ALCS 2: HOU vs. BOS — Evening up a well-matched series

Another game is now tied up as it heads back the other team’s home for the next few games of their series. Yes, both the ALCS and NLCS are all evened up in the series. The first team to win 4 games will advance to the World Series, so it’s interesting that both series are going to be rather tight.

Though if we’re looking at their history through the season, this makes sense as both series are pretty well-matched in wins, defense, hitting, and pitching. And that means it literally could be either team to advance to the World Series. It certainly makes it a more interesting postseason.

ALCS: Astros at Red Sox
Actually, the most interesting part of tonight’s matchup (at least to a nerd like me) is that the Red Sox’s insurance runs were actually unearned runs. To me, that reflects how rather evenly the Astros and Red Sox may actually be matched. It also shows how the Astros could improve (defensive errors). And it gave the Red Sox’s starter a little hope as it was the first postseason game he didn’t lose.

The Red Sox got things started early. A lead-off double in the 1st scored on a single. One out later, a throwing error and a walk loaded the bases, but a single only allowed one more run to score as the Astros stranded the rest of the runners. The Astros answered back in the 2nd with a 1-out single and double scoring on a 2-out double to tie up the game.

In the 3rd, a 1-out single scored as part of a 2-out 2-run home run to put the Astros in the lead. But the Red Sox loaded up the bases in the bottom of the 3rd and all 3 runners scored on a 2-out double to push them in a slim lead.

In the final third of the game, the Red Sox added a few more runs to delight their hometown crowd. In the 7th, the lead-off batter worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a strikeout, advanced to 3rd on a passed ball, and then scored on another passed ball (thus unearned). The lead-off single in the 8th moved to 2nd on a 2-out single and then scored on a double.

So, down to their last out in the 9th, the Astros doubled, moved to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then scored on a single before a fly out closed the door on their rally.

Final score: 7-5 Red Sox, series split 1-1

Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz are both old rivals and old friends, and now they both frequent broadcasts about baseball, especially in the postseason. Well, apparently, they made a bet when their former teams Yankees and Red Sox were playing against each other in the previous series — the loser would have to don the winner’s team uniform and get sprayed by a champagne shower. The Yankees lost, Rodriguez came out in full Red Sox regalia, and Ortiz sprayed as Rodriguez ripped open the jersey to reveal… a Yankees t-shirt and screamed “Yankees for life!”

Bet fulfilled, but once a Yankee…

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 3: NYY vs. PHI — Powering to a 3rd straight win

Well, how’s that for a nice winning streak for the start of the 2018 season? We’re at three straight wins for Opening Weekend in Spring Training. I mean, I’m a firm believer that Spring Training standings tell you absolutely nothing about how October baseball will turn out. But a nice jump-start to the season, heavy already in the win column has to be good for morale — both for the team and its fans.

The Yankees traveled the short distance across Tampa Bay to visit the spring home of the Phillies in Clearwater. Another warm (believe me, too warm for February), sunny day in the area, and the Yankees started strong and stayed strong, despite some hiccups. Jordan Montgomery, the young rookie starter from last season, got his Spring start today and showed why he is meant to be a starter once again for the Yankees — a strong 2 innings to kick off the game and set himself up for the win.

Prospect pitcher Justus Sheffield had a good 3rd inning, but really got roughed up in the 4th. A lead-off walk, hit-by-a-pitch, and a ground out to 2nd left runners lingering in the corners. A sacrifice fly scored one run before a big 2-run home run cleared the bases and ended Sheffield’s day just shy of 2 full innings. Reliever Wade LeBlanc came in and kept the Phillies from doing more damage over his 7 outs. Coshow, Espinal, and Gallegos closed out the final third of the game with a scoreless inning each. Overall, the Yankee pitchers were outstanding with 12 strikeouts and just 4 hits by Phillies’ batters.

Comparatively, the Phillies’ pitchers were certainly having less of a stellar day, giving up 12 total hits to Yankee batters today, starting with Ellsbury’s lead-off single in the 1st. Torres followed that up with a nice double to put them in scoring position. After an out, Hicks popped up a fly ball, but the 3rd baseman lost it in the sun, dropping it and loading up the bases. With 2 outs, Danny Espinosa (an infielder, newly traded from most recently the Rays) smacked a long double into the right field corner. After all three runners scored, Espinosa tried to stretch it to a triple and was easily tagged out at 3rd to end the inning.

In the 4th, Hicks led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Ronald Torreyes’ sacrifice fly. The Yankees ended up needing that extra run to stay in the lead in the bottom of that inning. But they came back in the 6th with Higashioaka’s lead-off single. Torreyes then hits a double to move both into scoring position and is pinch-run by Avelino. Then young minor leaguer Jeff Hendrix hits what should be an easy out, but it mishandled by the 1st baseman enough for both Higashioka and Avelino to add 2 more runs to the score.

In the 8th, Higashioka again leads off, this time with a double. After Peterson’s walk and Avelino’s single, the bases are loaded. Hendrix’s single scored one run, and Rashad Crawford’s long sacrifice fly scored one more to cap off the big afternoon.

Final score: 8-3 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will face the Phillies again tomorrow. But this time, they host in Tampa for that rare evening game during Spring Training.

And in alumni news: The Yankees announced today that Alex Rodriguez will be back with the Yankees, this year to serve as a Special Advisor to GM Brian Cashman. Rodriguez joins other Yankee alums like Reggie Jackson, Hideki Matsui, and Nick Swisher as they help the staff develop the next generation of Yankee greats.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: Like every Spring, there is always a minimal amount of available clips to include, even when they are televised on a major cable network. My apologies!}

World Series 2: HOU vs. LAD — Extra inning craziness

What do you get when you start with former Dodgers’ broadcaster and legend Vin Scully, major awards, an ace pitcher, 2 power-hitting teams, a nearly unstoppable bullpen, 8 home runs (5 of them in extra innings), extra innings, and 93° at first pitch? A “crazy, kooky, cuckoo dream“, as one sportswriter dubbed it.

