Game 42: NYY vs. KC — Hitting clinic in KC, led by Hicks & #ElGary

While none of the Yankees blamed their less-than-ideal last week (between soggy, halted and postponed games and sleeping in the airport) for their sluggish day yesterday, they certainly were able to bounce back and return to their standard form we’ve grown used to over this season.

The Yankees got off to a great start and kept the ball rolling, so to speak, in this middle game in Kansas City. Aaron Hicks led-off the game with a single and then scored on Gary Sanchez’s 2-out double to kick off the Yankees’ night, the only run they would score not on a home run tonight. Hicks led-off the 3rd with an inside-the-park home run, which could have been a double or triple if the right fielder hadn’t missed the grounder and slammed into the wall out there. Hicks jogged his way home.

In the 4th, Clint Frazier led-off with a walk, Torreyes singled, and they both then scored as part of Gleyber Torres’ 3-run home run. Then in the 7th, Gary Sanchez hit a 1-out solo home run. And they weren’t done yet. In the 9th, with 1 out, Giancarlo Stanton hit a big solo home run into the fountains behind the left-center field seats. Sanchez followed up that with another solo home run of his own, his 2nd of his game, making him the Yankees’ home run leader (at 12 this season).

Meanwhile, Luis Severino got the start and continued his display as the Yankees’ ace, throwing just 77 pitches in 6 innings, giving up 8 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, and striking out 6 batters. In fact, most of those allowed hits and walks were indicative of when the Royals would breakthrough and get on the scoreboard. In the 3rd, a lead-off single scored on a double. After that runner moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt, he scored on a single to tie up the game at that point.

After Torres’ big homer in the 4th, the Royals made an attempt to comeback in the 5th, with a lead-off walk and single. A routine double play still moved the lead runner to 3rd, who then scored on a single. That runner (who really isn’t that speedy of a baserunner) tried to make it all the way home on a double, but a quick relay (Stanton-Torreyes-Sanchez) got the out at home. Even after a challenge by the home team, the call was upheld.

Actually, all the challenged calls tonight went the Yankees’ way. Chad Green came on in relief for the 7th inning, and with a runner on 2nd and 1 out, the Yankees fielded a grounder at 3rd and threw it to 1st for the out. Well, actually, it was called safe, and the Yankees challenged it. But it was overturned (for obvious reasons, despite what the home crowd seemed to think).

After Betances’ clean, speedy 8th, Aroldis Chapman came on for the 9th. He gave up a lead-off walk. After a good strikeout, that runner attempted to go to 2nd. Sanchez threw to Torres for the tag, and it was called safe. But another challenge led to another overturn (as the runner comes off the bag), despite again what the crowd seems to think.

Final score: 8-3 Yankees

If you noticed, Clint Frazier is finally back in the line-up. He batted 7th as the designated hitter, going 1-for-2 with a double and 2 walks, and scoring on that Torres’ home run in the 4th. A nice welcome back for him after months of dealing with that nasty concussion in Spring Training.

To bring Frazier up to the majors, the Yankees designated pitcher David Hale for assignment last Tuesday. Hale later opted for release rather than outrighting, and the Yankees then re-signed him on Friday and immediately optioned him to AAA Scranton. So expect to see more of Hale in the Bronx soon enough.

And on a final note worth discussion, Aaron Hicks’ inside-the-park home run made him in some great company. Hicks is the first Yankee to hit multiple inside-the-park home runs in a single season (his first one was April 13 in Detroit) since Mickey Mantle hit 3 in 1958. And we’re only 42 games into the season, so Hicks has a chance to make more history.

As really, the whole team does. And with the way they’re going so far, this could be one of those teams that’s not so much compared to other great seasons but rather becomes its own great season to which others are compared.

Go Yankees!

Game 39: OAK vs. NYY — Walker’s 11th inning walk-off

Both starters in this afternoon’s game gave up the 6 runs that would kick the game into the extra innings it would take to win the game and neither of them pitched beyond the 5th inning. That means it would be up to the bullpens and defense to determine who would come out on top.

