Game 20: NYY vs. TB — Nunez at work in loss at the Trop

In tonight’s loss to the Rays, the outstanding player of the night (at least defensively) was Eduardo Nunez, with not one but two amazing plays at shortstop tonight. My personal favorite was the 2nd play in the 6th inning in which he dove for the gap between short and 3rd before tossing it off balance to Overbay at 1st to get the out. If not for his fancy grab, both runners would have made their ways around the bases and possibly a run in. Nunez continues to prove his nay-sayers wrong about his capabilities as a shortstop.

But there’s not much to say for the Yankees otherwise tonight. Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte (who earned his first loss of the season) gave up 3 runs (2 earned, 1 on a fielding error by Boesch) on 7 hits, walking only 1 batter, and striking out 10 batters (that’s a really great statistic for a pitcher who usually forces groundouts for his outings) over 6 innings. And relief pitcher Shawn Kelley is struck out 3 batters, allowing only 1 hit and walking only 1 batter, keeping the Rays at 3-0 over the Yankees.

The Yankees on offense as a whole could not do much to put a dent against Rays starting pitcher Cobb, who went 8 1/3 innings, only allowing singles by Nunez, Nix, and Gardner (Cano singled off Rodney in the 9th) before Rays Manager Maddon opted for his closer Rodney for the final two outs against New York. Rays fans weren’t as happy with that decision to pull Cobb after he had really earned the right to finish the game he began.

One of the things that confuse me is how they award the pitching statistic (win, loss, save) for a game. Honestly, I can usually figure out why in some cases. Say the starting pitcher went 8 innings, his team winning 3-2, and his closer keeps the score as such — that awards the win to the starting pitcher (because he started the win) and the closer gets the save (because he protected the win). The loss is usually awarded to the pitcher on the losing team that gave up the lead and allowed the other team to essentially win the game. And while I guess it makes sense to award Rodney the save tonight because he did protect the lead Cobb set into motion, it seems less like an actual earned save and more like just getting two outs to end an inning. Or maybe it has to do with the base runners when the closer takes over. I guess I’m still confused, and I will probably have to chalk it up to one of the things I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

But I guess I should go back to applauding the man of the evening. Nunez deserves much respect and kudos for his defense today. I’m thinking this is what Girardi and Cashman have been hoping to pull out him for a while, something they only saw as the “potential” factor of his dimension as a player, something we can now rest a little easier waiting for Jeter to return. And honestly, I think Nunez can stop trying to push himself to prove something. He’s proven it and now can move forward and finally get down to playing the game we love.

Go Yankees!

Game 19: NYY vs. TB — Pitching, Ichiro, & Awards

In what became the battle of the starting pitchers, tonight’s win against the Rays was a well-fought 4-3 victory. Phil Hughes seems to be finally finding his form, but still did not earn the win, which went to his 8th inning replacement David Robertson. Robertson did a fantastic job with his inning, striking out 2 of the batters and forcing a pop fly for the other one. Over his 7 innings, Hughes allowed 6 hits and 2 runs, striking out 6 batters. Again, a decent outing for Hughes and I think he’s finally finding that stride that seemed to be lacking at the end of last year and during Spring.

But today’s game is really credited to Ichiro Suzuki, who has been struggling offensively this season. But tonight showed his continued defensive excellence, including some fancy assists from right field to get a runner out at 3rd. At the top of the 9th inning had the bases load with a Cano single, an intentional walk to pinch hitting Hafner, and an unintentional walk to Overbay. Ichiro hits a nice single to centerfield to allow Cano and Hafner to score and bring the score to 4-2. Later, a first pitch homerun in the bottom of the inning off Rivera finalized the score at 4-3, Rivera earning the save on the next 3 batters. But the damage done by Ichiro at the end of the game was enough to solidify a solid win for the Yankees.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a win tonight because the Rays started their ace Price, who is the current AL Cy Young winner (an award to the best pitcher in the league) and Rodney in the bullpen, who is arguably one of the better closers in baseball right now. But Price, who like another Cy Young winner Sabathia, usually specializes in strikeouts, but tonight was only able to strike out 5 Yankee batters. Not saying he was terrible tonight because clearly he was able to keep the Yankees at bay for much of the game. It’s just not what I think most people expect from a pitcher like Price.