Yes, the Vin Scully came out on the field before the game to supposedly throw out the first pitch, but as he rambled on in his familiar entertaining manner, he revealed that he would have help from former Dodgers, catcher Steve Yeager and pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, both part of 1981 championship team before together the three of them sent the game off with his famous opening: “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” A real treat for long-time Dodger fans (and long-time baseball fans in general).

And then, yes, there was a game. And it wasn’t really anything typical. Or for that matter, quick (compared to last night’s speedy conclusion) — clocking in at 4 hours and 19 minutes. To be fair, I did question whether the Dodgers were going to be able to break through the Astros’ starter Verlander tonight, the same pitcher that stymied the Yankees in the ALCS. And he was good again, throwing 79 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 2 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, and striking out 5 batters. Comparatively, his counterpart Hill was less dominant, but still had a pretty good outcome — 60 pitches in 4 innings, 3 hits, 3 walks, a run, and 7 strikeouts.

The Astros got on the board first in the 3rd inning by playing a little small ball. A lead-off single moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt, ended up at 3rd on a single, and then scored on another single. The Dodgers answered back in the 5th with a 2-out solo home run to tie up the game and also break up Verlander’s running no-hitter (what a way to break up a no hitter!). The Dodgers came back in the 6th and added to their score with a 2-out walk that scored as part of a 2-run home run.

So it would be down to the bullpen to make the difference. And the Dodgers’ bullpen was running on 27 straight innings (going into this game) with absolutely no runs allowed. Basically, the way we in Yankee Universe talked about the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen, they were doing the same with the Dodgers’ bullpen. And that was totally working for them. Until the 8th inning. A lead-off ground-rule double by the Astros’ forced the Dodgers to call in their closer early for a 6-out save, but instead he allowed the runner to score on a 1-out single (breaking the aforementioned scoreless streak). And then a lead-off solo home run right up the middle tied up the game in the 9th inning. With Dodgers’ fans everywhere screaming, “You just needed 3 outs!”

And without a Dodgers’ walk-off something in the bottom of the 9th inning, the game went into extra innings. And it became a home run palooza as neither bullpen could really hold it together. Consecutive home runs led off the top of the 10th inning to push the Astros ahead. With another runner on base with a double, the Astros shut down that rally quickly with a new reliever, a fly out, an intentional walk, and a double play. The Dodgers answered back in the bottom with their own lead-off home run (all 3 this inning hit into the same area of the left field bleachers). Two outs later, a batter worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then went flying (impressive for this player) around the bases to scored on a shallow single to tie up the game again.

Another new reliever got the final out to send Game 2 into the 11th inning. The Astros got a lead-off single that promptly stole 2nd base (free tacos for everyone!) and then scored when the next batter hit a 2-run home run (to the right field seats, so they didn’t feel left out of the fun). So the Dodgers focused in on their final chance to push for a 12th or walk-off, but the Astros finally found a pitcher that worked for them — and still gave up a 2-out solo home run.

Final score: 7-6 Astros, in 11 innings, series split 1-1

The Series heads to Houston for the weekend, with Game 3 starting Friday night. And really, the bottom line really did come down to pitching, a hypothetical conversation I had earlier today. Dodgers’ pitchers gave up 14 total hits and 5 walks, striking out 8 Astros’ batters. While the Astros’ pitching staff gave up just 5 hits and 3 walks, striking out 11 Dodgers’ batters. The reality is that the Astros, led by Verlander, threw a better game tonight, and they won their battle. But huge props to the Dodgers for not letting pesky things like stats deter them from making a win really hard for their opponents.

And before tonight’s game, MLB announced its winners of the Hank Aaron Award, to recognize the league’s top hitters in both leagues. This season, the award was presented to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton. Altuve has been quite the force for the Astros (both as a hitter and an infielder), and Stanton, who also won the award in 2014, made a run for Maris’ home run record this year, falling just short at 59 home runs (though it was certainly a career high and franchise record). In other words, both awards are well-deserved. Both young players were on hand to receive their awards from the award’s namesake legendary hitter Hank Aaron and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

Yankees trivia tie-in: Derek Jeter won the award in 2006 and 2009, and Alex Rodriguez currently holds the record for the most, winning it with the Yankees in 2007 after also being awarded while he was with the Rangers in 2001, 2002, and 2003.

And in Yankee news, there will be a nice representation of young Yankees in the Arizona Fall League, a few you might remember from Spring Training appearances like Billy McKinney, Kyle Holder, and Justus Sheffield. They will join other young Yankees Thairo Estrada, Estevan Florial, Albert Abreu, Cody Carroll, and Andrew Schwaab to fine-tune their skills in hopes to make it to the show one day soon.

Go Yankees!

67 men, a broken foot, words, old guys, and hope… it’s always about hope

So, we’re up to 67 players in camp this week. Pitchers and catchers reported a week ago, and everyone showed up on Saturday. Their first full work out as a team then was Sunday, and things are off to a good start.

With one exception. Tyler Austin, who was hoping to make the Opening Day roster, at least a bench player, took a foul ball off his foot during live batting practice and fractured his foot. Currently in a boot and hobbling around camp, Austin will be out for at least 6 weeks. Realistically, Austin was up against primary contenders for 1st base Greg Bird (coming back off his own injury last year) and veteran Chris Carter (who the Yankees signed recently for veteran presence and platooning possibilities). While his start could be slow this year, Austin will probably see major league time, much like he did last year.