The Yankees offense struck first on the backs of Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks, who each hit a solo home run in the 2nd inning to get things started. Domingo German got start today in this middle game of the series against the visiting Athletics. He threw 75 pitches in his 5 innings, gave up 6 hits and 3 walks (and those 6 runs), and struck out just a single batter along the way.

German held the A’s scoreless until the 4th inning, giving up a single and walk that scored as part of a 1-out 3-run home run to push the A’s into the lead. Then with 2 more allowed walks, a 2-out single scored both of those runners and Hicks made the good defensive call to get that batter out trying to grab 2nd in that same play to end their rally. And in the 5th, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on another single, advanced to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on a sacrifice fly.

The Yankees tried to chip away at the Athletics’ lead in the bottom of the 5th as Gardner led-off with a walk and scored as part of Aaron Judge’s big 2-run home run to the left field seats. Gregorius then singled and stole 2nd, and Sanchez worked a 1-out walk. That was the end of the A’s starter’s night, and they went to their bullpen. But Neil Walker kept things going with a 2-out single to scored Gregorius, and after another pitching change, Miguel Andujar’s single scored Sanchez to officially tie up the game at that point.

The Yankees made every attempt to break that tie, even loading up the bases in the 6th, but they were left stranded. So it was up to their bullpen to maintain until they could find another breakthrough. Holder, Green, and Betances each took an inning and breezed through the A’s roster. Aroldis Chapman walked his first 3 batters and then got out of his own self-inflicted jam with a strikeout and double play, thanks to Brett Gardner’s amazing arm from left field and Sanchez’s reach at the plate for the tag there. (Replays overturned the original call of safe there, rightly so, and had my mother screaming, “See, you don’t run on Gardy either!”)

And then it was on to newly signed reliever AJ Cole to keep things under control from the mound, which he did for the 10th and 11th innings, despite some moments of fretting for the afternoon crowd in the Bronx. The A’s tried to match this as their 10th inning reliever came out for his 2nd inning, but instead, the Yankees found their opportunity.

With 1 out, Stanton walked, Sanchez hit into a fielder’s choice out at 2nd, and Hicks worked a walk. Then it was down to Neil Walker to make a difference. He hit kind of a bloop single to shallow center field and had Sanchez racing home for the walk-off win. The frenzied crowd came alive as Gardner poured the purple Gatorade over the willing Walker.

Final score: 7-6 Yankees, in 11 innings

The Yankees close out their home stand tomorrow with their afternoon game against the Athletics. And brace for the pink tomorrow, as it’s Mother’s Day in the US, and MLB always does a good job of tying in breast cancer awareness with the holiday (similar to what they do with prostate cancer and Father’s Day in June).

Also, with the Red Sox’s win against the Blue Jays today, the tie between the Yankees and Red Sox atop MLB standings continues.

Go Yankees!

Game 32: CLE vs. NYY — It was a bumpy journey, but the Force was with the Yankees

All across baseball (and the world, really) is celebrating Star Wars Day. Because it’s May the 4th… as in “May the Force be with you”, a familiar phrase from the Star Wars movies (and its extended universe). And in that spirit, the Yankees giveaway for the day was a bobble head of Aaron Judge as a Jedi. And all of this is terribly awkward for anyone who still thinks of the Yankees as the “Evil Empire”, but might be kind of fun as the Yankees play the ceremonial march music (from A New Hope) during their announcement of the starting roster at every home game.

CC Sabathia, one of the biggest Star Wars nerds on the team, got the honor of the start in the opening game of this home stand against the visiting Indians (both his former team and the Yankees’ 2017 ALDS rivals). Sabathia worked some of his own force and threw a great game — 92 pitches in 6 scoreless innings, giving up just 3 hits, and striking out 7 Cleveland batters. Dellin Betances followed suit and threw a great scoreless 7th inning.

In the mean time, the Yankees offense found its first opportunity to break through on the scoreboard in the 4th inning. Walker led-off with a single and moved to 2nd on a force attempt and fielding error that allowed Andujar to reach safely. Then Gleyber Torres smacked his first career home run, a 3-run shot to left field. (The fan who caught it later negotiated its return for her and her 8 friends to get a personalized clubhouse tour and some autographed gear.)

