Game 45: NYY vs. BAL — Extra inning loss

Tonight’s game took the team into extra innings again, but this time the Orioles found a moment at the bottom of the 10th for a walk-off homer. Starting pitcher Phil Hughes actually had a pretty strong showing tonight, his only runs were scored off two solo home runs by former Yankee Chris Dickerson. Hughes and the other 5 pitchers from the bullpen kept Baltimore scoreless outside of those pesky Dickerson homers.

But tonight the Yankees relied on Travis Hafner for 2 RBI singles in the 1st and 5th innings to plate Gardner and Wells, respectively. Hafner continues what many are calling his “revitalization” as a consistent hitter and ballplayer. I don’t know why I’m not more surprised by this. Well, maybe I do. There is something about being on a team that has a history of encouragement, development, and training that focuses on individual potential and talent combined with a high standard of excellence and integrity that brings something out of players that other teams seem to have written off as a lost cause. We’ve seen this in Vernon Wells (and to some extent Kevin Youkilis) this year, as well key players from last year’s team like Eric Chavez (now with the Diamondbacks) and Raul Ibanez (spearheading the Mariner’s offense this year).

Perhaps that is why the Yankees tend toward the older age range of players. They often have. I think back to when we first got introduced to the Core Four, Pettitte, Posada, Jeter, and Rivera were 24, 24, 22, and 26 respectively. But other key members of the 1996 team were David Cone (33), Darryl Strawberry (34), Luis Sojo (30), Wade Boggs (38), Paul O’Neill (33), and Joe Girardi (31). In the days where the goal is to get the young guys in play soon like Mike Trout (Angels, 21), Bryce Harper (Nationals, 20), and Manny Machado (Orioles, 20), it continues to amaze statisticians and analysts why an “older” team seems to produce a winning season. It seems odd now when you have a player who reaches 40 (like Chipper Jones last year) and is still actively playing, a rarity in the sport. But the Yankees currently have 2 strong pitchers on their regular roster over 40 (Pettitte and Rivera).

So much is made of age in a world where youth is seen as the goal. I wonder if this was one of many contributing factors as to why there was so much pressure for players to use illegal enhancers — to regain the strength they had (or sometimes wanted) in their youth. I think of the biggest offenders of PED usage, and I always think of guys who were older or at the end of their careers (Sosa, Palmeiro, Canseco, and McGwire, for example). I guess being a Yankees fan I am constantly reminded by everyone else in the business of the presumed rarity of a “good team” of “old guys”. Since when does a 20-year-old automatically qualify a player as a better player than a 30-year-old or even 40-year-old player? I’ve seen some 20 year olds that will never make it to being a 40-year-old player and I’ve seen some 40 year olds that should have stopped playing ball 10 years previously.

There are three standards I use to measure a player’s excellence and overall quality as a ball player: ability, teamwork, and integrity. This covers physical and relational aspects of the sport, as well as the substance of that player. We all know of players who are really good but won’t work as a team and are all flash and diva-like. This doesn’t show me he’s a quality player. He can hit a ball 600 feet or throw 100 mph, but so what if he can’t play as part of a team or have the personal character to carry him through a career longer than he spent in high school.

Bottom line is age is a very important number. It recognizes the choices you’ve made and the moments you’ve created along the way to reach that magical number of years. So why do we fear the higher numbers if they serve as a reminder of experiences and greatness not only we have witnessed but yet to come? Let’s celebrate those who are still pushing the envelope for greatness in a sport that they love to play and we love to watch.

And congratulations to former Yankee Nick Swisher, his wife Joanna, and their families on the birth of their baby girl today! She may be a baby Cleveland Indian now, but she will always have a little Yankee blood in her!!

Go Yankees!

Game 44: NYY vs. BAL — Solo homers into extra innings

While most of tonight’s team doesn’t remember playing with many of the former Yankees on the Baltimore roster tonight, it was interesting to see how everyone is finding their own on these new (looking) teams. CC Sabathia started for the Yankees tonight opposite former Yankee Freddy Garcia. Garcia held his own but was hit with Yankees offense and exited the game after only 6 innings. Sabathia didn’t fare much better, going into the 7th but only getting 1 out in that inning before Kelley came in to close out the inning. While Garcia held off the Yankees with a limited 2 runs off 3 hits, Sabathia allowed the Orioles 11 hits and 4 runs.