One of the recent signings, infielder Chris Carter, while initially viewed as a replacement power-hitting DH (for Rodriguez) platooning there with Matt Holliday (who can also play outfield), Carter can also platoon at 1st base, which is especially crucial now that Austin will be out for a while. Carter began his career with 3 seasons with the Athletics before spending the next 3 with the Astros, and last year, he played 160 games with the Brewers, hitting 41 home runs. To make room for Carter, the Yankees designated reliever Richard Bleier for assignment.

Contract negotiations are never easy. Several Yankees negotiated through their contracts as usual, avoiding arbitration. But Dellin Betances was the lone holdout this year. He (and his agent) held to one number, but the Yankees wanted to pay a bit less than that. As neither side was willing to compromise, a mediator was hired and met with both sides late last week. After each side argued their case, the mediator agreed with the Yankees, and Betances reported to camp. Unfortunately, there were a few harsh words expressed publicly, which promoted Betances to respond publicly. No one needs these distractions, so I hope this is done with now so that everyone can move on with the season.

Joe Girardi had the best outlook on the season, equating it to the mid-90s in style and feel during his first press conference of the season last week. With the recent departure of Teixeira, Rodriguez, McCann, and Beltran, the team overall is very young, with the average age of the 40-man roster currently at 26.65, about 3 years younger than the average 4 years ago. Sometimes, those three years make all the difference. But it’s a long season before we can tell how that shakes out.

Speaking of the “old guys”, Nick Swisher recently announced his retirement from playing professional baseball (in a way only he could) and was invited by the Yankees as a guest instructor to camp. Swisher showed up (complete with his old #33) yesterday to help counsel and coach the young team. Joining him at camp today will be Alex Rodriguez who will fit into this role he’s been sort of doing for the last couple of seasons anyway. Both former teammates will be joining Mark Teixeira in the broadcasting booth (though they’ll be in different booths) as all three now have contracts to work part of the season as color commentators in addition to their regular life roles as being “dad” (a role which all three are very much enjoying giving much more time to).

Spring Training begins Friday. Yes, three days until the crack of the bat, the smell of the dirt and sweat, the noisy vendors hocking beer and peanuts, the chatter dissecting Girardi and Cashman’s every choice, the smiles in anticipation and hope, the slumped shoulders in defeat, the grim line of determination, the hustle, the fervor, and the hope. It’s always about hope, isn’t it? Hope that maybe this year could be The Year. Hope that something that started decades ago as a dream could be that reality, echoed in the cheers of thousands of fans and deep in the hearts of all those who wear (and once wore) the pinstripes.

Go Yankees!

All the latest updates, farewells, outreaches, and honors… it’s been a busy 5 weeks!

Between the Cubs’ victory parade, postseason awards, Thanksgiving, Winter Meetings, and now the approaching week filled with Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year, the Yankees have been everything but quiet and stagnant. Some years, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s job seems to just sit back and watch other teams do the postseason dance that is somewhere between an elegant waltz and a fire-sale at times. But not this year.

Cashman has been busy, even making some pretty big moves. First, in the middle of last month, he traded catcher Brian McCann (and cash considerations) to the Astros for a pair of young pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. Sorry, McCann fans, but McCann wasn’t exactly ready to be a once-a-week player with Gary Sanchez taking a much larger (and well-deserved role). This was a good move for everybody.

Earlier this week, as part of the Winter Meetings (hosted at the beautiful Gaylord Resort, just south of D.C.), Cashman also made a play for two big players. First, he signed Matt Holliday, a veteran outfielder who is slated to primarily fill the position previously occupied by Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran (outfielder/designated hitter). Holliday, a 7-time All-Star, began his career with the Rockies, spending 5 seasons there and making a name for himself, before finding a nice home with the Cardinals for the last 7 1/2 seasons, being a crucial part of their 2011 World Series championship. Holliday seems very excited to be playing in New York, which isn’t really surprising as he wore #7 in St. Louis for Mickey Mantle. You know, David Ortiz said once last season that there are two kinds of players — those who were born to play with the Yankees and those born to play against them (Ortiz being the latter).

Another big pick-up was the deal made when the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year, $86 million deal. Yes, Chapman fans, two of the Warriors Three will be back in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. This time, with Chapman’s shiny World Series ring glaring and pushing the Yankees to give him another one. A physical exam is still pending the finality of this contract, but things look good for the closer to return to Yankee pinstripes for the next five seasons.

Cashman’s focus was clearly on building up the bullpen as most of the roster moves these last 5 weeks. So try to keep up: Branden Pinder was originally designated for assignment early in November, but then was outrighted to AAA Scranton, so we’ll be seeing Pinder again; Joe Mantiply (after being claimed off waivers from the Tigers), Nick Rumbelow, and Nathan Eovaldi were designated for assignment and then released all three of them just before Thanksgiving; James Pazos was traded to the Mariners for reliever Zack Littell; Dustin Ackley was released; Jacob Lindgren elected free agency; and the Yankees then filled a bunch of holes on their roster with minor leaguers Jorge Mateo and Yefrey Ramirez (from the Single-A Tampa Yankees), Ronald Herrera and Miguel Andujar (from AA Trenton),  and Dietrich Enns and Giovanny Gallegos (from AAA Scranton).

But it didn’t stop there. In coordination with the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees moved some minor leaguers around and said some goodbyes. The Brewers claimed reliever Caleb Smith, the Red catcher Luis Torrens, reliever Tyler Jones went to Arizona, and the Pirates got reliever Tyler Webb. The Yankees themselves picked up a few minor leaguers, catcher Jorge Saez (Blue Jays) and reliever Colten Brewer (Pirates).

