Game 60: NYY vs. SEA — 3rd inning impact

It seems that lately the Yankees are keen on picking a single inning to make a huge impact on the scoreboard and spend the other innings defending that impact. Tonight was no exception, and tonight they found an opportunity in the 3rd inning against the Seattle Mariners.

The Yankees went through 11 batters in the 3rd inning. Two singles set up Robinson Cano to hit his 15th home run of the season, and put the Yankees quickly up 3-0. Mark Teixeira grabbed his chance to jump in on the action with a long solo home run to right-center field. A single, a double, and 2 RBI singles (by Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki) easily made it 6-0 by the end of the inning.

Starting pitcher Phil Hughes was in great form tonight, throwing 111 pitches over 7 innings, walking 2 and striking out 7 Mariners. One of those walks ended up scoring in the 8th inning on an RBI double. But that was the only score the Yankees would allow from the Mariners tonight, only allowing 4 hits all night. The Yankees relievers got themselves into some jams but were able nimbly work their way out of them and keep the Mariners at bay (just noticed the pun, sorry), with the help of the Yankees defense like a long, quick catch by (who else anymore) Jayson Nix.

The Yankees began their 4 game series in Seattle tonight to kick off their West Coast tour and will head down to Oakland and Los Angeles (Angels) next week. The hardest part about West Coast games for most of the Yankees fans is that they’re usually played in the evening (or the 7:00 pm game time), which is 10:00 pm for the East Coast. So while the West Coast crowd is finishing their 10:30 pm noshes at sports bars, the rest of the country is already considering it the “middle of the night”. And for those of us who write about it, it just gets to maneuver our schedules around. And honestly, it kind of reminds me of staying up late in college writing that 10 page paper I put off until the night before it was due. Fortunately, I don’t have an 8:00 am class tomorrow (whoever does the scheduling for morning college classes is a sadist, but that’s for a different time).

Also, in MLB news, the “other news” of the week is being gladly trumped by the MLB Draft. Tonight, the Yankees picked up three players due to their regular draft pick (#26) and two first round draft picks (#32 & #33) they acquired by losing Nick Swisher (to the Indians) and Rafael Soriano (to the Nationals). #26 went to 3rd baseman Eric Jagielo of Notre Dame; #32 picked outfielder and power hitter out of Fresno State Aaron Judge; and #33 is Ian Clark, a left-handed pitcher from San Diego. Welcome to the Yankees, gentlemen. You may not know it yet, but you’ve become a part of the most storied franchises in history. And by being chosen in the 1st round of the draft by the Yankees will forever be part of your history in MLB and a part of the Yankees.

Go Yankees!

Game 59: CLE vs. NYY — A CC kind of sweep

Starting pitcher (and former Indian) CC Sabathia threw all 116 pitches needed for the Yankees to win and sweep the Cleveland Indians today. He started really strong, perhaps his strongest all season so far, getting 14 straight batters out (until a single in the 5th inning broke that streak). In the next inning, he faltered a bit, allowing 3 straight singles (and one run) and a sacrifice groundout to score the 2nd run for the Indians before Sabathia closed out the inning. A 2-out 2-run homer by an Indians batter in the 7th inning was probably his biggest flaw in today’s otherwise stellar performance, which put the Indians solidly on the board with 4 runs. But it wasn’t enough to do much of anything to counteract the early Yankee attack.

A fielding error in the 1st inning allowed Robinson Cano to slide into 2nd safely — though I think we can all agree that splits are best used by dancers, not baseball players. The other former Indian on the team, Travis Hafner, then solidly planted a long ball into the 2nd deck in right field for a quick 2-0 lead in the 1st inning. In the 2nd inning, Overbay singles, Nix doubles, Chris Stewart singles and scores Overbay,  and it was Brett Gardner today that took his turn to hit a 3-run homer into right field. (Yes, Brett Gardner; I was shocked too.) And the Yankees were quickly up 6-0 in the 2nd inning.

Even when Cleveland attacked late in the game, they still fell short of the 6-4 final score, and much of that was due to Sabathia. He struck out 9 batters, walked only 1, allowed 7 hits, and those 4 pesky runs in the 6th and 7th innings. Cleveland went through 5 pitchers in an attempt to keep the Yankees at bay, which they did after the first two innings and got out of several loaded bases scenarios. But to finish what you start is always rather refreshing for a pitcher, and he was able to save the bullpen from a day’s work for another day facing another team, which is good because they Yankees are making a cross-country flight tonight to play down the West Coast.

