Game 17: NYY vs. TB — Bullpen implosion

Oh, I had such high hopes at the halfway point for this game…

I mentioned yesterday that certain games are harder to write about, including those where the Yankees get pummeled or when they just hand the game to the opposing team. Tonight’s game ended up being both. It started so well, but then just crumbled into a disaster. In almost 4 hours, the Rays came back to just pound the Yankees into oblivion, taking advantage of the seemingly endless mess out of the bullpen. It seemed as if they played two very different games, one up through the 6th inning and one for the last 2 1/2 innings. It was a very different ballgame during those last couple of innings; it was also a very long ballgame during those last couple of innings.

But let’s start with what was good. Hiroki Kuroda took the start tonight and would have had a very decent win had there been a little support in the last third of the game. In his 5.2 innings, he threw 99 pitches, giving up 7 hits, 3 runs, and 2 walks. He was backed by some great defense, reminiscent of last night’s team. (Like this nice leaping grab by Ellsbury.) Really, through the first 3 innings, Kuroda was flawless. His trouble began in the 4th, with 2 outs, he gave up a walk and a single before a double scored both runners. And then in the 6th, with 2 outs and two men on base with singles, a single easily scored that 3rd run.

And the Yankees gave him a nice cushion. In the 2nd inning, McCann, Solarte, and Johnson loaded the bases with 2 singles and a fielder’s choice, and all 3 scored on Scott Sizemore’s deep double. Then, Ichiro Suzuki bunts, initially called out at 1st, but a challenge and replay overturned it and called him safe (by a mile and a half, by the way), which moved Sizemore over to 3rd. Brett Gardner’s force out scored Sizemore, giving the Yankees a healthy 4-0 lead in just the 2nd inning. Things were looking up.

And after the Yankees got out of the 6th inning, it was 4-3 Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury singled, stole 2nd, and scored on Soriano’s single to give them a 5-3 lead. And then the bottom fell out.

David Phelps came on in relief to get the last out of the 6th inning, which he did quickly, but a line drive to his thigh forced him off the field with 1 out in the 7th (it will probably just end up a nasty bruise). Matt Thornton took his place and things got hinky. A fielder’s choice and single put runners at the corners with 2 outs.

So they turned to Adam Warren. But a single quickly scored a run and a walk ended up loading the bases. Two more runs scored on another single, which pushed the Rays over the Yankees 6-5 before Warren finally got that 3rd out. So Warren came back for the 8th inning and got 2 quick outs. And then there was trouble again. A double followed up by a big 2-run home run put the Rays at 8-5.

And the Yankees turned to Cesar Cabral, who promptly gave up a single. A wild pitch allowed the runner to steal 2nd, and then he was able to score easily on the next batter’s single. Cabral loaded up the bases by then hitting the next two batters. Yet another single scored 2 more runs for the Rays, 11-5. When Cabral proceeded to hit the next batter, the home plate umpire ejected him, which I understand is standard, but I don’t really agree with because it wasn’t like he was intending to really get the batters. He just didn’t have any control.

Shawn Kelley got that elusive 3rd out for the Yankees. But the damage was too deep, too late.

Right after the game, Cabral was designated for assignment. I think even he saw that coming, with his lackluster outings and his really uncontrolled pitching tonight. They called up pitcher Matt Daley to take his place on the roster.

Like I said, it was like watching two completely different games. The last third of the game was just what I titled the today’s post — an implosion of the bullpen. They just seemed to crumble under pressure. They could grab those first couple of outs quickly, but then their strength would just dissolve.

And the only positive I can think of is that at least Kuroda didn’t get the loss because he pitched pretty well again and certainly didn’t deserve that on his stats.

They say it’s the second day after a late flight that gets to you. Apparently, it only got to the Yankee bullpen. Better luck tomorrow, I guess. There’s not much else to say, unfortunately…

Go Yankees!

