Game 139: CHW vs. NYY — Sweeping the (White) Sox

When you talk about sweeping the Sox as a Yankee fan, you’re probably more likely thinking about the Boston guys. But the “other Sox” let the Yankees sweep them this week. Actually both Sox franchises have quite a stories history, and one is primarily associated with the Yankees (the one coming in for a 4-game series tomorrow). But tonight, the other guys allowed the Yankees to make a run for the postseason, advancing further up the standings.

CC Sabathia started the game tonight and kept his game really under control into the 8th inning. 111 pitches, 5 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts, and 3 earned runs. At first, the White Sox were only able to score a single run — an RBI double in the 1st inning. And then when CC let 2 singles get on base and only 1 out in that 8th inning, they opted for the ever reliable David Robertson. Except he wasn’t. Those 2 runners scored on 2 RBI singles, and a batter Robertson walked also scored on the second single. And after he finally recorded a second out, but then another run scored on yet another RBI single. And suddenly, the White Sox had 5 total runs.

So where else do you go but the guy who can still make it happen, even if it means 4 total outs? It’s Mariano Rivera.

Now, before Rivera can save a game, there has to be a game to save. To get there, the Yankees hit around the cycle as a team and added one insurance run (which turns out they needed it more than they probably initially thought). In the bottom of the 1st, to answer Chicago’s early score, Robinson Cano knocked his 203rd home run into Section 204 (just to the right of the Bleacher Creatures). Then in the 4th, Alex Rodriguez singles, Ichiro Suzuki reaches on a fielding error (no surprise with the White Sox defense lately), and Lyle Overbay doubles to score Rodriguez. And two batters later, Brett Gardner triples scoring Ichiro and Overbay. And (to complete the team’s cycle), it’s Cano who gets to single home Gardner. And their insurance run came when Derek Jeter (on base with a walk and advance to 3rd on a single) scores the 6th Yankee run because of Alfonso Soriano’s sacrifice fly.

(Reminder: a cycle is when a single batter hits a single, a double, a triple, and a home run all in the same game. So when watching how the Yankees, as a team, scored most of their runs, it just reminded me of that feat. It’s not really a thing, but I like the thought.)

Anyway, so Rivera comes on in the 8th, gets the final out there, returns for the 9th, and saves the game 3 batters later. His 41st save of the season. Sabathia keeps his win, rewarded for all that really great work. The sweep is a success. Now onto the next Sox.

Also worth noting in pitcher-land: Phil Hughes has been moved to the bullpen, and David Huff will take his scheduled start on Saturday. Disappointed perhaps but Hughes spent a good amount of time in the bullpen during the 2009 championship series and really proved himself worthy of the pinstripes there. Perhaps a little reminder of sorts will encourage him in his pitching. Also worth noting, Ivan Nova has been named August’s AL Pitcher of the Month because of his 4 wins, no losses, and 2.08 ERA. We don’t call him “SuperNova” for nothing.

Go Yankees!

Game 138: CHW vs. NYY — 8th inning heroics & a milestone

It’s becoming a regular event in the Bronx, and once again it worked out to the Yankees’ advantage, but the win being decided in a single big inning is often the most exciting thing about a game. Tonight’s game against the White Sox was no exception.

Starter Hiroki Kuroda seems to continue in his struggles, allowing 7 hits, 4 runs, and 2 walks, striking out 7 batters in his 6.1 innings and 95 pitches. The runs allowed came as an RBI single in the 1st inning, a 2-RBI triple in the 5th, and a solo homer in the 7th. Actually, in light of recent rotation slumps, tonight’s damage was relatively minimal.

On the offensive side, the Yankees took advantage of Chicago’s two major problems (something that certainly isn’t their best starting pitcher, who threw a pretty good game all the way into the 8th inning tonight) — their really sloppy defense and their weak bullpen. In the 1st inning, Vernon Wells singles but lands at 2nd due to a throwing error, then Eduardo Nunez reaches on another fielding error and moves Wells to 3rd. Then the Yankees got creative. While Stewart was batting, Nunez tries to steal 2nd so they try to throw him out, he stops as Wells heads for home, but the throw there is too late — Nunez is at 2nd and Wells scores the 1st Yankees run.