And I do want to continue to acknowledge Jayson Nix’s contribution to the team, like with a 6-6-3 double play in the 7th inning. He is a great example of what is happening on the team as a whole. It’s the little things like that play and just the willingness to be wherever you’re asked to play that continue to drive this team forward. He is regularly filling in at shortstop with the furthered absence of  both Jeter and Nunez (who is now dealing with a recent set-back in his recovery), and honestly, Nix is really exceeding all expectations of one of the most demanding positions on the field. Again it’s guys like Nix that are making this team something special, something feared almost, in the league when technically they were “supposed to be” where the Blue Jays are right now — below .500 for the average (Toronto’s is currently .414) and 11.5 games behind 1st place Boston (well, everyone thought 1st place would be the Blue Jays, but that’s another story). But we’re not, and we have to give credit to the “never say die” guys like Jayson Nix.

Go Yankees!

Game 58: CLE vs. NYY — A win is still the story of the day

Mark Teixeira continues his show of brute force tonight with yet another big contribution, something that gave starter David Phelps what is arguably his best outing this season and tonight’s win against Cleveland. Phelps kept the Indians scoreless through all 6 of his innings, allowing only 1 hit, walking 4, but striking out 7 batters in his 102 pitches. Joba Chamberlain came in to relieve him, but only managed 2 outs and allowing an admittedly really nice 3-run home run, the only runs they would score tonight. Logan finished the inning, Robertson came in for the 8th, and Rivera closed out the game for his 21st save of 2013. The best pitcher-batter combination was easily Robertson vs. Swisher, due to their long and close friendship off the field; Robertson got Swisher to ground into a double play, however, something that will no doubt get rubbed in at their next combined family gathering.

Behind Phelps, Girardi continued playing with his roster: Overbay continued his new stint as an outfielder (sans salute tonight); Cano took a half-day and focused on being a DH, as Adams played 2nd in his stead until he was replaced by Nix who moved over from short when Brignac came in later; and Gardner also entered the game later at center which shifted Ichiro to right to take over for Overbay. And if you’re half as confused as I was by the 7th inning, consider yourself fully indoctrinated into the “Girardi’s Binder” club. (Still lost? Google can be your best friend.)

Defensively, it was Jayson Nix who was at the key spot around 2nd base in two interesting plays tonight. First, in the 4th inning, Phelps gets a strike out for the first out, and Stewart throws the ball to a waiting Nix to get the runner trying to steal 2nd base for the first double play of the evening. Then, in the 8th inning, Nix caught the line drive off Swisher in the 8th and flipped the ball to Brignac to tag 2nd and get the out off the doubled-off runner for an easy double play (the one I mentioned above).

Now, offensively, the Yankees got 8 hits off Cleveland pitchers, 7 alone from their starter. They did most of their damage in the 4th inning, which started off with a Overbay double. Stewart singled on the next hit, pushing Overbay to 3rd, but in efforts to turning it into a double, Stewart was thrown out at 2nd base. (Yes, it was as messy as that sounded.) Ichiro’s single scored Overbay easily. Nix’s single got Ichiro over to 3rd base. Mark Teixeira, however, saw this at bat as his opportunity to step up again and hit a long ball out just inside the foul pole in the left field seats for a 3-run home run. In a single inning, the Yankees planted their dominance on the scoreboard in what would end up a 4-3 win for the Yankees.

And the shame of tonight’s win is that most of the news has been on the breaking story of the latest development in the South Florida PED scandal, which originally broke in January, naming specific MLB players on documents retrieved by reporters and written up in an expose. Tonight, MLB announced they would now be seeking suspensions for a good portion of those named in the document.

Now, I won’t dabble in speculation or make grandiose claims based on rumors or assumptions. But I don’t like the idea of sweeping punishments without regard to actual proven guilt. If players are guilty of using PEDs, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent that MLB can dole out. But I believe in a justice system that is based on “innocent until proven guilty”, not one based on “guilty by assumption”. The last time MLB ruled on sweeping punishments was nearly a century ago with the “Black Sox” scandal of 1920, which was further marred by the botched investigation and the punishment of clearly innocent men who are still legally banned from baseball. I really don’t want to see that happen again.

