Game 109: NYY vs. SD — SuperNova & Granderson for the win

He isn’t called “Super Nova” for nothing. Honestly, since his stint on the DL and some time in the minors earlier this season, Ivan Nova has redefined his pitching, strengthening his control and velocity and proving to the Yankees that he’s not only worth a start, but he’s worth something to depend upon regularly. Tonight was no exception. Once again, even getting into some jams throughout the game, Nova was able to pitch his way out of them with the seeming ease of a more experienced pitcher.

Nova threw just 85 pitches over 7 innings, allowing just 4 hits and a walk, and striking out 8 San Diego batters. But his biggest feat was keeping the Padres from crossing the plate. Robertson kept the ball rolling into the 8th, like usual, and Rivera saw his first outing in Petco Park with a 9-pitch 9th inning, earning his 35th save of the season.

It actually started as a really tight pitchers’ duel, with the Yankees offense breaking through in the 7th inning. With Alfonso Soriano on 1st base, it was Curtis Granderson to swing for the fences and break the scoreless game with a 2-run home run. In the 9th inning, Granderson singled, dealt with a dispute on returning to the base on an out, stole 2nd base, and then scored his second run (and the third total run) of the game on Jayson Nix’s single. With Rivera doing his thing in the bottom of the 9th, the Yankees walked away with a 3-0 shutout win tonight.

In other news, Derek Jeter sat out tonight’s game and will be sitting out tomorrow’s as well. He has some soreness in his right calf muscle. Whether it’s related to his recent quad strain or just an awkward slide into 3rd base (my personal guess is a combination of sorts), it’s keeping him on the bench part of the roster for the weekend. Hopefully, with rest and some minor rehab, he’ll be ready to play in Chicago on Monday.

Also desiring to see his name on the starting roster in Chicago this Monday is Alex Rodriguez. Some choice words were exchanged by Rodriguez in press conferences and statements by the Yankees, but he’s determined to don pinstripes as soon as possible. Not that I blame him. I mean, if I was so close to doing something I love and it kept feeling just out of reach, I think I’d be fighting heaven and earth trying to get there. No matter who’s on that roster on Monday, it’s bound to be a big day in MLB with some changes happening all over the league.

Well, either way, it was certainly a great night of baseball. And I personally am loving the earlier night. And so that being said, I’m going to leave it there. I mentioned yesterday about wanting to sleep on yesterday’s mess and hope for a better tomorrow. Well, it’s tomorrow, and it definitely ended up better. At least in baseball world for the Yankees. But hey, on this blog, that’s all that matters anyway…

Hoping for a good tomorrow too…

Go Yankees!

Game 108: NYY vs. SD — A pitching loss

It was definitely not CC Sabathia’s night. And it hasn’t been for his last 4 starts. And tonight wasn’t going to be pretty, despite the beautiful weather in San Diego; sometimes you just know. Sabathia got into a huge jam right in the 1st inning, loading the bases with 2 singles and a walk, with 1 out. He proceeded to walk the next batter, walking in the Padres first run of the evening. A ground out scores the 2nd run. In the 4th inning, a solo home run (the first of three this evening) and an RBI triple add two more runs to their score. An RBI single in the 6th adds another, and force Girardi to make a pitching change. Sabathia’s 105 pitches in just 5.2 innings allowed 11 hits, 5 runs, 3 walks, and just 4 strikeouts.

Claiborne got the last out of the 6th inning. Then Chamberlain’s outing in the 7th and Warren’s in the 8th each allowed solo home runs to add to the Padres total. Except Claiborne, the others seemed to follow Sabathia’s lead tonight and not have the kind of control I think we’re used to seeing from the bullpen crew.

Now, this isn’t to say the Yankees weren’t hitting. They got all their 7 hits off the starting pitcher. And their only 2 runs came in the 2nd inning. Ichiro Suzuki singled and stole 2nd, scoring on Eduardo Nunez’s double. Chris Stewart advanced Nunez to 3rd on his ground out, and Sabathia scored him on his ground out. (The Padres are in the NL, so no DH tonight.) So the final score was 7-2 San Diego tonight.