All the postseason awards have been doled out, and the Yankees got… two. And nothing went to our Rookie of the Year, Gary Sanchez. No, the big Yankee winner this postseason was Brett Gardner, who took home both the Gold Glove and Defensive Player of the Year for doing the outstanding job we’re used to seeing out there in left field.

However, there are a few alumni honors come next month. BBWAA vote for the Class of 2017, with any new inductees to be announced next month. Several former Yankees grace the ballot this year, none more so than Jorge Posada (the first of the Core Four to reach such an honor). However, the chances everyone seems to hold for Posada (and the few other Yankees alums) seem rather slim, especially as the voters seem to be rather stringent in their voting, less nostalgic as your average baseball fan and more strategic in their selection parameters.

Also selected for Hall of Fame honors this year are current Braves’ president John Schuerholz and former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, both elected by the Today’s Game Committee. Other familiar faces on this ballot, who failed to make the cut this year, include former manager and player Lou Pinella, former players Albert Belle, Orel Hershiser, and Mark McGwire, and former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Debates as to which of these deserve to be in Cooperstown rage on.

Two other awards honored journalists for outstanding writing and broadcasting — the late Bill King, known for his coverage of San Francisco sports, distinctive facial hair, and his catchphrase “Holy Toledo!”, and veteran journalist Claire Smith, who became the first woman to receive the honor. Neither will be officially in the Hall of Fame, but will be part of a permanent exhibit to honor such journalist excellence and contribution to the game. I mean, without them, our knowledge of the game would not be what it is today, even with direct information like social media. It would certainly make my job a lot harder!

And speaking of Yankee alumni, the Yankees announced that they will be officially retiring the number 2 in honor of Derek Jeter on before the game on Sunday, May 14. Rather fitting really, with the extensive knowledge of how close Jeter is with his family, Jeter’s long-sacred number will become the 22nd one the Yankees send to Monument Park, and with that move, all the single digits (save a zero) are officially removed from jersey circulation. Single game tickets are not directly available yet (though they feature prominently on the secondary online marketplaces), though season tickets and multi-game ticket packages are available.

This week, in Tampa, the Yankees foundation hosted their holiday celebration, led by Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal with special guests Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, and Nick & Joanna Swisher. Hundreds of local children were treated to the Yankees 28th Annual Holiday Concert, complete with gifts and carol singing, in preparation for the holidays. The Yankees also hosted other local community outreaches in New York for the holidays including a Thanksgiving food drive and giving back to the children and families of the Bronx with a great goodie bag full of both basic necessities and special gifts.

Looking ahead, many players have already committed to playing for various teams around the world in the World Baseball Classic this March. The Yankees only current representative is Dellin Betances, who agreed to play for the reigning champions, the Dominican Republic, alongside former teammate Cano. Other former Yankees who will play in the WBC include Martin for Canada and Beltran for Puerto Rico. Betances, who was also recently married, will be an outstanding contribution to any team. Also, a big congratulations to Dellin and Janisa Betances!

As far as everything else, there’s still 63 days until Pitchers and Catchers report for Spring Training. So there’s a lot of time left for the Yankees to do something else, despite reports that they’re pretty much done with big moves this off-season. That statement, however, doesn’t preclude any minor “tweaking”, and you must know by now they love their “tweaking”. Enjoy your holiday season!

Go Yankees!

Game 115: TB vs. NYY — Alex says “farewell”… for now

On a Friday evening at the stadium, you can expect to find a band playing in the concourse, people milling about after work in everything from suits to full-on Yankees gear, that constant hum and chatter from the thousands in anticipation of a new series and the weekend in the city. Of course, it wasn’t an ordinary game, and the crowd was littered with #13 jerseys. The air was hot and sticky, as the sky above darkened as if Nature itself knew that it was going to be one of those days.

Of the 46,459 people packed into the stadium, just 5 (and those closely related to them, hanging out in the special suite to watch the whole event) mattered the most to the one man everyone was there to see. Before the game, the tarp on the field, the smell of rain in the air, the announcer called for one of the last times: “Alex Rodriguez!” Rodriguez came jogging onto the field in front of the infield tarp to the roar of the crowd, pointing to specific people and sections (including a special nod to the “A-Rod! A-Rod!” cheering Bleacher Creatures) for his pre-game ceremony.

The Yankees escorted out Rodriguez’s mother (Reggie Jackson did the honors), his sister and brother (by Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro), and his daughters (escorted by surprise guest Mariano Rivera). A few special messages, like from his first pro manager with the Mariners Lou Pinella (who is now part of the Yankee organization too). The Steinbrenners also presented Rodriguez with an encased 3rd base signed by the whole team and a framed #13 jersey to commemorate his final game and season in pinstripes.

Just as he was being presented these gifts, the nearby lightning and thunder turned into a bit of rain. Which turned into quite a bit of rain. The Florida residents (the Rodriguez and Steinbrenner families) meandered their way off the field, while the poor New Yorkers were jogging up the steps heading for cover. (We Floridians don’t flinch much when it comes to inclement weather, as it usually has to be like “ark level” weather for us to really care.)

So for 30 minutes, the Yankees and their fans waited for what would be a rather interesting final game for #13. See, in the scope that would be tonight and will be the events of this weekend, the Yankees are still in a bit of a Wild Card race, just 3.5 games out of the Wild Card. And tonight, they start their weekend series against the Rays.

