Game 39: SEA vs. NYY — 7th inning stretch

I think it’s only fitting for my 100th post on this blog to be a Yankees come-from-behind win at home tonight. Plus, we got to witness the return of Curtis Granderson coming off his 11-week recovery from a fractured forearm back on February 24th (the 2nd game of Spring Training. Honestly, they said it would take him 10 weeks before being back in baseball. And he came straight in from 5 games with the AAA affiliate in Scranton yesterday, so their recovery and rehab timetable was really accurate. Not only does that say a lot for the doctors and trainers, but it also says the Granderson worked hard at getting back at the right pace. His offensive contribution was a walk and run scored, but it was really his defense (tonight in left field) that really was put to the test and excellent once again.

It was a battle of the aces tonight with the Yankees behind CC Sabathia and the Mariners putting up their “King” Felix Hernandez. Sabathia struck out 10 batters and walked 2, but he allowed 10 hits (1 was a home run) over his 6.1 innings, which is a bit unusual for him. Hernandez’s numbers were about the same, except he only allowed 5 hits. This goes to show how the Yankees defense certainly protected further runs from being scored once again. In fact, the Yankees were technically out-hit by the Mariners, but again getting a strikeout or keeping the runners from advancing on fly balls or fielding plays is really a tribute to good team defense, like this unassisted double play by Jayson Nix in the 8th. Sabathia, however, did not earn the win; that went to Shawn Kelley who was brought in to finish the 7th inning. Robertson set-up the 8th for the great closer Mariano Rivera to earn his 16th save this year. That career total of his is just climbing.

Seattle struck first with an RBI double in the 3rd and a 2-run home run out to right field by former Yankee Raul Ibanez in the 6th, making it 3-0 Mariners. The Yankees response was slow — a Lyle Overbay double to score Granderson in the bottom of the 6th. And then once again, the Yankees found an offensive hole in the 7th inning. A single and stolen base and a walk set up Robinson Cano for a 2-RBI double to tie the game. A walk and an intentional walk to load the bases was all that Overbay needed to get a sacrifice fly to score Cano to put the final score at 4-3 Yankees.

There were some moments of drama tonight with regards to Hernandez. In the 4th inning, Hernandez goes to cover 1st base on a short grounder hit by Overbay. But the 1st baseman already has it covered and in fact makes the out pretty easily. But Hernandez somehow doesn’t realize that Overbay is running at full speed down the baseline and that Hernandez is standing right in front of the base on the baseline. So when Overbay goes in for the base, Hernandez realizes too late that he’s in the way and Overbay’s knee jams into the back of Hernandez’s knee as Overbay goes tumbling over the bag down the line. Both are physically okay, but Overbay is later given the base because of player interference, even though the play should have been an easy out (and technically was).

In the 6th inning, Granderson grounds into a force out at 2nd, which Hernandez picks up the dribbling ball and throws it to 2nd to get the runner (Cano), but then seems to be in pain walking around the mound a bit. Following a brief visit by the Mariners’ manager and trainer, the show goes on and he finishes the inning. The video here shows both issues.

In other news, Mark Teixeira hosted Prince Harry at his Harlem RBI field. The prince apparently spent the day earlier touring some of the damage from Hurricane Sandy with New Jersey Governor Christie and took some time this afternoon to see how the refurbishing of the fields damaged by Sandy were coming along, even playing coach to some of the local teams. Also, Travis Hafner is scheduled for an MRI on his shoulder that didn’t feel right today. Hopefully, nothing is wrong and it’s just stiff from all the recent work. We just got someone off the DL, and it’s not an exchange program.

Stay healthy, everyone! It’s good to be in 1st place.

Go Yankees!

Game 37 & 38: NYY vs. CLE — Make-up shutouts

Progressive Field in Cleveland hosted the Yankees for a traditional doubleheader today to make up for the rained out days back at the beginning of April. And today, they split the outcome each earning a shutout win. Game 1 was 1-0 for Cleveland, and Game 2 went 7-0 for New York.

