Game 89: TOR vs. NYY — Strong shutout opens second half

The Yankees finished the first half strong, leading the AL and heading straight for the postseason. After a good showing at the All-Star Game, the Yankees needed to come out strong in the second half without any rust from the break. So, they started this second half and this home stand with a shutout against a division rival to keep things rolling for good.

Domingo German got the start and earned his 11th win of the season in this first game against the visiting Blue Jays. He threw just 78 pitches through 6 scoreless innings, giving up just 3 hits and striking out 7 Toronto batters. Kahnle continued his momentum with a scoreless 7th, and Green closed out the final 2 innings with more scoreless-ness.

The Yankee offense was slow to start against the Blue Jays’s pitching. It wasn’t until the 5th that they cracked on the board. Brett Gardner led-off with his 66th career triple and then scored on DJ LeMahieu’s ground out. Then, they loaded up the bases with Judge’s single, Hicks’ double, and Sanchez’s hit by pitch. Edwin Encarnacion’s double, just inches from a grand slam, smacked a big bases-clearing double to ensure the Yankees’ victory.

While the Yankees didn’t add any more to their score, they certainly didn’t need to with their strong pitching and defense.

Final score: 4-0 Yankees

Yankee Universe new: Yankees radio announcer John Sterling is back on the air after his much-needed break. He celebrated his 81st birthday just before the All-Star Break and stayed home for the final series against the Rays before the break. Sterling had a long, unbroken streak of calling 5,060 straight Yankees games for over 30 years. Now that the streak is broken, the 81-year-old legend and “Voice of the Yankees” will take more breaks from his job, perhaps even stepping back from the away games to stay closer to his New Jersey home. Still, it will always be a good thing to hear him call a game.

Go Yankees!

Game 88: NYY vs. TB — Sleepy Sunday to close out the first half

For all the drama from the first three games of this series, this afternoon’s finale was quite mundane in comparison. James Paxton got the start for the Yankees today, throwing 99 pitches through 6 innings. He gave up 7 hits and 2 runs and struck out an impressive 11 Rays’ batters.

In the 1st, a lead-off double scored on another double. A single moved that runner to 3rd before a fielder’s choice scored the Rays’ second run. After that, the Yankees held off the Rays for the rest of the game. Kahnle, Ottavino, and Green each took 2 outs to close out the final 2 innings of the game and keep the Rays’ from adding to their early lead.

Unfortunately, the only shot the Yankees’ offense got was a 2-out solo home run in the 2nd by Brett Gardner. Collectively, both pitching staffs got 27 strike outs today, and that seemed to make quite a bit of difference by the end of the game.

Final score: 2-1 Rays, the series is split 2-2

Next up: The All-Star Break is officially underway for those not traveling to Cleveland. On Friday, the Yankees will begin the second half of the season with a long home stand against the Blue Jays, Rays, and Rockies. They’ll hit the road again to face the Twins and Red Sox.

Today, in Cleveland, as part of the All-Star Game festivities, there are two exhibition games scheduled for fans — the Celebrity Softball Game and the Futures Game. The Futures game features some of the best prospects within the minor league system. The Yankees are represented by a single player, pitcher Deivi Garcia of AA Trenton Thunder. The players used to be divided into American and World teams, but more reflective of the game on Tuesday, they now simply represent the American and National Leagues.

On Monday, the players will meet the media, workout at Progressive Field, and then have fun watching the Home Run Derby. Then Tuesday is the main event — the 90th Annual All-Star Game. In addition to Sabathia’s honoring, the Yankees are represented by Chapman, LeMahieu, Sanchez, Tanaka, and Torres. So, there’s a lot for Yankee fans to see this next week.

Go Yankees!

Game 87: NYY vs. TB — #CCStrong, despite offense falling short

The Rays are certainly doing their best to try to claw their way up from 2nd place in the AL East, giving the 1st place Yankees quite a challenge this weekend. In this 3rd game of the 4-game series, things were looking rather similar to the first 2 games before the Yankees were edged out by the home team.

Actually, the Rays seemed to answer back for every Yankee offensive game. After the Yankees scored at the top of the 2nd, 7th, and 9th, the Rays scored in the bottom of each of those innings to shift things in their favor. It was quite the roller coaster for the fans in the packed stadium in St. Petersburg this afternoon.

