Game 81: NYY vs. BAL — 4th place here we come…

That’s right, the Yankees have now sunk to 1/2 game behind the Rays, 4 games behind tonight’s opponent Baltimore, and 6 1/2 games behind the Red Sox. Only the Blue Jays are flailing more than the Yankees right now, and only 2 games back. Tomorrow, it’s a new month, a new chapter and 14 straight games until the All-Star Break to redeem some of their lost ground, and hopefully with all but the first four games, they can really play into that home field advantage and a crowd that’s aching to see them back on top.

Tonight’s game wasn’t exactly anyone’s best performance. Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda gave up a solo home run to Baltimore for each of the first 3 innings, giving the Oriole’s a quick lead. In the 7th, Kuroda allowed 2 batter on base (a single and a double) was replaced by Boone Logan who allowed one in batter to score on a sacrifice fly, but neither he nor the 8th inning pitcher Kelley allowed any further damage from the O’s.

Offensively, the Yankees loaded the bases early in the 2nd inning and Gardner’s earned walk scored Almonte. In the 6th inning, Robinson Cano slammed a nice home run out to right-center field to make an attempt for the Yankees. But they never were able to grab a lead and lost tonight’s game (and the sweep) to Baltimore 4-2.

Defensively, there were some really great plays by the Yankees, just being the Yankees again. (No media is available due to the national broadcast on ESPN; national broadcasts do not immediately release any video highlights to be used for MLB & MLB blog purposes.) Logan grabbed a ball from going past him in the 7th and saved a potential run by stalling the runner and getting the out at 1st. Ichiro Suzuki used the outfield as his personal Slip ‘n Slide with some great running-sliding catches on fly balls, including a really spectacular catch in the 8th inning.

Chris Stewart probably had the worst day today. Early in the game, a batter swung his bat back with a particularly awkward force and hit Stewart on the helmet. (Thank God for helmets!) He was able to walk it off and finish the game just fine until the 9th inning where he got plunked on the back by an errant ball thrown way outside the batter’s box. I’m guessing Stewart is leaving the city with a lot less “good thoughts” about their team than when he woke up this morning.

I guess when I think about it, a win today would have been almost out of character for the June Yankees. June hasn’t been kind to the pinstriped ones. It’s like the onset of summer has suddenly shifted the normal order of things in the AL East. I don’t like it. And I imagine they don’t like it either. And like I said earlier, tomorrow begins a new month, with new opportunities and a new forward mentality. The season is far from over.

Actually as I look at the count, it’s exactly half over. This means there is still 81 whole games worth of opportunity to find the Yankees of April and May all over again. I’d love to see them go into the All-Star Break on a high, but I believe the break is exactly what they need to rediscover, well, themselves. I think we’ll be looking at a different team on the other side of the break because they just don’t like to be on this side of a streak. Every year, the Yankees don’t set a goal for “postseason” (like most teams); the goal is “World Series Champions”, and anything short of that is failure.

So what’s it going to take this 4th place team to get to World Series Champions? More runs, better team work, tighter pitching, getting people off the DL, stronger defense? Yes, that’s all important. But I think something they seem to be missing right now, at least for the month of June is what will carry them all the way through to #28 — heart. Call it overrated, corny, or sentimental. But I remember 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 like they were yesterday, and the one they all had in common is the passion, the drive, the heart of champions. And that’s what made them a dynasty. That’s what made them the feared Yankees. That’s what made them my team.

Go Yankees!

Game 80: NYY vs. BAL — Watch out for the birds overhead

I’m trying to keep this blog relatively clean and positive, but I’m hoping from the imagery from my title you can guess where I really wanted to go for today’s post. The only “good luck” these birds issued was to their own offense. Another not great outcome in Baltimore for the Yankees, but this one was particularly… well, you get the point.