So going into the bottom of the 8th, the score is 4-1 White Sox. Their starter is still on the mound, hoping for a complete game and a win. But the Yankees aren’t going to give up easily. Gardner goes down on strikes, Derek Jeter singles, and Robinson Cano’s double moves Jeter to 3rd. They bring in a reliever. Alfonso Soriano singles, scoring both Jeter and Cano (4-3), and Alex Rodriguez’s single moves Soriano to 3rd. Another reliever, still just 1 out. Pinch hitter Curtis Granderson singles, scoring the tying run in Soriano (4-4), and Reynolds strikes out. Another reliever, 2 outs. Nunez doubles deep into the left field corner and scores Rodriguez and Granderson (6-4 Yankees), before Romine strikes out for the final out.

One inning, 9 batters, 6 hits, 5 runs, 3 strikeouts.

Before Rivera comes in to grab his 40th save of the season, Claiborne finished Kuroda’s 7th inning and Logan’s quick 11 pitch 8th inning and earned the win due to the offensive charge in the bottom of that inning. So the Yankees earn their second win over the White Sox in this series, and settle in at 3rd place in the AL East and 2 games out of 2nd place and the 2nd Wild Card possibility.

Also, Jeter’s 2 hits in the 3rd and 8th innings tonight earned him a new position on the All-Time Hits Leader Board. He is now solely in 9th place, passing Eddie Collins, with 3,315 hits. Four more to 8th place (expect this post within a week, at this rate), and about 100 to 7th (that would be next year). He is currently the only active player with over 3000 hits, the next active players in hits are his teammates Rodriguez with 2,925 and Ichiro with 2,729.

Tonight’s game certainly gives the Yankees and their fans something to cheer about and hope for. And I love that tonight proved the old Yogi-ism true — “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” I think of all the fans who departed the game early when the Yankees were down 4-1. They missed all the fun, and they missed Mo.

Much like you never leave a good movie before the end credits because they often have bonus scenes (like The Avengers), you should never leave a ball game before the final out. You just never know…

And that’s what makes baseball so much fun.

Go Yankees!

Game 137: CHW vs. NYY — Rain always changes things… sort of

So all day in New York, the weather has been threatening — cloudy, humid, a little steamy, minor drizzling, tarp on the field. But no, the game started on time, and starter Phil Hughes looked as if he might have a great day against the slumping Chicago White Sox. His first inning was a 1-2-3 quick 10 pitch one, and he was 1 out, 3 batters, and 2 strikes into the 2nd inning when the rain began to pour as the fans in the half-empty stadium began running for cover.

This was a shame because things were starting to roll for the Yankees. At the bottom of the 1st inning, the Yankees struck first with a ground-rule double by Brett Gardner, who was knocked in by Derek Jeter’s single and a fielding error by the left fielder. Gardner scored the first run, and Jeter landed at 2nd, advancing to 3rd on Cano’s fly out.

And then it rained. For one hour and 53 minutes.

The tarp came off the field, Hughes’ day done, and David Huff on the mound, finishing the final pitch of that one batter and closing out the inning unscathed. Actually, Huff proved a reliable long-term reliever in the bullpen, something that seemed non-existent yesterday. He allowed 5 hits, struck out 3 Chicago batters, and a single run (a solo home run in the 7th inning).

But it was the 4th inning that was the ultimate game changer for the game. Borrowing a page from the Orioles’ game yesterday, the Yankees racked up a whopping 8 additional runs in the 4th inning alone. Yes, that’s right — 8 runs. 13 batters in that inning for the Yankees, 7 hits, 2 walks, 2 errors, and 3 outs (finally).