CC Sabathia was rather good today, throwing just 89 pitches in his 7 innings. He gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs and struck out 5 Rays’ batters. In the 2nd, Brett Gardner hit a nice 2-out solo home run to get the Yankees on board first. So, the Rays took advantage in the bottom of the 2nd. A 1-out walk moved to 3rd on a single and then scored on a 2-out single to tie up the game.

The teams held each other to that tie for most of the game. Urshela led-off the 7th with a single, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, advanced to 3rd on a double play, and then later scored on Aaron Hicks’ single. With 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th, the Rays got a single that scored on a solid 2-run home run to flip the score into their favor.

Adam Ottavino breezed through a scoreless 8th inning, and Aaron Hicks smacked a 2-out solo home run in the 9th to tie up the game again. So, Chad Green got the chance to send the game into extra innings again, but with 2 outs, the next batter hit a big walk-off solo homer to give the Rays their first win of the weekend.

Final score: 4-3 Rays

Roster moves/Scranton Shuttle: The Yankees selected the contract of reliever Daniel Camarena to add a fresh arm to the roster this weekend. They optioned infielder Mike Ford to AAA Scranton to make room.

Masahiro Tanaka is now part of the All-Star roster. A pitcher from the Blue Jays went on the IL with a shoulder issue, so Tanaka got the call to replace him today. Tanaka was previously chosen in his rookie season (2014), but a UCL sprain kept him from the field. He is now the 5th player that will represent the Yankees on Tuesday in Cleveland, in addition to CC Sabathia who will be present to receive special recognition.

Go Yankees!

Game 86: NYY vs. TB — A little Judge, a big Gardner

The Yankees continue the drama before the All-Star Break in this second game of the 4-game weekend series. Of course, to the nearly packed Tropicana Field, it was just more of the same that fans always encounter when the Yankees come back to the Tampa area to face the Rays. Amusingly dubbed “Yankee Stadium South”, it’s one of the few times a year that the stadium is usually at capacity, and the stands are packed with Yankee fans overwhelming those in Rays’ gear.

Masahiro Tanaka threw 101 pitches to start tonight’s game, throwing into the 7th inning. He gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 4 runs, and struck out 5 Rays’ batters. He held off the home team for the first part of the game, giving up lead-off solo home runs in the 4th and 5th innings to get the Rays on the board.

Then in the 7th, with 1 out, he gave up a double that moved to 3rd on a wild pitch walk. That was the end of Tanaka’s night, handing the ball over to Nestor Cortes Jr, but he loaded up the bases by hitting his first batter. After another out, the next batter singled home two runners, but the next runner got caught trying to take 3rd when the Yankee defense snapped into action.

The Yankee offense actually started the game, with a 1-out solo home run by Aaron Judge in the 1st inning. After the Rays tied it up, the Yankees came back in the 5th to retake the lead. Torres singled, and one out later, Gardner and Romine’s singles loaded the bases. Mike Tauchman’s single scored both Torres and Gardner.

Again, the Rays came back, so the Yankees needed to close the gap. So it would be Aaron Hicks to lead off the 8th inning with a solo home run. Then Cortes had a much better outing in the 8th, with a perfect inning. And David Hale came out for the 9th to keep things going, so into extra innings the game went once again.

It wasn’t until the 11th that the tie was broken. Aaron Judge got things started with a 1st pitch lead-off solo home run. Two outs later, Torres singled, and Urshela doubled to move runners into scoring position. Brett Gardner then smacked a big 3-run home run to ensure the Yankees’ eventual win.

Of course, even that was not without some drama. After Hale kept the Rays scoreless through the 10th, he was back out for the 11th. With 1 out, he gave up consecutive singles. That was enough of a threat for the Yankees, and they called in Aroldis Chapman. After he got another out, he walked the next batter to load up the bases. But the next player lined out directly to 1st to give Chapman his 24th save.