Starter David Phelps was really not on his game today. He just never seemed to find that consistent control, which will always make or break a pitcher. Tonight, unfortunately, he broke. In the 1st inning, with 1 out, 3 back-to-back singles scored a run and set the stage for a strong 3-run homer and the Orioles were ahead instantly 4-0. Phelps followed up that inning with a quick 1-2-3 inning, but couldn’t maintain that into the 3rd inning. 2 walks and 2 singles scored 2 runs and allowed another 3-run home run, putting Baltimore up 9-0 by the end of the 3rd inning as Phelps trudged to the dugout replaced by Ivan Nova. Nova later allowed a 2-run home run in the 6th inning, but escaped relatively unscathed from tonight’s game.

The Yankees offense didn’t wake up until the 6th inning, but it wasn’t exactly stellar or remarkable. Nix walked, Cano singled, Wells flied out, Ichiro walked to load the bases, and Almonte hit a sacrifice fly to score Nix. Adams walked to load the bases again, and then Overbay reached 1st on a “fielding error” (the same guy who hit 2 of the home runs in the game booted the ball instead of catching it and making the play), which scored Cano and kept the bases loaded. So the Yankees sat at 9-2 Orioles (then 11-2 by the end of the 6th inning). To spare a little more face, in the 9th inning, Stewart doubled and then Gardner doubled him in to finalized the score at 11-3 Orioles.

Outside of the game, Girardi put his finger on the inaccuracies of the All-Star Game with a single statement: “I think [Gardner’s] worthy of being on the All-Star team. I think he’s had a great first half defensively, offensively. He’s played every day. I believe he’s an All-Star.” But he’s nowhere near being voted onto the team because he’s not a “power-hitting” outfielder or a media darling (read: “showman”). He can get voted AL Player of the Week, be on a career-record-setting year, and still not be voted into the game because (like high school), it’s still a popularity contest. So they’re going to get the “popular guys” whose named may only be remembered in passing one day, but skip over the guy who has played in every game this season and could possibly be one of the better outfielders in the entire league.

And it’s almost funny that a Yankee isn’t popular because I guess I’ve always equated the Yankees as the popular jocks in high school. Everyone loved them or loved to hate them, everyone wanted to be their friends, they knew everyone, they got everything they ever wanted like a Midas touch effect, everyone knew everything about them, and they got voted for everything (homecoming, prom, yearbook, etc.). And to some extent, I think that’s how most people viewed the Yankees. But when one of the lesser popular kids really deserves some recognition, people are looking elsewhere for the popular kids of another group. The ones who talk a good talk and like flash and flare over substance.

Okay, sure there are some really good outfielders that also hit like crazy, one of them plays for Baltimore. But I guess I see where Girardi is coming from because it’s what I see in this group of “no-name” Yankees. While the “popular guys” are out recovering, the rest of the group is forced to rely on their substance and dig deeper, which isn’t as consistent as the names we’ve come to rely on in years past. But the talent and substance is there, and it’s there in spades for Gardner.

Gardner got all my 35 votes for the All-Star Game, and I hope he gets yours. The ballots close this Thursday, July 4, rosters announced Saturday, July 6, and between July 6-11 voters can continue to vote for the starting roster. Right now, Cano barely leads at 2nd base, Jeter is holding up 5th place for short stop, and Ichiro is the only outfielder making the top 15. Orioles fans have slammed the voting and most of their team is holding strong all over the field, with the Rangers and Tigers fans close behind. So it will be interesting to see how it all turns out in a few weeks.

Go Yankees!

Game 79: NYY vs. BAL — The Birds clip Yankee wings

CC Sabathia started the first 5 innings with such flair and finesse and was contending for a no-hitter and his 200th win of his career. And then came the 6th inning, beginning with back-to-back singles. A double then scored both of those runners and a single scored another. To top things off, a solo home run off Sabathia in the 7th was the icing on the cake for Baltimore to grab this first game of the weekend series from the Yankees, which is a shame because of the tight game Sabathia played for the first half of the game, striking out 6 batters (on the lower side for Sabathia, but still significant).