I don’t want to get into the umpire issues from tonight, but let’s just say that three of the four umpires missed some really obvious calls for the Yankees — a blown call at 1st, a roving strike zone, and a dropped ball by 2nd base all accumulated to rack up some ire in both the dugout and in Yankee fan-dom.

Not that any of these would have made that much of a difference, but it’s certainly thrown the importance of instant replay into the conversation once again. They have replay in every other professional sport but will only use replay in baseball on home runs, and only after a unanimous umpire consensus. And if the manager questions a call, on a whim, the questioned umpire can toss the questioning manager. I don’t really know what the right answer would be, but it’s certainly not “as is”.

But I’m guessing MLB has something else currently occupying their conversations that something as relatively insignificant like replay isn’t on the forefront of their minds. I mean, it’s not like it affects players’ careers… oh wait…

Other interesting game news: Derek Jeter earned his first error of the season tonight on a really high overthrow on what should have been an easy out to 1st base in the 2nd inning. But my favorite play of the night came from the dynamic duo of Chris Stewart  and Brett Gardner. A batter singles out to Gardner at center field, who promptly fires it into Stewart at home, who is ready and waiting for the runner and gets him out at the plate to close the 3rd inning. And Curtis Granderson is back off the DL, in the roster, and running around in the outfield again. (To make room for him, Thomas Neal was designated for assignment, and Melky Mesa was sent back to AAA Scranton.)

I can’t imagine many Yankees are headed to bed happy tonight, but that’s the wonderful thing about sleep — it’s the reset button. Tomorrow is a new day, a new game, time to start over and learn from the yesterdays. Sometimes after a big loss, whining, pouting, worrying, denying, or rehashing isn’t your best therapy, but rather a good sleep. So if you screw up today, in the morning, you can push for something better, something new. And who knows? Maybe tomorrow’s sleep will be preceded by your best effort, something daring and challenging, maybe even a win.

Go Yankees!

This day in Yankees history — Gehrig, Martin, & today

I spent most of today waiting for the ball to drop on recent events. And seeing as if nothing’s been confirmed and we don’t talk about speculation or rumors on here, I am forced instead to write on something else, which actually works in everyone’s favor in the long run, I think. Instead of dealing in assumptions (like so many other blogs, news reports, and tweets seem to be doing today), I want to glance into the past and take a look at a couple of fun stories from Yankees history.

Lou Gehrig

Back in 1937, the Yankees were battling their way toward what would be their sixth World Series title, Murders’ Row was all but disbanded, but the roster was still jam-packed with eventual Cooperstown-bound names like Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, and a young Joe DiMaggio under manager Joe McCarthy. The veteran name on the team, however, was none other than Lou Gehrig. On this day 76 years ago, Gehrig hit for the cycle in a single game against the St. Louis Browns. Gehrig was finishing what would be his last great year before ALS would start deteriorating his body, when he sliced a beautiful 2-run home run, a single, a double, and a triple, going 4-for-5 to help the Yankees topple the Browns that day 14-5 in old Yankee Stadium. It was his second career cycle (the first one was 3 years earlier), but it was barely mentioned in the papers. But then again, Gehrig always played the game well, very Yankee-like, without demanding much attention or recognition. He just loved to play the game — kind of reminds me of some of my favorite players on the current roster. (Another blog recalled the history here.)

A particular event in 1975 certainly changed the Bronx Bombers forever. George Steinbrenner fired manager Bill Virdon, who never won a game at Yankee Stadium. Instead, he put Billy Martin as manager, which became the first of his five hirings to run the team. (Just Google the Billy Martin-George Steinbrenner saga for more details on their continuing feud through the 70’s.) The Yankees were playing at Shea Stadium in Queens, sharing the field with the Mets for the 1974-1975 seasons while Steinbrenner remodeled and updated Yankee Stadium, which is sometimes blamed for their downturn during the early 70’s. Martin was picked up just days after being fired from the Rangers and began the journey to bring the World Series title back to the Bronx in 1977 and 1978, despite his very obvious feuds with Steinbrenner and new hot-shot player Reggie Jackson. Martin’s number (#1) is now retired out in Monument Park. I sometimes wonder how many times during his career that he doubted he’d even have an office the next day, let alone a permanent fixture at Yankee Stadium.