And perhaps that might be part of the issue with sweeping grandiose awards like this. It’s really difficult to follow up an outstanding season with another outstanding season. The Giants, for example, have success in 2010, winning the World Series, but really struggle in 2011 before reclaiming their title in 2012. Do they have the team to win again in 2013? Perhaps, but there’s some major contenders now in the NL before they can make it that far (the Braves are probably the most obvious obstacle for the Giants in the NL as of today). So is it the pressure to exceed your previous performance? Is it the drive to go further and do more? Is it the assumption that because you were good once, you can continue at that level without any extra effort (which sometimes leads to apathy toward training)? Maybe it’s all of the above.

But maybe the most important factor once again is the human element. Baseball is a game played by real people, who have real flaws and fail more often than they succeed. A basic batting average proves that point — a good average is .300, but that means you failed to get on base 7 out of 10 times. And that’s what makes it once again a metaphor for life. It’s not what you did yesterday or even at your last time up at bat that matters, but what you do right now that counts for everything. It’s your reaction and your recovery from failure that makes the difference in the long run. When you haven’t hit at all during the game, it’s the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs and bases loaded, no one cares if you have a .100 batting average if you can suddenly hit that grand slam. And if you fail, there’s a game tomorrow to make a difference, even if it’s a nifty catch like from tonight’s game by Brett Gardner.

Go Yankees!

Game 18: NYY vs. TB — A loss & the catwalk

Like I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of indoor/domed stadiums for baseball. But I’m not using that as an excuse for today’s loss 5-1 against the Rays. Starting pitcher CC Sabathia has struggled with his velocity this season, after coming back from November surgery on a bone spur on his elbow. But today’s outing also demonstrated a long view I’ve had of Sabathia beginning when he was with the Indians — when Sabathia is on, he’s unstoppable, and when he’s not, we lose. Tonight was a loss. Sabathia gave up 7 hits and 5 runs (4 in the 1st inning and 3 of the total runs were home runs), walking 2 batters, and striking out 8.

The Rays pitcher, however, was strong tonight, allowing only 2 hits, both from Robinson Cano, one was a solo home run and the Yankees only score of the evening. It should be noted that Moore has won every start this year so far and has an ERA of 1.04. He is shaping up to be another strong pitcher for the Rays’ rotation, a rotation that shaped the careers of reigning Cy Young winner David Price (tomorrow’s starter for Tampa Bay) and James Shields (now with the Royals).

The Rays are really the story for the evening, with their 3 home runs and solid triple leading their offense and strong pitching for their defense. The Yankees really had a rather unimpressive outing all around today. Kevin Youkilis was scratched again on a caution to save his stiff back (replaced by Overbay at 1st, Nix at 3rd), and Travis Hafner wasn’t in the lineup tonight in favor of right-handed batter Ben Francisco. However, though Vernon Wells didn’t have any luck offensively, he continues to earn his keep defensively including a snazzy sliding catch in far left field in the 3rd inning.

The weirdest play tonight, and this I will blame on the oddity of indoor stadiums, happened in the 6th inning. After a nice double play, a Rays batter stepped up to the plate and smacked a high fly ball. Like usual, Nix (at 3rd), Overbay (at 1st), Sabathia (pitching), and Francisco Cervelli (catching) come in close to see who can catch it for the 3rd out. At first, it seems like everyone’s lost it in the lights, but then Cervelli waves the rest off and makes the catch. As the Yankees head into their dug out, the home plate umpire calls it a “dead ball” or foul ball. Everyone’s more than a little confused. Apparently, the Trop has a few rules regarding balls hitting the catwalks:

  • A fair ball that hits the 2 lower catwalks, lights, or objects is ruled a “home run”
  • A fair ball that hits the 2 top catwalks is ruled “in play”
  • A fair ball that stays one of the 2 top catwalks is ruled a “ground rule double”
  • A foul ball that hits any object is a dead ball or a foul ball.

