-Bird-Headley tag-team.
In the mean time, the Yankees’ offense kicked in early and kept the lead solidly in the Yankees’ favor. In the 1st, with 1 out, Ellsbury singled and then scored as part of Gary Sanchez’s big home run into the seats in right field.
In the 5th, with 2 outs, Gardner and Ellsbury each singled to get on base. Sanchez hit into a single, which scored the speedy Gardner. Thanks to a fielding error Ellsbury and Sanchez ended up in scoring position. But the best part of this particular play was watching Ellsbury respond to the fielding error — he slowed down coming around 2nd before gunning it to 3rd, but in doing so, he almost got “cartoon legs”, nearly running upright to slow himself down before pedaling it back into gear to make it to 3rd safely. It was awesome and funny all at once (but sadly not on the video clip).
Matt Holliday then hit a big 3-run home run to score both runners and give the Yankees a bit of breathing room that they never really needed today. Gleyber Torres led-off the 6th inning with a solo home run, his first of the Spring, to cap off the Yankees’ scoring today.
To finish off the game, the Yankees called in the young pitcher JR Graham. The first batter hit into a sloppy bunt, which Graham went in to make the play, but the throw went sour when he slipped a bit and rolled his ankle. Taking a moment to assess his injury, Graham came back and got the next batter to fly out to left field. The next batter hit a short grounder, and the infield snapped into action — Refsnyder at 1st grabbed it and threw it to the shortstop Torres covering 2nd, who then fired it to 1st base for the double play where a quick-thinking Graham covered the base to get the out and end the game. The pitcher came up with the ball and the biggest smile, knowing that he covered and undid his earlier error by helping with that play.
Final score: 7-1 Yankees
Player of the Game today goes to a young player technically already on the 40-man roster, but totally deserving of the recognition. Starting at shortstop today, Ronald Torreyes made numerous defensive plays, showing off his quick instincts and keeping “Tanaka Time” alive and into Mitchell’s outing. He also contributed offensively, hitting 1 of the Yankees total 11 hits today. Torreyes surprised everyone last year by making the 25-man starting roster and contributing to the regular season off the bench as needed. I see no reason why he won’t be in the same position this year.
World Baseball Classic updates: last night, Yankees’ reliever Tyler Clippard helped Team USA eke out a victory over Columbia, in their walk-off win. Clippard threw 17 pitches in the 9th inning, giving up a walk and getting a great strikeout, and ended up with the win. (Way to represent!) And Puerto Rico trounced the Venezuelan team 11-0, aided by DH (and former Yankee) Carlos Beltran, who went 1-for-2, with 2 walks, 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored. And during today’s game, the Columbia team beat Team Canada 4-1.
For the rest of today, more teams face off to determine who will play off in the semi-finals. Venezuela faces Italy (currently underway as I write this blog and it’s a good game), Puerto Rico takes on host team Mexico later tonight (at 9:30 pm EST); and Team USA faces reigning WBC champs from the Dominican Republic tonight (at 7 pm EST). Overnight, in Japan, Cuba will face the undefeated team representing Israel (at 10 pm EST) and Japan will face the Netherlands (at 6 am EST). And we’ll be watching for all our Yankee guys as they impact their teams all around the world.