Today, the current Yankees (most of whom weren’t even born when Martin was hired) are spending their off-day in San Diego before starting their weekend series tomorrow. I’m not a huge fan of the big “travel day” when you’re just hours by car (and they fly the 40 minutes from LA to San Diego) from your next destination. But a day off is a day off. And San Diego sounds nice this time of year.

Across the league, there is some major movement on the injury front.

  • Curtis Granderson will be joining his teammates tomorrow in San Diego, but his place on the roster is still uncertain with an already packed outfield with Gardner, Suzuki, Wells, and Soriano already filling out that area pretty well.
  • Alex Rodriguez participated in a simulated game in Tampa today and is now scheduled to join AA Trenton this weekend and may end up on the Yankees line up early next week in Chicago, barring any further set-backs.
  • Francisco Cervelli is having recurring set-backs in both his broken finger and his elbow. I think this is a real shame because he worked so hard to make it this year after being sent back down last year. He is scheduled to see another doctor next week to determine the next course of action.
  • And Kevin Youkilis’ name is back in circulation again after his back surgery. His healing and rehab seem to be progressing better than expected, and now there seems to be a slight chance that he might rejoin the team later this year (think: right before play-offs, like late September, if at all).
What baseball is all about…

So with all this talk and wondering what’s going to happen with recent investigations, let’s remember that there is so much to love about this game. And take a stand against those who would try to sully it with cheating or scandals or inappropriate behavior. After all, it’s supposed to be a kid’s game, it’s supposed to be clean, and it’s supposed to be fun. Baseball hasn’t lost its fun; you just have to know where to look for it.

Go Yankees!

Game 107: NYY vs. LAD — 9th inning heroics in a pitchers’ duel

When you have two really spectacular pitchers just really being at the top of their game (they also happen to be former teammates a few yeras ago), it kind of turns it into a longer-feeling game. And when they’re as evenly matched as the Dodgers’ Kershaw and Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda, it’s just a matter of which team will find a moment of weakness in the other’s starter. Neither team had that opportunity, which ended up a no-decision for both starters (meaning the bullpen earned the win-loss-save tonight).

Kuroda 103 pitches through his 7 innings, allowing 5 hits and a walk and struck out a rather impressive 8 batters. Logan came into the 8th inning to keep Kuroda’s scoreless ball rolling and succeeded in actually earning tonight’s win. Kuroda also happened to be backed by the great defense that came out to play in Los Angeles tonight, including a 6th inning diving catch by Derek Jeter (starting at shortstop for the 3rd game in a row) and a great assist in the 7th by Vernon Wells who was able to throw out the runner trying to stretch his single into a double.

But as great as the pitching and defense can be, you don’t win games unless you score runs. So in a pitchers’ duel, you must wait for a weakness in your starter or a new pitcher. The Yankees found their opening in the new pitcher coming on in the 9th inning. Jeter walked (replaced by Nunez as the pinch-runner); Robinson Cano grounded into a force out; Soriano grounds out, moving Cano to 2nd; and then the Dodgers intentionally walk pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki. With runners on 1st and 2nd and two outs on the scoreboard, the Dodgers go to their bullpen. But it’s Lyle Overbay that pinch-hits a solid single to center field and scores Cano for the first run of the night. (So guess who popped up in the bullpen to warm up…) Then Jayson Nix pops up a 3-2 pitch into shallow right field, but three players go after it and somehow miss the catch. That’s right, it’s a fielding error that allows Nix to reach 1st and earn 2 RBIs (both Ichiro and Overbay have plenty of time to jog home), putting the Yankees up 3-0 over the Dodgers. It was a routine play, but a rookie error.

So it’s Mariano Rivera to the rescue to save this last-minute game, which he does in 12 pitches and 3 batters. Rivera earns his 34th save and leaves Dodger Stadium for the last time as a player and as a hero.