It’s almost easier to write about the horrors of this world in a fictional sense because it never affects real people. I think sometimes people forget that when they pursue stories of a less than honorable nature, those connections affect actual people and their lives. I just hope that cooler heads prevail and that (to paraphrase the old saying) the truth will set the innocent free, no matter who they are.

Go Yankees!

Game 57: CLE vs. NYY — A grand slam it is!

Nick Swisher returned to the Bronx for the first time since signing with the Indians after last season. The Bleacher Creatures didn’t forget his welcome and he returned with his customary left-handed salute from his position at 1st base. Swisher is usually found in right field, but has taken on the role of corner infield more frequently with the loss of some of the Indians’ infielders to the DL. Now, that random fact is significant because of some Yankee movements around the field today. To make room for tonight’s starting pitcher Andy Pettitte on the 25-man roster, Brennan Boesch was sent back down to AAA. They opted to keep Lyle Overbay, who as we know has been subbing for Mark Teixeira at 1st base, but tonight, Overbay was out in right field for the first time in his entire career. So when the Creatures did his roll call, he made a nice nod to Swisher’s former role on the team by doing the “Swisher Salute”. One of the beat reporters noted this oddity on Twitter:

So the fun action at the beginning of the game, the game itself didn’t disappoint. Pettitte returned from the DL tonight, coming off rest for a strained neck muscle, and really held his own for a few innings. He allowed 4 hits in the first 3 innings, but kept Cleveland scoreless until a fielder’s choice off Swisher plated a runner to put Cleveland up 1-0 in the 3rd inning.

The Yankees chose to strike harder in the bottom of that inning. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases for Teixeira. Now, we’ve been waiting all 57 games for that rare feat, and I’ve been trying to figure out who would be the one to achieve it. But even I didn’t think it would be Teixeira, and then he goes and proves me wrong by hitting a huge grand slam out to right field to make the score 4-1 Yankees.

Pettitte got himself into trouble in the 5th inning, allowing a double, a single, and a sacrifice fly to cut the Yankees’ lead in half. A ground out (and its injury delay) and two walks was all the Indians needed to get a ground-rule double to tie up the game and get Pettitte replaced by Shawn Kelley. Kelley put in his 1.1 innings, followed by Chamberlain and Robertson who also kept the Indians hitless and scoreless.

In the 6th inning, Brett Gardner got in on the RBI action to break the tie with his 2-RBI single, though it should have been an easy out for the 2nd runner at home but the pitcher chose to cut off the play for some reason. (All the better for the Yankees, I guess.) Travis Hafner then planted a home run in the 7th for extra insurance. This, of course, allowed for Mariano Rivera to close out the game in 15 pitches, settling the score at 7-4 Yankees.

I guess I’m still stuck on the grand slam. It’s one of the many things little kids dream of doing at that crucial moment in a baseball game. Every team is bound to hit at least one during the season, and with the Yankees it’s never a matter of “if” but rather “when” and “who”. It’s something every fan and manager and player prays will happen when the bases are loaded (and every pitcher prays against). Teixeira had yet to really make a statement with his return this season, so I’m calling tonight’s event his exclamation point to that statement.

And after a much needed pick-me-up of sorts also called “last night’s drenching” and defeat, it was rather fun to watch a game so wrapped up with fun. After all, isn’t that what this game’s supposed to be about?

Go Yankees!

Game 56: BOS vs. NYY — Rain drama, drama, & more drama

There are so many better ways to spend an evening — a nice dinner, a good ball game, family time, a movie, time with friends, maybe even your house of worship. A near-monsoon in the Bronx is probably not an ideal place for most, nor would a hospital ER. And that’s what happened in my world.

Tonight’s game was “dry delayed” for 50 minutes at the start of the game because of the threat of weather. And when it did finally start the game, starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda was his usual self through the first three innings. In the fourth inning, two singles made room for an easy Boston run on a ground out to put the Red Sox ahead 1-0. On the first pitch of the fifth inning, one of Boston’s weaker hitters hit his first home runs of the season to left field and the score was 2-0 Boston. As the predicted rain finally began to fall, power hitter David Ortiz slammed a long home run towards the Bleacher Creatures in Section 203 (or what was left of them due to the rain) to settle Boston in at 3-0 before the rain made it impossible to continue the inning.

