Game 9: BAL vs. NYY — Triple play alert

That’s right, in tonight’s game, there was the rare baseball feat of the triple play. And it was awesome. It may sound like a telephone number (4-6-5-6-5-3-4), but here’s what happened. CC Sabathia allows 2 back-to-back singles at the top of the 8th inning. The Orioles batter Machado hits a low grounder to Robinson Cano (4), who flips it to Jayson Nix (6) for the 1st out; Nix tossed it to Kevin Youkilis (5) to catch the advancing runner but turned it into a rundown, so Youkilis tossed it back to Nix (6) to catch him going back to 2nd, then Nix tosses it back to Youkilis (5) who tags the runner for the 2nd out; Machado sees an opportunity to make it to 2nd base but instead gets caught in his own rundown as Youkilis throws across the diamond to Lyle Overbay (3), Overbay on one side of the rundown tosses it to Cano (4) who is able to tag out Machado as he slides into 2nd base for the 3rd out. Here is the play to watch it yourself. (And if you aren’t familiar with the scorekeeping numbers I just mentioned, you can read my blog post about scorekeeping to catch up.)

It is also worth noting that the last time the Yankees successfully had a triple play at home was June 3, 1968 against Minnesota, but today’s 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple play was the 1st in recorded Major League history (since 1876). I know the sports shows will have this one to play on clip shows for ages to come, and now it will be permanently a part of Yankee lore.

Oh, and the Yankees won tonight over the Orioles. The first 2 runs scored on RBI singles by Youkilis and Cano (the 3rd and 5th innings, respectively). Then in the 7th inning, the bases are loaded when Vernon Wells hits a long hit out to center field, but Baltimore’s Adam Jones had a hard time catching the ball in the cold night and couldn’t hang onto it, earning a fielding error. Oh, and that allowed all three base runners to score making the tied score up to what would become its final 5-2.

Injury report: Eduardo Nunez was hit by another nasty pitch today. This time, the ball landed directly on his right wrist. He seemed to want to stay in the game, but upon testing it for fielding, realized he needed to come out. X-rays are negative, but it looks like he may miss a few games with a bruised wrist. Nunez needs to get this target off his back so we can have him actually play baseball. But still, get well soon!

Yankees starter CC Sabathia went 8 innings tonight, allowing 2 runs off 8 hits, striking out 9 batters, and getting charged with a controversial balk. (After reviewing the call, I don’t think I agree with the umpire’s decision on this, but what’s done is done at this point.) But still a solid 8 innings, which allowed our own #42 Mariano Rivera to come into the 9th inning to save the game in 15 pitches.

Still shot from the movie 42

And speaking of #42, I have a confession: I have now seen the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 twice in the last 24 hours. And it is so worth it. It has passed most baseball-related movies in my book by leaps and bounds; it’s better than The Natural, *61, Field of Dreams, and A League of their Own (my #5, 4, 3, & 2 respectively now on my favorite baseball movies). I have started making a personal list of the numbers associated with Yankee legends and players who would never have been in pinstripes had it not been for Robinson’s courage and Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey’s determination. And not just the African-American players, but the Asians, Hispanics, Native American, and bi-racial players we cheer on with gusto and laud with such fervency owe their very career opportunities to the likes of Robinson and Rickey and others who were not afraid to do something different because it was the right thing to do.

“You made me love baseball again,” Rickey says to Robinson at one point in the movie because integrating baseball was more than a political move or stance against some horrible racism. It was the right thing to do because Robinson was a ridiculously talent ballplayer. And today, we are privileged to have the opportunity to cheer on ball players of all heritages (and often languages) regardless of what they look like, but because they fit the 3 qualities of a great ball player — ability, teamwork, and character. Robinson fit the bill, and our own #42 (the last man to ever wear #42 professionally) Mariano Rivera fits that bill. And that makes me so proud to be a baseball fan and a New York fan.

Go Yankees!

Game 6: NYY vs. DET — A shut-out win with character

Boy, today was a much-needed win for the Yankees. In fact, they needed  it so much they got starting pitcher CC Sabathia to shut-out the Tigers in today’s 7-0 ballgame. Throwing 114 pitches and striking out 4 batters, Sabathia seemed back on track after his Game 1 loss, while Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander struggled to keep the lower-end of the Yankees roster at bay. Fun game note for Yankee fans: Sabathia completely silenced the bats of Detroit sluggers Fielder and Cabrera, who did so much damage in the previous two games to the pitching staff.