One out later, Aaron Judge hit a solo home run to join in on the fun. And Gary Sanchez later led-off the 5th with his own home run. (Was the Force stronger over in the left field seats?)

And then there was the 8th inning. With the Yankees up 5-0 over the Indians, the Indians took advantage of an off-night from Chasen Shreve, who just couldn’t find an out tonight to save the game. He gave up a walk, a single, a 3-run home run, and a single before they finally pulled the plug on his night. David Robertson had his own issues in relief. After the Yankees defense failed to turn two, the next batter hit a 2-run home run to tie up the game.

Determined, the Yankees came back in the bottom of the 8th to break the tie. The Yankees loaded up the bases with Andujar’s fielder’s choice, Torres’ single, and Gardner’s walk. And then Judge’s “forced” in the go-ahead run to give the Yankees some hope. (Totally stole that one from Twitter.) So Aroldis Chapman needed just 3 outs for the save. The Indians needed 1 run to stay alive. The Indians got their wish as a lead-off single, moved to 2nd on a 1-out hit-by-pitch, advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then scored on another wild pitch to tie up the game again.

But the Yankees weren’t just going down without that big final battle and “good guy heroics”. Stanton led-off the 9th inning with a double and later moved to 3rd on a ground out. After Walker walked and moved into scoring position on defensive indifference, it would be Miguel Andujar that would be “strong in the force”, knocking a bloop single into shallow right center field that easily scored Stanton for the walk-off run.

Final score: 7-6 Yankees

Further, in honor of Star Wars Day, the Yankees welcomed a parade of characters from the movie and the upcoming prequel movie Solo, about one of the main character’s origins and directed by the Yankees’ special guest tonight — Ron Howard, who also threw out the first pitch.

And finally, a big congratulations to Ichiro Suzuki who will transition to special advisor for the Mariners (his current team). Ichiro was always a fan-favorite (with the Mariners, Yankees, Marlins, and back to the Mariners) and a favorite in every clubhouse from his days playing in Japan to his time around MLB. He closes out a great career and will be in our discussions when he’s elected to the Hall of Fame in five years.

Go Yankees! (And Happy Star Wars Day, fellow nerds!)

Game 31: NYY vs. HOU — Late inning heroics

I think the Yankees can officially declare this road trip a huge success. I mean, the sweep in Anaheim was a big deal, but taking 3 of the 4 games from last year’s World Series Champions (and the team that beat them in the ALCS) really sealed that victory feeling as they fell home today.

The Yankees got ahead of the Astros once again and kept it that way for most of the game. They loaded up the bases in the 2nd with Sanchez’s walk, Walker’s hit-by-pitch, and Andujar’s short single. Ronald Torreyes hit into another short single to keep those bases loaded and score Sanchez. Then Gleyber Torres hit a long sacrifice fly that scored Walker and get the first out of the inning. Two outs later and runners were stranded on base. Then in the 3rd, Gregorius hit a 1-out double, watched Sanchez work a 2-out walk, and then scored on Neil Walker’s single.

This offensive jump-start gave their starter a bit of leeway too. Masahiro Tanaka got the start this afternoon and really had a pretty good outing over all for the first 6 innings of his outing. He was cruising along at just 73 pitches through those 6 scoreless innings and only giving up 3 hits and no walks, with 5 strike outs. But then he got into some trouble in the 7th. He gave up consecutive singles and then hit the next batter. (Or maybe he didn’t, as the Yankees’ challenge of that call was upheld and not confirmed, though honestly, it never even brushed the sleeve, but they don’t ask my perspective at MLB HQ.)

So it was on to Chad Green with the bases loaded and no outs in the 7th. He gave up 2 short singles that kept the bases loaded and scored the first 2 runners, and a messy passed ball scored one more moving the remaining runners to scoring position, the tying run at that point. He finally got an out with a stellar strikeout, and a ground out scored another run for the Astros to put them in a narrow lead. A lead-off solo home run in the 8th gave the Astros an insurance run. And an out later, the Yankees turned to Chasen Shreve for a quick 9-pitch 2 outs to close out the 8th and shut the door on any possible furthering of the Astros’ lead.

