Game 7: TB vs. NYY — Home opener dominance

There’s absolutely nothing like Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. The stands are crowded with hopeful fans (another sell-out crowd this year), everything is fresh and new, vendors hawk new merchandise and delicious new food and drink options, the team introductions reverberate off the stadium, and the air is simply electric unlike any other game during the year.

In a reversal of fortunes from the Opening Day at the Trop last week, the Yankees basically decided to dominate the visiting Rays from start to finish today, thanks mostly to starter Michael Pineda. Pineda had what has to be one of the best starts of his entire career, even maintaining a no-hitter into the 7th inning. Yes, he was just getting those outs, rather efficiently, a straight 20 outs before one of the Rays’ power-hitters broke it with a nice 2-out double to left field in the 7th. All of Yankee Stadium (including many of the Rays’ players) gave Pineda a nice ovation for his efforts.

Now, the only other hit he gave up was a questionable 1-out solo home run in 8th. The ball hit off a fan’s glove just above the wall by the Yankees’ bullpen and bounced back into right field. Ellsbury and Judge believed it was either a home run or a fan-interference double, so they didn’t rush to the ball as the runner made a mad rush to 3rd as the 2nd base umpire called the ball still in play (perhaps believing it bounced off the side of the wall instead). An umpire review found that the ball would’ve hit the top of the wall and thus overturned the call to be a home run.

After another out, the Yankees decided 93 pitches and 11 strikeouts was enough for Pineda’s great outing, calling on Tyler Clippard for a 1-pitch out to end the 8th inning. Chasen Shreve breezed through the Rays in the 9th with a quick 12-pitch inning to cap off what is easily the best outing by a Yankees’ pitching staff this season so far.

To be perfectly fair, the Rays’ pitchers had a pretty decent day, but they were back by some pretty messy defense at really inopportune times (for the Rays, that is). The Yankees, however, used it to their advantage. In the 3rd, with 1 out, technically, Gardner struck out on a wild pitch but made it safely to 1st, thus negating the out. He then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s double to start the Yankees’ runs this afternoon. Aaron Judge doubled their lead in the 4th with a solid 2-out solo home run into the left field seats. And Chase Headley got in on the fun with a lead-off solo home run into the 1st row of the right field seats.

But it would be the 8th inning that would move this game from a close one to a near-blowout. Gardner led things off by reaching on a bumbled fielding error, stealing 2nd (now 4-for-4 in stolen bases this year), and then scoring on Matt Holliday’s 1-out double. That was it for the Rays’ starter (after 102 pitches, actually). But the Yankees kept pressing in as Chris Carter scored Holliday with a big triple. Then Starlin Castro decided to mimic the Rays a bit and bounced a 2-run home run ball off the same top of the wall by the Yankees’ bullpen. That induced yet another umpire review, taking much longer than it should to confirm and uphold the home run call.

Headley and Judge then singled, and Romine made it to 1st on another bad fielding error to load up the bases. Ronald Torreyes hit a short grounder to 3rd base for the force out there, but the Rays’ infield wasn’t able to turn a double play (something they really didn’t do well today at all) and Headley scored the final Yankees’ run of the day.

Final score: 8-1 Yankees.

Roster moves: okay, so despite a great outing today, the Yankees optioned Chasen Shreve to AAA Scranton to make room for the Yankees’ now-official 5th starter — Jordan Montgomery. Montgomery will start Wednesday’s game as the Yankees continue their series against the Rays. The rest of the starters will move back a scheduled day now. Don’t count Shreve out any time soon though, as he’s a reliable force in the bullpen and will undoubtedly be back in the Bronx before you know it.

Injury update: so Greg Bird was out of today’s lineup with residual effects from his recent bout with food poisoning. Bird’s ankle is feeling much better, but this weekend had Bird under-the-weather with stomach issues. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him back on the field on Wednesday. And Gary Sanchez has an official diagnosis after today’s testing — a Grade 1 strain on a muscle behind his right biceps. This means Sanchez will be out roughly 4 weeks.

Before today’s game, the Yankees honored Yankee alumni who helped Team USA win the World Baseball Classic. Last WBC’s manager Joe Torre and this year’s coaches Willie Randolph and Tino Martinez threw out simultaneous ceremonial first pitches (to Headley, Romine, and Carter, respectively). And I found it fitting that Team USA member Tyler Clippard also played in today’s game (sure it was just 1 pitch, but playing in Opening Day matters!). A great way to honor team that represented America with America’s team.

Go Yankees!

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