The Yankees bullpen kept Baltimore scoreless (including Robertson who earned tonight’s win), while the Orioles’ bullpen allowed the Yankees offense to have some fun. And of course, the save was once again brilliantly earned by a 16 pitch 10th inning by the Ultimate Closer himself Mariano Rivera (he is 17-for-17 this year already).

Speaking of fun, the Yankees really didn’t hit much, but when they did, they certainly made it count. In the 1st inning, Robinson Cano struck first on the scoreboard with a long solo shot out past left-center field. David Adams found his pitch in the 2nd with his first major league home run out to left field just inside of the foul pole. The Orioles then proceeded to tie up the game with a 2nd inning solo shot and 5th inning RBI single (to score former Yankee Steve Pearce). In the 7th, Lyle Overbay hit his 7th home run of the year into the right field seats. In the bottom of that inning, 2 RBI doubles allow the Orioles to jump ahead 4-3.

At this point, most of Baltimore (and the entire press box) assumed that was it for the game going into the 9th inning, the great Yogi was recalled with resonance — “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, as Travis Hafner sliced a left field homer to tie the game. (I love that the left fielder tried to jump over the fence into the stands to grab the ball!) The Orioles were just stymied by the Yankees bullpen and couldn’t pull off what they knew they needed — a walk-off score of some sort. So when the 10th inning rolled in, the Yankees continued their momentum and instead changed up how they wanted to score runs with a double by Ichiro Suzuki to lay the ground work to score on Vernon Wells’ ground-rule double (now 5-4). Baltimore intentionally walked Cano, but Hafner’s simple single to right field scores Wells for the final score of 6-4. And with Rivera to close out the save, the Orioles just knew they were done. (Also, his last out was against former Yankee Chris Dickerson.)

Okay, yes, there were some seriously questioned calls made, most at 1st base. Some of which I agreed with, some of which I didn’t. I’m usually pretty objective about an out/safe call, even if it goes our way. If you get a call in your favor, but it’s really not right, you feel like you’re kind of stealing that play. It’s cheating, really. And of course, it really stinks when you don’t get the call you rightly deserve. What I found interesting though, at least in this game, was that none of those plays really made much a difference. Those called safe never made it home or advanced much because of who followed up behind them and how they played and got out.

I can’t imagine how this game was played without umpires, like it was originally. The honor system must have been frequently put to the test. And with recent (let’s call them) “hiccups” with umpires, I’m sure there are some who may wish we didn’t have umpires in the game. But in this game of much more complex rules and strategies, the game is no longer a simple sandlot kind of game. And perhaps it is the human element that encourages a level of player excellence. There are many easy calls made by the umpires because a play is made clean, a sign that not only is (for example) a batter hitting a ball cleanly but the fielders are cleanly fielding, throwing, and tagging. But when (following the example) a ball is hit sloppily or the fielding is off or wonky, it throws the play into a less than excellent execution and immediately increases the level of human error making the umpire’s call tougher. It’s amazing how many things can be solved just by playing with excellence. So perhaps that is the ultimate life lesson out of this: live and do things at a level of excellence and you won’t run the risk of plays (use whatever life application you need to) being called the other way or against you.

Also, I’d like to say a quick note about the tornado that hit Oklahoma today. We are praying for a quick rescue for those who are still trapped and a quick healing for those who are injured. And we pray for the families of those who lost loved ones and the rescuers as they must search for every last person through the horrendous damage. Tonight, our hearts and prayers are with all of you in Oklahoma. Tragedy continues to strike our nation in various forms, but we are a nation of people who fight for and seek good and peace in the midst of any storm. Stay strong. You have been with us through everything else, and now we are with you.

Go Yankees! (And pray for Oklahoma!)

Rain out #3 of the year & opinions

Well, there’s not much to say about the game today in that there wasn’t one. A lovely thick band of rain swept down across the mid-Atlantic states up through New England for much of the day and into the afternoon. Of course, it’s not raining as I write this, but as I write this the team is on their way to Baltimore for their next series. And there’s more rain on the way. So with no hope of seeing a break long enough to play even 5 innings, the higher-ups officially postponed the game that would’ve been the sweep over Toronto once again. Somebody across the border was praying for a break in the momentum. It won’t work in the long run. The Yankees are still a better team, and I’m not saying that because I’m a Yankees fan or have personal issues with Toronto’s fan base. I’m saying this because the Yankees are a better team than Toronto.