Here’s what happened: Alex Rodriguez doubled; Vernon Wells singled; Curtis Granderson walks to load the bases; Mark Reynolds singles home Rodriguez (2-0), keeping the bases loaded; Austin Romine’s single scores both Wells and Granderson (4-0); Gardner doubles (he is turning into the king of doubles this year) and scores Reynolds (5-0); Jeter’s 2nd single of the game scores Romine (6-0); Cano pops out in the infield; Alfonso Soriano doubles home Gardner (7-0); Rodriguez (back again) walks, loading the bases (and the White Sox incur an error on a missed catch foul pop up); the White Sox finally make a pitching change; Wells reaches on a force attempt and throwing error, which scores both Jeter and Soriano (9-0); then back-to-back force outs to finally get those last two outs, mercifully ending the inning for the White Sox.

After the Sox put one on the board in the 7th, the game sat at 9-1, gliding gracefully into the 9th inning, under clear, sunny blue skies. By the way, to end the 7th, it’s Robinson Cano to show off some nifty defensive skills, hustling out to mid-center field to catch a fly ball and then almost sideways throwing the ball back to first to get the runner who doubled off the base — a fun and unique double play.

Cesar Cabral, a recent September call-up, came in for Huff (who ended up with the win) in the 8th to throw his 13 pitches. The field shifted around in the bottom of the 8th for the Yankees with such a cushy lead, and it was Adam Warren to close out the game in the 9th.

Nunez, Ichiro, Overbay, and Adams all grabbed some playing time at the end of the game. And today was JR Murphy’s MLB debut, and in front of his family, he hit a nice single and got on base. Then Ichiro’s 13 pitch at-bat had him running to 2nd and jogging back to 1st on 6 foul balls. Unfortunately, Ichiro’s 13th pitch ball landed in the right fielder’s glove for the 3rd out, so Murphy will have to wait for another game to score his first MLB run. Murphy now serves as the 3rd catcher, behind Stewart and Romine, due to the September call-ups. A big congrats to him, and welcome to the big leagues.

But it was a nice win today, in spite of the smooth then rocky (because of the rain) start. A great way to start this series, and another much-needed win. Well, actually, at this point in the season, every win is very much needed for the Yankees. And every win they collect helps inch them closer to that ultimate goal — nope, not the postseason, the World Series.

Hey, you never know!

Go Yankees!

Game 136: BAL vs. NYY — Like a rug pulled out from underneath

I hate writing about a loss. I don’t expect many people like writing about what is essentially a failure. And it’s worse when it turns out to be a major disappointment. I guess that’s where the feeling of having the rug pulled out from underneath you comes into play. No one likes to lose, and I’m guessing no one likes to be responsible for a loss. But in a game of statistics and averages, someone is always responsible for a loss.

Today that someone is definitely not starter Andy Pettitte. He threw a really outstanding 6 innings against the Baltimore Orioles, allowing just 5 hits and 3 strikeouts with his 86 pitches over that time frame. And what was awesome was that no Birds crossed the plate at all during those 6 innings. It’s one of the better outings I’ve seen from him in a long time, and it’s thoroughly disappointing that he couldn’t walk away with the win that was needed both by him (for his own personal stats) and even more by the team itself (because the AL East just isn’t stopping).

Now, before everything fell apart. The Yankees were cruising along pretty good. In the 3rd inning, Alfonso Soriano singled and scored Brett Gardner. And in the 4th inning, with 1 out, Mark Reynolds walks, Eduardo Nunez doubles, Chris Stewart walks to load the bases, and they walk Gardner to score a run (Reynolds), keeping the bases loaded. And Derek Jeter’s sacrifice fly scores Nunez. And the Yankees kept their lead 3-0.

Until the 7th inning…

So back-to-back singles in 7 pitches from Pettitte has the Yankees calling for replacement Shawn Kelley from the bullpen. (Perhaps it was a mutual decision, but I’m thinking with the way Pettitte was pitching, a couple of runs might have scored but I think overall the Yankees would have kept their lead. I could be wrong, and we’ll never know, but it’s nice to imagine a better outcome.)