The Yankees offense started out very strong. Gardner led off with a double and was later scored by a Robinson Cano single in the 1st inning. And in the 3rd, singles by Nix and Cano line up Vernon Wells for an RBI single (scoring Nix). And Chris Stewart singles home Cano to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead and force the Orioles to seek bullpen relief in the 3rd inning. It’s that bullpen that kept the Yankees from further damage and allowed the Orioles to keep their 4-3 lead they earned by the 7th inning.

This is the 2nd night in a row I think I feel bad for the pitcher. Now, Sabathia clearly blames himself for tonight’s loss and said so in his post-game interviews, but he really wasn’t anywhere near as bad as he is when he normally earns a loss. And I don’t think he would have earned a loss if the Yankees weren’t suffering from a sort of “power shortage”, as it were. They need home runs where they hit singles, and they leave far too many people stranded at the end of innings.

On the other hand, the Yankees seem to struggle in Camden Yards (Baltimore’s stadium). I noticed that last year when the two teams were constantly playing each other for 1st place in the AL. I don’t know what it is, but the Yankees just don’t seem to play as well as they should there. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Last September, for instance, I remember one game that the Yankees wiped the floor with the Orioles in Camden; that was a really good game. And while there is not really a “usually” in baseball (remember: anything is possible in baseball), it’s one of those things where conspiracy nuts begin to throw words around like “kyptonite” and “voodoo” (those people are weird).

And it’s not like the Yankees are ever really welcomed or well-represented in Baltimore. They definitely compete with Toronto, Detroit, and Kansas City for the most hateful fans. (And I didn’t forget Boston: I like the rivalry we have there, so I can’t count that as pure hate. Look at my previous posts on rivals for more details.) That has to play into the game at least somewhat. Sometimes, if you’re winning, I imagine the boos from the opposing fans would almost be exhilarating (“They only boo if you’re good.”) But the jeers and taunts when you’re losing have to be like salt in the wounds. It would take a pretty thick-skinned player to go out there and do whatever you can to try to prove them wrong. And I can’t imagine many of these guys are that thick-skinned yet, so many are still very new to the Yankee roster and are just now experiencing the other side of the anti-Yankee-ness from such crowds.

Guys like Robinson Cano, who’ve played with the Yankees for his whole professional career and is the favorite for jeers and taunts in Kansas City (really, how long can Midwesterners hold that silly grudge?), take those nasty things are turn them into a great personal outing like tonight, going 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored (the most productive offensive player tonight). Guys like CC Sabathia (in his 5th year as a Yankee) ignore the crowd and blame themselves for not doing their jobs, as they know they can’t fault anyone for their performance but themselves. Guys like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez (both in Tampa doing their rehab today) have dealt with the boos, jeers, and taunts for so long that they must tune it all out or laugh it off or just make every go to power through and show why they’re legends in the playing field.

It certainly doesn’t make it right, but it’s something I guess that every Yankee, perhaps every ball player must endure and come to terms with over their career. Somebody, somewhere isn’t going to like you, maybe for no logical reason, and it’s all up to how you react to the situation. Another great life lesson brought to you in action and example by the New York Yankees.

Go Yankees!

Game 78: TEX vs. NYY — Strong Hughes, weak bats

Phil Hughes had a very strong start today, going 106 pitches in 8 innings, allowing 2 runs, striking out 5 batters, and walking only one. One of those runs from Texas was a sacrifice fly and one was a solo home run. Now, normally that would earn a pitcher a strong contending for a win, but the offense just wasn’t there. There were some close calls with rookie batters like Adams and Almonte hitting balls out to the warning track by the back wall for some long fly outs. But nothing that could match the 2-0 Texas lead and eventual win this afternoon.

Girardi decided a roster shake-up was in order to see if the change could help the defense. Ichiro started in center, giving Gardner (sick with a cold) the day off until a 9th inning pinch hit. Wells in right, Gonzalez at 3rd, Romine catching, Cano at DH, so Adams at 2nd, filled out with the usuals Nix at short and Overbay at 1st.