I wasn’t expecting an off day so I don’t have anything fun planned. I have been trying to plan interesting bits for off day, but they require more than just watching a game and writing about it. My next off-day is Thursday, and I’m not done with that one yet to post it. You know, being spontaneously fun, interesting, or prepared (read: researched an actual topic and formed a decisive opinion that I think people would actually want to spend their time reading) isn’t something you can just conjure up on a whim. If you haven’t written anything long-term and/or on a daily basis outside of your own personal journal, you probably don’t understand that. But it’s not the easiest thing to come up with interesting topics to talk about.

Not to say that I don’t have opinions about things. No, I have too many opinions about things, and only about a third of them are baseball-related. In fact, I was just talking with someone today about many baseball-related aspects, but none of it suits the blog today. Well, at least the blog that I’m trying to keep positive and respectful and in due honor to the pinstriped players and their legacy and tradition.

In fact, perhaps my biggest deterrent to writing just any old opinion on baseball on here is because of how much is already out there like that. I don’t want to be just one more voice in the noise; I want to be different and do justice to the team, the fans, and the sport in general. I do hope I’ve done that so far, but I also do hope to add my (shall we call it) appropriately directed opinions again.

As far as the make-up for the rain out, the next time the team meets is August 20-22 in the Bronx and both teams just happen to have the day before (August 19th) off, so I could foresee that as being the most logical day to make-up the game. Make-up games have to be made up during the regular season at the scheduled team’s home stadium, and as a consideration for both teams, they are usually scheduled on a mutual off day — like we saw this past Monday with the doubleheader in Cleveland.

In the mean time, we have to amuse ourselves with dreams of October, which continues to seem closer and closer within our reach. Yes, it’s still May, but remember where the Yankees were supposed to be? And now, we’re still in 1st place, a game ahead of Boston, 4 over Baltimore (our next hurdle) and Tampa (the one after that), and 10 over Toronto (who are doing an excellent job of holding up the bottom of the division). I’m okay with 1st place, and the Yankees have a tendency to grab onto 1st and hang on for dear life all the way to the end of the season, like they did for most of 2012.

Go Yankees!

Game 43: TOR vs. NYY — 2-run home runs

Let me get the regular stuff out of the way first. David Phelps threw an excellent 7 innings, allowing 6 hits and 1 run and striking out 8 Toronto batters. David Robertson came into the game in the 8th and gave up a solo home run, but Boone Logan got three straight outs in the 9th, keeping the Blue Jays to only 2 runs this afternoon.

And now the fun stuff: the game was scoreless until the Yankees went to work in the bottom of the 3rd and 5th and 8th innings. (Apparently, the 7th inning magic only works in night games.) In the 3rd, Jayson Nix is on base with a single, followed by two outs from Yankees batters, advancing to 2nd on one of the outs. Then Brett Gardner hits a really pretty single straight out to center field, as Nix just hustles it all the way in to score the first run of the game. And then Robinson Cano sees the first pitch, likes it, and hits it into the right field seats for the first 2-run home run of the game, making the score 3-0 Yankees. [Toronto scores in the 4th on an RBI single.]

In the 5th, Austin Romine hits a single to be on base for Robinson Cano’s second 2-run home run of the game out over the Yankees bullpen. The score is now 5-1 Yankees. In the 8th, after Toronto gets a solo home run making it 5-2, Vernon Wells reaches 1st on a bad throwing error (one of many sloppy plays by Toronto today), and it’s Travis Hafner who proceeds to see his ball land out in the right field stands on a 2-run homer to put the Yankees at their final score of 7-2 in today’s win. And if you’ve kept up with that math, that is three 2-run home runs in one game.

And while the Yankees had plenty of great defensive plays (as usual), it was fun to see Curtis Granderson in right field today, which apparently was his first time there in his entire major league career. And David Adams saved a base hit with a diving grab to his left before hopping up and getting the out at 1st base.

In other news, and surprisingly it’s not injury-related (at least not directly), Chris Nelson (previously released for David Adams) was picked up by the Angels, and the Yankees acquired Colorado infielder Reid Brignac for cash (the same deal with Nelson last month) to help insulate the left side of the infield with Adams and Nix (while we wait for Nunez and Youkilis, or even Jeter and Rodriguez). This also moved recently promoted Alberto Gonzalez off the 40-man roster. I don’t really follow Colorado baseball (mainly because they’re in the National League), so I’m interested in how Brignac will play into the team defensively, offensively, and in the clubhouse. Time will tell, as it always does.