Speaking of which, it was a Francisco Cervelli RBI double in the 2nd inning to put the Yankees on the board early. That was followed up by a Jayson Nix 2-run home run. (That’s right, I said Nix; don’t worry, it surprised me too.) Verlander managed to keep runners from scoring through his next 4 innings, but the Yankees dented the board again in the final two innings to keep the ball rolling. In the 8th inning, a Hafner single and Wells ground-rule double set the stage for an Ichiro Suzuki sacrifice fly to score Hafner’s pinch runner Nunez (still on the mend). Wells, now at 3rd, scores easily on Cervelli’s single. In the 9th inning, with Nix and Gardner at 1st and 2nd on singles, Youkilis’ line drive to left field easily scores both runners on his single. In total, the Yankees notched 13 hits off the Tigers’ pitching staff.

I just can’t say this enough: when the Yankees actually pull together and play like themselves, they win ball games. They did this on Wednesday against Boston under Andy Pettitte, and they did this again today. And I absolutely loved that we can depend on the bottom half of the line-up (usually known as the weaker half) to bring in the runs and slug it out of the park from time to time.

I also want to point out that Francisco Cervelli is one of the stand-out players on the team this year, beginning in Spring Training and now carrying on into the regular season. Not only in his catching defense, but his offense is just really reaching new levels, not seen since he first came up. It’s rather rewarding to see a player who took the time and effort to improve what needed to be improved and then proceed to push himself further into a mature, well-rounded player. He is really turning into a good example, and not just for those looking to work their way up to the Bronx, but also for those on the team now struggling to find their groove again.

And perhaps, that’s the real lesson they all must learn at some point. Slumps and successes come and go; both are inevitable parts of life and baseball. But it’s what you do when you’re deep in a slump that builds the character you have to depend on when you’re riding the success wave. Character (via determination) is what keeps you going when you’re just playing horribly and making every effort to fix whatever’s wrong, and it is character (via humility and integrity) that keeps you grounded when everything’s going right and everyone loves you. And that’s what really makes a good ball player a great ball player — character. And boy, do we have that in spades in pinstripes!

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!

Developing the 25

First of all, a very Happy Easter to everyone! It’s only right (at least in my mind) that baseball season should start the day after a holiday celebrating new life and spring time.

Rosters have been submitted for Opening Day, which means that the 83 men who showed up back in February have now been whittled down to the select 25. Regular roster members that will begin the 15-day Disabled List are starting pitcher Phil Hughes (back), infielders Derek Jeter (ankle) and Mark Teixeira (arm), and outfielder Curtis Granderson (arm). All of these guys are estimated to see official play time end of April or May. Previously placed on the 60-day DL are pitchers Cesar Cabral and Michael Pineda and infielder Alex Rodriguez.

That being said, that leaves 25 spots to fill. So the starting rotation is CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, and David Phelps. Manning the bullpen this year then are pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Cody Eppley, Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, David Robertson, Adam Warren, and closer Mariano Rivera. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart are slotted in the catcher’s role. The bench is filled with infielders Robinson Cano, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Lyle Overbay, and Kevin Youkilis and outfielders Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, and Vernon Wells.

To make room for Overbay, the Yankees designated pitcher Clay Rapada for assignment. In other words, another one bites the dust.

And that got me thinking again. I was reading a book recently about the development of specialized players. Its unfortunate side effect is that it actually weakens a player. They specialize in one particular area, so they never end up working on and strengthening all these other areas of a player and actually develop into a weaker player. So when the team needs someone who can, for example, pitch more than a handful of pitches every few days to get some solid return on their investment, they can’t depend on someone so specialized that they don’t have the stamina and longevity to do that job.

Perhaps there’s an overall life lesson in that after all. If we focus too much on strengthening one area (like work), we can actually weaken another area (like family). Of course, we can’t do everything perfectly all the time at the same time. But there is a lot to be said for finding a balance and exerting excellence in every aspect as you come across it, not neglecting all else to focus in on one part.

And maybe in baseball (at least on the Yankees), we’re shifting from specialized players to a team of well-rounded ability and skill players. Similar to previous championship teams, the Yankees may have developed a 25-man (or 40, really) roster that can work as a team, without focusing on the individual needs and whims of the superstars or divas-in-training. Of course, where we land somewhere in August may have a completely different look or feel. But for now and today, before Sabathia throws the first pitch of the season tomorrow afternoon, there is such hope and dreams for another championship team and that 28th ring.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 31: HOU vs. NYY — Settling for a spring tie

CC Sabathia started tonight by giving up 3 runs off 4 hits (3 doubles) in the 1st inning. Finally finding his pitches, we began to see the ace pitcher find his stride, only allowing a solo home run in the 4th to bring the score 4-0 Astros. Chris Stewart showed some nice defense tonight, throwing 2 runners out at 2nd base, and was even able to get a nice RBI single to tie up the game in the 6th. And that’s where the game remained for another 4 innings, with a Spring Training Tie — 4-4 in 10 innings for the final score.