In the 1st game, it was a pitching duel. Cleveland’s pitcher really was outstanding going the full 9 innings and keeping the Yankees scoreless, only allowing 4 hits and walking 3, while striking out 9 batters. David Phelps gave the Yankees 6.2 innings, striking out 7, walking 5, and allowing only 1 run to score off a 1st inning solo home run. To help Phelps keep the Indians from further damage, Logan got the final out in the 7th inning and Claiborne closed out the 8th.

Offensively in the 1st game, the Yankees didn’t have much to show in the way of power. But their defense is a credit to the single run allowed. Game 1 saw more regular players in their regular spots, which was needed to keep the Indians’ attempts to get on base throughout the game.

In between games, the Indians, in partnership with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, presented Mariano Rivera with a gold record of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, the closer’s well-known walk-up music. I don’t think Cleveland could have selected a better option to honor Rivera on his final trip to Progressive Field.

Also, Brennan Boesch was optioned to AAA Scranton in between games as there is talks of bring Curtis Granderson back sometime this week. Granderson has been doing really well in his rehab games with the Scranton team, and if he is ready to go, they will be bringing him back to New York with them and probably in one of the games against Seattle or Toronto this week. This I see as a good sign of the first of many recovering regular Yankees making their way back to the Bronx healthy and raring for a piece of the winning streak the Yankees have been on lately.

For the 2nd game, it was the Yankees who struck first with a run scored on a force out and the score stayed at 1-0 until the 7th inning. In his first start in the major leagues, Vidal Nuno showed why he was chosen as the outstanding candidate in Spring Training. He allowed only 3 hit and no runs over his strong 5 innings and earned the win. He’s really on the way to being a strong contender for the regular starting rotation sooner rather than later. He split today’s work with another outstanding Spring candidate Adam Warren who only allowed 2 hits over his 4 innings and notching his first save.

I have no idea what happened in the 7th inning, but the patchwork of Yankees forced their way through 10 batters in the top of the inning, scoring 6 runs against 3 different pitchers before it was over. Here’s what happened: Corban Joseph (in his 2nd outing with the majors, Game 1 was his first) doubled; newly acquired Alberto Gonzalez bunts out; Austin Romine (his 1st major league hit and RBI) doubles and scores Joseph (1); pitching change; Gardner walks; Jayson Nix singles out to right field and scores Romine (2), Gardner to 3rd; Cano strikes out swinging; Vernon Wells singles to left field and scores Gardner (3), Nix to 2nd; Lyle Overbay doubles out to center field, scoring Nix (4) and Wells (5); pitching change #2; Ben Francisco reaches on a throwing error and scores Overbay (6); and Corban Joseph flies out to center field.

That inning was reminiscent of the other games the Yankees played in Cleveland last month when they took advantage of poorly placed pitches and fielding errors. But they were quick and sharp to capitalize on the lack of natural teamwork that the Indians aren’t really displaying. But I’m not going to excuse them for this by attributing this to inexperienced players or the taxing momentum of a doubleheader because they Yankees are in the same boat, if not worse — most of those on the 2nd game roster are brand new Yankees, some even making their pinstriped debut this month (or today in Joseph’s case) and yet they find a way to work together and make it happen, working as a team, as if they’ve played their whole careers together.

They’re calling this year’s team the “No-Named Yankees”. But isn’t that the point of not having their names emblazoned on their back? Because it’s not about who’s in the shirt as much as who they represent. Again, we have to credit Girardi for pulling the impossible out of whomever is donning the uniform and somehow they still manage to win ball games and sit firmly atop the AL East and is one of the best teams in the whole league.

Go Yankees!