Anyway, Kelley promptly gives up an RBI single and then a 3-run homer. The Orioles are now up 4-3. And there’s no outs. So they go to Boone Logan. He then gives up a single and a walk. Still no outs. Now on to Joba Chamberlain. His first batter pops up a foul bunt to Stewart. Finally an out. But then he allows another 3-run home run. 7-3 Orioles. 1 out.

Somehow, Chamberlain gets the next two batters out — striking out swinging and a soft groundout to 1st. But the damage is done, and the Yankees never recover. Chamberlain throws the 8th inning, keeping the damage to a minimum. And Huff and recent call-up Betances split the 9th. Final score: 7-3 Orioles. The loss is clearly Shawn Kelley’s — his 2nd of the season and a big loss for the Yankees.

Two interesting things happened today. One was another show of the defense (remember, the Yankees lost due to home runs, something way out of their control) — a really snazzy double play in the 6th (before everything fell apart). Actually, I think my favorite part of today’s defense was watching Pettitte’s response to every out they made (you’ll see it at the end of the linked video clip). And the other was Jeter’s RBI in the 4th. Now an RBI, especially a sacrifice fly, usually isn’t the cause of anything particularly noteworthy, but this actually placed Jeter above former teammate Bernie Williams on the Yankees All-Time RBIs list. He currently sits in 6th place at 1258, behind Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra (mighty big company there).

I have to say that watching Pettitte pitch and cheer on his team was definitely the highlight of the game for me. It reminded me of the 90s dynasty. Other than the win, the only thing(s) missing was the other 3 of the Core Four to back him up. Then it would be “deja vu all over again”… A little nostalgia in the midst of disappointment is sometimes needed to take the edge off.

And putting things in perspective, the Yankees still won the series. Now, on to the next series. I’m feeling like a sweep is in order.

Go Yankees!

Game 135: BAL vs. NYY — SuperNova Shutout

Nova pitching
Ivan Nova at work
Image: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Today is completely Ivan Nova’s day. When every other pitcher in the rotation seems to be hitting a slump, it’s the young Dominican to the rescue.

Seriously, Nova was so ridiculously amazing today that he pitched a full game, all 9 innings in just 104 pitches. No bullpen needed today, something they could use, but also something I think they as fellow pitchers could really appreciate. Nova only allowed 3 hits and 1 walk to the Baltimore Orioles, striking out 5 of their batters. But there was no score for the Birds today. Nova was clearly on his game.

Not that the Yankees were able to really launch an all-out offense today. Instead, they bookended the game with their runs. In the 1st inning, Gardner doubles and jogs home on Robinson Cano’s double. And for extra insurance, it’s Cano again who slices his 25th home run of the season into the right field bleachers to cap the score at 2-0 in the 8th inning.

To back up Nova, the defense once again showed off their fluidity. In both the 2nd and 8th, the Yankees turned two (a double play) with their ever impressive infield — Derek Jeter, Cano, and Lyle Overbay. And while Jeter himself didn’t have a productive day at the plate (going 0-for-4 with 2 GIDPs), his defense continues to be strong, making diving, leaping, and ridiculous fielding plays, often as part of these double plays. And on the other corner of the diamond was Mark Reynolds (in for Alex Rodriguez, who is out with flu-like symptoms); Reynolds continues to endear himself to the Yankee fan base after years of playing against them with his former team (and today’s opponent the Orioles) with his own set of defensive and offensive skills.

It’s not a terrible way to end August — on a winning streak into September. I’m also curious how the September call-ups will impact the end of the season. With all the extra back-up arriving, I can see how it will be good for the Yankees should they get into any jams they experienced through the middle of the season. There are two more games the AAA Scranton team will play for their season, and unlike last year’s team (who came in 1st in their division last year), the RailRiders are finishing under .500 and 5th out of 6 teams. And the team will be depleted of a good portion of their regulars for the sake of the September call-ups, but it’s not like they’ll be in the minor league play offs and need the reinforcements.

