Game 3: BOS vs. NYY — A win is a win is a win

The cold may be around for a while, but the Yankees sure showed up tonight and won the game 4-2. I must begin with starting pitcher and legend Andy Pettitte, who began his first 2013 start with his usual elegance. He went a full 8 innings, only giving up 1 run, an RBI double in the 7th inning. He seemed to have fun spraying his pitches all over the plate and getting batters to hit at nothing for those ground outs and fly outs — in other words, a return to Andy-style in the Bronx. And tonight, he had a great team backing him up and making those outs.

In the 1st inning, a pitch got away from tonight’s catcher Francisco Cervelli, who went to retrieve it and had to hustle back because the runner (who started the play at 2nd) got greedy and thought he could steal home. Cervelli wasn’t about to let that happen and promptly kept Boston at bay. The Yankees also racked up 3 double plays. The defense was alive and kicking tonight.

As far as the offense goes, the bats were present tonight (actually, both teams each got 8 hits). In the 2nd inning, a Hafner single and a Nunez ground-rule double set the stage for Lyle Overbay’s 2-RBI single to put the Yankees on the board. And then, in the 3rd inning, Brett Gardner takes a swing at the 1st pitch and hits it into the right field first row for a solo home run. It is now 3-0. Going into the bottom of the 7th inning, the score is 3-1, when Cervelli steps in to hit the ball into left center field (into the Red Sox bullpen) for another solo home run.

Mariano Rivera steps into the 9th inning to save the 69th Andy Pettitte-Mariano Rivera match-up game. He was a bit uneven tonight, allowing a walk, a hit, and a run, but ultimately he closed the game on that wonderful strike-out looking, ending the game at 4-2.

All in all, it was still nice to see a win. And more importantly, it was nice to see the Yankees again. Perhaps it was the veteran presence and command on the mound or maybe some behind-the-scenes pep talk. Perhaps, we’ll never know why it finally clicked, but it was like finally exhaling after holding one’s breath for so long, even without realizing it. And it worked. Home runs from non-home run hitters, in the frigid cold no less. But a win is a win is a win.

And now, it’s off to Detroit and more cold, but for now and tonight, the Yankees can breathe and smile. A job well done, team.

Go Yankees!

Game 2: BOS vs. NYY — It’s going to be a frigid April, isn’t it?

It was a very cold night in the Bronx, something that I think helped Boston win tonight 7-4; Boston is a town, after all, with average colder temperature for their outdoor stadium than New York. I know I may be grasping at straws here, but when your team loses its second game of the two games played this season, I think you’re entitled to grasp whatever works for soothing your denial. (And yes, I’m mixing clichés because it’s late and I’m recovering from a nasty cold, so your grace is appreciated.)

Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda had to leave the game early in the 2nd inning due to a bruised middle finger, due to trying to catch a ball with his bare hand. He was replaced by Cody Eppley, who gave up 4 runs and 4 hits in a just over an inning. Adam Warren was able to do more in his 5 innings and keep Boston from continuing to run up the scoreboard.

Two offensive powerhouses helped pick the Yankees up a bit off the floor. In the 4th inning, Travis Hafner earned his pinstripes and put the Yankees on the board with his first solo home run of the season and as a Yankee. Hafner doesn’t have the defense to earn Yankee fan respect, so he only has his offense. And it seems like he’s off to a good start.  And in the 8th inning, trailing 7-1, Vernon Wells hit his first home run as a Yankee, earning his pinstripes tonight with a 3-run homer. For the handful of people still braving the frigid cold, this was the best it got tonight and well worth the 3 1/2 hour game time.

I should add the interesting defense of Chris Stewart in the 7th inning catching a foul ball diving into the Red Sox dugout. It was nice of Pedroia and Middlebrooks to rush to aid his flip over the barrier, further proof that there is no real ill will between the rivals, especially as you never know which Red Sox will don pinstripes next year. Right, Youkilis?

It’s going to be a long April missing half of the starters, and tonight only continued to prove that. It’s not that the rest of the players aren’t capable of playing and winning the games. No, it’s just that they’re not playing as a team. And it’s not players that win games, but teams. So when the Yankees as a team show up to play ball, we’ll see more W’s on the scoreboard and less nasty media articles. Honestly, we’ve been through worst seasons, and really, it’s only April 3rd. Give them some time, give everyone some time to be the teams that can contend for the post season. Because doesn’t the new MLB ad say that they “play for October”? And is it October? No, but it’s certainly feels like October in the Northeast.

Go Yankees!

Game 1: BOS vs. NYY — Could this game be an April Fool’s joke?