Game 36: NYY vs. KC — Pink bats win ball games

Happy Mother’s Day to all those who are mothers, have been mothered, have some connection to mothers, know someone who is a mother, or just likes mothers in general… but especially to my mother, who was my first fan on this blog and in life and who faithfully attends as many Yankees games with me as humanly possible. It is her love of the game that is something I inherited and part of the reason I have this blog. And while I take credit for converting her into a Yankees fan, I credit her with bringing me up loving baseball.

So on Mother’s Day, where else would we take my baseball-loving mom, but a Yankees game to watch them sweep the Royals under the rug. Many of the players donned pink in some way, on their bats, shoes, arm sleeves, sweat bands, and batting protectors to honor their mothers and show support for breast cancer survivors honored during the pregame festivities.

Facing all the booing again, Robinson Cano showed the Royals fans why hating him may not go away so easily with a 2-run home run off his Mother’s Day special pink bat in the 3rd (the silence from those in that awful powder blue was rather nice), which was quickly followed up by the next batter Vernon Wells who proceeded to hit a long drive out into the left field bleachers. The game was quickly 3-1 (the Royals scored both their 2 total runs on sacrifice outs in the 1st and 8th innings). In the 5th, the Yankees notched their 4th run as Wells again grabbed another RBI to plate Gardner in from his earlier double.

Hiroki Kuroda did an excellent job keeping the Royals at bay, going 7.2 innings, allowing 2 runs, 6 hits, and a walk. He made the defense work, but if anything we know by now is how spectacular our defense is. Gardner and Nix were the main functionaries of the outs, but both lived up to what we have been expecting of them. I continue to marvel at Brett Gardner’s range as an outfielder, due perhaps in part to missing so much time last year.

Robertson once again proved an excellent set-up man throwing 2 pitches in the 8th inning to earn the 3rd out. This again allowed for Mariano Rivera to pitch his last game in Kansas City, which he closed out in 9 pitchers, including a nifty defensive double play (instigated by Nix). (To note: before the game, the Royals GM and a Royals alumnus presented Rivera’s foundation with a check to help renovations on a church in New York that Rivera’s wife pastors.)

It was the 8th inning that served up a bit of drama at the stadium. A drunk Royals fan leaning over the railing for an entire inning trying to start a slurring cheer of either “Go Royals” or “Yankees suck” and an umpire arguing with Kuroda as he left the game. The fan was eventually escorted from the upper deck (but honestly, just away from the railing would have been fine for me), and I’m hoping put in a taxi and sent home safely. Kuroda’s grasp on English isn’t as good as Ichiro’s, so I’m guessing it was a lost-in-translation turned adding fuel to the increasing umpire issues kind of thing, but Girardi was there to smooth everything over. Girardi continues to have my vote for Manager of the Year already, and not just because he’s over the Yankees, but because of the magic he’s been able to pull with this mishmash of a team who currently own 1st place in the AL East and a 1/2 game behind the lead in the entire league.

I don’t know why the Royals fans were shocked that the Yankees won once Rivera came into the game, pitching to the bottom of their roster. Rivera’s 15th save out of 15 opportunities is only indicative of a career spent knocking out the competition. It’s always fun to watch Rivera pitch, but this year continues to add to the dimension, the mystique of his pitching. Kids are going to tell their kids one day that they saw Rivera pitch the year he retired, celebrating what an asset he’s been for the Yankees and the game of baseball in general.

Today is also Yankee’s #8 Yogi Berra’s 88th birthday. And there are a couple of people close to me also celebrating birthdays today, so a very happy birthday to all of you! The Yankees decided to win today in honor of your birthday and for all mother’s everywhere.

Go Yankees!

Game 35: NYY vs. KC — A hope, a dream, a win

Tonight’s game in Kansas City was one of those good games that will pass into the memory as one of many for this season. I continue to marvel at the Yankees nearly unbelievable (some say impossible) feat of continuing to be in 1st place in the AL East, but honestly, maybe I’m not that surprised. I mean, not to treat it lightly or flippantly, but they are the Yankees. And time after time, they continue to prove to the cynics and fair-weather fans and desk analysts alike that there is a reason for 27 championships in their storied franchise. And there’s still very much reason to hope for that #28 this year.

