Game 16: NYY vs. TOR — Extra innings comeback on turf

The Yankees continue to fight for dominance among the AL East, and today’s win in extra innings was no exception. Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda once again showed how “experience” can set the stage for a win. In his 108 pitches thrown over 7 1/3 innings, Kuroda allowed only 3 hits (1 would become an earned run), walked 1 batter, and struck out 7 Blue Jays.

The Yankees offense provided an early lead for Kuroda, who managed to keep it scoreless against Toronto into the 8th inning with a score of 3-0. The pitchers (Robertson, Chamberlain, Logan, and Kelley) following Kuroda weren’t as fortunate with their outings, each working for 2 outs over the next 4 innings; Robertson, however, allowing for an RBI single and a 2-RBI single to tie up the game and take it into extra innings. I should note it was Shawn Kelley who was awarded the win because he was the last pitcher to preserve the lead, which is a shame because Kuroda really pitched an excellent game once again.

At the top of the 11th inning, the Yankees offense once again charge up the mountain that was the sloppiness of Toronto’s fielding to score 2 runs on an Ichiro Suzuki bunt and a throwing error. Ichiro landed at 2nd and baserunners Wells and Cervelli ended up tagging home to put the score at 5-3 Yankees in the 11th. And once again, it was good old #42 Mariano Rivera called in to close the door on the heated Blue Jays, which included 2 back-to-back strikeouts and another save to add to his growing career numbers.

I’ve never been a big fan of domed stadiums or turf diamonds, even though I used to live near the Tropicana Dome in Florida (where the Rays play). To me, I’ve always preferred the outdoor look, smell, and feel to a game that’s been played in sandlots around the world by kids in the hot days of summer. Of course, with the weather patterns constantly changing and snow pouring into Coors Field in Colorado and Target Field in Minnesota recently and the bitter cold rains that drenched and cancelled two Yankee-Indians games last week, I can understand why there is always chatter of making a domed stadium or adding some such device to a current complex. But that’s always been the risk of an outdoor game. Heck, there were only day games for decades until stadiums installed field lights, and now most games during the season are night games. But is converting stadiums to domes (or even the retractable roofs like at Rogers Centre in Toronto) worth the investment?

Players usually prefer playing on real grass because of its natural sponginess, which allows for better (and more injury-free) base running and fielding. And for a place with a retractable roof like Toronto, I don’t understand why real grass isn’t an option. And honestly, it rather limits some of the fun parts of baseball. Fielding is limited because you don’t want your outfielders especially running down every ball with such force because it’s basically like running full-on on carpet-covered linoleum — after a while it starts the wear and tear on your knees, shins, and hips which increases the injury. Base running is also drastically affected. Without the natural give of grass, stealing bases isn’t as common because it isn’t as safe to go barreling head first or even sliding on your “upper thigh” into a base. Again that image of doing so on carpet-covered linoleum should suffice for any reasons.

From the turf in Toronto, the Yankees head down on Monday to my home state to play on turf at the Trop for a series. And while I’m glad they’re getting this back-to-back “turf war” (if you will) out of the way early in the season, it’s also a little dangerous to be using a consistent set of players on day-to-day with the surface. I think we’ll see some regular players rotated out for a rest to save some legs and prevent any overuse or potential injury. And it was easy to figure out that Toronto and Tampa are the only two teams with artificial turf and the only teams with a domed roof. Every other stadium is a) primarily set outdoors and b) converted to real grass if they didn’t have it already.

Okay, I do have another reason I like outdoor parks, and perhaps it’s because I’m a Yankee fan. When the player hits that amazing home run, it’s always fun to see it sail clear out of the park and not hit some steel wall on one side of the dome. Those that catch some air and land in the parking lot or on the sidewalk outside the stadium (like stories of Mickey Mantle’s homers) are the ones you remember and talk about for years to come. Those are the ones that kids dream of hitting on those sandlots all across the world. There is a simplicity, an innocence, something purely Americana about the outdoor field and all of its potential greatness. It’s one of the many things I love about baseball.

Go Yankees!

Game 15: NYY vs. TOR — Cheering for the good over the boos

The Yankees were in hitting mode tonight in their series opener in Toronto. Amassing 6 doubles, a triple, and 3 home runs, the Yankees took home tonight’s win 9-4. Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte threw 7 innings and an out in the 8th, 90 total pitches, 61 of them strikes, and striking out 5 batters. He allowed 6 hits, 3 of the 4 Toronto runs (one was a 2-run home run in the 6th). Pettitte was in fine form today and pitched 3 straight 3-up-3-down innings (getting the batters out 1-2-3 in batting order).