Game 8: BAL vs. NYY — Evening things up with bad pitching

Let’s face it, some games aren’t fun to talk about or recall or even mention again after the fact. This may be one of them. (I apologize in advance for the long post, but it was a long game.)

Bottom line right off the start here: pitching was kind of terrible on both sides, compounded by some weaker defense. And I’m not just talking about the Yankees today. This was one of those games that felt like Little League. Well, at least in Little League you have a 10-run rule, where the game can be called after 4 innings played if the winning team is ahead of the other by 10 runs. It’s also known as the “mercy rule” or sometimes the “slaughter rule”. Of course, Major League Baseball doesn’t have such a “knockout rule” (or “skunk rule”), so when your team is down, you have to continue to watch the drama unfold.

Or you don’t. Of the 35,000 people who showed up for today’s game against the Orioles (about 13,000 less than yesterday’s crowd, probably due to it being a Tuesday afternoon game), only about 1/10 actually stayed through the full 9 innings. Perhaps, we were all hoping for a miracle or Yogi’s old saying to come true, at least in our favor. But even as the overcast skies gave way to a warm, sunny Spring day, the Yankees were too knee-deep in the mud for an early-season miracle.

Shy of the pageantry and frenetic crowds of yesterday’s Opening Day, today felt like any other game. And perhaps, it was better that way. Of the 162 games they play each season, only a handful will be those truly memorable ones that will have history-making proportions and be talked about in the way of “The Flip”, “The Dive”, or “Mr. November”. Of course, the thrill of it all is that you never know when Jeter (or anyone else for that matter) will dive into the stands or instinctively sprint across the infield to make some ridiculous, clip-worthy play.

But today was just one of those days, a game you won’t really remember, a game that will blend in with the rest of the mundane and be absorbed into the long-term memory filed alongside a thousand other games you’ve seen and forgotten where some guy did something and someone won and someone lost and there’s another game tomorrow. Yep, been to a ton of those games and will be going to a ton more in my lifetime.

Now, not everything was “normal” or “mundane”. Like Francisco Cervelli started at 1st base today (and got his first Roll Call from the Bleacher Creatures in his entire career), and I have to say that he did a really great job. He defended 1st as if it were home plate. A little more practice and workouts there, and he could effectively transition into a pretty decent back-up 1st baseman. And honestly, versatility is a highly coveted tool in a player’s arsenal anymore. Teams seem to want guys that are flexible and can fit in anywhere. Adding a position to your resume only makes you a more desired player. (So if you have kids who want to be a Yankee one day, teach them to be versatile in the field, switch hit, and be flexible; in addition to all those character-building lessons you’re already doing to see your kids in pinstripes some day.)

So it was Ivan Nova’s turn for the start, and like I’ve said before, it wasn’t a good day for pitchers. Nova was no exception. In just 3.2 innings, Nova’s 61 pitches somehow allowed 10 hits, 7 runs, and just 3 strikeouts, very unusual for him and not reflective of his Spring at all. But he started off with trouble leaving pitches too high in the strike zone (or too easy for the decent offense of the Orioles to take advantage of). In the 1st, the Orioles scored 3 runs on a sacrifice fly and a 2-run homer. The Yankees responded with Ellsbury scoring on Beltran’s double, making the score 3-1 Orioles by the end of the 1st inning.

The Orioles added another run in the 2nd with an RBI double, though Nova got a nice pick-off at 2nd base in there. The Orioles apparently wanted to insure their lead in the 4th, so they loaded the bases with singles (and only one out), so that a sacrifice fly scored one and a single scored another. The Yankees decided Nova had enough of a beating and pulled him for recent call-up Cesar Cabral, who promptly allowed an RBI single before making that final out of the 4th and stopping the bleeding that was now a 7-1 Orioles lead.

But the Yankees had a mini-rally in them that inning, starting off with struggling Alfonso Soriano smacking a solid solo home run into the left field seats. Cervelli and Roberts then each singled. Cervelli scored on (who else, anymore?) Yangervis Solarte’s double (his first of 2 today), and Roberts then scored on Gardner’s ground out. So the Yankees only trailed 7-4, and with that mini-rally early in the game, I think everyone held their breath for more offensive production to pop up again.