The offense gave a nice backing to Pettitte’s start tonight. In the 3rd inning, Robinson Cano (still receiving passionate boos from the crowd; get over it already, people) hits what should be an easy 3rd out for the Royals, but the fielder threw the ball wide of 1st, so Cano was safe and runner Chris Nelson scored on that fielding error. And in the 5th inning, Vernon Wells plants a long ball in the Royals bullpen in left field for a 2-run home run to bring the score to its final tally of 3-2.

Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte had a strong start tonight, going 7 full innings, 100 pitches, allowing 5 hits, striking out 7 batters and walking one, and giving up the only runs the Royals scored all night (2 – one was a solo shot and one was a sacrifice groundout). Followed up by a three straight strikeout inning by Robertson to set-up (who else for the save?) Mariano Rivera. An 18-pitch 9th inning for Rivera, who allowed a hit and faced down the Royals 3rd baseman before he finally flied out long to Vernon Wells in left field for the final out.

Before the game after warm-ups, Rivera jogged over to the left field line and signed autographs for the waiting crowd. The fun part about this crowd, however, was that it wasn’t just people in Yankees gear but also a smattering of the Royals powder blue and kids sporting Gordon or Butler or Hosmer jerseys. Many walked away almost star-struck, but the consensus among all in the crowd was what a good example Rivera has been, not just for the Yankees, but for all of baseball. He has given kids a good example of how to be a professional. When so many hotheads and divas seem to steal the spotlight nowadays, it’s nice to be able to point to Rivera and say that’s how you play the game. And following in the legacy of the other great player who donned the same number on his back, we need more 42’s in this game.

I always take a moment to look for the kids around me during a game. Partly because I always like to give foul balls to a kid should one ever come my way and partly because it reminds me that this is the game they play at their age first. You never know if you’re sitting next to the next Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter or Jackie Robinson and that one trip to the ball park gives them hope of donning pinstripes one day. It’s the kids that keep this game true to its heart. When you see them reach for every foul ball, their eyes sparkling with untainted hope and dreams, it’s like anything is possible. And at their age, that’s exactly how it should be.

And that’s why the game is amazing. Because even if you get the best team playing against the worst team, there’s always a chance the worst team will just rise up and blow the best team out of the water. Because anything really is possible. And I think that’s my absolute favorite part about baseball — the hope for the impossible and the dream of seeing it all come true. And it’s the kid in all of us that still feels like that at every game, at every play, at every at bat. As long as there is baseball, the dream and the hope is alive and kicking.

Go Yankees!

Game 34: NYY vs. KC — Memories, redemption, & Overbay

Going to Kansas City was going to bring up some emotional moments for the Yankees due to events that happened during last year’s season. But like they always do, the Yankees proved themselves classy professionals and faced two very different events with grace and good spirits.

Royals vs. Yankees_#5131
“No Mo Zone”, Rivera re-creates the 2012 injury site with gusto
Photo credit: Kent Klooster, MLB.com

On May 3, 2012, Mariano Rivera ripped his ACL shagging fly balls in the left-center field and for a moment everyone who witnessed his painful collapse that day really thought that was the last we were going to see of baseball’s greatest closer. But like a true professional, Rivera promised he’d be back. And a year (and one week) later, Rivera is going strong this season with 13 saves already racked up for his final year in baseball. So to remind Rivera to be extra careful during his pre-game warm-ups, the Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey (and I’m going to assume a whole bunch of other guys on the team) put up a sign that said “No Mo Zone”, complete with caution tape and white chalk outline on the warning track in the exact spot Rivera went down last year. Rivera, of course, took this all in stride and appreciated the prank with his own brand of humor, posing for pictures clutching his healed knee. No Rivera appearance tonight, but I seriously doubt the Yankees will leave Kansas City without having their closer make his final appearance at the stadium.