But it was the offense that really secured Pettitte his 3rd win of the season. Of the 13 total hits from Yankees, Robinson Cano and Travis Hafner each netted a double, Francisco Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki each netted 2 doubles, and Brett Gardner sliced a nice triple. But it was the three solid solo home runs from Hafner, Lyle Overbay, and Vernon Wells that kept pushing the score higher. With runs scored small and big tonight, the smattering of Yankees fans in Rogers Centre cheered tonight as the majority of the nearly 41,000 people took up very loud booing every time the Yankees did something awesome. I will note that it certainly seemed like the Jays’ fans were doing nothing but providing a very monotone boo sound consistently for most of the (very quick) 2.5 hour game. Way to show the world how to be a good sport tonight, Toronto!

Well, none of the names on tonight’s hitting list surprise me in the least. The Yankees have proved (at least to me, now going 9-6 for the season so far) that they can hit, score runs, and play well no matter whose name is on the roster. After yesterday’s blow with Jeter’s lingering ankle issues and the increased activity across America with unfathomable tragedies, it seems like we could really use some good news and something to cheer for and get excited about. And today, we got it on many fronts.

In the midst of the Yankees running up the scoreboard north of the border, the brave men and women in Boston were able to safely apprehend the second suspect in the Boston marathon bombings. And while the investigation is still in process, the citizens of Boston can now begin to mourn and heal and breathe a sigh of relief. There is still much to do in recovery, but a huge step has been made to begin closure for the city. And our hearts are also with those still sifting through the mess in Texas. Again, there are many in this country who are hurting and feeling the loss brought on by recent events; our prayers are with them tonight.

So as I think back over tonight, with the boos of Toronto fans echoing in my ears (thanks to replays, as linked above), I think it is only appropriate that we remember that we need to continue to cheer for the good despite anything that may be trying to distract or intimidate us. It is our crying out for good that brings justice when the cry of the hurt and broken can be so deafening and helpless. So thank you, Toronto, for providing me with a great allegory for life. “They only boo you if you’re good.” Then America (and our beloved Yankees) must be the best tonight. Boo all you want because good always wins in the end.

Go Yankees!

Game 14: ARI vs. NYY — Extra innings setback

In the first extra innings game of the season, the Yankees followed up a 9th inning rally with a 6-2 loss in the 12th inning in tonight’s 4 hour 11 minute game against the Diamondbacks. All the runs scored in the first 9 innings were by solo home runs, 2 from Arizona, allowed by starting pitcher Phil Hughes (in a rather solid pitching outing tonight, 7 innings, 6 hits, 6 strikeouts, no walks) in the 3rd and 6th inning. Going into the bottom of the 6th, the Yankees down 2-0, suddenly found life in the bat of Robinson Cano via his solo home run. The Yankees stayed 2-1 going into the bottom of the 9th, when Francisco Cervelli knocked his solo home run into the left field bleachers.

Trouble began in the top of the 12th with David Phelps pitching his 2nd inning of the night. A double, a fly-out, a base taken on catcher’s interference (Cervelli’s 2nd of the night, though I’d be tempted to argue that one wasn’t interference as much as the batter made it out to be), and then a hit by pitch. An RBI single starts the Arizona rally, and then former Yankee Eric Chavez clears the bases with a very nice 3-RBI double to bring the score up to 6-2 Arizona. The Yankees couldn’t rally again in the bottom of the inning and thus lost the 3rd game of the series tonight. But taking 2 out of 3 is always a bonus. If the Yankees can continue to do at least that, we’re  in for a good season already. (By the way, we’ve been sitting over .500 for a team average for the last week.)

But tonight’s loss isn’t the loss everyone’s going to be talking about. Word came in from Tampa today that we won’t be seeing Derek Jeter don the pinstripes any time before the All-Star break (mid-July). His ankle had been giving him trouble earlier this week, so after a precautionary CT scan, the diagnosis is a small crack on the ankle bone, a new injury to the same ankle he broke last October. Cracked bones, often called broken bones, take 4-8 weeks to heal before you can do anything on them. This one, however, will not require any new surgery or plates, just rest. This pushes baseball activity off until end of May/June at the earliest. Girardi’s statement recently of “he’ll be ready when he’s ready” is never more accurate and appropriate. Like I said yesterday, I think we’d all rather have him fully recovered and fully healthy and ready for the end of the season and postseason than rush recovery and risk another injury. So in the meantime, we wish him “get well soon!”