So apparently, the ball was in foul territory and hit an object and thus ruled a dead ball. But 4 pitches later, Sabathia retired the batter with a swinging strikeout to earn that 3rd out of the inning. But it was probably the most interesting thing about tonight’s game.

And while I won’t go into any further reasons I don’t like domed stadiums, I’m guessing there’s a whole lot of Yankee fans tonight that are calling foul on these interesting, specialized rules. I don’t think it happens that often to make a huge issue out of it, but having to create specialized policies for hitting things like catwalks over a baseball diamond, just seems like it interferes with the spirit of the game. I guess I need to chalk it up to one of the many odd rules of baseball I’ll probably never get/agree with. On my list: the strike-out then run to first base thing that’s becoming more common, most balk calls (or should I say the lack of consistent enforcement), and the infield fly rule.

But all those nitpicking rules, and honestly the detailed focus on them, just further push away people from enjoying the true spirit of the game, the game that kids play every day with freedom and fun and without calling a balk or worrying about hit a catwalk for a foul ball or what might trigger a call for the infield fly rule. All of that might help keep the professional part of the game fair and even, but the heart of the game is old-fashioned competitive fun. And the moment it stops being so, we should reevaluate why we play the game in the first place.

Go Yankees!

Game 17: NYY vs. TOR — Pitching to a loss & infinite possibilities

They always say if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything. The Jays took an early 2-0 lead by the end of the 2nd inning before Chris Stewart powered a deep left-field solo home run in the 3rd. And by the middle of the 6th inning, the Yankees were up 4-2. And then the Jays stepped up to the plate. A walk and a double pulled starting pitcher Ivan Nova out of the game (and responsible for those two runners) and replaced him with Boone Logan, who really hasn’t been off to the best start this year. Nova’s pitching really wasn’t stellar, but it did allow for the Yankees to take and maintain the lead until then. Logan allowed an RBI soft single before being pulled in favor of David Phelps. Phelps then allowed a 2 RBI double and an RBI single. By the end of the long inning, Toronto had taken the lead 6-4. But the Blue Jays weren’t over making a dent in the scoreboard — a 2-run homer in the next inning planted the final score at 8-4 Toronto.

My favorite play on the Yankees defense today came from former Golden Glove winner for Toronto, now proudly wearing pinstripes, Vernon Wells. His instinctive timing and excellent outfield skills instigated a really nice double play in the 3rd inning and gave him a great reason to pointedly tip his hat to the outfield seats who have been taunting and booing him for the entire weekend because of his outstanding plays, fielding, and offense.

Also offensively, Brett Gardner base-stealing season officially began today. He is expected to steal 40-ish bases this year. Again, this is something the Yankees are counting on to score runs, but it seems with Wells, Youkilis (resting today from a “stiff back”, probably turf-related stress), and Hafner (among so many others) on the regular roster powering those home runs regularly, effective base stealing may be just a small part of the run-scoring strategy. But it’s worth noting today that Travis Hafner also stole his first base since 2010. Yes, that fact shocked everyone, including the Yankees’ Twitter writer.

They always called the 1969 Mets the “Miracle Mets”, and I don’t ever deny what they did that year was nothing short of a miracle. But when I think back to some of the greatest events in baseball (or miracles, if you will), almost all of them were by a New York team. The Brooklyn Dodgers dared to defy the color barrier; the New York Giants take the best radio monologue in baseball history with the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951 (against the Brooklyn Dodgers, by the way); the “Miracle Mets” in 1969, and if we’re being honest 1986; and of course, nothing tops our good old reliable New York Yankees, who claim so many history-making moments it would take a lifetime to recount each one as it deserves to be recounted. But there is something about the city that has hosted so many miracle moments that inspires those who don pinstripes to do some amazing things, even if they’re new to the uniform or new to the sport.

