Game 68: NYY vs. LAA — Not enough to snap out of it

Mark Teixeira is on his way to New York earlier than expected. After his second at bat of the evening, he felt (as Girardi later said) that he was missing the “snap in his swing”. So, they gave him the rest of the night and tomorrow off and sent him back to the East Coast to see the team’s doctor. And while this probably is just minor stiffness in his previously injured wrist, I don’t think they’re as worried as they are about some of the other guys. And a nice bonus for Teixeira is that he will be able to spend Father’s Day tomorrow with his family, who live outside the city.

But really “missing the snap of the swing” is really something you could say for quite a few people on the team — even the ones who carried the team the first 6 weeks of the season into first place, something we haven’t been for nearly two weeks now. Tonight’s game against the Angels was just a further continuance down that path.

The only offensive damage the Yankees were able to do was in the 3rd inning. With Chris Stewart on 1st base with a single, Brett Gardner struck first with a really solid shot out to the right field corner which scored Stewart and allowed Gardner all the way to 3rd base for a nice triple. This was immediately followed by a Jayson Nix that allowed Gardner to score. That’s right, the Yankees once again managed just 2 runs in a single inning for the entire game.

Starting pitcher David Phelps actually pitched pretty well during his 6 innings, short of the 3 runs he allowed (one was a solo home run in the 2nd inning), and was able to get out of some rather tight jams with the flair of a more-seasoned pitcher. Shawn Kelley came into the game in the 7th inning (Phelps had allowed a single to start the inning) to walk a batter, allow an RBI double, intentionally walk a batter to load the bases, force the infield fly rule on a pop up (the 1st out of the inning), walk another batter which walked in a run (always my least favorite way to score), and finally a fly out and ground out to end the inning. This was nowhere near Kelley’s best, nor was it what we’re used to seeing from him. Joba Chamberlain’s pitching in the 8th allowed an additional run on an RBI single which made the final score 6-2 Angels.

June really hasn’t been the Yankees month, and part of me is really glad it’s half-way over. But the other part of me also knows this can’t last forever. Eventually, the pieces will fall into place and they’ll win again. And that’s how I have to stay positive (as I committed to do on this blog) — with a huge reality check. Even the absolute worse teams in baseball win games from time to time; no team goes 0-162 for an entire season. But that reality check compared to what you see cascading down the standings and those pesky little average numbers isn’t always comforting, nor should it be. What it should do is challenge the players to reach further, play harder, work better together, and push themselves to be the kind of players and the kind of team that deserve to wear the famous pinstripes.

And I guess that’s why people hide on the other side of the fence at games or behind computer screens on message boards and try to figure out what’s wrong. So they scream (or write) things at or about the players or coaches or team that aren’t positive or productive and most of the time not even true. And why? Because they really can’t do anything about it, and that in itself is frustrating. When you go to a game, the players don’t guarantee that your team will win. It’s always anyone’s game, or rather I should say, it’s always anyone who’s actually paid to play the game’s game. That’s right. No matter what happens, the people in the seats have zero control over the outcome of the game (save some fan interference, which is illegal or at least strongly frowned upon).

So while fans scream ridiculous (and often hateful) things at the players, it’s just as silly and ridiculous as the wave or those awful noisemakers at some stadiums. None of those things accomplish anything but make their participants look foolish. Yes, I have some pet peeves regarding baseball and almost all of them involve these kinds of fans. We Yankee fans know all too well that the guy that may cause us some trouble today might be in next year’s roll call (like Wells and Youkilis this year) and thus embraced by all Yankee fans. I don’t think I can preach this too much — rivalry is a side-effect of good sportsmanship and competition, but mean-spirited hatred does nothing for the sport or the people involved except breed more hate and negativity — even if it’s the team to which you’ve sworn your loyalty. Stay positive and classy, people!

Go Yankees!

Game 67: NYY vs. LAA — Shuffling the deck

Apparently, in the midst of a team-wide slump, the Yankees decided to do some shuffling of the players around to see if a change could spark a bit of life back into some of those hitting those skids. Kevin Youkilis woke up with some numbness in his feet that wouldn’t go away, so he’s placed on the DL until they know what’s going on with his back (the usual cause for such an ailment). Adam Warren (who was really outstanding yesterday) was sent to AAA to call up pitcher Chris Bootcheck and outfielder Thomas Neal (both played in tonight’s game). To make room for Neal and Bootcheck, the Yankees transferred still-recovering Eduardo Nunez to the 60-day DL and recently recovered Cesar Cabral to stay with the team he’s been on rehab assignment with — AA Trenton.