It did, but for the other guys.

After Cabral’s one-out outing in the 4th, the Yankees turned to (Spring starter candidate) Vidal Nuno for 3.1 innings. He didn’t do anywhere close to what they needed from a long-term relief guy in this situation. No, in his short stint, with an outrageous 67 pitches Nuno gave up 8 hits, 7 runs, 2 walks, and just 2 strikeouts. He didn’t have an ideal Spring this year, something that drastically differed from his 2013 Spring. In the 6th inning, 4 Oriole runs scored via a 2-run homer, a sacrifice fly, and an RBI single. The score was 11-4.

When he went out to pitch for the 8th inning, regular starters like Jeter, Roberts, and McCann were defensively replaced by Anna, Johnson, and Romine (respectively). Ichiro came in for Ellsbury later, in the 9th. I guess with a 7-run gap, they wanted to rest the everyday guys and not push them through what was already going to be a pretty bad loss for the Yankees. The Orioles took advantage of Nuno’s ill-placed pitches, adding to their lead with a 2-run homer and a double. So the Yankees turned to reliable Dellin Betances to try to shut it down. Unfortunately, he allowed an RBI single before effectively getting out of that inning, so the Orioles were up 14-4. (This is where the 10-run rule would’ve been nice.)

But then, had they called the game, we never would have seen Kelly Johnson’s own solid solo home run, his first as a Yankee (and well-earned pinstripes). But by the end of the 9th inning, the score was 14-5, and the handful of people still left, begrudgingly trudge out of the stadium to the wafting tunes of Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, a song that usually serves as a celebration after a win.

In this very long 3 hour and 28 minute game, with strong winds out to left field (which just happened to be where 3 of the 5 home runs hit landed today), 33 total hits (20 by Orioles, 13 by Yankees) just signaled to me that neither side pitched well. 33 hits sounds like something you might see in a Spring Training (and pretty much did in fact, in a non-Yankee game), but not in a regular season game. I mean, the Yankees pushed the Orioles starter to 102 pitches in just 5 innings. Pitchers on both sides seem to average out to about 20 pitches per innings. To put things into perspective, even giving up a hit or a walk, most good pitching outing average about 10-15 pitches per inning (which would total 90-135 pitches per game between the entire pitching staff for the game). The Yankees saw 180 pitches, the Orioles 157. This means that because of their 3 2-run homers, the Orioles were able to capitalize more on their offensive side, but their pitchers sure pitched a whole lot more than the Yankees did.

A crazy, messed up game that I think we’d all like to forget most of. Well, except for the good parts — Cervelli at first, Soriano and Johnson’s home runs, Solarte’s insane run for Rookie of the Year already, and Ellsbury practically walking to 3rd to steal a base. No, seriously, in the 5th inning, Ellsbury was on 2nd, the pitcher and everyone else on the Orioles seemed fixated on the batter, so Ellsbury starts his jog to 3rd before the pitch is thrown (a common thing), but the pitcher gets so flustered by his movement that he doesn’t even bother to throw to 3rd or home for the pitch and just watches Ellsbury take 3rd. A light-hearted moment in a very down-cast game. Hoping for a better game tomorrow night to tip the scales back in the Yankees’ favor again.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 32: NYY vs. PIT — On track for a strong 2014

If you’re following any other blogs or stories covering Spring, you may discover that my numbers don’t line up with some of the other numbers. I’ve been counting all the games the Yankees have played this Spring, like the exhibition game against Florida State last month and the two games down in Panama against the Marlins and the rained out one a couple of weeks ago and each split squad game as their own game. The funny thing is that none of the numbers exactly line up. Today, before the game, I was looking at the standings and the Yankees are 15-12, meaning they’ve played 27 games, but they also have 2 ties, so it’s 29 games. I’m at 32 by my count (which includes a no-decision rain-out), so I know some of those exhibition games aren’t in the stats.