It’s always nice to write about a win, and it’s fun to watch two teams that are pretty evenly matched play against each other. A good old-fashioned pitcher’s duel is often the stuff of legends, but it’s the last inning heroics that make a later game (at least by East Coast standards) worth staying up for. The West Coast weeks are never my favorites because of what become these later games, but they sure do sport some interesting ones. (The 18 innings against Oakland last month springs to mind, but everyone involved there was oh so glad that was an afternoon game.)

And with all that’s threatening to happen shortly with the recent investigations, it’s rather nice to spend an evening watching anything that’s “good” and “old-fashioned”. It reminds us why our grandparents fell in love with the game — the simplicity of a sport that relies almost solely on strategy, sportsmanship, and skill. There’s not much different about the actual games they went to (or listened to on the radio) than the ones we attend (or watch on our computers or phones). And that’s kind of refreshing.

So I guess that tonight, I’ll leave you with a nice fresh nostalgic reminder of what was and how it still is and really can’t be tainted by the “what ifs” that are making headlines. Let’s focus on the guys who, much like the counterparts in the “good, old days”, played through injuries and terrible weather, ignored the jeers and embraced the cheers, and still managed to capture the hearts and thoughts of the everyday American child and the occasional adult.

Go Yankees!

Game 106: NYY vs. LAD — A walk-off win for the other guys

Putting it simply, the Dodgers out-hit the Yankees tonight. Maybe it was because they put up their ace against the slumping offense, or maybe it’s because starter Andy Pettitte hasn’t been on top of his game recently. Maybe it’s just how the chips fell, as it were.

Pettitte threw his 7 innings, giving up 8 hits and no walks and striking out 3 batters. He also allowed 2 runs — an RBI single in the 1st and a solo home run in the 2nd, but put up five solid innings of zeros on the scoreboard. David Robertson threw 9 pitches in the 8th inning and kept the momentum, doing his best to continue his display of (what can only be clearly called) All-Star behavior.

Now, the Yankees offense wasn’t nearly as alive as it was on Sunday. Lyle Overbay (who sat out Sunday’s game) shot a long ball deep into the right field seats in the bottom of the 1st inning. And in the 2nd inning, Alfonso Soriano doubled, advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch, and scored on Overbay’s ground out to tie up the game at 2-2 for the next 5 innings.

So going into the bottom of the 9th, the game is tied and Shawn Kelley comes into keep the Dodgers scoreless and take it into extra innings. Except he didn’t. Two out sand two singles later and the Dodgers have a walk-off victory 3-2.

But the Dodgers did keep the Yankee outfielders hopping, including a great throw by Ichiro Suzuki to get a runner out at home and a diving grab by Soriano.

In more positive news (as I try to steer away from potential speculation and negativity surrounding the PED scandal), the Yankees have Jayson Nix back on their regular roster after his recent stint on the DL for a hamstring strain. David Adams was optioned back to AAA Scranton. And Curtis Granderson is up to AA Trenton for his rehab assignment. And many others on the current DL are scheduled to come back some time in August, and since August begins in 2 days (or tomorrow for half the country already), this gives some hope to those of us wanting the “punch” to return to the team.

I think one of my least favorite parts of this job is having to sift through all the negative press either about the team or certain players or the sport in general. I don’t think I’ve gone a day recently without at least one story like this popping up on my Twitter feed. It’s such a shame that people would waste that much time on negativity. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m well aware of the things that are being said, and I even have my own strong opinions on them. But as long as everything’s still up in the air, there’s no press time on here allowed for assumption or spreading the negativity. Especially when I have to talk about bad news like a last-minute loss. (Not that I’d want to talk about negativity on a great win either, but I think you get the point.)

So instead, seeing as it’s the start of another week of late-nights (aka “West Coast Week, the sequel”), I’m going to wrap it up with hopes for a better tomorrow. I don’t think we can ask for anything more than that fresh start tomorrow, building on what was and moving forward with the desire to see good things by the end of the next day. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find something positive in my Twitter feed tomorrow morning, or maybe there will be a great personal interest story to take a little of the glory from the negative ones. But either way, you’ll always find positivity and hope on this blog. Maybe call it stability in such a chaotic world, but it is what it is.