And then the Yankees had quite the 9th inning, starting (as all big innings do today) by loading up the bases on this new reliever. Walker walked, Andujar singled, and Hicks singled. The Astros called in another new reliever, but that didn’t stop the Yankees. Gleyber Torres singled and scored both Walker and Andujar (making his RBI count at 3 tonight) that also moved Hicks to 3rd. After an out that was too short to score Hicks, Aaron Judge hit into a little grounder that the Astros fielded poorly, only getting the force out at 2nd and failing to “turn two”. So Hicks was able to score the winning run.

And I say winning because Aroldis Chapman came on for the bottom of the 9th and got a pretty good save, striking out the Astros’ best hitter (and last year’s MVP, I might add).

Final score: 6-5 Yankees, Yankees win series 3-1

Not a bad way to end a road trip.

Next up: The Yankees head home to face the Indians this weekend (their 2017 ALDS foes), and then after an off day on Monday, they will host the Red Sox and Athletics for 3 games each through next weekend to complete this 9-game home stand. Momentum is everything, and the Yankees will need it to get through this home stand as both their first 2 opponents are sitting at the top of their respective divisions.

I’m not much for standings this early in the seasons, but it’s worth noting that the Yankees are 5 games ahead of the Indians and just 1.5 games behind the Red Sox in the AL. (And a game ahead of the Astros now, if you’re wondering where all the leaders land on the chart.) But I’ll warn everyone a simple thing — this means so much of nothing. We’ve watched just 31 games this season. That means there’s 131 games left to play (about 81% of the season left). A whole lot can change between now and the September call-up, and there’s always a dark horse that comes out of nowhere and surprises the world with this just outstanding performance later in the season.

So, hold on to something, we’ve got a long way to go.

Go Yankees!

Game 27: NYY vs. LAA — California Sweeping

The last time the Yankees swept the Angels in Anaheim is July 29-31, 2003. And the last day of that series, they picked up a certain player who would carve his way into Yankee lore in October and now as their manager. And now, nearly 15 years later, the Yankees swept the Angels again. But no major trade. It’s a big enough series on its own as the Yankees continue their big streak so early in the season.

CC Sabathia got the start in the final game in California, throwing 97 pitches in his 7 innings, giving up 5 hits, a walk, and a run, and striking out 4 batters. He didn’t allow much in this outing and no runs at all until the 6th inning. With 1 out, he gave up 2 consecutive singles to put runners on the corners, and a wild pitch moved the runners up, scoring the Angels’ lone run of the evening.

Chad Green came on for the 8th inning and got into and out of his own jam and kept the Angels to that lone run. Aroldis Chapman gave up a walk but then powered through and got the save on a stellar strikeout.

The Yankee offense was rather quiet in comparison to last night’s big game. The Angels’ pitchers held them to a lone inning of any impact. In the 4th, with 1 out, Stanton doubled and then scored as part of Gary Sanchez’s solid 2-run home run to the left field seats. Actually, the Yankees only got 4 total hits (and 3 walks) all night.

Final score: 2-1 Yankees, Yankees sweep Angels 3-0

Next up: the Yankees hop a plane and head to Houston. They face the Astros for a 4-game series starting Monday. Yes, the Yankees are set to faced last year’s Champions, who are actually about even with the Yankees in the standings right now.

And if you’re wondering, the Yankees don’t have another West Coast week until the beginning of September, when they’ll face the Athletics and the Mariners. So no NL West Coast opponents this season. The craziness of the schedule is that you never really know how things will work out. Most of how things shake out for the postseason is due to the schedule, but every year, there’s no real way to predict when which team’s going to be hot and when they play a team is on a slump.

Go Yankees!