But then again, because it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. MLB says the Yankees are (now) 16-12 and that’s the stats that will go on the team’s site and one each player’s information under the Spring Training heading. But as we all know, Spring Training is practice for the “big boys” and a month-long audition for the “replacements”. So it doesn’t matter how many games and who has what number. It just matters where everyone ends up on April 1. Like Cervelli: despite Romine being sent back to minor league camp to get ready for AAA, he’s not waiting around on his laurels assuming that back-up catching job is his, until he sees his name on a locker at the Astros’ visitors’ clubhouse on April 1.

In the mean time, there’s still 2 more games for the Yankees, after today’s overcast win over the Pirates in Bradenton. CC Sabathia got in 4 innings of work before his next start (April 1 against Houston), throwing 44 pitches and giving up just 3 hits and no runs. His Spring ERA is 1.29, which is really outstanding and should be a great sign for both him and the Yankees as they gear up for 2014. Dellin Betances came in to rock the 5th inning, giving up just a single hit. Betances is certainly proving himself worthy of one of the 4 coveted bullpen spots left. As is Vidal Nuno, by his display in the 6th, including 2 dynamic strikeouts by the lefty. Adam Warren’s 2 hits allowed in the 7th came up empty for the Pirates, and he eked by without a dent.

Before we go into the 8th, the Yankees made their dent in the first half of the game. In the 1st, Ichiro Suzuki hit a lead-off single, moved to 3rd on Eduardo Nunez’ single, and scored on Mark Teixeira’s ground out. Nunez would score on Zoilo Almonte’s single, pushing the early Yankee lead to 2-0. In the 4th, the Yankees came back to add to their total (and give them the cushion they would need to hang onto the win). With 2 outs, Adonis Garcia doubled and then scored on Ichiro’s single. Ichiro would then advance on a wild pitch and score on Nunez’s single. And the Yankees stayed at those 4 runs for the game.

Into the 8th inning, the pitchers so far doing a great job holding off the Pirates. But David Phelps seemed to struggle almost immediately, quickly loading the bases with a single, a double, and a walk. A really pretty double play still scored the Pirates’ first run, and a triple (yes, the Pirates were collectively a home run short of the cycle in this inning) scored the second. Cesar Cabral came on to get that last out for Phelps that inning, coming back in the 9th to close out the game for the save, giving Sabathia his third win of the pre-season. Final score: 4-2 Yankees.

If you’re wondering how the pitching display (consider it another audition for those last 4 bullpen spots) went, so far this Spring, Cabral hasn’t allowed a single run, Warren’s ERA is under 2.00, Betances’ is under 1.00 (like I said before), and both Phelps and Nuno are tied in the ERA at 3.38 (which really isn’t terrible for a relief pitcher over a long season). This decision, as Girardi and others have said, will definitely go down to the wire. It’s going to be a tight race, and whomever gets sent down will probably see some major league action at some point this season because something always happens (injury, drastic dive in production, trade, etc.).

And it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if we ended up with another Nova situation because a similar situation seems to happen every year. As a brief refresher, Nova struggled to find his pitching at the beginning of 2013 in the bullpen, got sent down to AAA to work on it, got recalled and came back as a starter, better than ever, something that certainly played into his solid campaign for that 4th starter this year. Cervelli had the same experience, sent down in 2012 after the Yankees acquired Stewart as back-up. He came back fired up about his role in 2013, even earning the spot for Opening Day, but an injury and suspension cut his 2013 season short; now his 2014 season is off to an amazing start, leading the team in so many offensive areas and providing solid, consistent defense behind the plate. It’s not really an “if” situation, but really a “who” and “when”.

One thing’s for certain, more often than not, they come back stronger and better than ever. And that’s the kind of players that make up a team that make up a championship-winning team. And that’s the kind of team I can get behind.