Maybe it’s just because I’m missing the city today (or that I’m almost always missing the city) that makes me think of such things. But you can’t go to a game in New York without feeling the history, the passion, the legends that have been made there and the ones currently being made before your eyes. I cannot imagine that Ebbets Field, Polo Grounds, or even Shea or old Yankee Stadiums felt any different. There is something magical about a New York baseball game, something you don’t get at other parks that don’t have the history of longevity or traditions older than a few decades. You get that feeling that you’re a part of history, a tradition that predates grandparents or even great grandparents. And it’s something you can’t shake, where history crosses the future, where potential meets legend, where anything is possible because nothing is absolutely certain until the 54th out is called (or at times, the 51st).

And that might be the ultimate miracle of all — the infinite possibilities and the defying of all limitations and expectations, just because a few men don pinstripes as their fans cheer them onto victory.

Go Yankees!

Game 16: NYY vs. TOR — Extra innings comeback on turf

The Yankees continue to fight for dominance among the AL East, and today’s win in extra innings was no exception. Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda once again showed how “experience” can set the stage for a win. In his 108 pitches thrown over 7 1/3 innings, Kuroda allowed only 3 hits (1 would become an earned run), walked 1 batter, and struck out 7 Blue Jays.

The Yankees offense provided an early lead for Kuroda, who managed to keep it scoreless against Toronto into the 8th inning with a score of 3-0. The pitchers (Robertson, Chamberlain, Logan, and Kelley) following Kuroda weren’t as fortunate with their outings, each working for 2 outs over the next 4 innings; Robertson, however, allowing for an RBI single and a 2-RBI single to tie up the game and take it into extra innings. I should note it was Shawn Kelley who was awarded the win because he was the last pitcher to preserve the lead, which is a shame because Kuroda really pitched an excellent game once again.

At the top of the 11th inning, the Yankees offense once again charge up the mountain that was the sloppiness of Toronto’s fielding to score 2 runs on an Ichiro Suzuki bunt and a throwing error. Ichiro landed at 2nd and baserunners Wells and Cervelli ended up tagging home to put the score at 5-3 Yankees in the 11th. And once again, it was good old #42 Mariano Rivera called in to close the door on the heated Blue Jays, which included 2 back-to-back strikeouts and another save to add to his growing career numbers.

I’ve never been a big fan of domed stadiums or turf diamonds, even though I used to live near the Tropicana Dome in Florida (where the Rays play). To me, I’ve always preferred the outdoor look, smell, and feel to a game that’s been played in sandlots around the world by kids in the hot days of summer. Of course, with the weather patterns constantly changing and snow pouring into Coors Field in Colorado and Target Field in Minnesota recently and the bitter cold rains that drenched and cancelled two Yankee-Indians games last week, I can understand why there is always chatter of making a domed stadium or adding some such device to a current complex. But that’s always been the risk of an outdoor game. Heck, there were only day games for decades until stadiums installed field lights, and now most games during the season are night games. But is converting stadiums to domes (or even the retractable roofs like at Rogers Centre in Toronto) worth the investment?

Players usually prefer playing on real grass because of its natural sponginess, which allows for better (and more injury-free) base running and fielding. And for a place with a retractable roof like Toronto, I don’t understand why real grass isn’t an option. And honestly, it rather limits some of the fun parts of baseball. Fielding is limited because you don’t want your outfielders especially running down every ball with such force because it’s basically like running full-on on carpet-covered linoleum — after a while it starts the wear and tear on your knees, shins, and hips which increases the injury. Base running is also drastically affected. Without the natural give of grass, stealing bases isn’t as common because it isn’t as safe to go barreling head first or even sliding on your “upper thigh” into a base. Again that image of doing so on carpet-covered linoleum should suffice for any reasons.