Today was Opening Day for the 2013 Yankee season. Due to a long and rough 2nd inning for starting pitcher CC Sabathia, Boston took an early 4-0 lead, something the Yankees could just never quite overcome, eventually losing 8-2.

Opening Day Newtown
Opening Day Pre-Game Ceremonies honor the victims of the Newtown tragedy

The festivities started with a very respectful tribute to the victims of the December Newtown tragedy. During a moment of silence, the names of those lost in the Sandy Hook shootings scrolled on the big screen. You could hear a pin drop. It was a fitting and emotional moment and a wonderful way to honor their memories.

For me, the two stand-out players on today’s roster were former Red Sox Kevin Youkilis and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Youkilis, at times, seemed like the only defensive player on the field, with his hustling, making key plays, and covering his teammates. Perhaps this is where age/experience is a huge factor, and perhaps his recent stints on other teams. He was clearly playing at level above much of the other team, who seemed discouraged by the Sox early lead. The team’s rhythm and momentum, despite the numbers on the scoreboard or fans in the stand, was strangely absent, something I’ve seen in recent Spring Training games, but never expected to see in Major League  regular season.

The other key player today was starting catcher Francisco Cervelli, who wasn’t initially thought to catch Sabathia today (in fact, he found out he was starting when he got to the park this morning), but he was clearly the right choice for the position. In addition to some truly excellent defense, including a great Jayson Nix (starting 3rd baseman) to Cervelli play to keep a run from scoring in the 6th inning, Cervelli’s most talked about contribution came on a 2-out 2-RBI single in the 4th inning, scoring the only 2 Yankees’ runs of the game.

In a game that started out so sunny and clear, quickly the skies became overcast, the wind kicked up, and by the end of the game, rain was pouring in the Bronx. The stadium began clearing at end of the 7th inning, with the Yankees trailing 5-2, and increased at every half-inning break, by the time the rain began whoever was left headed to the cover of the concourse or the Great Hall at Yankee stadium to await what was slowly becoming the inevitable outcome of the game.

I could spew out all the clichés here — “There’s still 161 games of the season.”, “It’s a long time until October.”, or “They just didn’t give their 100%.” And all of that is true, perhaps the final one more than most. Honestly, I guess I’m soothing my disappointment of today’s game with the knowledge that we’re getting back the “Big Three” (Teixeira, Granderson, and Jeter) in about a month or so. April could be really rough until then. Heck, the season could be really rough until they find their groove. But they will find it, and when they do, they’ll be the force we Yankee fans love to root for.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 26: BOS vs. NYY — No rain on this semi-rivalry

In today’s two hour and seventeen minute game, the Yankees effectively shut-out the Red Sox in the 2nd inning, scoring all 4 of their total runs today off of only 5 hits. Overcast and calling for rain that never appeared, the air was thick and really put a damper on what could have been several home run balls for both teams. I think people forget how much the weather affects the game more than the obvious rain-outs. The cloudy skies kept what could have been another hot day for the fans cooler, surprisingly without being too muggy (which is often the case in semi-sunny Florida).

It was fun to see the Opening Day match-up, but I must say I was a little disappointed in the Red Sox. Usually, to a rivalry game, they are much better competitors, but we were missing some of the “big boys” today like Pedroia, Ortiz (who is still out with a nagging injury), Saltalamacchia, Middlebrooks, and Ellsbury. And while there was a handful of Red Sox fans scattered about the stadium, Yankees fans came out in droves clearly to keep the home fires burning strong for our team. So the rivalry is still there, but it was rather subdued for a game, even if it was only Spring Training.

Vidal Nuno started today’s game strong, keeping the Sox scoreless and only allowing only 2 Boston hits and walking 1 batter. His follow-up bullpen in Robertson, Chamberlain, Spence, Eppley, and Montgomery also kept Boston at bay. But the entire pitching staff was backed by some excellent fielding like the two double plays between Nix, Nunez, and Rivera and various outs all over the field.

But I would say the day belongs to Brett Gardner, even though he went 0-for-3 with a walk at the plate. His defense was on display from the first inning all the way up to this impressive 7th inning catch. His coverage and speed was very much needed today in left field, where it seems Boston was hitting quite a bit of their longer balls.

Derek Jeter, however, continues to lead most people’s conversations of today. Scratched from yesterday’s game following warm-ups, Jeter got a cortisone (anti-inflammatory) shot in his stiff left ankle and is set to be out for a few days to rest up. This is, of course, causing all sorts of jabber about him being out for a while, or possibly on the Disabled List come April 1st, or even the end of his career altogether. But this seems out of character to me. We need to remember that Mariano Rivera wasn’t going to let some ACL tear stop him from going out under his terms, and as Jeter is cut from that same competitive cloth, if it takes 3 days or 3 months, he will be back.