Go Yankees!

Game 148: NYY vs. BOS — Doubles & a slamming door

You know that kid in school that you really wanted to dislike but couldn’t because he was a super cool nice guy, and you understood why everyone liked him and wanted to be like him, but never really understood why everything just seemed so perfect in his life? Well, every team has at least one or two of those guys, even the Red Sox. And even though they are the Montagues to our Capulets, there’s still a couple of guys that just make rooting against them a little bit harder by being some really nice guys, despite the uniform they wear for their day-job.

So when the Red Sox jumped ahead in a very powerful way with a single swing, it was a huge bummer for the team, but I’m guessing it was a pretty good thing for this guy. Sometimes, when a bad guy does something awesome for his team, it makes it easy to dislike him and his team. But when it’s a good guy and he’s on the other team and his heroics cause your team’s loss, it’s really complicated. Look, I’m as pinstriped as the next Yankee fan, but I’m also a realist. You never know who’s going to end up in pinstripes next year that previously donned enemy colors. You don’t have to search too deep in Yankee history to remember the cross-overs — Youkilis, Damon, Clemens, Boggs, and (the one who started it all) Ruth. Hate the team for the rivalry, respect the players for their talent, and be loyal to your chosen team regardless.

(Microphone down, stepping off soapbox; there was a game today…)

Well, Brett Gardner will be out the rest of the season. An MRI in New York today showed a Grade I strain around his rib cage. He could be available for pinch-running, but getting back to batting is going to require some rest and rehab. Wishes for quick healing to him!

Starter Hiroki Kuroda got off to a really rough start, giving up 4 runs (a sacrifice groundout, an RBI single, and a 2-RBI double) over 30 pitches in just the 1st inning. It’s the inning I’m guessing everyone wants to take back. But once he got through that inning, he was able to rope in the rest of the game at his normal pace — 6 full innings (and one batter in the 7th), 101 pitches, 8 hits, 2 walks, and 2 strikeouts. If not for that little bump in the beginning, Kuroda would have been on pace to really keep the Red Sox from doing much damage through a good majority of the game.

The Yankees helped him out a bit, accumulating 4 runs over the course of 7 innings to help tie up the game. Before they got to scoring runs, it was Robinson Cano in the 1st inning that bunted a double. Yes, a very rare feat indeed. Here’s how: they put a very biased shift on his at-bat, moving all of their infielders to the right so that the 3rd baseman was at short and the shortstop was at 2nd and the 2nd baseman was in mid-right field, because when Cano grounds out, 95% of them are between 1st and 2nd base. So, his bunt skidded up the 3rd base line where there was no 3rd baseman, as he had to chase it down into left field. By the time, he made the throw, Cano was safely into 2nd base. I’m guessing an adjustment will be made to the standard “Cano Shift”.

Anyway, as the lead-off hitter in the 3rd inning, Brendan Ryan earns his pinstripes with a solo home run into the Green Monster seats, putting the Yankees on the board with his first home run as a Yankee. In the 6th, Cano is on base with a double and scores on Lyle Overbay’s sacrifice fly. And with bases loaded, it’s Cano again in the 7th that ties up the game with a 2-run double, scoring Ryan and Stewart, who had both singled to get on base. (It should be noted that Rodriguez, who ended up at 3rd on this play, was told to take it easy on his recently sore hamstring, otherwise he would have tried to make it a 3-run double for Cano.)

Kuroda’s efforts were also helped out in his efforts on the mound by more shows of the Yankees defense, like Alfonso Soriano’s snazzy grab in the 2nd and Cano’s over the shoulder grab in the 6th. But there was trouble brewing in the bottom of the 7th inning for the Yankees. Kuroda allowed a single (what would end up as his 5th earned run of the game), and at 101 pitches, they opted to switch to a fresher pitcher for the heavy hitters coming up to the plate. Cesar Cabral came on and hit the batter on the second pitch and was pulled for another pitcher. (The last thing the Yankees need is for another Red Sox pitcher to “retaliate” again and injure one of their guys.) So it’s Preston Claiborne, who promptly walks and gets a strike out (the first out of the inning) with bases loaded. And then it’s one of the good guys on the team.