I think the most exciting defense by the Yankees were the doubles plays in the 8th and 9th innings, both instigated by David Adams, covering at 2nd for DH-ing Cano. In the 8th, a Rangers batter grounds to Adams, throwing to Jayson Nix to get the first runner out at 2nd, who throws it to Lyle Overbay to get the batter out at 1st and end the outing. Then in the 9th, another Rangers batter grounds directly to Adams who steps on 2nd and throws it the 90 feet to Overbay to get that runner out. I’m loving the defense this infield seems to be patching together, including a great diving stop by Alberto Gonzalez in the 2nd.

Again, I think it’s really hard to relegate Hughes with the loss today, as any day when the pitcher really did his job well. I mean, if Hughes was having one of his bad days, the score would have been way worse in today’s shutout. Actually, the Texas pitcher went all 9 innings and really did a stellar job, so he deserves all praise he gets today. I guess I just feel bad that Hughes, on one of his better outings, has to take the brunt of the weak offense today.

Well, it is what it is. And though it puts the Yankees 1/2 game behind the Orioles and 4 full games behind Boston. Well, the Yankees have an opportunity to reduce that lead this weekend as they head down to Baltimore for a weekend series.

In other news, Robinson Cano continued on his victory tour off the Dominican win in the World Baseball Classic last March and was presented with the team trophy when he was done with the game today.

It’s always good to get a little good news on a less than good news day. Congrats again to Robbie and the DR team on representing and displaying such excellence in the sport we love! And here’s to hoping you continue to represent the Yankees so well for many years to come.

Go Yankees!

Game 77: TEX vs. NYY — Just not enough

Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte had a minor slip up of control in the 3rd inning, and it really cost the Yankees the game to the Rangers tonight. A bunt by a Texas batter had both Pettitte and tonight’s 3rd baseman Jayson Nix running for it; Pettitte got to it first but had to throw around Nix and inadvertently hit him — not with the ball, but his arm into Nix’s ribs. Both were okay, but the bases were loaded and there were no outs. Pettitte stuck out the next batter, but then allowed two back-to-back 2-run doubles. This actually would have been fine, as Pettitte also stuck out 6 batters and saw several low-pitch innings over his 6 innings pitched tonight. But off 2 of the 4 pitchers out of the bullpen, the Rangers would still rack up a few more runs to ensure their win. Off Joba Chamberlain in the 7th, there was a solid 2-run home run, and Shawn Kelley in the 9th gave up 2 more runs off an RBI single and sacrifice fly.

This is really disappointing because the Yankees offense was in full-force tonight. Lyle Overbay began the Yankees offense with a solo home run to the Yankees bullpen in the 2nd inning. In the 6th, Gardner singles, Ichiro doubles, Robinson Cano singles and scores Gardner, and Travis Hafner singles and scores Ichiro. And in the 7th inning, Ichiro Suzuki comes through once again with a 2-run home run into the 2nd deck in right field. Now with all that scoring, you might think the Yankees had done well. And they really did, but like we’ve said many times before, if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything. And tonight, even though the Rangers’ pitching was sub-par, they still wound up winning 8-5 tonight.

On the injury front, Mark Teixeira is officially out for the rest of the season. The doctors have deemed his wrist in need of surgery. He damaged the tendon sheaf of his right wrist in practice for the World Baseball Classic back in March and, after some time on the DL, came back to play 15 games with the Yankees before re-injuring it during the games they played on the West Coast. With surgery prep, the surgery, and rehab, the next time we’ll see Teixeira in pinstripes will be Spring Training 2014. We will miss him, but I believe Overbay will do a more than adequate job at 1st base in his stead, though there’s already talk of shopping for a new 1st baseman by the trade deadline (July 31). I would guess that a better grab would be for a player who can play at both corners to alternate with the other utility players like Nix, Adams, and Overbay.