The more the Yankees win, the more comfortable I know everyone is about the possibility of the postseason. It feels odd that we’re not talking about the potential of a divisional title or perhaps that we’re already chalking up a lost year for the sake of “coming back stronger next year”. With the Yankees, it’s usually all or nothing. On the other hand, they have won the Wild Card 4 years in the last 20, but each year of that accomplishment (1995, 1997, 2007, and 2010), they failed to win the AL Pennant, let alone the Series. It’s very rare for a team to grab the Wild Card and then go on to win the Series (only done by the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2004 Red Sox, and 2011 Cardinals).

I guess it’s still too early to talk about postseason. I mean, we haven’t even hit September yet. Maybe I can rely on the old cliché — it’s still a long season, and we still have a long way to go yet. And just maybe that’s comforting enough for me. At least for now.

Go Yankees!


Game 134: BAL vs. NYY — The boys are back in town

This is how you begin the last stretch to October — with a great (and much-needed) win. And with some really tight teams joining the Yankees in the Bronx (3rd place Baltimore this weekend, last place in AL Central White Sox next week, and then a 4-game weekend series versus the 1st place Red Sox next weekend), the more games the Yankees can surge forward with a win, the better their chances for the playoffs.

Starter CC Sabathia started the evening with 3 straight 1-2-3 innings. Then the Orioles began their play for the game in the middle 3 innings. A ground-rule double scores on a single in the 4th, a 2-run homer and RBI single in the 5th, and an RBI single in the 6th are all that the Yankees would allow the Birds to score — 5 runs to dent into the Yankees offense. Sabathia left the game after that RBI single, with a final line of 7 hits, 5 runs (1 homer), 1 walk, and 4 strikeouts over his 86 pitches.

Then the Yankees played mix and match with their bullpen for a bit. Kelley came on to get that final out of the 6th inning and the first one of the 7th; Logan grabbed the second out of the 7th; and Robertson the third out of the 7th and all 3 of the 8th inning.

Now before Rivera came on in the 9th for his 15 pitch save (39th of the season), the Yankees bats came alive and had some fun. Like their opponents’ offensive surge, the Yankees found life in the middle of the game as well. With two outs, Robinson Cano walked and scored on a great 2-run homer by Alfonso Soriano to (surprise!) the right field seats.

In the 5th inning, back-to-back doubles by Curtis Granderson and Mark Reynolds, scored a run as they switched places. Then Ichiro Suzuki hit a 2-run home run (also into the right field seats, almost in the exact spot at Soriano’s homer), also scoring Reynolds. With bases loaded with Romine’s double, Gardner’s single, and Jeter’s walk, Cano’s single scores both Romine and the speedy Gardner. And to cushion the Yankees’ lead, in the 7th inning, Cano scores on a single by Alex Rodriguez, planting the scoreboard at 8-5 Yankees.

Tonight was also “Yogi Berra Night“, celebrated by a little Yogi Berra bobble head figure to a few thousand lucky fans. Plus they were treated to a pre-game appearance of the man himself — 88 years old, escorted on his own golf cart, and still as spunky as ever. The great #8 and one of the Yankees best catchers ever loves to visit his old team and chat up with the current players. His “Yogi-isms” are some of the greatest quotes on baseball and on life that have ever come out of the game. He has 10 World Series rings as a Yankee (3 as a coach and manager), an 18 time All-Star, 3 times an AL MVP, his #8 retired at Monument Park, a proud member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and one of my personal favorite all-time Yankees (heck, one of my favorite all-time baseball players). If you ever venture out to New Jersey, he has his own museum of memories, memorabilia, and baseball history, including some great Yankee history. (It’s on my to-do list the next time I’m in the neighborhood.)

What a great way to celebrate Yogi Berra Night with a win! I think this is a great way to start a home stand and push toward October. As much as sports analysts will try to say otherwise, the Yankees are still in the running for a spot in the postseason. And with some very big games against their divisional opponents, they have a huge opportunity to jump ahead and move further up the standings — an opportunity I know no one on this side of the Yankee fan base wants to see left in the dust. Tonight’s game is certainly a step in the right direction. A few more steps in that direction, and we’ll be singing our way through October in the Bronx.