“They only boo you if you’re good.” That quote still sticks with me every time someone mentions last year’s All-Star Game, hosted by Kansas City in July. It’s what I have to remind myself not to remember the mean-spirited booing against Robinson Cano for his choice in the Home Run Derby. For those of you who don’t know, the Royals assumed Cano would include their hometown hero Billy Butler in the Derby, which Cano considered but ultimately opted for Fielder (Tigers), Bautista (Blue Jays), and Trumbo (Angels). His selections proved wise as they were the 3 finalists that Monday, and Fielder took home the trophy with a total of 28 home runs for the fundraising event. But the fans were merciless against Cano, ceaselessly and increasingly booing him through the Derby and into the next day’s All-Star Game.

Kansas City apparently doesn’t forgive and forget easily and is one of those cities that are trying to do some kind of rivalry, but like we saw in Toronto, it’s not rivalry at its truest form but simply mean-spirited hate. So Cano met the loud boos at every at bat and every good fielding he had tonight with his own kind of amusement — 2 solid hits and an RBI.

In fact, the Yankees were able to show Kansas City why they will probably always be booed (according to Jeter’s quote) — they’re really, really good. Tonight’s win of 11-6 was really quite a fun game to watch. The Yankees racked up 16 total hits, and everyone in their line-up tonight got at least one hit and scored or drove in a run (save Vernon Wells, so we’ll call it a really off-night for him). The standout player of the team was by far Lyle Overbay who went 4-for-5, with 2 RBI doubles and a 2-run home run; he alone is responsible for 6 of the 11 Yankee runs tonight.

Other offensive contributions include Ichiro Suzuki’s 2nd inning 2-run home run into the Royals bullpen to start the run rally, Chris Nelson’s 2-run single in the 6th, and Jayson Nix going 2-for-3 with a walk and scoring a run every time he got on base. Phil Hughes went 5.2 innings, giving up all 6 of the Royals’ runs off 7 hits — a 3-run homer, a 2-RBI double, and a solo home run. To save the bullpen for the rest of the weekend, Shawn Kelley went a solid 2.1 innings striking out 6 batters (5 in a row), and Boone Logan closed the game with a 3-up, 3-down inning.

Overall, the Yankees really as a group just showed up and played a really great game of baseball tonight and earned Girardi his 500th win as a manager. And the Yankees continue to be on top of the AL East in 1st place. I woke up this morning to this tweet, and it’s still true as I go to sleep tonight:

Go Yankees!

Game 33: NYY vs. COL — Soggy milestone & a win

The last game of the series in Denver continued its streak of rain for the Yankees in today’s rubber match (meaning each team has won one and is looking to win 2-out-of-3 of the series to “win the series”). Even with a 2 hour rain delay after the 4th inning, the Yankees kept their early lead and won the game (and the series) in the end. They are working their way to be back in the Bronx next week via Kansas City this weekend and Cleveland for the make-up doubleheader on Monday from the 2 postponed, rained-out games back in early April.

Tonight’s game had CC Sabathia throwing 51 pitches over only 4 innings, giving up only 1 hit and 1 run scored on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 1st inning. But with the 2 hour rain delay, Girardi went to the bullpen to keep the Rockies at 1 run with a patchwork of Adam Warren (who earned the win), Logan, Claiborne, Robertson, and Rivera (with yet another save).

The Yankees were able to give their 6 pitchers something to fight for. At the top of the 1st inning, Vernon Wells (who else any more?) got an RBI single to get the Yankees an early lead. In the 4th inning, as it was beginning to rain again, Chris Stewart hit a nice sacrifice fly to score Chris Nelson. Once the game was back in action, Robinson Cano stepped up to the plate to hit a solid right field solo home run to bring the score to what would be its final 3-1 Yankees.