From the turf in Toronto, the Yankees head down on Monday to my home state to play on turf at the Trop for a series. And while I’m glad they’re getting this back-to-back “turf war” (if you will) out of the way early in the season, it’s also a little dangerous to be using a consistent set of players on day-to-day with the surface. I think we’ll see some regular players rotated out for a rest to save some legs and prevent any overuse or potential injury. And it was easy to figure out that Toronto and Tampa are the only two teams with artificial turf and the only teams with a domed roof. Every other stadium is a) primarily set outdoors and b) converted to real grass if they didn’t have it already.

Okay, I do have another reason I like outdoor parks, and perhaps it’s because I’m a Yankee fan. When the player hits that amazing home run, it’s always fun to see it sail clear out of the park and not hit some steel wall on one side of the dome. Those that catch some air and land in the parking lot or on the sidewalk outside the stadium (like stories of Mickey Mantle’s homers) are the ones you remember and talk about for years to come. Those are the ones that kids dream of hitting on those sandlots all across the world. There is a simplicity, an innocence, something purely Americana about the outdoor field and all of its potential greatness. It’s one of the many things I love about baseball.

Go Yankees!

Game 15: NYY vs. TOR — Cheering for the good over the boos

The Yankees were in hitting mode tonight in their series opener in Toronto. Amassing 6 doubles, a triple, and 3 home runs, the Yankees took home tonight’s win 9-4. Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte threw 7 innings and an out in the 8th, 90 total pitches, 61 of them strikes, and striking out 5 batters. He allowed 6 hits, 3 of the 4 Toronto runs (one was a 2-run home run in the 6th). Pettitte was in fine form today and pitched 3 straight 3-up-3-down innings (getting the batters out 1-2-3 in batting order).

But it was the offense that really secured Pettitte his 3rd win of the season. Of the 13 total hits from Yankees, Robinson Cano and Travis Hafner each netted a double, Francisco Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki each netted 2 doubles, and Brett Gardner sliced a nice triple. But it was the three solid solo home runs from Hafner, Lyle Overbay, and Vernon Wells that kept pushing the score higher. With runs scored small and big tonight, the smattering of Yankees fans in Rogers Centre cheered tonight as the majority of the nearly 41,000 people took up very loud booing every time the Yankees did something awesome. I will note that it certainly seemed like the Jays’ fans were doing nothing but providing a very monotone boo sound consistently for most of the (very quick) 2.5 hour game. Way to show the world how to be a good sport tonight, Toronto!

Well, none of the names on tonight’s hitting list surprise me in the least. The Yankees have proved (at least to me, now going 9-6 for the season so far) that they can hit, score runs, and play well no matter whose name is on the roster. After yesterday’s blow with Jeter’s lingering ankle issues and the increased activity across America with unfathomable tragedies, it seems like we could really use some good news and something to cheer for and get excited about. And today, we got it on many fronts.

In the midst of the Yankees running up the scoreboard north of the border, the brave men and women in Boston were able to safely apprehend the second suspect in the Boston marathon bombings. And while the investigation is still in process, the citizens of Boston can now begin to mourn and heal and breathe a sigh of relief. There is still much to do in recovery, but a huge step has been made to begin closure for the city. And our hearts are also with those still sifting through the mess in Texas. Again, there are many in this country who are hurting and feeling the loss brought on by recent events; our prayers are with them tonight.

So as I think back over tonight, with the boos of Toronto fans echoing in my ears (thanks to replays, as linked above), I think it is only appropriate that we remember that we need to continue to cheer for the good despite anything that may be trying to distract or intimidate us. It is our crying out for good that brings justice when the cry of the hurt and broken can be so deafening and helpless. So thank you, Toronto, for providing me with a great allegory for life. “They only boo you if you’re good.” Then America (and our beloved Yankees) must be the best tonight. Boo all you want because good always wins in the end.