Game 14: NYY vs. DET — Lucky Friday the 13th (not that I believe in any of that)

After the shake-up the Yankees got in Fenway, they needed a bit of a game like tonight in Detroit to sort them out. Jordan Montgomery got the start in the opening game in this weekend series against the Tigers. He threw 91 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up 5 hits and 3 runs, striking out just 4 batters. To be perfectly fair, he was actually really good at fending off the Tigers until a lead-off solo shot in the 5th broke the Tigers onto the scoreboard.

In the 7th, a lead-off single scored on a double and a rare throwing error. That was the end of Montgomery’s outing, and David Robertson came on in relief. But he had a night of rare trouble (for him). He gave up a sacrifice fly that scored the other runner Montgomery was responsible for. Then with 2 outs, Robertson gave up a double and single to put runners at the corners but getting that Houdini strike out to end the inning.

Dellin Betances got the 8th inning and then he had his own struggles. He gave up a lead-off home run to kick things off. A single moved to 2nd on a 1-out double and then scored on another single. A 2-out single then scored another run. So, the Yankees went back to their bullpen to get out of this inning with Chad Green, who took 5 pitches to get a solid strikeout to end the Tigers’ rally. Aroldis Chapman’s 3-strikeout 9th inning helped close out the game with some power.

Meanwhile, the Yankees collected their runs through the game, starting in the 2nd. Sanchez hit a 1-out double and then scored as part of Aaron Hicks’ inside-the-park home run, finishing with the best smile ever as he slid into home plate, by the way. (The first Yankee to do so since 2011.) In the 5th, Andujar led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and scored easily on Brett Gardner’s double. Gardner then scored on Aaron Judge’s single. Judge stole 2nd as part of a strikeout and then benefited from a sloppy throwing error on Didi Gregorius’ at-bat to score another run for the Yankees.

Aaron Hicks led-off the 6th with an into-the-stands home run, a real no-doubter into the right field seats. Fresh off the DL, and Hicks is hitting multi-homer games. And in the 8th, Andujar led-off with a triple and then scored on Ronald Torreyes’ single. After Gardner was hit by a pitch and Judge walked, the bases were loaded. Stanton hit into a little grounder that the lagging Tigers seemed to snap into action and get the out at home. After a pitching change, Gregorius hit into a sacrifice fly to scored Gardner to finish off the Yankee scoring tonight.

Final score: 8-6 Yankees

It’s worth noting that Aaron Judge, who went 1-for-4 tonight with a walk and RBI, is currently batting a whopping .340. Now, it’s hard to accurately judge averages this early in the season. But part of Judge’s average comes from the fact that he is currently on a hitting streak of 11 games after tonight’s RBI single in the 5th. Of course, he’s got a long way to go to catch Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, set back in 1941. But if anyone could do it, it very well could be Judge.

Go Yankees!

Game 12: NYY vs. BOS — Rivalry drama flares up in Fenway

Every year, the Yankees and Red Sox face off as division rivals multiple times. This year, both teams get 3 chances to host the other, facing off 19 times in total, as per the rules. Since 2013, MLB dictates that division rivals must face off 19 times over the season, 6-7 times against other teams in their league (AL or NL) and 20 times against teams in the other league (AL vs. NL). We’re on Game 2 vs. the Red Sox of 19 times this season, and the rivalry, for all intents and purposes, is so far from dead.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start in tonight’s middle game of the series in Boston. He threw 83 pitches in his 5 innings, giving up 7 hits, 2 walks, and 6 runs, and striking out just 3 batters. However, Tanaka bookended his outing with his bad moments. Because leaving out the 1st and 5th innings, Tanaka was on fire, just plowing through the Red Sox line up.

In the 1st, after 2 quick outs, Tanaka gave up a solo home run to get the Red Sox on the board. A single, wild pitch, and walk seemed to indicate he was rattled, but he pulled it together and began the really good part of his outing, getting 10 straight outs really efficiently. But in the 5th, he gave up a single that moved to 2nd on a 1-out single and then scored on a double. After another out, he gave up a walk to load up the bases. But then a lingering pitch was served straight up the middle for a grand slam home run to boost the Red Sox’s score. (Which probably should’ve been the big story of the game, but this is no ordinary game.)