Setbacks and losses are all part of the game. But it doesn’t make it easy for me to write about positive things without sounding naively hopeful or optimistic. And while I’ve made a personal commitment to write every day about the team, it’s days like this that really play with my mind and distract me from my mission on this blog. I don’t want to glide too far into the cliché territory that borders on just fluff writing, so I have to constantly think of a new spin to stay positive, especially on days where there’s not a lot to be positive about. Spring Training certainly pushed those boundaries for me, but I kept the hope alive for a less dramatic regular season. Perhaps, that too was naive.

Whenever you do anything publicly, you run the risk of drama, critics, negativity, and misunderstanding. Maybe that’s why I prefer my public presence to be on a semi-anonymous blog and not in front of tens of thousands of people every night. I can edit my thoughts, my actions, my motivation if necessary before publication and sometimes edits after can lead to the delete button. But what happens with thousands of witnesses cannot be as easily undone or forgotten. The safety of a blog can be misused to amplify the public life of those who live such a life, but I guess that’s why I chose to use my “powers” (as it were) for good. There’s so much negative everywhere, and in this world that we live in now, isn’t it time we chose to shut out the negative, even those who are indirectly negative (you know, the “I’m only trying to help” people), and listen to those who want to continue to bring positivity to this world, even if only through words on a computer screen. So tonight, we remain positive and hope for good health and many wins for the team we love.

Go Yankees!

Game 13: ARI vs. NYY — Comeback to win

Two outs already notched on the board in the 7th inning, the Diamondbacks up 3-0, 2 Yankees on base due to an earlier single and double, and Nunez walks to load the bases. Then the pitcher walks Jayson Nix to walk in a run. A rather lousy way to get on the scoreboard, but when you’re down 3-0, you’ll take whatever you’re given. Back to the top of the batting order as Brett Gardner steps up to the plate. On a 2-2 count, he bloops a single into shallow left field and proceeds to see 2 runners tagging home plate to tie up the game at 3-3.

CC Sabathia comes in for the 8th inning. After a rough 31-pitch 1st inning (including a 2-run homer), Sabathia seemed to find his stride throwing shorter innings and keeping his total pitch count to 108 (77 were strikes), saving the bullpen for tonight except for closer Mariano Rivera who pitched a 17 pitch 9th inning for a quick 3 outs to keep tonight’s win at 4-3. (For all those doing the pitch count thing for Rivera’s innings, my number is always 17, so I guess I win tonight. Now can someone tell me what exactly I win?)

But what put the Yankees firmly in the lead was the 8th inning pinch hitter Travis Hafner. On the first pitch he saw tonight (a 96 mph fastball, I might add), he bombed it right out to right-center field, right into Section 103 (or right next to the bullpen for those not familiar with Yankee Stadium). Hafner continues to prove himself worthy of a Yankees uniform. His bat is certainly making up for any “lost power” that the critics seem so easy to remind everyone. And yet, looking across the league, our “replacements” seem to be out-playing most of the “lost power” (at least the ones traded or released). Yet another reason why all these predictions and assumptions pre-season and early in the season are total hogwash. Too many human factors can just blow all those statistical print-outs right out of the water.

Speaking of human factors, there have been a few injury update reports…

Mark Teixeira is now cleared to start baseball activities and was swinging a bat underwater yesterday and took some dry swings today from both sides of the plate (remember, he’s a switch hitter). He’s hoping to take batting practice with the team when they travel to Toronto this weekend before heading back to Tampa next Monday with the team to finish his rehab. As of now, they’re projecting a May return. I suppose an exact date will be determined once he begins his Tampa rehab, and they can gauge exactly how far he still has to go before he’s an everyday player again.

Derek Jeter is consistently working out in Tampa, running, fielding, batting, hitting, etc. The date of May 1st will come and go, but like Girardi said earlier this week, “[Jeter will] be ready when he’s ready.” They don’t want to make a promise of a date that they’re not sure is reasonable for his recovery. Like I’ve said before, I think we’d all rather have him ease back in slowly to the roster than rush him back and then risk losing him when we really need him in September-October.

Curtis Granderson has been busy being an ambassador for his Grand Kids Foundation, including honoring Jackie Robinson Day by meeting with a New York high school and taking them to see a special screening of 42. This high school was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and Granderson’s organization (and others) helped rebuild their sports field, getting the teams back their home field advantage. Oh, and in between all his special events, he’s been rehabbing in Tampa and will continue to do so until his projected early May return.

We wish them a continued get well soon! And we continue our support and prayers for Boston.

Go Yankees!