On the field, they gave Cano a half day and used him as DH, moved David Adams to cover 2nd base, Nix at 3rd, and Neal in Right (Ichiro would replace in the 8th inning). Shuffling didn’t seem to help the Yankees win against the Angels tonight because it certainly didn’t help them play as a team behind starting pitcher Andy Pettitte. And while Pettitte certainly wasn’t at his best tonight, I think he has grown accustomed to the great defense, especially in the infield, to help him out on a weaker outing. His usual suspects weren’t there to help him out, so he unfortunately took tonight’s loss. Pettitte ended up allowing 11 of the Angels’ 13 hits and 4 of their 5 runs, and even after escaping some really tight jams, it’s a shame that he still has to celebrate his 41st birthday tomorrow coming off tonight’s loss.

Chris Bootcheck came in to pitch in the 8th inning and looked a little rusty having spent the last three years in the minors. Tonight, he gave up 2 hits and a run, walked two batters, and threw 30 pitches in one inning (just 18 were strikes). If he wants a more regular place in the bullpen, he’s going to have to get a little more Adam Warren and a lot less {name redacted for positivity’s sake}.

Now, my player of the game is most certainly David Adams. He made some truly fantastic plays from 2nd base, including a really great flat-out diving catch and toss to 1st for an out early in the game. He also was responsible for the only 2 runs the Yankees scored in the game with a really nice 2-RBI single in the 4th inning. And honestly, I’m going to give him the nod for good sportsmanship on a wonky play in the 7th inning. It is customary for the junior fielders to cede a play to a more senior fielders, which in the middle infield meant Adams must cede to Reid Brignac (at shortstop), unless he calls it. Well, a fly ball goes up and both players go for it, but Adams notices Brignac’s approach and steps off his effort. Neither calls the play and the ball plops down between them for a base hit on what should have been an easy out, followed by the two exchanging some rather heated words for few moments. (I wish I had a video link.) I don’t imagine that incident will go unnoticed by anyone that matters, and it’s one of those plays that once it happens, it won’t happen again.

Today’s one of those days you might actually miss the no-namers of April making a big splash all over Major League Baseball. But when I look on the field, I see a whole bunch of no-namers. Just today’s no-namers weren’t playing as a team. Okay, except for a few excellent exceptions. And I have to note there were two rather excellent throws to home to keep the Angels from really racking up the score any more than the 5-2 they ended up with. Austin Romine, while definitely needing to improve his offense, is proving rather consistent behind the plate, especially when it comes to blocking a runner, like one in the 6th when Wells threw a very long ball from left field directly to Romine to tag out a LA runner from scoring. They compared this one to the one from yesterday’s long game between Wells and catcher Stewart.

Look, bottom line is the Angels clearly out-played the Yankees tonight, which is weird because the Yankees (on paper, at least) should be a better team. But they’re hitting LA in the middle of this slump, which just makes the season-long slumping Angels looks like a better team. Well, maybe they are a better team right now because when the time came for the Angels to make some team-related plays, they made them (not as cleanly as one might like, but they were made nonetheless) — something the Yankees didn’t really execute well tonight. And again that’s a shame for those who made an effort and played well. But again, like I’ve always said (and how certain teams are proving this point since Day 1 of the season), you can have all the “best” players in league, but if they don’t play as a team, you just don’t win games. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about the team’s win-loss record and not the individual

So go (Team) Yankees! (And a happy birthday to Andy Pettitte!)

Game 66: NYY vs. OAK — The game that wouldn’t end

Today was the 12th time in Yankee history that they played into the 18th inning, and today they played 5 hours and 35 minutes before the A’s won it in the bottom of the 18th with an RBI single. Basically, it was like a very long doubleheader, where both teams used up their bullpens (save Chamberlain who pitched last night).

Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda actually had a pretty decent outing, throwing 8 full innings, allowing 2 hits and 2 runs. Both runs were scored in the 3rd inning, one on a ground out and one on a nice right field double. Kuroda was replaced by Robertson, Logan, Kelley, Warren (for 6 full strong innings), Claiborne (who took the loss, as it was his runner that scored to win the game off his replacement), and then Rivera (who failed to make a single out to stop Oakland from winning).

The Athletics scored their final run over 5 hours before the first run of the game was scored. It was Robinson Cano’s 2-run home run back in the 1st inning that planted the Yankees at 2-0, later tied 2-2 for 15 innings (18th – 3rd, when A’s scored).