Go Yankees!

You just never know…

I think I’m still on a high from all the action from yesterday’s game. It’s taken me most of the day trying to determine my post for the day, but I keep rehashing all the great things that happened — Matsui, Jeter, Soriano, Rivera, everything. And with all the talk and headlines slammed between the continuing PED scandal and the looming trade deadline (this Wednesday afternoon), there’s not a lot I can add that’s based in fact and positive.

Today, the Yankees spend their free day in LA before their 2-game series with the Dodgers, then a travel day down to San Diego to face the Padres for a 3-game weekend series, then to Chicago for 3 games, before heading back to New York for next weekend. I must say that some years’ schedules seem to flow better than others, and this certainly isn’t one of them.

On an interesting note, yesterday, the Baseball Hall of Fame also inducted the late Jacob Ruppert, former owner of the New York Yankees from 1915 to his death in 1939. The former US Representative from New York purchased the Yankees for what would be equivalent to about $10,000,000 in today’s money (not even enough to pay for one of the “names” on the roster) because at the time, the Yankees were considered, well, awful. Instead of just continuing that path, Ruppert made advances to build the most winningest team in MLB history with his masterful purchases and signings like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the famed “Murders’ Row”, plus the man they’d dub (on this day in 1969) as the “Greatest Player Living” Joe DiMaggio.

In addition to team-building, he invested time and energy into a physical building to house his budding champions — the first Yankee Stadium, purchasing and clearing 10 acres of farmland in the south Bronx in 1923. The team under him won 10 AL pennants and 7 World Series championships. Forty-five players, managers, and executives that worked under Ruppert would end up in Cooperstown. And yesterday, Ruppert rightfully joined them.

He set the standard for baseball owners, something I think was later reflected and partially embodied by another Yankees owner — George Steinbrenner. Both men knew how to build a team, seeing something where most people might call them crazy and waiting patiently for years for their hard work to come to fruition. And let’s be honest, both were quite different characters for their time, and they both knew how to play the “executive game” of baseball seemingly better than their peers.

I only make the comparison so that people who weren’t alive when Ruppert was the owner (which I’m guessing is most of the people who will stumble across this blog) would be able to relate and understand why Ruppert deserves the accolades and why it took so long for him to be inducted in Cooperstown. I think sometimes we don’t always get the true significance of someone until we are further removed from their impact and can really see all the ripples in the pond from their tiny (or in this case gigantic) pebble. We see this in many areas of life — politics, family, careers, education, and sports. They always say “hind sight is 20/20”, and I’m a firm believer. Sometimes that separation allows us to see how all the pieces fell into place.

Sometimes, when I watch the games, I try to pinpoint what each of the players will do after they retire — broadcasting, managing, coaching, owning, business, a whole lot of nothing. And I like to see if I can pinpoint which players might be inducted into Cooperstown, joining Ruppert one day. But the fun thing about this game is that you just never know. I kind of had an idea that David Cone might make a good broadcaster (and he’s still one of my favorite ones), but I never saw Paul O’Neill coming. And I thought Joe Girardi might make a good coach, maybe like a bullpen coach, but I never imagined him as Joe Torre’s successor and really more than capable of that role.

Maybe that’s why our individual, every day choices really matter. They affect our future, whether we see it or not right now. And isn’t that really cool (or perhaps daunting at times) when you think about it. We can impact not only our future but all of the futures of those in our lives, even those we may never know or not know yet, just because of our decisions today. That thought certainly makes me set a higher level of value on my decisions. I mean, who knows? You never know when that one decision may be the ultimate turning point in the journey — the purchase of Ruth, the signing of recent high school graduates like Mantle or Jeter, the Rodriguez-Soriano trade, or the pick up of Japanese veterans like Matsui or Kuroda or Suzuki. You never know when you’re watching a Cooperstown-bound rookie or a future hitting coach or perhaps the father of a future legend.