That being said, the Yankees are on their way to sweeping Toronto again. And no, I don’t believe me saying that has somehow “jinxed the game”. I’d have to believe that the guys who are playing tomorrow are actually reading my little blog and somehow my expectations of excellence would override the pressure they already feel to win tomorrow — none of which I really believe. I think the team is at an advantage to win because the Blue Jays are now 10 games behind the Yankees (the last place playing the first place team in the AL East) and the Yankees usually play really well at home and on a momentum. So keep it rolling, boys.

Go Yankees!

Game 42: TOR vs. NYY — Pitching and the 7th inning (again)

Hiroki Kuroda helmed tonight’s shutout against the Blue Jays in fine form, keeping Toronto scoreless for all 8 of his innings. Preston Claiborne took over closing duties tonight, which gave Rivera and the rest of the tired bullpen the night off. Kuroda now has a 6-2 record for the season, only allowing 2 hits tonight and striking out 5 batters over his 109 pitch outing. Kuroda continues to show the Yankees why he is one of their best continued contracts this season. This was an excellent way to get 24 outs.

The Yankees offense was particularly fun, starting with Brett Gardner’s leadoff triple and eventual run scored by Cano’s ground out to put the Yankees up quickly 1-0. Toronto’s pitching staff held off any further attempts until the 5th inning with a Jayson Nix sacrifice fly to plate David Adams. And then it was the 7th inning once again. (I’m sensing a momentum pattern lately.) First, Adams hits a very nice ground-rule double. Ichiro singles on a bunt, advancing Adams to 3rd. Austin Romine then steps up and doubles, scoring Adams (3-0) with Ichiro now at 3rd. A pitching change and no outs sees Gardner single out to left field through an infield gap as Ichiro tags home (4-0) and Romine advances to 3rd. Nix again out on a sacrifice fly as Romine scores (5-0), quickly followed by a double play to end the inning, but finalizing the score of the evening. (I am starting to like these 7th innings.)

Defensively, the Yankees saw some interesting plays. In the 1st inning, the Toronto batter hits the ball directly back at Kuroda who just grabs it in his glove; it’s one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” plays. And in the 3rd, Kuroda successfully picked off the runner at 1st. Center field was again manned by Gardner whose range continues to baffle the mind; his defensive skills take him running all over the grass, with speed, excellence, and flair. And the most fun play of the night goes to catcher Austin Romine making the final out of the evening awkwardly but with a smile, a foul fly ball near the netting behind home plate.

All in all, a rather fun way to spend a Friday night. When you’ve got great pitching, you’ve got everything. Tonight belongs to Kuroda. Well, Kuroda and the 7th inning offense (again). After all, they are a team.

Go Yankees!

Game 41: SEA vs. NYY — A competitive loss

Add Andy Pettitte and Chris Stewart to the temporarily injured list (the bad news), but not the official Disabled List (the good news). Pettitte was pulled from the game in the middle of the 5th inning and diagnosed with a stiff left trapezius (the muscle that goes from the nape of the neck to the shoulder blade). He allowed 2 runs (an RBI double and RBI single) off 4 hits and still strikes out 5 batters. He would’ve stayed in the game if not for the lessening of his velocity (the pitching speed) due to the stiffness. He has 5 days rest now until his next scheduled start, so we’ll see what rest and minor rehab can do for him. Sleep, water, and rest for a day usually works for me when that happens.

Stewart felt some discomfort and stiffness, but played through most of the game, being replaced by Austin Romine for the 8th and 9th innings. He underwent an MRI, but this is probably due to his common issues with lower back pain, something that was keeping him from being the regular catcher for the Yankees in the first place.

The Mariners took 2 runs off a slower Pettitte tonight and a solo homer off Kelley in the 6th. The Seattle pitchers allowed 7 hits by Yankee batters, which nearly emptied their bullpen pitching six pitchers to the Yankees batters in tonight loss. In other words, the Mariners were determined to take the win tonight at all costs, including seeing the temperamental manager getting ejected over a call in the 2nd inning; Ichiro caught a line drive out in right field to end the inning, but Seattle’s manager believed he didn’t have control of it and thus protested the call. Managers usually take the explanation by the umpires once it’s personally spelled out and only fight for their players in truly detrimental and questionable calls, but Wedge clearly isn’t most managers.