Go Yankees!

Game 14: ARI vs. NYY — Extra innings setback

In the first extra innings game of the season, the Yankees followed up a 9th inning rally with a 6-2 loss in the 12th inning in tonight’s 4 hour 11 minute game against the Diamondbacks. All the runs scored in the first 9 innings were by solo home runs, 2 from Arizona, allowed by starting pitcher Phil Hughes (in a rather solid pitching outing tonight, 7 innings, 6 hits, 6 strikeouts, no walks) in the 3rd and 6th inning. Going into the bottom of the 6th, the Yankees down 2-0, suddenly found life in the bat of Robinson Cano via his solo home run. The Yankees stayed 2-1 going into the bottom of the 9th, when Francisco Cervelli knocked his solo home run into the left field bleachers.

Trouble began in the top of the 12th with David Phelps pitching his 2nd inning of the night. A double, a fly-out, a base taken on catcher’s interference (Cervelli’s 2nd of the night, though I’d be tempted to argue that one wasn’t interference as much as the batter made it out to be), and then a hit by pitch. An RBI single starts the Arizona rally, and then former Yankee Eric Chavez clears the bases with a very nice 3-RBI double to bring the score up to 6-2 Arizona. The Yankees couldn’t rally again in the bottom of the inning and thus lost the 3rd game of the series tonight. But taking 2 out of 3 is always a bonus. If the Yankees can continue to do at least that, we’re  in for a good season already. (By the way, we’ve been sitting over .500 for a team average for the last week.)

But tonight’s loss isn’t the loss everyone’s going to be talking about. Word came in from Tampa today that we won’t be seeing Derek Jeter don the pinstripes any time before the All-Star break (mid-July). His ankle had been giving him trouble earlier this week, so after a precautionary CT scan, the diagnosis is a small crack on the ankle bone, a new injury to the same ankle he broke last October. Cracked bones, often called broken bones, take 4-8 weeks to heal before you can do anything on them. This one, however, will not require any new surgery or plates, just rest. This pushes baseball activity off until end of May/June at the earliest. Girardi’s statement recently of “he’ll be ready when he’s ready” is never more accurate and appropriate. Like I said yesterday, I think we’d all rather have him fully recovered and fully healthy and ready for the end of the season and postseason than rush recovery and risk another injury. So in the meantime, we wish him “get well soon!”

Setbacks and losses are all part of the game. But it doesn’t make it easy for me to write about positive things without sounding naively hopeful or optimistic. And while I’ve made a personal commitment to write every day about the team, it’s days like this that really play with my mind and distract me from my mission on this blog. I don’t want to glide too far into the cliché territory that borders on just fluff writing, so I have to constantly think of a new spin to stay positive, especially on days where there’s not a lot to be positive about. Spring Training certainly pushed those boundaries for me, but I kept the hope alive for a less dramatic regular season. Perhaps, that too was naive.

Whenever you do anything publicly, you run the risk of drama, critics, negativity, and misunderstanding. Maybe that’s why I prefer my public presence to be on a semi-anonymous blog and not in front of tens of thousands of people every night. I can edit my thoughts, my actions, my motivation if necessary before publication and sometimes edits after can lead to the delete button. But what happens with thousands of witnesses cannot be as easily undone or forgotten. The safety of a blog can be misused to amplify the public life of those who live such a life, but I guess that’s why I chose to use my “powers” (as it were) for good. There’s so much negative everywhere, and in this world that we live in now, isn’t it time we chose to shut out the negative, even those who are indirectly negative (you know, the “I’m only trying to help” people), and listen to those who want to continue to bring positivity to this world, even if only through words on a computer screen. So tonight, we remain positive and hope for good health and many wins for the team we love.

Go Yankees!