Fortunately, the Yankees’ relievers initially were much cleaner in their outings. Chad Green had a pretty solid 2 innings in the 6th and 7th, and David Robertson commanded his 8th inning, both keeping the Red Sox from adding to their score. Aroldis Chapman, however, struggled his way through the 9th, giving up a single that ended up at 3rd on a double. Two outs later, Chapman’s wild pitch allowed both runners to move up and thus one to score another run. But a nice strike out ended that inning.

And in any other game, 7 allowed runs might be a huge problem. But the Yankees weren’t about to allow another repeat of yesterday’s messy game, and instead created one of their own. In the 1st, the Yankees took advantage of the Red Sox’s starter having a bad night. Gardner led-off with a single and Judge worked a walk, and they both scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s big triple. 1 out later, Gary Sanchez hit a 2-run Green Monster home run to give the Yankees a very early lead.

In the 3rd, Sanchez led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on Walker’s single, and then scored on Tyler Austin’s single. Tyler Wade bunted into a fielder’s choice for the out at 2nd, which ultimately reignited the rivalry. (More after the recap.) A quick double play ended further hope to add to their score. At least in that inning.  In the 4th, Gardner and Judge hit consecutive singles, and Gardner took 3rd on a long fly out. He then scored on Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly. Judge scored on Gary Sanchez’s second Green Monster 2-run home run of the game.

And in the 6th, Gardner led-off with a walk, stole 2nd but ended up at 3rd on a throwing error, and then scored on Stanton’s single. Stanton then took 2nd and 3rd on 2 wild pitches before scoring on Gregorius’ sacrifice fly to cap off the Yankees’ scoring today.

Final score: 10-7 Yankees

Brawl in Fenway: okay, so that brief mention of a scuffle in the 3rd was the first sign of issues. Tyler Austin slid into 2nd with a bit too much gusto and ended up kind of spiking the short stop in the ankle (he’s fine, by the way, and stayed in the entire game without injury). Well, benches cleared, and the situation was handled quickly. The umpires had a bit of a rules check to make sure the slide wasn’t malicious in intent (which could result in an automatic double play). It wasn’t, so the game went on.

Things were just fine. Both teams playing hard and wanting to win. The Red Sox wanting to extend their win streak to 10 game, the Yankees needing to even out their own win-loss record. And then the 7th inning… With 1 out, the new reliever took 4 pitches and drilled Tyler Austin in the back. Austin spiked his bat in anger. He knew it was intentional. When the pitcher started yelling at him, Austin threw off his helmet and charged the mound. More empty benches.

It took some time to settle down all the tempers and sort things out. In the end, the reliever was ejected, joined by Austin as the two primary instigators in the incident (as usual). And for reasons I’m still not quite sure, 3rd base coach Phil Nevin and Tommy Kahnle joined Austin in the clubhouse for the rest of the game. Later, Kahnle said he didn’t like how an umpire shoved him out of the way and told him so, so the umpire ejected him for “disrespect”. Nevin’s ejection is much more of mystery, but I suppose it’s probably closer to Kahnle’s than Austin’s.

Now, following the game, the reliever said that it wasn’t intentional and the pitch “just got away from him”, but his teammate who got spiked in the 3rd said he was proud and felt “protected” by the reliever’s “actions” in the 7th. You can be the judge when you watch the clip, but the incident is far to close to the Dempster-Rodriguez hit-by-pitch incident in 2013 and drew a lot of comparisons online. (By the way, despite mirroring tonight’s standard line of “it got away from me”, now-retired pitcher Ryan Dempster later admitted in 2016 he totally intended to hit Alex Rodriguez that game.)

Like I said, you be the judge. Either way, the game is messy anyway, and there’s far too many injuries in a single season. It’s not cool to injure someone intentionally, either with spikes (as the Red Sox say Austin did) or with a pitch to the back (as the Yankees say Kelly did). The sides will fall along “party lines” as they always do, but now that this game is over, let’s close the page on today and start tomorrow fresh. They’re will be plenty more games (17 actually) to get the best revenge — winning more games than your opponent. Don’t stoop low to “even the score”, go high, be classy, and just be the better team and win.

Go Yankees!