Part of the reason the Yankees lost was a questionable call at home in the 3rd inning, due to Chris Stewart’s placement of the ball in his glove when he tagged the runner coming home; it was ultimately decided he didn’t have it in his glove and thus the runner was safe. But Stewart made up for the error by a really fantastic block of a runner; assisted by a long, strong throw by Left Fielder Vernon Wells, Stewart stood his ground and kept a walk-off from occurring within his reach in the 15th inning. This was really the play of the day, and an excellent example of the great defense we have behind the plate.

I cannot remember the last time I watched a game this long, with consecutive play and no weather or other major delays. I mean, we’ve been dealing with weather delays a lot this year, more than usual it seems. I think this is a fun coincidence since I was reading an article about people who complain about how long baseball games are. The average professional football game is 3:06, basketball is 2:30, hockey is 3:05, and baseball is 2:57. That’s right, baseball is actually shorter than an average hockey or football game, but there are no half-time shows or cheerleaders or entertainment (short of rating the singers of the national anthem and “God Bless America”). So the crowd boos when “time takers” occur like pick-offs at 1st base or coaching visits to the mound or the batter stepping in and out of the box multiple times. But they don’t boo when the football coach calls for his 500th time out in double overtime. It’s the same time consumer, so what’s the difference? Entertainment? That’s why some stadiums have silly hot dog (or fish or dead president or condiments or subway trains or Pepsi bottles) races or shoot shirts and softballs into the crowd or other “entertaining” (and marketing) shows during this “down time” (or the commercial break, if you’re watching for home).

But I’m one of those people who think that if it takes longer to play the game, it just makes my ticket more valuable. Think about it. Technically, you’ve rented those seats for a 24-hour period, so the longer you use them, the more you get out of them, thus making your money go further. Say you bought a $50 ticket to today’s game, and they played 18 innings, which should have cost you $100 (for two games), but you got a full game for free just by staying in your seat for the full game.

So I’m going to say now: I really hate it when people get up and leave before the game ends (short of an emergency or family issue, which I totally support — family comes first, always). But as Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And Oakland fans that stayed the full 5 1/2 hours got a treat today by seeing their team win in such a late fashion. But it really could have just as easily been the Yankees — you just never know until it’s over.

Also, what will seem like great news for Yankee fans is that Derek Jeter is officially healing and has been cleared for to begin running and resuming baseball activity, which will happen in gradual increase over the next few weeks. This doesn’t set a clear-cut timetable for his return, but it does give those who doubted a promise that he will return. Much like Rivera did last year, there’s no way Jeter is going out limping. I should be clear that Jeter isn’t anywhere near retirement. Though people seem to get a kick out of his age (the number will be increasing in a couple of weeks), he will be the last of the Core Four to hit 40, and with Pettitte and Rivera still pitching strong into their 40’s, I don’t see any reason to think Jeter (with proper rehab and careful timing) can’t come back and play well into his 40’s as well. After all, they’re from a different generation of players, Yankee lifers who excelled under Torre’s guidance and helped reinvent Yankee baseball (and much of baseball itself). Keep healing, keep strong, and we’ll see you when we see you — probably in that crucial time to which you’ve been dubbed — the “Clutch”.

Go Yankees!

Game 65: NYY vs. OAK — Looking at the future

Tonight’s first pitch was thrown out by a robotic device, operated by a kid in Kansas City but the ball crossed the plate in Oakland. There has been a lot of talk about adding more technology to the game, so I guess this is a nod to what can be done today and a hope for innovations in the near future. The kid is currently undergoing treatment at a Kansas City children’s hospital for a rare blood disorder. (The ESPN story is here.)

The Yankees could have used a more consistent robotic pitching mechanism as starting pitcher Phil Hughes wasn’t really on his game tonight. His 95 pitches took him only through 4.1 innings, allowing 4 hits and a season high 5 walks. He also allowed 3 runs, one of which was a 2-run home run (by the same player who would later get a solo homer off Joba Chamberlain in the 8th inning). After allowing an RBI double in the 5th, Hughes was replaced by rookie Shawn Kelley who kept the A’s scoreless for his 1.2 innings. Logan pitched his .1 inning in the 7th before being replaced by Chamberlain who went 1.1 innings, allowing that solo homer and an RBI single. He was promptly replaced by rookie Claiborne who walked his first batter and then got the last out. The Hughes-Chamberlain combination tallied 5 runs for the Athletics, something the Yankees offense couldn’t overcome.