Game 12: ARI vs. NYY — Remembering Jackie Robinson & Boston

For throwing all his 94 pitches over 5 innings, starting pitcher Ivan Nova showed a strong outing, at least a stronger one than we’re used to seeing from Nova. Two-thirds of those pitches were strikes, and after getting into a little trouble in the 3rd inning, giving up 2 runs, he kept the Diamondbacks at bay in tonight’s 4-2 win, assisted by the strong showing from the bullpen via Logan, Chamberlain, Robertson, and, of course, #42 himself, Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees offensively were hitting like crazy tonight earning 12 hits, 3 walks (2 intentional to Cano and Ichiro), a powerful 3-run home run from Robinson Cano in the 4th inning, and a Nunez sacrifice fly to score Youkilis. It was quite an impressive showing tonight in the Bronx, a well-fought and well-earned win.

And as yesterday was an off-day, the Yankees used today to honor Jackie Robinson by every player, umpire, and coach donning #42 tonight. I have to admit, for a few seconds, it wasn’t as disconcerting to watch a Yankees pitcher wearing 42 until I realized it was Nova and not Rivera. But it was a very nice recognition of Jackie Robinson’s impact on baseball. I loved seeing all the 42’s everywhere on every play, every pitch, every hit, every out.

StandUnited Boston
Outside Yankee Stadium today in support of Boston
via Yankees

The most moving event tonight, however, was the moment of silence for those injured or killed in yesterday’s explosions at the Boston Marathon. Much like Boston showed its support for New York in the days following 9/11, New York (however unfortunate the circumstances) used this opportunity to show its support for Boston. As investigators are still sifting through leads and evidence in Boston, the whole country is supporting another city rocked by an outrageous act of violence. We remember these tragedies that have become all too familiar in today’s 24/7 news and social media access. Even as I write this, I have a newspaper to my left that should have had today’s headline about the African winners of the Boston Marathon or the celebration of Jackie Robinson’s career across MLB, but instead we read the words “terror” and “deadly” and “carnage”.

Baseball now is a game of great equalizing, a three-hour distraction from life that is very much needed at times like these. I remember how the 9/11 rescue crews would be listening to a game while they were working, and their conversation wouldn’t be on the task at hand but on what they thought of Torre’s decision to pitch one guy or sit another or why someone shouldn’t be playing for the Yankees anymore. (Nothing changes there except the names.) It wasn’t disrespectful or maudlin, but rather healing to allow the city to remember something that has been static when the whole world was drastically changing. It’s remembering the game you fell in love with as a kid, when so many kids have been ripped of their innocence, discovering that not everyone is going to be nice and play fair in this life. It was that year that we faced the Diamondbacks in the World Series. Nice coincidence today…

I guess I get a little nostalgic remembering  why we are fans in the first place. And I guess it takes world events to remind us that a little distraction is healing and a reminder that while we sort through and find justice, we can count on some things to be the same. And in spite of that, while today we stand with Boston, when we play them again at the end of next month, I don’t expect anything less than the return of our nearly a century-long semi-friendly rivalry. It’s our tradition, it’s our history, and it’s our baseball.

Go Yankees! Our prayers are in Boston today for the families of those who lost someone, for a quick healing of all those injured, and for swift justice to those who would continue to do evil in this world.

Robinson & Rivera — 66 years of #42

Sixty-six years ago, all major sports would never be the same because of one man’s courage to do the right thing and one man’s courage to make it happen. Fifty years later because of their courage, the number 42 was retired across all of major league baseball, allowing only those who were currently wearing the number to continue until their career was done. This season, there is just one person privileged to wear this number, and he just happens to play for the best baseball team in history.

There is a line in the new movie 42, where future hall of famer Pee Wee Reese says to Robinson, “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42 so no one can tell us apart.” Perhaps that was thrown in the movie for recognition of the significance of today is in Major League Baseball now, but I think we cannot discount the weight of these words. Across most of major league baseball today (and a bit tomorrow, like in the Bronx), every player regardless of race, ethnicity, heritage, faith, team, or fielding position will don the #42, echoing Reese’s almost half-hearted joke. And yet, there is something stirring in the hearts of every baseball fan regardless of their own loyalties or ethnicity. You cannot look around the game today and not see the results of a few brave men who chose right when so many believed it wrong.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons between Jackie Robinson and Mariano Rivera. Both men have done the impossible in their own ways, both men are strong men of faith, family, and character, and both men became legends before they even thought of retirement. No one else has worn 42 on their backs every day for a decade, and Rivera has the honor of being the absolute last one to wear it every day. He said recently in an interview that it was more than an honor, it was a responsibility. And that I believe is part of his motivation and drive to close out his career with excellence and dignity, much like he’s done since his rookie season with the Yankees (debuting in 1995, but his first full season was with the now legendary world championship 1996 team).