Final score: 8-4 Yankees, in 11 innings

As part of next week’s All-Star Game festivities, MLB announced that they will be honoring CC Sabathia. Sabathia began his career in Cleveland, the host to this year’s Midsummer Classic, so it only makes sense to recognize how far the retiring star pitcher has come. Though not selected for the roster, Sabathia was planning on attending the game anyway, but this honor certainly makes his sort of homecoming a different level of celebration.

In a statement, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “We are delighted that CC and his family will join us in Cleveland, where his Major League career began. We look forward to celebrating his many accomplishments during our All-Star Game festivities.”

Go Yankees!

Game 82: NYY vs. BOS — London sweep to kick off second half

The Yankees technically split their season in half in London, ending their first 81 games with a win last night and starting their next 81 games with a win this afternoon. There’s rarely anything “normal” about rivalry games between the Yankees and Red Sox, but add in the weird stadium, 5 hours ahead in time zones, and 60,000 British fans, and there’s a whole new level of “not normal”.

London Stadium was originally built for the 2012 Summer Olympics to host the track and field competition before it was converted to be the home of the West Ham Football (Soccer) Club. The pitch (the field) was covered by imported turf from France, the padding to create the outfield space and boundaries of the diamond came from Canada, and the infield dirt was hauled in from Pennsylvania — a truly international experience.

For all the talk of the short outfield walls (just 385 feet to dead center field), the most complicated part for fielders were the way the sun came into the condensed oval, partially blocked by scaffolding to eliminate wind. This also, however, created very strange shadows and the glare of the sun off the dead white of the roofing. Both teams seemed to struggle both days with finding the ball when it was hit in the air. This certainly made the difference today when less of the balls were leaving the playing field and instead being popped up short.

The Yankees opted to go with an “opener” today, calling on reliever Stephen Tarpley to make his first MLB start. Between nerves and the unfamiliar setting, Tarpley struggled his way through that 1st inning. With 1 out, he gave up a single that scored on a 2-run home run. The next batter smacked a big solo home run, and one out later, the Red Sox got yet another solo home run to give them a nice early lead.

After a scoreless 1st for the Yankees (which seemed odd compared to the show yesterday) and the Red Sox coming in strong, the Yankees found their first opportunity to strike in the 2nd. They loaded up the bases with Encarnacion’s lead-off walk, Gregorius’ single, and Torres’ walk. Gio Urshela hit into a force out at 2nd that scored Encarnacion, and Brett Gardner’s single scored Gregorius to get the Yankees on the board, with half the Sox’s score.

Meanwhile, the game suddenly became fairly “normal”. The Red Sox’s starter was fairly dominant, throwing strong into the 6th inning and limiting the Yankees to their 2nd inning score. The Yankee relievers found a good momentum too. Cessa threw 4 strong scoreless innings before handing the ball to Adam Ottavino for a quick 11-pitch 6th, and Kahnle followed that will an 11-pitch 7th.

The Yankees finally found their next chance to advance in the 7th. LeMahieu led-off with a double, and after Judge’s walk, LeMahieu scored on Aaron Hicks’ double. Gary Sanchez’s long single scored both Judge and Hicks to put the Yankees in the lead. With no outs, the Sox went to their bullpen. The new reliever promptly walked Encarnacion and gave up a 1-out single to Torres to load up the bases. And Gio Urshela singled home both Sanchez and Encarnacion.

But that’s not all. With another new reliever on the mound, Brett Gardner worked a walk to load the bases, and DJ LeMahieu smacked a ground-rule double into the right field seats to score Torres and Urshela. Judge was intentionally walked to load the bases yet again. Aaron Hicks’ sacrifice fly scored Gardner, and a fielding error on Gary Sanchez’s at-bat scored LeMahieu. The Yankees sent up 14 batters that frame alone and scored a season-high 9 runs.

Finally, Didi Gregorius led-off the 8th with a solo home run. This kept the Yankees’ streak alive with 31 consecutive games with a home run. Now, with an 8-run lead, the Yankees needed to just keep the status quo and sail to the end of the game. But no way were the Red Sox going to go quietly into the night.

Yankees’ reliever Chance Adams came in for the 8th, but he really had some trouble keeping those Red Sox’s bats quiet. With 1 out, he gave up consecutive singles. After another out, a wild pitch moved runners into scoring position which they did on another single. After yet another single, a double into the corner scored the lead runner. That would be it for Adams.