And CC Sabathia got the start tonight, and despite a bit of a disappointing 1st inning, he certainly pulled it together for the most part for the rest of the game. He threw 100 pitches over his 6 innings, gave up 4 hits, 3 walks, and 3 runs, and a nice 7 strikeouts. A lead-off 4-pitch walk was quickly erased with a snazzy double play, but then a solo home run (by the Rays’ leading run-producer) got the Rays on the board first.

But it wasn’t like the Yankees were going to let them get away with it for long. In the bottom of the 1st, Gardner took an errant pitch of his foot/ankle and kind of hobbled his way down to 1st. He stayed in the game (with what will probably be a nasty bruise for the next few days), which is a good thing because when Alex Rodriguez stepped into the batter’s box (amid a standing ovation of fans), his 1-out double to shallow right field easily scored Gardner to tie up the game.

In the 3rd, the Rays worked a 1-out walk and a 2-out single to put runners on the corners. Another single scored the lead runner before Sabathia got a strikeout to end the inning (a fairly common theme for both starters tonight actually). The Yankees answered back in the bottom of the 4th, after Rodriguez’s 2nd at-bat turned into a little ground out, Teixeira got on base with a single and moved to 3rd on Gregorius’ nice 2-out double. Starlin Castro’s big single then scored both Teixeira and Gregorius to put the Yankees in the lead.

But in the 5th, a Rays’ lead-off double moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on a sacrifice fly to tie up the game again. (Rodriguez’s 3rd at-bat in the bottom of the 5th was a simple 3-pitch strike out.) In the bottom of the 6th, the Yankees finally dented into the Rays’ starter. Teixeira led-off with a single and a stolen base (his 2nd of the year), and 2 outs later, Castro’s 2-run home run gave the Yankees a lead they’d never surrender tonight.

With both starters out of the game, the Yankees secured their lead and continued the excitement of the night, while the Rays seem to do what they do most of the year as they kind of gave into the inevitable. For the Yankees, relievers Clippard and Warren breezed through the Rays’ line up in the 7th and 8th innings, keeping the Yankees firmly in the lead.

Aaron Hicks led-off the 7th inning with a great solo home run to the left field seats to give the Yankees that total security they were looking for in the game. Three batters later, Rodriguez’s final at-bat ended in another little ground out, but fans (perhaps knowing it was the last) almost refused to stop cheering him on. A brief conversation with Girardi and Rodriguez was headed to the clubhouse with a big smile on his face.

In the 9th, Chase Headley stood at the top of the steps that lead to the clubhouse from the dugout, waiting. Alex Rodriguez jogged his way up those steps, nodding and smiling at the regular 3rd baseman. In his hand, a black fielder’s glove. Yes, Alex Rodriguez was going to play 3rd base for the final time. And the crowd exploded in cheers and support. For a few moments, the only person on the field was Rodriguez with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, eyes shining, and a glimpse of that kid who just wanted to play ball nearly skipping his way to the hot corner.

Dellin Betances took the mound for this final inning and got his first strikeout. And suddenly, Rodriguez made his way back across the field, hugging his way off as Ronald Torreyes came out to replace him. Apparently, Rodriguez specially agreed to Girardi’s allowance but only for 1 batter; Girardi was willing to have him out there longer, but I think Rodriguez knew he was out of practice and didn’t want to screw anything up for the team. Because that’s the kind of player he is.

A strike out (and overturned challenge) later, the count 1-2, the entire stadium on their feet, the batter sort of half-swung at the final pitch and was ruled out, and Betances gets the save.

Final score: 6-3 Yankees.

Alex Rodriguez was allowed one more chance to be on the field to greet his teammates in that “good game” winning line they always do, getting the game ball from Betances himself. But then he kind of hung out on the field for a bit, asking silently for a moment to himself. He wandered over to where he used to plant himself on the infield, defending 3rd base, crouched down, and gathered a handful of dirt, shoving it into his back pocket for safe keeping. Before he was finally ready to face the media. Between interviews, he signaled for his daughters to join him on the field, and they were handed on over the barrier and ran across the field to their dad to envelop him with the biggest hugs.

{Media links: articles covering the final game on — by reporters Hoch, BloomSuss, Kaneko, and Needelman; statements from former teammates, Rodriguez’s pre-game press conference, Rodriguez’s interview with FOX, Headley on being “replaced”, Girardi’s post-game press conference, and Rodriguez’s post-game press conference.}

And there were some roster moves: the Yankees placed Nathan Eovaldi on the 15-day DL (retroactive to August 11) with his right elbow tendon injury. This is not good news in the long run, but it doesn’t seem to be a tear or something to be surgically repaired but rather a rest-and-see kind of thing. They also recalled Luis Severino from AAA Scranton.

And as promised, following tonight’s game, the Yankees officially released Alex Rodriguez as a player. He adamantly reminded interviewers from the field to the post-game press conference that he is still part of the organization. And he is. They will continue his contract as a special adviser and instructor, especially in relation to all the young prospects in the organization. Rodriguez may not be playing in a Yankee uniform any more, but he’s still very much part of the team.

After all, once a Yankee, always a Yankee.

Go Yankees!

Game 114: NYY vs. BOS — Late-inning rally & a souvenir bat

In the series finale rubber match at Fenway, the Yankees were looking to do what they always want to do (but most especially at Fenway) — win. So it’s rather fortunate when not even the Green Monster or a late-inning rally can stop the Yankees from achieving their goal. There’s a nice story that came out late tonight that Alex Rodriguez, in his last game ever at Fenway, promised a kid behind home plate, a Yankee fan, that if the Yankees win, the kid would get to keep Rodriguez’s bat. Kid walked out of Fenway with the promised souvenir.

