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)!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Yankees!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Yankees!