Zack Britton came in to try to stop the Sox’s advance, but he gave up a single that scored one more run. Still looking for that final out of the inning, he ended up walking the next batter and loading up the bases. The tying run coming to the plate, Britton dug deep and got a grounder to end the inning and get out of the jam, owing much of his success, like many of today’s pitchers, to the stellar defense today. (See the snazzy Gregorius-led defense here and here.) Despite a lead-off single, Chapman got 3 great strikeouts to close out the 9th and the game.

Final score: 12-8 Yankees, Yankees sweep series 2-0

London Trivia: Today’s game was much shorter than the marathon of last night’s nutsy show, and yet there was still 9 hours and 6 minutes of total game time. Together, both teams scored 50 runs, 9 of them home runs, and collected 65 total hits. And they will be thankful for tomorrow’s off-day as they collectively went through 30 pitchers in just 2 games.

Next up: The Yankees will need that off-day tomorrow after traveling home from the UK. On Tuesday, they begin a quick 2-game series in Queens at the Mets. Then, they’ll be back in the Tampa area to face the Rays for a 4-game weekend series before the All-Star Break. Following the break, the Yankees will begin their official second half of the 2019 season with a long homestand.

Roster moves: The Yankees played a little with the loophole in the roster for this travel series, optioning Nestor Cortes Jr and recalling Chance Adams, who came to London as part of the “taxi squad” just in case he was needed. And clearly, he was, though I doubt he’ll look back fondly at his outing. Even with the off-day tomorrow, with the depletion of the bullpen, I imagine there will be further moves once the Yankees are back stateside.

Injury update: The Yankees also sent reliever Ben Heller to AAA Scranton to begin his rehab assignment. Heller had surgery on his right elbow earlier this year. And Luke Voit was missing from today’s game roster though he was present and ready off the bench if needed. He said he felt much better after feeling some core tightness during yesterday’s game.

All-Star Roster Update: As you know, the Yankees have two starters on the All-Star Game roster this year. Gary Sanchez will be the starting catcher, and DJ LeMahieu will be the starting 2nd baseman for the AL team. Joining them in Cleveland this year is Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. This will be Chapman’s 6th All-Star Game, LeMahieu’s 3rd, and Sanchez’s 2nd.

Chapman himself noted, “To me, I thought we were going to have six or seven All-Stars from this team. It’s a little surprising.” Yes, it is. I think a lot of us in Yankee Universe were expecting that maybe those who fell short in the final vote last week might get a second chance as part of the reserves, like Voit, Urshela, Torres, and Judge.

While all 3 All-Stars this year will represent the Yankees well, it is hard not to wish the team currently sitting atop the AL in the standings isn’t better represented in this year’s Midsummer Classic. I guess, they will just have to show everyone what they missed in July by an outstanding performance in October. Besides, that’s the stat that really matters in the end.

Go Yankees!

Game 81: NYY vs. BOS — A dramatic British spin on America’s ultimate rivalry

I love London. It’s a vibrant, ecclectic city, with a perfect mix of the super historic and cutting edge all jumbled together to house its international population. Similar in many ways to New York, this European capital is certainly a perfect place to kick off the MLB’s push for a more international presence. Regular season games have been played in Asia and Latin America, host countries/regions that provide quite a few current MLB stars. An expansion of the game in a city that’s hosted games for other American professional sports seems like a natural progression for America’s pastime.

New York and Boston were rather logical choices to be the teams to play in the inaugural series in England. First, their rivalry is unmatched in sports, even in a country that boasts some of the wildest rivalries and extreme fanaticism for sports. Second, you really can’t avoid the Revolutionary War-era smack-talk between the British Empire and its former Colonial strongholds. (At least those of us who are also big history nerds.)

A quick history review: Boston was the closest city to where it all began, hosting the battles of Lexington and Concord and the site of the Boston Massacre to really kick of the War. And New York was occupied by the British for much of the War, while Washington set-up one of his most famous spy rings within the city that involved Benedict Arnold’s traitorship and uncovering Cornwallis’ plans at Yorktown that actually won the War.