The umpires halted play shortly thereafter, and the tarp was brought out for 37 minutes. When the game resumed, Boone Logan was brought in to close out the top of the inning before play was called again due to another rain delay. The Yankees, easily stymied by tonight’s Red Sox pitcher (who only allowed 2 Yankee hits all 5 1/2 innings), were never able to get their revenge, as the game was called in the middle of the 5th inning giving Boston tonight’s win — officially 3-0 in 6 innings.

In the middle of the second rain delay, I found myself in that lovely place called the Emergency Room. No broken bones but a sprained wrist has me on my own personal DL for a few weeks. By the time I walked out with a splint on my hand, the game had been called and the ugly black monstrosity on my wrist further symbolized the defeat of the day — my own and the Yankees. (But my doctor’s son is a Yankees’ fan, so if you come across this, your mom was nice, hello to you, and thanks for reading my blog!)

It’s never easy to admit defeat, or watch a loss, or watch hopes of potential late victory wash away in the deluge. And it’s especially hard to do all those things when you are up against a great rival like the Red Sox (least of all as a Yankee fan). But I suppose that’s part of the game, and I suppose that’s why there are more than a handful of games to be played in a season. I think it gives teams more than their fair share of attempts to prove that they are worth the postseason, not only to their fans but to themselves. You don’t see that a lot in other professional sports, and it’s part of the reason that I love baseball.

So if baseball continues to be a metaphor for life, it is those many chances that we get throughout a season in life to prove that we are worth those extra innings, those extra games, those extra investments. And isn’t that what we always want — to prove to the people we care about that we are worth caring about?

This season hasn’t been easy on any team with the weather, the DL, and countless other factors have plagued just about every team in the league. Even teams that should be on top (and I’m not calling anybody out in particular) clearly are victims of bad timing, or circumstance, or even bad luck (if you want to call it that). Perhaps that’s why I wait to draw my conclusions about particular teams until there is actually time to draw conclusions given proper information. Assumptions can only get you so far, and honestly they are usually wrong. Most pre-season or even early season predictions are just assumptions based on incomplete facts. We haven’t even hit the halfway point (the All-Star break), and the Yankees are still due a good portion of their team off the DL in the next few months at the latest. And really, who know what’s going to happen? And isn’t that part of the fun — the not knowing?

Go Yankees!

Game 55: BOS vs. NYY — 11-1

11-1 Boston. And because tonight’s game wasn’t really something to rejoice over (unless you’re a Red Sox fan, and if you are, why are you reading a pro-Yankees blog?), I won’t really dive into too much of the damage.

Starting pitcher Phil Hughes really struggled tonight, throwing 100 pitches over only 4.1 innings. He started out really good through the first two innings, but really let some poorly placed pitches get the better of him in the 3rd inning. A double, a single, an RBI double (1-0), a strikeout, an intentional walk to power slugger David Ortiz to load the bases, a grand slam (5-0), and 2 strikeouts to end the inning.

At the bottom of the 4th inning, Chris Stewart earned the only score for the Yankees tonight through a sacrifice fly to center field. Stewart was later pulled from the game with dehydration, perhaps more of a symbol of what the Yankees were suffering from (metaphorically) than anything else that happened on the Yankee side of things.

But the Red Sox weren’t nearly done beating up on the Yankees. Claiborne filled in some middle relief for Hughes after he hit 100 pitches and was able to keep Boston away from much damage. As did his replacement Adam Warren, coming into the game in 7th inning to give 3 full innings of work. In the 8th, a 3-run homer pushed Boston further ahead to 8-1, and in the 9th, pitching got a little sloppy allowing a solo home run, an RBI single, and a sacrifice ground out for the final score of 11-1. The Red Sox outhit the Yankees 18-6 as well.

I knew watching that grand slam in the 3rd that somehow tonight’s blog wasn’t going to be filled with much celebration. Sometimes things just work, or even you get that feeling that late in the game they’re just going to pull it all together. This, however, wasn’t one of those nights. I know lots of people have been doing it, but it made me long for the days when some of the “usual suspects” return to what we know them as and play like the championship team the world knows they are. It’s tough watching things fall apart before your eyes, but I can’t imagine how tough it would be to be on the field and know you can’t do a thing to stop it from falling apart.