Cano also hit a milestone earlier in the game. In the 3rd inning, Cano hit his 1500th career hit, a single to shallow center field for the 2nd baseman (only fitting) who couldn’t make the throw in time to throw Cano out at 1st. And if anyone can do any kind of math, this puts him at halfway to the coveted 3000 hit club. Cano’s teammate Derek Jeter is the only active member in all of MLB in the 3000 hit club, currently with 3,304 hits. Fun to note here: it took Cano 8 years to reach this milestone, and it took Jeter 8 years to go from 1500 to 3000; with Cano’s status as a “power hitter”, it might take a little longer to reach 3000 as Cano loves to swing for the fences and Jeter is more of a small-ball player (who ironically hit a home run on his 3000th hit 2 years ago).

The rain might have dampened Colorado fans’ spirits, or maybe it was the overall loss, but the Yankees are storming into Kansas City looking for another series to win. Milestones aside, this team is gradually working its way through all sorts of storms, both weather-related and metaphorically, and the outcome seems to shine in the Yankees’ favor. They haven’t had nearly the kinds of trouble other teams have been having with outside circumstances, rain is probably the biggest issue so far; while other teams seem to struggle with physical on-field rivalries, blatant missed calls and umpire issues, traumatic injuries (broken hand seems almost trivial compared to taking a 100 mph ball directly to your temple), and scathing fan bases.

In fact, the only thing that seems to be plaguing the Yankees is the recovering injured ones, scattered mostly in Tampa right now, working their way back to the field. It’s what makes this year much more unique and almost fascinating to watch. Even the greatest anti-Yankees critics are watching in awe as the Yankees seem to beat all odd and just become the Yankees, the continuing legacy that captured its fans nearly a century ago and hasn’t let go of them yet or any time soon. It’s what makes for good baseball, it’s what makes for a good team, it what makes them our Yankees.

Go Yankees!

Game 32: NYY vs. COL — All about Vernon

Can we just give the game ball to Vernon Wells? Seriously, the man can hit and play any position you put him, as evidenced by tonight’s game. Right in 1st inning, at his first at bat, he slams a nice 2-run home run into the left field bleachers to put the Yankees on top. This certainly helped starting pitcher David Phelps with his an excellent job throwing 84 pitches over 6 solid innings, allowing only 3 hits and a 2-run home run (the only runs the Rockies scored all evening) in the 2nd inning. He was followed by 9 pitches from Preston Claiborne, 13 pitches from David Robertson (who took tonight’s win), and a 16 pitch 9th inning by Mariano Rivera for the save (and his first ever appearance at Coors Field).

A 9th inning single by pinch hitter (and eventual right fielder for the 9th inning) Brennan Boesch scored Wells and put the Yankees at their final score of 3-2 for the win, but eventually got Jayson Nix (who was intentionally walked to load the bases for Boesch) doubled off of 2nd and was eventually tagged out to end the 9th for the Rockies. But bringing in Boesch and removing Nelson for Hafner meant that someone in the outfield (Gardner, Ichiro, or Wells) had to move to the infield. The choice fell to (who else this evening?) Vernon Wells to man 3rd base. Although this was the first time in his professional career at that position, this turned out to be an excellent idea as he was able to field a grounder and throw out the runner at 1st base for the second out of the inning.

Vernon Wells himself could barely contain his excitement and tweeted this after the game:

And a reporter I follow also made a comment that reminded me of my recent post:

Something tells me that we all feel a little like this recently, but we’re all pretty happy with the outcome.

I do want to add that it must be slightly satisfying for Chris Nelson to be doing well against his former team. He is adding to the strong defense in what is commonly coined “the hot corner” (because of all the across the diamond throws the 3rd baseman does to get out the guy running to 1st). And tonight he managed one of the Yankees 6 hits against their starter and bullpen tonight. Nelson is still finding his footing with the team, but I have a feeling it won’t be long before he’s fully earned those pinstripes (or even the away greys!).

Go Yankees!