And like Cashman was quoted as saying today, “We’ll have to see how he [Jeter] is responding. Hell, he could come here doing the jig. This guy’s ridiculous.” And it would not surprise me in the least to see that happen. Meanwhile, we continue to wish him a fast, complete healing.

Go Yankees!

Two weeks

Two weeks from today is the official start of the 2013 baseball season, the final year for at least Mariano Rivera and the last contract year for some of the Yankee greats. A salute to America and the forthcoming season, the National Anthem, the welcome to the Bronx to all Yankee fans and a polite nod to the brave Red Sox fans who came out for the rivalry match-up, the hum of the crowd in preparation, the cheers as the boys take the field, the Bleacher Creatures in Section 203 prepping for their first roll call of the season, all leading up to that first pitch to start the game. Three hours later, as fans pour into the nearby B, D, or 4 trains, we will either be celebrating victory or commiserating being “cheated” out of a game by those “other guys”. I’m pulling for the former, of course.

In two weeks, we’ll see who made the 40-man roster, where our favorite Spring Training invitees land on the farm, who our 25-man team will be (especially in light of the absences of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson), and who gets the honor of that starting catcher position and that 5th rotation spot.

In two weeks, all the drama of Spring Training and the standing are wiped clean and the reset button is essentially pressed. All the season standing and postseason predictions really pick up but are really thrown out the window. It’s always anyone’s game and anyone’s guess. “It’s a long season,” as they say. Anything is possible.

And yet, so much can happen in those two weeks. We still have 5 home games, 4 away games, and 2 exhibition games before April 1st. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera still need a few more starts under their belts before being declared “fit for active duty”. Derek Jeter is still looking at a few more back-to-back games and longer time in the games before he is ready for the day-to-day. And the prospects are still trying to prove themselves worthy of Major League play time and a Major League paycheck, especially to cover for the stars on the Disabled List.

So who’s to say what this year holds? What’s the old saying — “prepare for the worst, but hope for the best”. Sounds like a plan to me. So let’s shoot for that 6th ring for Rivera, Pettitte, and Jeter and the 28th flag bearing “2013” over the stadium this year and deal with the rest as we come to it.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 10: NYY vs. BOS — The Rivalry Continues…

Today’s starting pitcher Adam Warren had an excellent outing to limit Boston to a single solo shot in the 2nd inning. The Yankee prospects capitalized on a very messy 6th inning (for Boston), scoring 3 runs off a single, a double, 2 walks, a forced out, and 2 fielding errors. Final score was 5-2 New York. Another solid win, and another year’s start to the old rivalry.

So it got me thinking about rivalries again. We’re now at 94 years since the official start of the rivalry between Boston and New York. Before the infamous Babe Ruth trade in 1919, the Red Sox were World Series champions five times (from 1903, the founding of the Yankees, to 1918) and the Yankees had never been close. In other words (for the Yankees fans), the Sox were the Yankees in the early years of the 20th century. And then the Yankees won their first (of 40 so far) AL pennant in 1921 and their first (of 27) World Series in 1923. The Yankees went from being the team to easily beat to the hardest team to beat in just a few short years.

It took the Sox 86 years to win their next Series (1918 to 2004), and for a while in the 1990’s and 2000’s, the rivalry was well and alive for the Yankees-Red Sox fans to jeer and cheer at the games. You see, rivalries only work well if both teams stand a chance of winning that particular game. It’s easy to just “hate” a team because they’re good, and as long-term Yankee fans, we already know what that looks like. And for that, the venom and nastiness that happens by the opposing fan base is anything less than sportsman-like or good competitive action (the 2012 All-Star game comes to mind).

No, for a rivalry to have legs and stamina and validity, you need two teams that can compete against each other on a level playing field. I know I’ve said it before, but I truly love the games that are the “white-knuckle” games — the ones that keep you on the edge of your seat, anxiously awaiting the next hit or home run or budding MVP. We love the walk-off home runs, the final tough strike-out, the hard to catch fly ball at the fence, the last-minute twist to win (or possibly lose) it all. Those stories make up the legends, the tape we play back to laud with praise and approval. It’s not the double-digit shut-out games that we remember; those are often wince-inducing, even for the victors because it’s a hollow victory.