Go Yankees!

Rules, rules, rules

Good news on the injury front: Eduardo Nunez had an MRI on his knee after Tuesday’s injury seemed to still trouble him yesterday. The MRI was clean, so there are no strains or tears. I think just reinforces the idea that he “tweaked” it a little. Look, I personally have done some nasty things to my knee — bruises, strains, torn meniscus (the cushion under the knee cap), minor twists and pulls. There are no good injuries, even minor ones, when it comes to the knee. Nunez is on day-to-day watch right now, which would be a lot easier if Cano wasn’t still on day-to-day watch with his bruised hand.

But then again, September call-ups are right around the corner, so any further “day-to-day” instances of sorts will seem less tragic due to the coming reinforcements. Those call-ups are always odd, suddenly, the dugout and clubhouse are full of guys looking to make the final roster going into postseason.

There is a lot of debate as to the value of the call-ups — some people think it’s a nice chance for the guys who’ve been at AAA all year to see some major league time; some people think it’s kind of cheating the system using more guys than the rest of the season to accomplish the same things they regular guys have done all year; some people don’t see the point altogether. Here’s how those argument stack up for the Yankees: a lot of the guys at the AAA level have played in the bigs due to all the injuries (like Adams, Claiborne, Joseph, and Mesa); this mainly applies to the idea of the expanded bullpen, something the Yankees could use right now (well, actually it’s the starters that are having issues, but a good bullpen can substitute for a poor start); and I kind of have to agree with them during a usual season.

I’ve been a baseball fan for a long time, and I get there’s a ton of rules and regulations governing the game. But I have to admit that some of the rules I still don’t get and probably never will fully understand. Some of them are more like I understand why they exist, but really think the use or existence of them is unnecessary. Maybe the 40-man everyday roster they can hold in September is just going to be one of these — like the infield fly rule or the strikeout hit (like yesterday).

It reminds me of when I was growing up — all the rules to know. Rules were everywhere — home, school, church, work, dance, sports, etc. What’s funny is that when you’re a kid, you think “I can’t wait to be a grown-up and do what I want without any rules!” Whoever started this rumor wasn’t an adult, clearly, but a wishful thinking kid, and I’m sure it took a life of its own because the world is full of wishful thinking kids. But it’s always rules that kind of create the boundaries and way you live your life — some you get, some you don’t, some you may never get, some you may think are the most ridiculous things you’ve ever heard, and some you’re really thankful for when you’re an adult. But there are rules nonetheless. And then, you get your first job, and there are more rules. And then you get a real job, and there are more rules. And there are rules when you drive, and rules when you vote, and rules when you travel, and rules when you rent an apartment or buy a house, and rules when you have a relationship, and rules when you have kids, and then you set up a whole new set of rules for those kids that they probably will not understand (at least until they one day have kids of their own).

(Note: Rules aren’t always “don’t do” kinds of things, but parameters or norms on how to live or act a certain way. In that way, society itself has a set of rules for things not covered by law, like ethics, morals, and logic.)

So the next time your kid (or your friend’s kid or your niece/nephew or the whiny child in Target) starts complaining about a “stupid rule” and how they can’t wait to be grown-up and have no rules. Just ask them how many rules the “grown-up” athletes they adore have to follow — on field and off. Many clubs, like the Yankees, have a code of conduct that each player must adhere to as an ambassador that club’s brand, which is why the Yankees have clean-shaven faces, neat on-field appearances, wear suits to fly/travel and to events where they represent the Yankees, maintain a positive attitude on and off the field, etc.

Rules don’t go away, but our attitude to embrace them and flourish within their boundaries should mature with age. And as we learn with many things, if we don’t like a rule, then we work in the system to change it. In the mean time, you make the best of your circumstance and be the best you can be in the midst of it.

You never know…

Go Yankees!