You just never know…

Go Yankees!

Game 105: TB vs. NYY — A near perfect day in the Bronx

Derek Jeter (right) presents retiring Hideki Matsui
with a commemorative jersey in his honor

It was as if all the stars were perfectly aligned for today’s win. And there’s so much to talk about. Today was the designated Hideki Matsui Day at the Stadium because free agent Matsui agreed to sign a one-day minor league contract with the Yankees and then retire as a Yankee, his first team in the US, and where he made such an impact, like winning the MVP of the 2009 World Series. It was truly remarkable to see Matsui in pinstripes again, even if it was just to throw out the ceremonial first pitch (one of the better ones I’ve ever witnessed). Welcome back and congrats on your retirement, #55!

There were a ton of “Super Captain” and #2 shirts, which is no surprise usually, but the significance today was in honor of Derek Jeter’s 2nd return to the season, after his recent stint to rehab a quad strain. And today (like a few weeks ago), he helped his team win with style. But this day, he seemed back to the Jeter we knew before the October injury. (More on this later.)

And I had the honor of sitting with the ultimate Yankee fans — the Bleacher Creatures in Section 203. Every game, following the first pitch, the Creatures do a Roll Call — cheering on each Yankee player to which each player takes a turn greeting the fans with their own particular recognition (Gardner does a “muscle man”, some point, Granderson did a little two-step, most infielders just raise their gloves). It’s really so much fun, and today, after the last fielder, a “MAT-SU-I” cheer went out to honor his significance to the Yankees. I must say that there is something about watching a game from the bleachers; it’s like touching a bit of history, something I think my grandfather would have enjoyed and did enjoy when he would catch games on his lunch break when he was like my age. If you can, catch a game from the bleachers; and if you like loud, make it Section 203 at Yankee Stadium.

Oh, and there was a game today… boy, was there a game!

Starter Phil Hughes really had a rather rough outing today, giving up 9 hits and all 5 runs the Rays earned today, via an RBI double in the 2nd, a 3-run home run in the 3rd, and a lead-off solo home run in the 5th. It looked awfully bleak when Preston Claiborne entered as his replacement two batters into the 5th inning, but Claiborne did what he’s really proven his capable of doing and that’s keep the Rays scoreless for 2 innings. Then Logan and Robertson kept the momentum going for the 7th and 8th innings.

Okay, so leave it to Derek Jeter to start the run rally today. In the 1st inning, Jeter took the first pitch he saw into the left-center field seats. Then Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano each singled, where Vernon Wells could hit a nice sacrifice fly and score Cano. Soriano would then score on Ichiro Suzuki’s single. And the Yankees would end the 1st inning ahead 3-0.

The Rays would jump ahead by the bottom of the 3rd inning 4-3, but the Yankees never let them lead too long. So Jeter leads off with a single, and then Soriano decided to re-earn his pinstripes with a 2-run home run. And the Yankees were back up 5-4. The Rays would tie up the game in the 5th, and there the teams would sit. As the sun began to shine and push the sprinkling rain away, the innings and outs ticked by.

And then came the 9th inning, on a stroke of genius, Girardi’s call to the bullpen was to put in Mariano Rivera, which was the ultimate treat on an already special day. Rivera took 12 pitches to get his 3 outs and would walk away with today’s win. In the bottom of the inning, Brett Gardner walked and then they intentionally walked Jeter (much to the dismay of the entire booing crowd), which brought up Alfonso Soriano. Soriano promptly singles straight up the middle, scoring Gardner and getting surrounded by a cheering Yankees and 40,000 cheering fans. Gardner later thanked him by dumping the Gatorade jug onto Soriano, perhaps a much needed relief because of the rising heat off the field.

And the Yankees take Matsui Day 6-5 from the Rays, celebrating Jeter’s solid return and honoring one of the great Yankees. And if it hadn’t rained through the first half of the game, it might have been just about perfect. It’s a great day to be a Yankees fan. But then again, isn’t it always?

Go Yankees!