Good guy or not, the last thing the Yankees need is another run to score. So he plows the ball into the seats in right center field for a grand slam and 4 runs score. It is now 8-4 Boston. Claiborne gets out of that 7th inning, and it’s Matt Daley to pitch the 8th and keep Boston from any further damage. And Boston waltzes away from tonight’s game with an 8-4 win, not that they need a win at this point.

It should be noted that between the two teams there were 8 doubles hit in Fenway tonight. I know Fenway’s known to be a “hitter’s park”, but perhaps we can also dub it a “doubles park”. At least for tonight.

That Wild Card dream hasn’t gone away, just stalled a little, and with the old rivalry continuing this weekend, you just never know what can happen. But you are pretty much guaranteed it will be an event.

Go Yankees!

Game 147: NYY vs. BAL — Wild Weather, Wild Catch, Wild Pitch, Wild Scoring

The Yankees certainly know how to keep this game interesting. Right off the top, Brett Gardner is pulled from the game with oblique soreness after an awkward checked swing. While they were able to put in Granderson and still have plenty of players available off the bench. Gardner isn’t the easiest guy to lose, as an oblique injury, even a minor one could bench him for the last 15 games of the season. Bryan Hoch (Yankees’ beat reporter) put it plainly tonight, “Gardner has been one of the Yankees’ most consistent performers this year. In 145 games, he has batted .273, setting single-season career highs in hits (147), doubles (33) and home runs (eight), while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield and stealing 24 bases in 32 attempts.”

But it was Phil Hughes back in action to start today’s game. Both he and his 4th inning replacement David Huff were on tight leashes tonight. The Yankees know that every game is absolutely vital, especially with several really tough series coming up. They each went 3 total innings, throwing to an additional batter in the following inning (Hughes into the 4th, Huff the 7th): Hughes went 50 pitches, 3 hits, 1 earned run (an RBI single in the 3rd), and 1 strikeout; Huff 40 pitches, 2 hits, 1 earned run (a solo homer in the 7th), and a strikeout. Actually, together they make a pretty good pitcher, but since neither can really be consistent as a starter, perhaps this may be the best way to split up a start for them for the next couple of starts. An interesting idea, at least.

Now, before we move on to the next pitcher, we should probably explain why the Yankees were getting nervous at the creeping Orioles’ offense. Because once again, the Yankees were hitting, and hitting really well. In the 2nd inning, Eduardo Nunez hits a lead-off single and scores on Mark Reynolds’ 200th career homer. Then with no outs in the 3rd, Alex Rodriguez walks, Alfonso Soriano doubles, and Robinson Cano walks to load the bases. With a simple swing of the bat, Vernon Wells shoots one into left field for a 2-RBI single, scoring Rodriguez and Soriano. And in the 7th, it’s Curtis Granderson to add to the Yankees’ lead with his own solo home run that bounced into the concourse over the right field seats. (Camden Yards is known for being a “hitters’ park” due to the shortened depth of its fences, but Granderson’s would have been out in the deepest stadium. The man can hit pretty hard, pretty far.)

Adam Warren gets the first two outs in the 7th inning, but with two men on, they opt for fresh Cesar Cabral for that final out, keeping the Yankees’ lead intact. So, of course, going into the 8th 5-2, the Yankees turn to their set-up man, David Robertson to do his Houdini magic. On the 0-2 pitch, the lead-off hitter smacks a long ball deep into left field, but it’s Soriano to the rescue to reach over the wall and rob the runner of his addition to the score — what many people have dubbed the “Catch of the Season” (at least for today). Perhaps it should have been a sign, something a bit too close for comfort, and with 2 outs and 2 on with back-to-back singles, Robertson gives up a 3-run home run to blow the save and tie up the game. Houdini took the night off; it was just David having an off-night.