Now, of course, nearly two and a half centuries later, the US-UK relationship is one of close allies. So, when American baseball comes to Great Britain, 120,000 tickets sell out their stadium. Fans all over braved the heat wave that’s sweeping Europe right now to sit through a four hour and forty-two minute game at London Stadium, the home of one of those Premier League clubs and former Olympic Stadium from summer 2012.

And for fans who’d never witnessed a rivalry game between the two legendary teams, the teams certainly delivered. We can definitely blame the fact that the field was quite different, with shorter distances in the outfield to the fence and a really big foul space that had all the outfielders covering much more ground than usual.

Based on the schedule, the Red Sox were chosen as the home team, though both teams wore their home white uniforms. (Who doesn’t want to see the Yankees in their famous pinstripes?) That meant that the Yankees were up to bat first, and they quickly became the answer to many trivia questions that start with “who is the first player in the inaugural European baseball game to…”

DJ LeMahieu led-off the game with a single (the 1st hit), and Sanchez worked a 1-out walk. Then a trio of doubles got the runs rolling — Luke Voit’s scored LeMahieu (the 1st RBI/run scored), Didi Gregorious‘ scored both Sanchez and Voit, and Edwin Encarnacion’s scored Gregorius. Then Aaron Hicks smacked a big 2-run home run (the 1st homer) to push the Yankees into a big early lead and end the Red Sox’s starter’s night too early. The new pitcher was able to close it out without further damage, with LeMahieu striking out to end the inning (1st strikeout).

But there’s no rivalry without some major drama, and the Red Sox certainly gave their best performance to match. Masahiro Tanaka got the start and seemed to mirror the struggles the Sox’s starter had, also unable to make it out of the 1st inning. He gave up a single that scored on a double and then a pair of walks to load up the bases. After an infield fly pop-up, he got a sacrifice fly that scored the lead runner. But a RBI single was followed by a big 3-run home run up the middle to suddenly tie up the game.

Tanaka trudged back to the dugout as Chad Green came out for relief. Green was assumed to start tomorrow’s game as the “opener”, but with his two-inning outing tonight, the Yankees are making other plans. Green got out of the first and kept the Red Sox scoreless into 3rd. Hale continued this momentum into the 4th before handing the ball to Nestor Cortes Jr for long-term relief in the middle innings.

In the mean time, the Yankees came back to find their opportunities to reclaim their early lead. With 2 outs in the 3rd, Torres singled and then scored as part of Brett Gardner’s 2-run home run into the right field seats. Then in the 4th, Voit led-off with a double, and Gregorius walked. Two outs later, Torres’ single loaded up the bases, and Gardner’s walk scored Voit. DJ LeMahieu then hit a bases-clearing double before scoring as part of Aaron Judge’s big 2-run home run.

Voit led-off the 5th with a double, but injured himself in the race to 2nd and was pinch-run by Urshela. Urshela took 3rd on a wild pitch and scored on Didi Gregorius’ single. After a strikeout out and pitching change, Hicks singled, and both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Torres’ walk loaded the bases, and LeMahieu (who else?) singled home Gregorius and Hicks to cap off the Yankees’ massive scoring today.

Back at the mound, Cortes was doing just fine for most of his outing, despite giving up a 1st pitch lead-off solo homer in the 6th. With 2 outs in the 7th, he gave up consecutive singles that scored on a 3-run home run. After giving up another single (rather than getting that 3rd out), the Yankees called in Tommy Kahnle, but he too had some trouble, unable to get an out. He gave up a walk, a wild pitch to move runners to scoring position, an RBI single, and a walk on a wild pitch that scored one more run.

It was Adam Ottavino’s turn. After an RBI double, he got the necessary out to close out that messy inning, but some allowed baserunners in the 8th had the Yankees calling for Britton. He loaded up the bases and still got out of the jam before Chapman needed just 8 pitches and a snazzy double play to close out the 9th inning and the game.

Cue the fireworks. Cue Frank Sinatra.