Michael Pineda got the start tonight and gave the Yankees what they needed the night after depleting their bullpen: length, albeit he certainly depended on the defense who were certainly there to hold him up. Pineda went a full 6 innings in just 89 pitches, giving up 8 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, striking out 3 Boston batters.

A 2-out ground-rule double in the 1st inning scored on an RBI single to get the Red Sox on the board. But the Red Sox didn’t cobble together anything more until a blip in the 5th. A 1-out single scored on a 2-out double to double the Red Sox score to 2 runs. And that would be it for them tonight.

Recent recall Luis Cessa took over for Pineda for the 7th and 8th innings, and just took command of the game, setting the Red Sox down in 6 straight outs. It was so ridiculously impressive and the exact kind of “fresh arm” the Yankees needed. Dellin Betances got the nod for the 9th inning and kept things interesting. All 3 of his outs were strikeouts (of course), but he still gave up a double, a wild pitch and a walk just to keep fans on the edge of their seats while he earned his 3rd save of the season.

The Yankees barely dented into the Red Sox starter, only getting 3 hits off of him. Of course, one of those hits was a giant 1-out solo shot over the Green Monster by Austin Romine in the 3rd inning to get the Yankees on the board.

Things got remarkably better for the Yankees when they went to their bullpen. Sanchez led the 8th inning off with a single, and then after a strikeout, Hicks and Gardner also singled to load up the bases. Jacoby Ellsbury’s double scored both Sanchez and Hicks, and for some reason, the Red Sox opted to intentionally walk Chase Headley. I suppose it was to go after Alex Rodriguez next for his final at-bat at Fenway, as Rodriguez hasn’t exactly been on an upswing in his offense lately. He did get out, but it was a soft ground out that still scored Gardner and gave the Yankees the desired insurance run.

The Yankees were effectively shut down in the 9th by the Red Sox new reliever, but the Red Sox didn’t have enough of a rally in them to beat Betances. So the Yankees closed out this series on a high note on their way back to the Bronx for a very busy weekend (more below).

Final score: 4-2 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1.

Scranton Shuttle: Like I mentioned yesterday, the Yankees did indeed send for some “fresh arms” for tonight’s game. But they made some interesting selections. As you know from above, they recalled Luis Cessa, whose immediate impact was exactly what they were looking for. They also selected the contract of the young reliever Ben Heller, part of the Andrew Miller trade with Cleveland, who has yet to make his MLB debut.

In exchange, the Yankees optioned Nick Goody and Rob Refsnyder back to AAA Scranton. And that had a lot of people scratching their heads. The truth is that they need “fresh arms” more than they need a utility player right now, so that is the only logic one needs to follow for this move. It’s not a “farewell” to Refsnyder for the season, but rather more of a “we’ll catch up in a few”.

So, this weekend in the Bronx is packed with events, and if you’re in the New York area, you really need to be there. Tomorrow night is Alex Rodriguez’s final game as a Yankee. Pre-game ceremonies start at 6:50 pm. (For those not in New York, tomorrow’s game is one of the national broadcasts. And I’m sorry.) Then Saturday, the Yankees will have a special ceremony to commemorate the 1996 championship team, and it looks like everyone from that team is going to be there to celebrate. And on Sunday, the Yankees are going to dedicate a plaque to Mariano Rivera in Monument Park. Oh, and there’s also 3 games against the Rays this weekend.

Go Yankees!

Game 113: NYY vs. BOS — The “normal” of Fenway is anything but…

So the fact that the game was over 4 hours, injuries happened, bullpens were depleted, and the Fenway faithful booed Yankee players with gusto, definitely means it was a typical Yankees-Red Sox game.

Nathan Eovaldi started the game tonight and plowed through the 1st inning 3-up, 3-down before leaving the game with “elbow soreness”. He was promptly packed away and sent back to New York for testing. And once the Yankees opened the bullpen door, it revolved and never looked back. Chasen Shreve came out in the 2nd and kept the Red Sox scoreless. In the 3rd, Shreve loaded up the bases with a single, a 1-out double, and a hit-by-pitch.

So it was onto newly signed Blake Parker. A fielder’s choice gave up the Red Sox’s first run putting runners at the corners before Parker got out of the inning with a fly out. He came back out in the 4th to load up the bases himself with 1 out. A fielder’s choice again scored a run, and the Yankees went to Nick Goody for relief. Goody and Tommy Layne kept the Red Sox from adding to their score through the 5th inning.

Layne came back out in the 6th and put runners on the corners with a walk and a single. So it was Tyler Clippard to take control. A single scored a runner, keeping runners at the corners, and a fielder’s choice again score another run. A solid double had a runner going for home before a fantastic relay from center field got the runner out at home. Despite an intentional walk and a wild pitch that put runners in scoring position, Clippard got himself out of the inning.

Clippard gave up a hit in the 7th, but Adam Warren’s relief was the beginning of the end of the Red Sox offense. Warren sailed his way through the 7th and 8th innings in just 28 pitches before Dellin Betances’s 9th inning was just flawless.

The Yankees seemed rather stymied some against the Red Sox starter, but their ability to push up the pitch count on tons of foul balls got him out of the game in the 6th inning, but not before giving up a lead-off solo shot to Didi Gregorius in the 5th inning to get the Yankees on the board. Once the Red Sox were into their bullpen, the Yankees started in on a late offensive rally beginning in the 7th inning.

With Gregorius and Sanchez on base with singles, Austin Romine’s single scored Gregorius. In one of his last appearances at Fenway, Alex Rodriguez then pinch-hit for Hicks and flied out, but still moved Sanchez over to 3rd. The Red Sox went to their bullpen and got a strike out, but the Yankees weren’t done yet. Jacoby Ellsbury’s single scored Sanchez, and Chase Headley’s single scored Romine to tie up the game. Another pitching change, and the bases were loaded with Teixeira’s walk. So Starlin Castro’s beautiful double scored 2 more runs to give the Yankees a nice lead.

