It was a beautiful day today in Tampa — clear, sunny blue skies, and a dip in the weather topped off the temperature in the mid-70s with a slight breeze. And a sold-out crowd to watch the hometown Rays visit the Spring hometown of the Yankees. Like most Rays-Yankees games at The Trop (the Rays’ MLB stadium across the Bay in St. Petersburg), the crowd was split pretty evenly between Rays and Yankees fans in what can only be a strong dual-hometown crowd.
And I still can’t figure out at what point it was blatantly obvious the Yankees had no chance of winning today’s game. Was it the second time Giancarlo Stanton lost the ball in the sun? Was it the lack of solid hits by the Yankees’ offense? Or was it just the slow pace of the first half of the game? No matter how you swing it, the Yankees didn’t have control of any part of today’s game.
Chad Green got the start in today’s game and got off to a pretty good start — a lead-off single was caught stealing (“you don’t run on Gary!”) before he breezed his way through the next 2 outs. But his 2nd inning gave up a single and double to put runners in scoring position. Fortunately, he got lucky and got back in command with a solid 3 outs to keep those runners from scoring.
Unfortunately, Aroldis Chapman’s Spring debut in the 3rd certainly did not go as planned, hitting the lead-off batter with a 97 mph plunk on the back and giving up a single. A ground out got the runner at 2nd, leaving runners in the corners. But Chapman wasn’t in command today, and the Yankees turned to Ben Heller for relief. A sacrifice fly scored the Rays’ first run of the day, but Heller got out of the inning with a strikeout. Heller continued in the 4th with 2 more strikeouts, but then got into his own trouble, putting runners in scoring position with a walk and ground-rule double. A throwing error on the next play allowed another run to score.
So the Yankees called in reliever Raynel Espinal to try to calm the Rays. It didn’t work. A single scored another run before another ground-rule double scored one more. A pop-up in foul territory ended that messy inning. Espinal was given the full 5th inning to try to redeem himself a bit. But he continued to struggle. With 1 out and a runner on 2nd, a double scored yet another Rays’ run.
It is worth noting that up until the 5th inning, the Yankees had minimal breakthroughs off the Rays’ pitchers, getting only 3 hits off the first 3 pitchers in 4 innings. A new Rays pitcher in the 5th gave the Yankees a much-needed opportunity to do more than hit into ground outs. With 1 out, McKinney was hit by a pitch before flying all the way to 3rd on Torreyes’ single. Tyler Wade’s long sacrifice fly scored McKinney to finally get the Yankees on the board.
But down 5-1 at that point, there was certainly not a whole lot of hope to cling to for the Yankees. Reliever Wade LeBlanc, who is a fairly reliable middle reliever, got into his own trouble in the 6th thanks in part to more messy defense. With 1 out, a batter hit the ball to 3rd where it was mishandled, and the out never made. That runner moved to 2nd on a ground out and then scored on an RBI double. But LeBlanc had a much better, cleaner 7th inning.
I will give it to Giovanny Gallegos, who easily pitched his best inning thus far this Spring, a super quick, super strong 1-2-3 8th inning. But reliever Cale Coshow repeated a few of his predecessors’ struggles with some of his own in the 9th. A lead-off single moved to 2nd on a 1-out walk before scoring as part of a 2-out 3-run home run to cap off the Rays’ scoring today.
Yankees’ pitchers gave up 13 total hits and 3 walks, and due to far too many errors, they only gave up 5 earned runs (of the 9 total). On the other side, Yankees’ batters only managed 6 hits and 1 walk. And really, both teams were hitting, so to speak. The Yankees’ batters were just hitting into easy ground outs, while the Rays were finding all the defensive holes.
And those sunny skies that made it difficult for first-time left fielder Stanton to miss two long fly balls out there.
Final score: 9-1 Rays
One to watch: I’m going with Giovanny Gallegos. Seriously, in this game of a lot of messy defense and good offensive hits from the other guys, a single flawless inning that helped moved the pace of the game up felt like the most refreshing thing this afternoon. Gallegos has had mixed results this Spring, but today, he reminded us all why he was a good replacement in that bullpen last year and worth considering for the job again this season.
Next up: An off day! Yep, Monday is no baseball day for the Yankees, so enjoy your Monday. I know I will. But after that, on Tuesday, the Yankees take a 30 minute bus ride east to Lakeland to face the Tigers, tabbing Jordan Montgomery for the start there.
Okay, I promise not to talk about standings again. Because every time I do, they lose the next game. So I’m done until the end of the Spring. I don’t believe in jinxes or anything like that, so I’m thinking it’s more expectations. Let’s just see where we are in 3 1/2 weeks and hope for the best.