So they head into the 9th, knowing how vital this game is for both teams to have even a small chance at the postseason. Brendan Ryan singles (his first as a Yankee), and Chris Stewart bunts back to the pitcher who throws so wide of 2nd that most grandmothers could have made the run to 3rd, unless they tripped over 2nd base like Ryan did and had to stay there. So two on, no outs, and Granderson lays down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance both runners. Rodriguez is deep into his at-bat, when a really wild pitch bounces in the dirt and far away from the catcher. With Rodriguez signally furiously, Ryan is able to score standing up (his first as a Yankee) and push the Yankees back in the lead at 6-5. After intentionally walking Rodriguez, a double play send the game to Mariano Rivera.

Three batters and three outs later — game over. Yankees win 6-5 and now sit just one game out of the second wild card spot. The postseason is no longer a dream, but a real distinct possibility. I should also note there was a one hour and eighteen minute rain delay at the start of the game. The skies over Baltimore were anything but friendly.

Also, it was Mariano Rivera who earned tonight’s win. And with everyone wondering how that was possible, it’s actually pretty easy. Even though Robertson pitched the inning before they technically earned the run that won the game, he also officially blew the save. Had the Orioles won, Robertson would have earned the loss and was therefore ineligible for the win no matter what happened. That meant the only pitcher available to earn the win would be Rivera, and thus was scored accordingly. Not a common scoring dilemma, but at least one that makes sense.

I just hope the Yankees take this 3-game (out of 4 in the series) win momentum to Boston — enemy territory, where the enemy is 9.5 games ahead and 99% a shoo-in for the AL East division title. Despite their Duck Dynasty beards, Boston is one of the best teams in the league (boy, is that not a comfortable thing for a Yankee fan to admit). And the last series in the Bronx (friendly territory) was an uphill battle. It will be either really interesting or really devastating to see how this weekend turns out. But with a play-off spot within reach, I don’t think the Yankees are quite ready to give up just yet.

But then again, when are they ever ready to quit? They are, after all, the Yankees.

Go Yankees!

Game 143: BOS vs. NYY — Wild Pitch Walk-off & the Rookies

Well, Derek Jeter may have watched from the dugout today, resting his sore ankle, but he certainly got a first-hand view of a really wild game to close out the weekend series against the Red Sox.

Looking to stop the bleeding, the Yankees turned to a reliable source for control, despite a recent slump in reliability. So it was Hiroki Kuroda to the mound. And today, in stark comparison to the other three games, both sides put up some really great pitching and made today’s game into quite a pitching match-up. And unlike the three previous outings, the final score was low and kept low. Maybe they were tired, maybe it’s late in the season, or maybe they actually had good pitching that kept any potential offensive rallies from being too potent.

Anyway, Kuroda threw a season high 117 pitches over 6 innings, allowing just 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, and striking out 6 batters. Those two runs came as an RBI double in the 2nd and a sacrifice ground out in the 6th. His reputation through most of the year was a tight ship with minimal runs, and today he righted his ship and stayed the course. Unfortunately, he was not awarded the win, but more on that later.

Offensively, the Yankees trailed the Red Sox 1-0 until the 4th inning, when Mark Reynolds doubled in Rodriguez to tie up the game. In the next inning, Stewart, Ichiro, and Wells all on base with back-to-back-to-back singles and 2 outs, it’s Robinson Cano to double home 2 of them, raising the score to 3-1 Yankees. With the Red Sox score in the 6, the score sat at 3-2.

Finally back from an injury to his triceps, Shawn Kelley took over for Kuroda in the 7th and kept the Red Sox planted there. (Glad to see that he’s back to his usual form.) And going into the 8th, with much of their bullpen depleted from the weekend’s strain (or injuries), they had no choice really but to ask Mariano Rivera to do something big — try to get 6 outs, or go 2 full innings for the save. Rivera made it through the 8th unscathed, but gave up a lead-off solo home run in the 9th to blow the save and tie up the game. Three outs later, the Yankees have to pull magic out of the air to make this work. I think we all knew that if the Red Sox came up to bat again, they would walk away with the game. It was now or nothing.