I guess it still boils down to pitching. We really didn’t have any consistent pitching tonight, and the 1st place Red Sox figured that out really quick and kept their ball rolling. Not that they had stellar pitching tonight, but rather we also were missing some consistent offense. So when your pitchers have off-days and your hitters have off-days, I’m guessing you’re not going to win many games, least of all when you’re playing a team that’s playing as well as Boston.

So, let’s leave the off-day on today, and remember that tomorrow is another day, fresh with no mistakes in it… yet. It’s something we need to remember every day — every day we get a fresh start to do something amazing that we’ve never done before. A little too optimistic? Perhaps. But as they say, “I’d rather be an optimist and wrong, than a pessimist and right.” At least optimists still hope, and until October, there’s still hope.

Go Yankees!

Game 54: BOS vs. NYY — Back in business & ain’t it grand

Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis picked a great night to come back. The rivalry of the Boston-New York is alive and well, especially as the two teams are currently battling for domination over the AL East. And coming off a 5-game losing streak, the Yankees certainly needed a win tonight, and a win is what they got thanks to the dominance of CC Sabathia. Sabathia was in fine form tonight, throwing 109 pitches over 7.1 innings, allowing only 1 run (an RBI double in the 7th) off 6 hits, walking no one, and striking out 10 Red Sox batters. That last statistic alone is what makes me think Sabathia is back in true form. Most teams are lucky to get 10 strikeouts over an entire game from 3 pitchers; in fact, the Red Sox notched 8 Yankee strikeouts for all 3 of their pitchers tonight, and their starter is about as good as Sabathia with his form and consistency, including strikeouts.

But the Yankees weren’t going to let their slide continue. So the offense struck early. Teixeira earned a lead-off walk in the 2nd inning, Vernon Wells doubled, Jayson Nix singles and scored Teixeira (nice way to mark your 2013 MLB debut), a strike out, Ichiro Suzuki singles Wells home, and a double play to end the inning. The Yankees were 2-0 very quickly.

Then we had some drama in the 5th inning, with a close call on David Adams, for which Girardi went out to argue and promptly was ejected from the game. Unfortunately, the umpires got the call right, but it was nice to make a fight for his player. At the end of the inning, Kevin Youkilis singles to hit in Ichiro to make it 3-0, and right after he scored the run, Stewart makes a run for 3rd and is tagged out for the 3rd out. It’s not often that you can score a run and make the 3rd out in what is essentially the final play of the inning.

In the bottom of the 7th inning, after two Yankee singles by Ichiro and Stewart, a replacement pitcher allows a single to Brett Gardner which scored Ichiro again for the 4-1 final score. The bullpen finally kept the Yankees from doing any further damage, getting the next five batters out straight.

On the Yankees’ side of things, David Robertson is really developing very nicely in his role as set-up man for Mariano Rivera. Both threw excellent games tonight to wrap up the final 5 outs in the game. To me, a near perfect game is when Sabathia starts through 7 innings, Robertson sets-up in the 8th, and Rivera closes for the save in the 9th. And that’s what we saw tonight. And with recent bouts of inconsistency on some of these very reliable pitchers, it was rather reassuring to see these three back into their usual momentum and excellence.

To make room for Teixeira and Youkilis on the roster, Ivan Nova and Vidal Nuno were optioned to AAA Scranton, which means either of them can be pulled up again easily if they are needed, but they will be able to play more on a regular basis rather than waiting for a bullpen opening.

Also on the random news front, the postponed Blue Jays-Yankees game from May 19 will be made up August 20 in the early game of a doubleheader to start off their next series. And on July 28, the Yankees will re-sign former Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui for one day so that Matsui can retire as a Yankee. Matsui played seven seasons (2003-2009) with the Yankees, his last appearance in pinstripes was in the final game of the 2009 World Series where he hit a home run, drove in 6 runs in Game 6, and was unanimously picked as the Series MVP. Matsui will don his old number 55 and officially announce his retirement. This day also coincides with the promotional Hideki Matsui bobble head day. It will be an honor for the fans in the stadium that day as they play the Rays (the last team Matsui played for) in the Bronx to witness the retirement of yet another great Yankee legend, known affectionately as “Godzilla”.

It just goes to show you that no matter how many other teams you may play for, or how many other uniforms you may don, once a Yankee, always a Yankee. Congratulations on your impending retirement, Matsui.

Go Yankees!