There was some confusion and drama regarding Alex Rodriguez’s rehab timeline yesterday, but it looks like he’s getting closer to getting fully cleared for returning to full baseball duty, then rehab games, and then back to the Bronx. Barring any further setback, it looks like Rodriguez may be one of the first ones back off the long-term DL after the All-Star Break.

Speaking of long-term DL stints, a very happy birthday to Derek Jeter, who was greeted going into his rehab at Steinbrenner Field today with balloons, tinsel, cards, and a small gathering of fans celebrating and honoring him, for which he was grateful and appreciative. I can’t imagine he wanted to spend his birthday in recovery, but I’m guessing the appreciation and remembering helped ease the heart-sickness he must have for playing the game he’s loved to play for so long.

So, we’re praying for quick and full recovery for everyone on the DL, continued health for everyone not on the DL, and a happy birthday to the Captain today.

Go Yankees!

Game 76: TEX vs. NYY — Home Run Day

It was home run day in the Bronx as the Yankees hosted the Texas Rangers for the first game of this mid-week series. In total, there were 6 solo home runs by players on both teams and a measly run scored on a bases loaded ground out.

Starter Hiroki Kuroda threw his 99 pitches over 6.2 innings, giving up 5 hits and all three of the Rangers’ runs. Two of those runs were solo home runs by the same guy, who was also the ninth batter in the lineup. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with standard game strategy, the ninth batter is usually the weakest batter on the roster.) And when he came around again in the 7th inning, the Yankees played it safe and sent in a fresh pitcher to get the last out and keep the Rangers scoreless. Logan (for that one out), Robertson, and Rivera (who actually notched the win) successful kept Texas from further damage.

Ichiro walk off
Ichiro Suzuki celebrating his walk-off home run
Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Meanwhile, the Yankees decided to show off their home run skills, which clearly worked better than singles and walks loading the bases and having nothing to show for it. So it would be Travis Hafner in the 4th, Brett Gardner in the 5th, and Jayson Nix in the 6th. Going into the bottom of the 9th inning, the game was tied 3-3. Stewart walked, then got out on a force out by Brett Gardner, who proceeded to get caught stealing 2nd base; it was 2 outs. And the Yankees were looking at going into extra innings, but then Ichiro Suzuki steps up and hits a solid home run into the right field seats for a wonderful walk-off home run. The celebration ensues at home plate as Ichiro rounds the bases, making the final score 4-3 Yankees.

I should note there were some fun plays defensively as well. The first out of the game was a running catch in deep left field by Zoilo Almonte. And in the 3rd inning, Kuroda struck out the batter, and Chris Stewart, seeing the runner from 1st going for 2nd, immediately threw the ball to Nix as the runner dove right into Nix’s waiting glove for the double play. And a fun Stewart-Cano shot from home plate catches a runner at 2nd base in the 8th inning.

I have to admit that I was really worried about this game early on, but those solo homers really add up in the end when you need them. And other than Hafner, the rest of them aren’t really known for their power hitting capabilities. It was pointed out after Gardner’s homer that he just tied his career high for home runs from back in 2011 at 7. I don’t need to remind everyone that it’s still June, so he could really establish himself as something other than quick legs around the bases and stellar outfield defense.

Actually, the whole team played really well tonight. It was nice to see them working together and getting the job done… you know, being the Yankees and playing a great (nail-biting, at times) game that we’ve come to expect from the team. And I guess when I think about Gardner’s development as a sort of “power-hitter”, it really doesn’t surprise me. Well, nothing really “surprises” me anymore with this year’s team, and yet I’m forever enchanted by the surprises being written in this team’s history this year. This was supposed to be the year they tanked from Day 1, but nope, they’re clawing their way back to 1st place in the division. This was supposed to be the mishmash equivalent to the B-squad or even glorified minor leaguers, but nope, they’re playing like the high-class, professional big leaguers they are. I’ve been hearing “supposed to be” in reference to the Yankees a lot lately, and it makes me smile. They never do anything the easy way, and they never cease to surprise the socks off me with how they continue being the Yankees the world knows they are.