The A’s starting pitcher had better luck fending off the Yankees. In the 6th inning, Mark Teixeira knocked Brett Gardner in for a sacrifice fly to put the Yankees on the board. And in the 7th inning, Jayson Nix singled in Youkilis for their 2 total runs that the Yankees would score all evening.

But it was the Yankee defense that kept Oakland from running up the tally on the scoreboard, with two very good sliding catches by Ichiro Suzuki in the 5th and in the 6th, both off the same batter. Ichiro will probably enter Cooperstown as a Mariner, having spent 11 seasons there, but I think most Yankee fans will follow that old mantra of “once a Yankee…”. And to me, Ichiro will always be a Yankee.

In other “future” news, the Yankees signed contracts with 13 of their draft picks, including their first pick Eric Jagielo, whose stellar performance at Notre Dame earned him the 26th overall selection and $1,839,400 in signing bonuses. Other “new Yankees” include Tyler Wade, David Palladino, John Murphy, Philip Walby, Cale Coshow, Caleb Smith, Jordan Barnes, Derek Toadvine, Sam Agnew-Wieland, Trent Garrison, Kevin Cornelius, and Hector Crespo. (More on Jagielo and today’s signings here.)

And I guess that’s what these games force fans to do — look toward the future. You can’t change the past; and you have to power to affect things today for what is to come in the future. So we never know how a draft pick will turn out or even if they will ever make it to the majors or if they will be worth the investment. But that’s what’s fun about following the draft. You never know when we find the next Thurman Munson, Darryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, or Josh Hamilton (all first round draft picks). And at this point, who knows who will become a household name and who will become “that guy who used to play baseball”. Best of luck to all the draftees, whether they signed or passed (usually to go to college, like Josh Pettitte chose to do), or at least passed for now. The future is yours for the taking and the making; so (like Doc Brown says in a movie before most of you were born) “make it a good one!”

Go Yankees!

Game 64: NYY vs. OAK — Not quite the All-Star performance tonight

There was a big deal made about starting pitcher CC Sabathia’s “return home” because he grew up not far away from Oakland and was an Oakland fan growing up. I guess it was because there wasn’t much else to talk about leading up to the series in the Bay Area. Sabathia had a rough start though, getting only 3 strike outs, allowing 8 of the Athletics’ 9 hits and all 6 of their runs in tonight’s loss. A 2nd pitch solo home run in the 1st inning pretty much set the stage for the night, followed by an RBI double in the 2nd, and the A’s had a 2-0 lead quickly.

Their big dent came in the 4th inning with a 3-run home run deep to left-center field. And the proof of Sabathia’s off-night came in his last inning (the 6th) when he walked a batter on a wild pitch and the runner at 3rd easily scored the A’s 6th and final run of the night. Claiborne and Chamberlain kept the A’s scoreless for the rest of the game.

The Yankees racked up the hits off Oakland’s starter and bullpen, getting 10 solid hits through the whole 9 innings. The A’s starter wasn’t exactly at his best either, but the Yankees couldn’t seem to bring enough effort to score until the last two innings. In the 8th inning, 3 straight singles by Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira ended up scoring a run (Gardner on Teixeira’s single) before any outs were made in the inning. Then 3 batters later, it was pinch hitter Vernon Wells’ single that hit in Cano who was waiting through two outs at 3rd to make the score 6-2 A’s.

In the next inning, the Yankees’ last attempt for the win, a single by Chris Stewart (who continues to prove his value on the team) and a double by Cano set up Teixeira for a 2-RBI single to plant the final score at 6-4 Oakland. It was that 3-run homer by Oakland that really lost the game for the Yankees, as proved by this last minute rally.

It was just “one of those games”. But in other news, Cano was named AL Home Run Derby Captain again for the upcoming event at the All-Star game next month. While he most definitely won’t have to face any angry, vengeful Midwesterners, he still gets tasked with selecting three other AL derby competitors, players who can hit long balls for a fun charity event the day before the All-Star Game. I voted for who I wanted him to pick for the Home Run Derby (they weren’t any other Yankees), and I’ve used up all my votes on the All-Star Game (yes, I voted all Yankees for the team).

And I look forward to see if Cano can put together yet another championship team; he excelled at last year’s selections picking the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place players in the 2012 HR Derby, with Detroit’s Prince Fielder coming in on top. Something tells me Cano’s going to have a whole lot more fun at this year’s event, and much of that is because this year’s All-Star events are taking place at Citi Field just over the river in Queens. It’s not quite home-field advantage, but it’s close enough for all the Yankee fans to cheer on their All-Stars and drown out all the negativity. And that’s my favorite kind of cheering.