Final score: 17-13 Yankees

Injury update: Luke Voit did injure himself on that 5th inning double. He came out of the game after seeming to limp from 1st to 2nd and then back to the dugout. But the Yankees later revealed a tightness in his core muscles just below his navel. One of the broadcasters surmised it might be a cramp due to dehydration and the heat, and now I find myself hoping for this, which should heal overnight with hydration and rest. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

For the last two days, the American teams have enjoyed connecting with their English fans. On Thursday, the Yankees ran baseball clinics in a local park and gave away tons of free equipment to local clubs. On Friday, the teams worked out at the stadium, getting used to its weird dimensions and artificial turf, before many of them explored the city for sightseeing. In addition, a group of players met with athletes from the Invictus Games to host an adaptive baseball clinic. There was also a special welcome dinner for the teams at the historic Tower of London.

Before tonight’s game, both teams got a special visit from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (also known as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle). The Yankees presented the Duchess (who is also an American) with a special team jersey emblazoned with “Archie” and “19” on it for their infant son born earlier this year. The Sussexes (as they are called) are patrons for the Invictus Games, an organization that allows wounded servicemen and women to compete athletically, and the Games were appointed the Official Charity Sponsor of this special series in London. The royal couple escorted some of those special athletes and their families to the mound before the game to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

On a final “note” (pun intended), the Kingdom Choir sang beautiful renditions of both national anthems before unfurled flags held by each country’s service men. If you are a royal watcher or anglophile, you might remember this outstanding choir from the Sussexes’ wedding last year. They’re truly amazing.

Go Yankees!

Game 78: TOR vs. NYY — Middle innings’ splash

The Yankees hosted the Blue Jays tonight to start their final home series before London and the All-Star Break. And again, the Yankees were still on an offensive roll. The kind of streak the Yankees really need to boost their standings leading to the next two weeks.

CC Sabathia got the start tonight, throwing 104 pitches in 6 innings, giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, and struck out an impressive 9 Toronto batters to set himself up for the eventual win. Most of the Blue Jays’ offense came in that 1st inning. A lead-off walk scored on a double, and 2 outs later, a single scored on another double to give the visitors an early lead.

The Yankees weren’t able to crack into the Jays’ starter until the 5th inning. With 1 out, LeMahieu and Voit singled, and then Aaron Hicks smacked a 3-run home run to both put the Yankees in the lead and to continue the record-making season (see below). But it was the 6th inning that made all the difference in the game.

Gregorius led-off with a single, moved to 3rd on Torres’ double, and then scored on Gio Urshela’s single. Brett Gardner hit into a fielder’s choice that scored Torres. LeMahieu then singled, and after a pitching change, Luke Voit’s double scored both Gardner and LeMahieu. Hicks then worked a walk. Then Giancarlo Stanton smacked a huge 3-run home run (445 feet to left center field) to push the home team into a dominating lead.

Now, Sabathia and the defense held them to that early lead for most of the game until the Yankees finally took a commanding lead in those middle innings. Kahnle came in and sailed his way through the 7th inning with just 8 pitches. But it would be the 8th inning that the visitors would mount their attempt at a comeback rally.

Jonathan Holder’s struggles continued tonight, coming out to face batters in the 8th. He gave up a lead-off solo home run and then loaded the bases with consecutive singles. This set up the next batter to hit a grand slam to edge the Jays way closer to the Yankees’ lead.

That was the end of Holder’s outing, and the Yankees called in Green to finish the inning. But after 2 outs, even Green had issues and gave up 2 singles. Ottavino to the rescue — 3 pitches for a perfect strikeout to get out of that messy inning for the home team. Aroldis Chapman came in for the 9th. After 1 out, the next batter doubled and ended up at 3rd on a fielding error to then score on a sacrifice fly.

Final score: 10-8 Yankees

Yes, that 5th inning 3-run home run by Aaron Hicks made it 27 consecutive games the Yankees have hit at least one home run. That officially ties the MLB record that the Rangers set in 2002. A home run in tomorrow’s game will anoint the Yankees as the new record holders, and if any team can do it, it’s this one.

Roster moves: After the game, the Yankees made the decision to send Jonathan Holder back down to AAA Scranton to work out his issues. This has worked out well for many players in the past, even crediting such a demotion with saving their careers. I have no doubt Holder will be back soon in the kind of form we’re used to seeing him, leaving the bad mojo (or whatever it is) in Scranton. The corresponding roster move is to be determined.

Go Yankees!