Baseball is meant to be a competitive game, and competition only exists if you have something to challenge you, to motivate you to do your best and excel to heights you never thought possible before. True rivalries are exciting, build a great fan base, and are meant to stay on the playing field. As a Yankees fan, I am thus obligated to dislike the Red Sox, but I love the historic city and I love my family who live there. Except during a game. And only during a game.

On a final note: After yesterday’s game, an errant driver claimed the life of the Land Rover driven by Ichiro Suzuki in a 3-car accident just south of Steinbrenner Field. Air bags worked, no injuries, one at-fault driver (not Ichiro), and a near-totaled SUV to end a Saturday afternoon. Ichiro will see a doctor as a precaution, but he is reporting no soreness or stiffness. We’re certainly glad he’s okay. I think it’s time to stay out of the crazy traffic that is Tampa, specifically that intersection is known for, let’s call it more “aggressive drivers”. Stay safe, Ichiro! We need you!

Go Yankees!

Positivity is hard to find

As I predicted yesterday, the Yankees referred to Babe Ruth today (via his retired plaque and number at Tampa’s Monument Park). With the winter storm hitting the Northeast this weekend, I’m sure many of the teams are glad to be in warmer, sunnier climates for this February.

I was reading up on baseball news yesterday and this morning, and so much of it isn’t worth talking about as much as it gets talked about. I started this blog with the full intent remaining positive and sharing with whomever may stumble across it why it’s the greatest sport in the world and why the Yankees are the great team of all time. But so much of the news, especially concerning the 2013 Yankees is so negative — their aging lineup and bullpen, possible PED usage once again, nasty contract and trade rumors, bad managing (or is it the front office?)… the list just goes on.

I skimmed through four baseball magazines in the store last night. These weren’t your ordinary general sports pages, but the ones specifically created just to cover baseball. According to their predictions, the 2013 Yankees will wind up either 1st in the AL East (but lose to Detroit in the playoffs), 2nd in the AL East and miss the Wild Card slot, or last in the AL East. And every one of the magazines had some snarky article about the “aging” of the Yankees and even some not nice things to say about the guys on the prospect list. I had to walk away from the newsstand and quickly; it was making me angry.

Look, I get fairness in journalism (it was my first major in college). But this was coming off as just more anti-Yankee hatred once again. Perhaps, Bostonians and other lesser rivals would be proud of these “journalists”. I guess I’m just tired of the bias against one team becoming a hatred of the team, its players, its coaches, its fans, and its city. Even the players don’t really get into this rivalry because they realize at the end of the day, it’s still a business, and they as commodities can be traded to a “rival” team if the price is right.

Baseball’s most famous rivals

Babe Ruth’s trade may have started the Boston-New York rivalry, but long-term fans of both teams remember Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, Rickey Henderson, Bob Melvin, Bill Wight, and (current Yankee pitcher) David Aardsma are just a handful of players who have played for both teams at some point in their careers.

I think of the movie Fever Pitch often when I think of this rivalry. There is a scene towards the end of the movie when Jimmy Fallon’s character has chosen the Red Sox over his girlfriend (played by Drew Barrymore), the Red Sox have lost horribly once again, and Jimmy and his friends are commiserating at a nearby bar over the Sox loss. They look over and see three Sox players having dinner and just hanging out like friends. At first, Jimmy’s friends are offended that the ball players aren’t as miserable as the fans are about their loss, but that’s when it hits Jimmy. The players know it’s just one game out of 162. They still have to get up the next morning and play another game against another team, and life moves on because it has to. Rivalry for the fans or not, they have a job to do, whether they play the Yankees or the Royals or the Astros.

I suppose I will offend some Yankee fans for my Fever Pitch reference, but what I like about the movie is what I like about baseball. It’s about baseball, it’s about love, and it’s about loyalty. And the fact they actually won the Series that year, breaking the “Curse” (something the filmmakers had no clue would happen while they were filming) was a fun piece of trivia to which any baseball fan can relate. We all want good things to happen for our team, even if it happens out of the blue.

So let’s remember today the things we like about baseball. It isn’t (or rather shouldn’t be) the hate of another team — they could end up on your team next year! It isn’t the money or the fame. It’s the spirit of the game that supersedes all that superficial nonsense. It’s looking out at the field and instead of seeing 9 men, seeing the 9 little boys that once played tee-ball and couldn’t find a baseball on the field for anything. It’s looking at 9 boys who slept with their gloves under their pillows and prayed every night that God would let them play the big leagues just once. And it’s the fans who love introducing the sport they played to their sons who might just one day grow up to don pinstripes and pitch that perfect game or hit that walk-off home run.

Go Yankees!