Go Yankees!

Brett Gardner: AL Player of the Week

Brett Gardner was named AL Player of the Week because he average .520, going 13-for 25, with 5 doubles, a home run, and 6 RBIs in a single week. I think where he really found his stride was during the Cleveland games earlier in the week, where his offense started complementing his already stellar defense and really earned him something worthy of praise. But he’s also hit safely at least once in every game last week. As of this posting, he currently has a .284 average, the highest of the whole active roster. And he’s easily stolen 10 bases.

Apparently, for the award, Gardner beat out fellow teammates CC Sabathia who threw a complete game last Wednesday against Cleveland and Mariano Rivera who earned 4 saves (of his 2013 total 23) this week. Other contenders this week were Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Red Sox), David Ortiz (Red Sox), and Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics), who all had great offensive efforts for their respective teams.

It’s rather fun to see a player succeed, one who usually gets a bit overlooked in the New York lights, one who isn’t really known for his great offense, and one who hasn’t really quite carved that name for himself in the Yankee history books just yet. It’s easy to get caught up in the greats and the names and the legends at Yankee Stadium because they really do deserve the accolades and praise. Each one worked hard to get just the chance to do something like they are known for, and each one put in their dues to become something the papers and the fans and the front office talks about, raves about, even publicly celebrates.

Sure when I think of the Yankees, I think of the legends that have played in pinstripes, or those that current are legends in pinstripes (#42 anyone?). But I also think of those who diligently put in the effort everyday, on the field, off the field, during practice, in the clubhouse, out in the city, across the country as a Yankee representative. They make it possible for Rivera to come into 24 games (so far this season) and work hard for that save. Their running and sliding catches, their short singles and doubles, their quick jumps to catch a fly ball or tag a runner out are cheered on by thousands of fans everyday. And they are often a name for a short season, but such a valuable part of what makes a team, our team, a great team.

And because they’re the Yankees, they’re going to be clean-cut in appearance and in integrity. And if anyone has displayed all of those qualities for this last week, let alone for the whole season already, it’s Brett Gardner. So we thank you, #11, for being you — an integral, very necessary part of this storied franchise.

Go Yankees!

Game 63: NYY vs. SEA — A loss for the King, a win for the Empire

The Mariners may have a “King”, but the Yankees are the “Evil Empire” (yes, they trademarked that recently). And as always, the King cannot overtake the Empire, and the Seattle King couldn’t lead his team to the win. And thus, the Yankees also took the series in Seattle 3-of-4.

The game began slow for the Mariner’s ace Felix Hernandez (dubbed “King Felix” in Seattle) throwing 43 pitches threw 2 innings, 22 in the 1st inning loading the bases but stopping the Yankees from scoring and 21 in the 2nd allowing an RBI single from Brett Gardner scored Jayson Nix to make it 1-0 Yankees. But Hernandez kept the Yankees from scoring again through his 7 total innings, giving up 5 of the Yankees 7 hits.

On the other side of the field starting pitcher David Phelps also kept the Mariners away from doing much damage, only allowing Seattle batters one run, also on an RBI single in the 2nd inning. Phelps did a great job and kept them scoreless for the rest of his 6 innings, replaced by Logan, David Robertson, and Rivera, helping Phelps keep Seattle with a line of zeros across the scoreboard.

Neither of tonight’s starting pitchers would earn a win-loss statistics on their record because of a 9th inning last-ditch effort by the Yankees. (Robertson would notch the win for today’s game, and Rivera his 23rd save of 2013.) A lead-off walk to Ichiro Suzuki (still loved in Seattle after 11 seasons there), Nix’s sacrifice bunt advanced Ichiro to scoring position where he did just that on Chris Stewart’s single on a rather off-target throw to home from the outfield. This made the final score 2-1 Yankees.

Actually, it was rather fun to watch this game, especially toward the end. I love nail-biter games, complete with great nail-biting plays, like Mark Teixeira’s rather spectacular double play in the 9th inning. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, and really freaks out the other people in Starbucks who don’t know you’re watching a baseball game on your computer (with headphones) so find your sudden outburst of joy really rude and intrusive to their incessant coffee-sipping and computer-typing. Not that most of the people nearby were Yankees fans (or baseball fans, for that matter) and would have understood my excitement. But I think that’s what makes enjoying a game, no matter where you are, kind of fun — you have the responsibility as fans to celebrate when your team does something wonderful and feel bummed when they don’t succeed. Sorry, people at Starbucks, but a fan is a fan no matter where they are.

Go Yankees!