And they didn’t look back. Gary Sanchez led-off the 8th inning with an amazing solo home run straight up the middle of Fenway. This was Sanchez’s first MLB homer, and it was just glorious. Romine then walked, and the Red Sox once again changed pitchers. Refsnyder singled, and the wild pitches began. The first one moved Refsndyer and Romine to scoring position. Then with the bases loaded due to Ellsbury’s walk and an out, the second wild pitch scored Romine and moved runners up again. Then after another out, the final wild pitch scored Refsnyder to cap off the Yankees’ rally.

The Yankees’ offense got 15 hits tonight, and Gary Sanchez hit 4 of them. Sanchez had a truly amazing night tonight, going 4-for-5, with 2 runs scored (one of those his 8th inning home run). Currently, Sanchez’s average is one of the best on the roster, albeit it’s based on a small sample size. But clearly, this guy, who’s been itching to make an impact on the team since March, is making an impact on this team. And that’s making all the difference.

Final score: 9-4 Yankees.

Okay, since I mentioned them, there were quite a few injuries in this game. Eovaldi’s “elbow soreness” is worrisome. And hopefully, it’s just some overuse aching. But this could also be a sign of something worse, like the need for Tommy John surgery due to a torn ligament. And the Red Sox had their own share of injuries — a player exited early due to “right calf tightness” (probably a weird cramp or strain) and one of the fan favorites took a nasty foul ball off his shin (though x-rays came back negative).

Some roster moves: The Yankees activated pitcher Blake Parker (who pitched in tonight’s game), sent Bryan Mitchell to the Single-A Tampa Yankees to continue his rehab assignment, and optioned Luis Severino to AAA Scranton.

I also expect with the exhaustion of the bullpen tonight that we’ll get some announcements tomorrow about a fresh arm or two called on from Scranton. That and I’m sure the ideal situation would be to have Pineda be strong and in it for most of the final game tomorrow night.

But then there’s never anything “normal” about a rivalry game. And that’s the most normal thing about them.

Go Yankees!

Game 111: CLE vs. NYY — A busy Sunday, another one bites the dust, & a milestone

Another pinstripe legend from the 2009 team is hanging up their cleats and a former Yankee favorite hits a major milestone… but more on that after the game recap.

Today, the Yankees sent Masahiro Tanaka to the mound for the weekend finale against the Indians. Tanaka kept things very well under control for almost his entire outing. He threw 101 pitches into the 7th inning, gave up 6 hits, no walks, and a season-high 8 strike outs (including his 400th career strikeout). Through 6 innings, he kept the Indians scoreless. But a lead-off double spelled the end of Tanaka’s afternoon.

Adam Warren came on for Tanaka. A fly out moved the runner to 3rd before a single easily scored the runner. It took some finagling, but Warren eventually found his way out of trouble. Tyler Clippard came on for the 8th inning, and things got interesting. He struck out his first batter who then got tossed from the game for arguing balls and strikes with the umpire. Then a walk ended up all the way at 3rd after a throwing error as he stole 2nd.

And it was onto Dellin Betances. A walk added a runner on the corners, and a wild pitch scored the runner from 3rd before Betances got the strikeout to close out the 8th. He eased his way through the 9th, starting with a challenged but successful double play, before shutting the Indians down effectively and earning his 2nd save of the season.

The Yankees, perhaps spurred on once again with a departure announcement, were anything but silent at the batter’s box. Brett Gardner led off the bottom of the 1st with a beautiful triple, sliding just under the 3rd baseman’s legs. He then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s sacrifice fly. In the 4th, Didi Gregorius celebrated his bobblehead day (today’s giveaway at the stadium) with a 1-out solo home run to the right field seats. And in the 5th, Ellsbury worked a 2-out walk and then scored on Mark Teixeira’s double.

The Indians starter and reliever actually did a really good job. Together, they racked up 12 strikeouts, allowing only 5 hits and 2 walks. Comparatively, the Yankees’ pitching staff matched the 12 strikeouts, but gave up 8 hits and 3 walks.

Final score: 3-2 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1.

Okay, so Alex Rodriguez will play his final game as a Yankee on Friday, August 12 against the Rays. After the game, he will be unconditionally released by the Yankees and signed to a special contract where he will become the Yankees special adviser, reporting directly to owner Hal Steinbrenner, and an instructor. Rodriguez has been known around baseball for years now for his teaching ability, instinct on player development, and general love for the game. While not clearly set yet, his focus will probably be on Spring Training and player development as part of the system with the Tampa High-A team.

Best of luck to him, and I look forward to the last 4 games featuring Alex Rodriguez.

{Media links: YES Network reports on what CC Sabathia said about Alex Rodriguez, YES Network broadcasters discuss Rodriguez and his career, and the full press conference here.}

{Blog post note: a special feature on Alex Rodriguez will come on one of the other off-days this month.}

And while I was writing this blog post, I got word that a very special, fan favorite former Yankee (now with the Marlins) Ichiro Suzuki just hit his 3,000th hit with MLB on a stand-up triple in the 7th inning against the Rockies. Ichiro is the first Japanese player to reach 3,000 hits and is the 2nd player to reach this milestone on a triple. (Paul Molitor did so September 16, 1996.)

Now, technically, Ichiro has 4,278 career hits when you factor in his professional career in Japan, but MLB records only count hits made during the regular season and as part of one of the recognized MLB clubs. And if you’re keeping track at home, Pete Rose currently holds the MLB record at 4,256 career hits. So if you’re giving this record to Ichiro in your mind, you’re certainly not alone in that line of thought over here. Congrats on the milestone!