Like I said in a previous post, I have been making a list of current, recent, and famous former Yankees who owe their very careers to what Robinson did 66 years ago today. Here’s what I’ve come up with: Mariano Rivera, Zoilo Almonte, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Robinson Cano, Francisco Cervelli, Joba Chamberlain, Ramon Flores, Ben Francisco, Curtis Granderson, Rickey Henderson, Elston Howard (first black New York Yankee in 1955), Raul Ibanez, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Melky Mesa, Ivan Nova, Eduardo Nunez, Michael Pineda, Jorge Posada, Jose Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Francisco Rondon, CC Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano, Rafael Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, Bernie Williams, Dave Winfield, and coaches Tony Pena, Mike Harkey, Roman Rodriguez, and Willie Randolph. That’s enough to fill out a full playing roster and have the guys to coach them. And that’s just on the Yankees.

Baseball was the first professional sport to be continuously integrated. Basketball played its first integrated game in 1950 and is now a game dominated by minority players. Football attempted integration early in the 20th century, but black players were always seen as a liability and often the first ones cut from a team or would play unpaid for stretches of time if it would help ease the budget of the team; by 1934, it was a whites-only game. A handful of minorities were signed to small contracts periodically, especially with the more liberal AFL, but it wasn’t until 1962 that every team had a minority player due to federal legal action. Racial tensions, however, weren’t eased in the NFL until the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. That’s right, though it was a rough road to include players regardless of skin color for all professional sports, it was baseball that first made it a normal sight to see a man of any race or ethnicity don your team’s uniform and play the game you cheer for.

And that makes me rightly proud for a day like today. No other sport honor its pioneers and traditions quite like baseball, and today is one of particular importance. We cheer on a player of whatever heritage because he plays for our team today. And that makes me love this sport even more. It’s the number on Rivera’s back every day that reminds me of that heritage, one of courage and dignity and responsibility and continued excellence. And it’s always in Pinstripes (or sometimes away greys).

Go Yankees! (Happy Jackie Robinson Day!)

Game 11: BAL vs. NYY — Excellence at work

Tonight’s 3-0 shut-out win against Baltimore was all about Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda threw 113 pitches through all 9 innings, allowing only 5 hits and striking out 5 batters. He really threw just a solid outstanding game, something you normally don’t see until much later in the season, hitting the momentum and keeping the game tight and strong.

It was in the 5th inning that the Yankees scored all three of their runs. The first one was due to a Jayson Nix sacrifice fly to score Brennan Boesch. The final two were a 2-out 2-run home run by Brett Gardner, also scoring Francisco Cervelli. On the defensive side, in the 8th inning, there was a rather fun 6-4-3 double play, a quick flip by Nix to Robinson Cano who almost Jeter-esque stepping on 2nd, tossed it over to a waiting Lyle Overbay at 1st.

And while there is no wins if no one scores, tonight just really belongs to Kuroda. The first Yankee pitcher of the season to go an entire game and was impressive throughout. And if I think back even to his time in Spring Training, Kuroda always turned in an excellent performance, no matter what the game was. I know some people slough off the spring games as no big deal because they don’t count for anything, but at least for Kuroda, it seemed as if he was always on his A-game, regardless of what game was being played and who his opponent was — an example truly for all the players, especially those trying to make their way to the regular roster.

Perhaps that is the true necessity of the veteran, “experienced” players on the team, to be a great example of excellence to the younger players. I was talking with a friend tonight during the game about the hype around some young players around the league, and while they are very good in some (often flashier) ways, they still lack the polish, the instinct, the heart that comes with “experience” of time, repetition, and determination. The younger players may do something amazing, they may even end up in Cooperstown in 20-odd years, but they aren’t there yet. And the advantage of being on a team full of classy, excellent, well-seasoned players is the first-hand learning experience for the younger, often unpolished players.

And for that, I’m excited for the Yankees this year. While critics seem to almost romanticize what they see as the aged fall of the dynasty, I see as the greatest opportunity to pass on the continued legacy that is the New York Yankees. Perhaps I am romanticizing a bit now, but I’d rather wax poetically about something positive, holding out for all possibilities, instead of dooming everything to some abyss of infinite impossibilities. I like that so much is still possible, and it always is. Hope isn’t foolishness or naivety because I’ve seen the supposedly crumbling Yankees do the impossible for so long, and I expect nothing less from a team full of “experienced” players and those that hope to be one day.

Go Yankees!