Offensively, the Yankees were only able to score two runners — David Adams’ double to score Curtis Granderson in the 2nd and Robinson Cano’s single to score Ichiro Suzuki in the 7th inning. While the Mariners won 3-2 tonight, it was Granderson who really stood out offensively, going 3-for-4 with a stolen base and run scored. I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to see him back in the line-up and in the everyday game conversation. Another bright spot is new guy David Adams, who is continuing to show the Yankees why he was a great choice to put on the roster. He is proving defensively consistent and finding his swing in the batter’s box, adding to his statistics tonight with an RBI double. He will be one to watch develop as both a ball player and as a Yankee.

And while it’s never fun to watch a loss, it certainly was an interesting game to watch. I’d much prefer watching a well-fought loss than a blowout game, even if we are the winning team. Though I should note, for statistics purposes, I’d always rather have a win in the long run because no matter how you win, a win is a win is a win. But when you’re watching a game (and I’d guess when you’re playing one), it’s more involved and more anticipatory (for all involved) if the competition is alive and the game is tighter. A well-fought battle is always more interesting and satisfying than a single explosion or bombardment; it gives both sides the opportunity to earn and work for the victory. In other words, the victory is still up for grabs for either side and this means there is competition. And sports are designed to be competitive, meaning someone has to win.

And for the AL East, even after 2 losses in a row, the Yankees are still a ridiculously, unexpected competitive and victorious force. Yes, we’re still sitting pretty atop the AL East.

Go Yankees!

Game 40: SEA vs. NYY — The “King” returns with new loyalties

Ibanez 2013
Raul Ibanez grand slam
Once a Yankee…
Photo credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

You know if you look at the names on the box score tonight without relating them to a particular team, and if you’re still remembering some good time from last year’s season, you might just think the Yankees did rather well tonight. But it’s not 2012 anymore, and the “King of New York” is now the “Sultan of Seattle”, and there was absolutely nothing that could save the game from disaster for the Yankees, least of all the pitching.

I’m going to start with the good news and most of it is from Seattle. Raul Ibanez is living proof that age is really just a number. He is responsible for 6 of the 12 runs the Mariners scored tonight, 2 of them were off his home runs, and 1 of those homers was a 1st inning grand slam. That’s right, a 1st inning grand slam. When he hit that to make it 6-0 in the 1st inning (with only 1 out, I should add), most Yankee fans shook their heads and wondered what the front office was doing to let Ibanez go during the off-season. I should note that Ibanez chose to go back to Seattle, where he spent most of his career (1996-2000, 2004-2008, 2013 — this is his 11th season with Seattle) and where his family lives; it’s home, so it’s really understandable from a personal viewpoint but hard to take as a fan of an opposing and former team.

Also, Seattle raked another homer (a 3-run in the 6th inning) off the Yankees pitching staff, and really kept the defense on their toes. After the 1st inning decimation, the only runs scored by either team were home runs. The Yankees managed to eke out their own offense to not go silently into the night — Vernon Wells and Chris Stewart each found left field a great exit for their solo home runs in the 1st and 5th innings, respectively. This means the Yankees lost with a 10-run deficit rather than a shutout, which is always worse, for a final score of 12-2 Mariners.

I cannot comment on the pitching because I have made a commitment to keep my blog positive. And as the old saying says, if you can’t say something nice… don’t talk about it in your blog. (I may be paraphrasing.) Well, when you start a game with a 2-pitcher 7-0 1st inning, it’s not going to be a pretty baseball game, and it’s not going to be a good day to be the pitcher.

Girardi played a bit later in the game with some of the roster and fielding positions to give some of the guys a rest and challenge others. I think it was to give the overtaxed bullpen a rest, but it was rather odd to see Chris Stewart for example playing 1st base and Vernon Wells made a new home tonight at 2nd. David Adams, the newest guy on the team, was picked up today in exchange for Chris Nelson being designated for assignment (soon to be released). It’s a shame Adams played his first game to a really bad loss, but if we can get it over with now, he has nowhere to go but up with the team. (Again, that staying positive thing.)

Let’s be honest, for those of us who’ve been Yankees fans for a long time, any time we see a former Yankee do something awesome, there’s always a bit of us that cheers, even quietly. It just stings when that awesome is used against us. And so while tonight belongs to Ibanez, and subsequently the Mariners, it was nice to see him find that swing and do something pretty cool again in Yankee Stadium. It’s just a bummer he wasn’t wearing pinstripes. Best of luck, Raul. But can you use it on other teams instead?

Go Yankees (even former ones)!