Two new faces debuted in pinstripes tonight. Former Angels (and Blue Jays, if you want to really go back) outfielder Vernon Wells made his start tonight in left field and saw some defensive action there and notched a sacrifice RBI offensively. He definitely gives the Yankees some options in the outfield, and honestly, with his reputation with the fans out there, I’m kind of looking forward to some kind of truce or playful banter between Wells and the bleacher crowd. Recent Red Sox infielder Lyle Overbay jumped in halfway through the game to cover 1st base, doing a nice job tonight and coming in handy for shortened plays with relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain (who I think is now serving as the Yankees one-man welcoming committee). It looks like these two might really work out pretty well, especially for the beginning of the season.

I’m having a hard time not reading negative articles about the Yankees right now. Part of my job is to research and find out what’s going on with the team via Twitter, Facebook, ESPN, various sports networks and news outlets, and general team knowledge. And when I’m researching, it’s so easy to find things being written now about how people think the Yankees will be so horrible this year due to all the injuries or age or time or money or whatever they want to drum up today. And while I do appreciate opinions, and as a long-term Yankees fan I am accustomed to a lot of Yankee hatred, I think I’m just not in the right place personally to deal with the stress of these “analysts” and “columnists” who seem to want to discount a team that has made its name for being a something other than the normal baseball team.

Perhaps the team of the recent dynasty of Yankees (encompassing the 1996-2003 years, with 4 championships) is over, but that doesn’t mean we have to shut down all hope or start thinking of the Yankees in terms of the 1980’s again. On the contrary, I think we have every reason to hold out for another unexpected season. Because in my 18 years of following the Yankees, one of the things I have come to love about them is that we can always expect the unexpected. If they make the playoffs, it will be because they either blew away the competition (2009) or they just eked on in at the last second (2012). If they win the World Series, it will be because they either swept through the other guys (1998) or they took it all the way to Game 7 in the 9th inning for a one-run win (1962).

Expect the unexpected.

As recently as 2012 should remind us of that fact: Jeter has a bounce-back year, leading the league in hits (216), and then broke his ankle in extra innings of the ALCS; supposedly “older and washed-up” bench player-turned-regular outfielder Raul Ibanez homers 3 times in the post-season, becoming the “King of New York”; Rodriguez (suffering from hip issues) is benched and sharing a slump with other star players (like Cano and Granderson); mid-season surprise signing Ichiro Suzuki finds a home in NY and NY falls in love with him; and Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner both miss most of the season and come back stronger than ever for 2013.

Expect the unexpected. You just never know.

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 21: MIA vs. NYY — Turning potential into excellence

CC Sabathia started for the first time this Spring and the first time since his elbow surgery last fall in today’s 7-3 win against Miami. Sabathia went five innings, allowing 2 runs in the 1st inning before finding his stride. Another few starts and we’ll be seeing the strike-out king in full force ready for that April 1st start.

Francisco Cervelli cleared a nice solo home run in the 2nd to put the Yankees on the board, plus added some fantastic backstop defense today. Travis Hafner earned his pinstripes today with a beautiful 2-run homer in the 3rd inning, after struggling most of the Spring to find his swing. I cannot wait to see him aim for the 4 train in the Bronx.

However, for me, the game belongs to the prospects. It’s kind of amazing what playing on the field with the veterans can do to boost their confidence, ability, standards, and fancy footwork. Corban Joseph started at 2nd base today and saw some nice defensive opportunities fall right into his hands, which he handled with excellence and encouragement from Jeter (who started at Shortstop again today). Filling in for Jeter in the 6th, Addison Maruszak once again began his march toward the big leagues with his hustle and defense; Maruszak really goes for every opportunity and rarely disappoints. Jose Pirela, entering the game for injured Ronnier Mustelier, proceeded to triple twice and earned an RBI, scoring two of the runs himself; his defense at the corners is pretty good too.

Ronnier Mustelier was rushing for a popped up foul ball when he ran smack into the press pen and its metal barriers at full speed. Shaken a little, bruised on both legs, he trudged his way to the clubhouse, replace by Jose Pirela. Girardi said later he’ll be back by Tuesday. Thank God for nothing serious, but we wish him quick healing and rest to see him back on the field. This is another one with such potential.

Potential seems to be the word of the day, and the advantage of the veterans like Jeter playing on the field with them that potential became excellence. And that’s what should happen in the farm system. Any known player will tell you that’s where they learned their best stuff, where they went from a possibility to a reality. And that’s what I saw today, what I think Girardi and the coaches and scouts see in those higher numbered guys. Like I said yesterday, there’s a thin line between what makes a player ready for the Bronx and what keeps him in Scranton, and today, we saw the next generation of Yankees step up their game and prove why they might be ready for the Show in the very near future. If I had one on, my hat would be off to you guys!

Go Yankees!