Go Yankees!

Game 103: NYY vs. TB — Mixed genres: “Country” night & a golden sombrero

Apparently, the Rays hosted a “country” night tonight because there was a concert scheduled after the game for some young country artist. This, of course, meant they used every possible stereotype to add to the ambiance of the game — cowboy hats and boots, flannel, silly “country” sayings explained on the big score board, and Old West Themed line-up announcements. What all this has to do with country music beyond a stereotype is beyond me. I mean, it’s not like people think of the Tampa Bay area and think “high country” for country stereotypes. (Maybe a good portion of Florida, but definitely not Tampa.)

But I digress… because I don’t like having to talk about a game when the Yankees lost. Almost as much as I hate the fact that the Trop sounds what can only be described as the sound a semi-truck for a giant must make as it’s crashing through the stadium every single time the home team scores a home run. Which unfortunately happened more than one time tonight.

Anyway, the Yankees were facing one of the worst starters (statistically) in the AL, and somehow they managed to give him a win. On the other hand, the Yankees sent their starter with the best record to the mound tonight — Nathan Eovaldi. And honestly, Eovaldi did his best to keep it a tight game and was rather efficient through most of the game. A few of his 104 pitches (though he was at less than 70 going into the 5th inning) got the better of him — all 3 allowed runs were scored on homers. But he only gave up 3 hits and 2 walks, striking out 4 Rays batters over his 6 innings.

The runs were scored early in Eovaldi’s outing — a 1-out solo home run in the bottom of the 1st, and a 2-run home run in the 3rd, after the only other allowed hit (a single) got the lead-off runner on base. So when Eovaldi left the game at the end of the 6th, he was handing over a tight game to the bullpen.

It wasn’t to stay that way for long, unfortunately. Anthony Swarzak came on and things got interesting. After a quick ground out, the next Rays batter doubled. But the call at 2nd was too close, so the Yankees challenged it and rightfully so, because replays had bad angles that showed him coming off the base and maybe being tagged then. But HQ upheld the call because they couldn’t see enough evidence to overturn it nor could they confirm the call was accurate.

Anyway, that runner then stole 2nd and then scored on an RBI single for the Rays insurance run. And then a 2-run home run gave the Rays a nice lead over the Yankees to sail them through the rest of the game comfortably. Richard Bleier’s 2-pitch outing at the top of the 8th gave up a single before turning things over to Adam Warren who effectively shut down the Rays in order.

Now, on the flip side of things, the Yankees didn’t do much to dent in the Rays lead except in the 3rd inning. With 2 outs and Chase Headley on 2nd after a single and wild pitch, Brett Gardner hit a big 2-run home run into the right field seats to give the Yankees a brief lead. That they in turn lost in the bottom of that inning.

The Yankees were held to just 4 hits and a walk for base runners through the first 7 innings of the starter and his first reliever. But when that reliever came out in the 8th for his second inning, Chase Headley hit a big solo home run to halve the Rays lead. (Insert stereotypical cowboy reference here.) But the Yankees didn’t do much beyond that, and the Rays closer breezed through the 9th inning with 3 straight strikeouts.

Final score: 6-3 Rays.

But there were some weird things in this game…

There were a total of 3 challenges in tonight’s game, and the Yankees won two of them early on in the game, which may be the reason that they kept it close for the first part of the game. In the 4th, Romine (catching tonight) got the runner stealing 2nd when he threw the ball to a waiting Castro who tagged the runner as he sort of twirled into his slide. Rays challenged, call upheld. And then it was the Yankees’ turn to challenge in the 5th when a batter seemed to beat out a really close throw from Headley to Teixeira. But like I prefaced this paragraph, the Yankees won both these as the call on the field was overturned and the runner was out. But just barely.

And due to the weirdness that is Tropicana Field’s dome, they have all these rules as to what constitutes a home run, a foul, a fair ball, an out, etc. depending on what the ball hits within the stadium. They have all these catwalks around the dome for the lights and such, and every now and then, a ball will get hit into or onto one of them. Tonight, in the 2nd, a ball was hit straight up into the air, bounced off a catwalk, and popped back into the infield to a waiting Didi Gregorius. Honestly, the runner thought he had a nice hit or something, and everyone kind of stood around in confusion for a few moments wondering what the call was. Apparently, it was “out”, and the inning was over.

In the 8th inning, technically, Jacoby Ellsbury hit the ball and it dribbled itself into an apparent double play. Which would’ve ended things for the inning, but leave it to Ellsbury to earn his 10th catcher’s interference of the season to get on base safely and thus void out the play. Literally, if there was one phrase to define to Ellsbury’s 2016 season, it would be “catcher’s interference”.

Now, while I’ve mentioned the mixed genres of stereotypes at the Trop tonight (like “country” and the Old West), I’m going to add one more to the mix — the Golden Sombrero. Yes, the Yankees own Alex Rodriguez in his first game since turning 41 earned that title tonight as he struck out all 4 times in his at-bats. I mean, since we’re mixing genres, we might as well throw in a little Tex-Mex tonight.

Tonight was basically like going to Taco Bell and eating it around a bonfire in your decorative boots you affectionately call your “cowboy” boots because you wore them to a bar once when they had line dancing. Is anyone just so ready for Star Wars Day in the Bronx? (It’s August 5th, against the Indians.) Or maybe these theme nights are better done in the minor leagues, under the stars, when it’s more about the local community gathering for fun and not about a professional sports team trying to make it to the postseason while battling off trade rumors? But what do I know? I’m just a blogger with an opinion after all.

Go Yankees!