Injury updates are coming soon. There’s some mixed messages regarding dates of availability and rehab timelines, and since I don’t like to talk about anything but straight up facts, when I know them, they’ll be a discussion topic. For now, get healthy and stay healthy, gentlemen. They’re playing some great baseball in the Bronx, and I know you’re anxious to be a part of it all as soon as humanly possible.

Go Yankees!

Opinions, slander, & free speech

Opinions are a mixed bag. When they’re yours, they’re awesome and sacred and intensely passionate. When they’re some one else’s, they’re frivolous, unfounded, or just stupid. I know I’ve said this before, but I have to read a lot of things about baseball, specifically the Yankees in the “research” phase of my daily writing. And as we all know, there’s a lot of anti-Yankee hatred out there, even in the subtlest forms.

Now, the greatest thing about being a true fan is that you completely and understandably think your team is the greatest team in the whole world, even if they’re statistically the worst team in the entire league. Now, realistic fans realize that their team may not be playing well, but they always hold onto their opinion that their team is still the best. And I feel that about the Yankees.

I know that every person with a computer can basically write anything they want about anyone at any time. And technically that right is defined by the Constitution’s First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”. But that doesn’t include defamation of character, which is essentially slander or libel (slander is spoken, libel is written). In order to be legally considered defamation, the statements must be actionable words, if the guilty of some offense, suffers from a contagious disease or psychological disorder, is unfit for public office because of moral failings or an inability to discharge his or her duties, or lacks integrity in profession, trade or business; that the charge must be false; that the charge must be articulated to a third person, verbally or in writing; that the words are not subject to legal protection; and that the charge must be motivated by malice. But being considered a “public figure” the statute limited the idea of malice and defamation with the ruling of the “importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern”. In other words, public figures like professional athletes are pretty much open to the free flow of anyone’s spiteful words as long as they aren’t falsely accusing them of something illegal (like drugs or some criminal activity).

And that’s what makes reading that so hard. I mean, it’s not like it’s very difficult to come across something nasty about a Yankee or the Yankees. It’s often in the comment section of an article, even if the article is pretty good or objective. Little barbs always pepper the comments sections of Instagram photos or Facebook or Twitter posts. I can’t imagine what the players must read in response to some of their posts, especially those with personal Twitter or Instagram accounts. (Alex Rodriguez just got his Twitter account verified and has a corresponding Instagram account, so I’m guessing he’s already feeling the heat from his own haters, even though he’s only tweeted 8 times.) Several of the pitchers I follow have discovered the magic of the “block” button, but I don’t imagine that lessens the initial sting of the hatred.

I guess my whole point is that I fully support, even encourage, everyone to have and/or form their own opinions on their world. I know I certainly have opinions on a whole range of topics. But what I really don’t like is that people seem to think that a valid form of expressing those opinions can be to deride or demean someone who is either on opposite sides of that opinion or perhaps is the actual target of that opinion. I was on the debate team in high school and took a handful of speech classes in college, and the first thing you learn is to state your opinion in such a way as to make it personal to you, make your point succinctly and coherently, and recognize that others won’t always agree. In fact, many times, people will think your ideas are really stupid, and that’s their opinion that they are completely entitled to have. What they aren’t entitled to do is to tear you apart for having a different view.

So I guess that’s my bottom line. I’ve established a message of positivity on this blog because I firmly believe that whatever you do affects your world — so positive actions and words spreads positivity, and negative ones spread negativity. That being said, I still believe the Yankees are the best team in all of baseball history, and I’m not afraid to say it. I may think some of my family and friends are crazy to believe the same thing about their teams, but I understand where they’re coming from and I love hearing their passion and celebration about “their guys”. I may never agree with them, but I’ll never tear them apart for their loyalties. And I expect them to reciprocate. I honestly don’t care if any one of my readers are Yankee fans, but I would hope you’d at least be fans of baseball and love the dynamics of the sport. In fact, I love some healthy dialogue (read: debate) about the sport. It certainly makes life more interesting.

Go Yankees!