Fortunately, it turned out to be “now” when Ichiro Suzuki singled. He then stole 2nd and advanced to 3rd on the second out of the inning. Down to their last out, the Yankees put all their hope in Alfonso Soriano, who would hopefully at least do something to score Ichiro, just 90 feet away at 3rd base. But instead of going after Soriano, the Red Sox pitcher threw a really bad wild pitch, which the speedy Ichiro saw coming and took off for home plate. Soriano never got to swing at a ball that at-bat, but he did get to help welcome in Ichiro as the team poured out of the dugout to celebrate. Rivera may have blown the save, but he ended up earning the win instead.

Fun history note: the last time the Yankees had a walk-off wild pitch win was September 27, 1977. They won 2-1 against Cleveland, when legendary catcher and team captain Thurman Munson scored on a wild pitch. Remember, they won the World Series that year — the first time in 15 years.

And the injury update…

Boone Logan is on the mend, receiving a cortisone shot today, and should be working his way back into the regular bullpen soon. David Robertson, with tendinitis in his shoulder, is also watching from the dugout; he will continue to rest and probably isn’t available this next week. Both pitchers are so needed in the reliever front, which means that the Yankees are (rightly so) being cautious and careful with their recovery time; the last thing they need is to rush them back for a little game, and then not be available for a really big one.

And despite what some headlines might scare you to believe, Derek Jeter is resting his ankle for a couple of days and hopes to also work his way back into the line up sometime during this road trip. And Chris Stewart was pulled from the game; he got a ball thrown at his left foot during an at-bat and left the game about half-way out with what they dubbed a “foot contusion” (most people just call it a bad bruise). He will be sore for a few days, but certainly able to play. Fortunately, this comes at a time when there are actual reserves for his position. Rookies, but still available nonetheless.

Rookie Hazing
Rookies as music’s trend setters:
(l to r) Murphy, Cabral, Bang, Marshall, Adams, and Claiborne
(Justin Bieber, Rick James, Psy, Psy’s hype man, Vanilla Ice, & Billy Ray Cyrus)
via Yankees PR

Speaking of rookies, every year, most teams do a little ritual for “Rookie Hazing”. For the last few years, they have fallen on the travel day for their last major road trip. This means that lands on today. I should mention that every year there’s a theme. Last year was “Star Wars”, which meant rookies like David Phelps (who went as Princess Leia, complete with the cinnamon buns hairstyle) had to board the plane, check in the hotel, and be photographed as these characters.

This year, the theme seemed to be crazy music trends (or something like that). They are (from left to right in the picture): catcher JR Murphy (Justin Bieber), pitcher Cesar Cabral (Rick James), Ichiro’s translator Bang (Psy), pitcher Brett Marshall (Psy’s hype man), infielder David Adams (Vanilla Ice), and pitcher Preston Claiborne (Billy Ray Cyrus).

(Oh, and that is the Yankees’ clubhouse they are standing in, something you can only see if you know someone, part of the press corps, or take the official Stadium Tour. Also in the picture, you can see some of the veterans in the background, pretending they had nothing to do with this stunt.)

Go Yankees!

Game 137: CHW vs. NYY — Rain always changes things… sort of

So all day in New York, the weather has been threatening — cloudy, humid, a little steamy, minor drizzling, tarp on the field. But no, the game started on time, and starter Phil Hughes looked as if he might have a great day against the slumping Chicago White Sox. His first inning was a 1-2-3 quick 10 pitch one, and he was 1 out, 3 batters, and 2 strikes into the 2nd inning when the rain began to pour as the fans in the half-empty stadium began running for cover.

This was a shame because things were starting to roll for the Yankees. At the bottom of the 1st inning, the Yankees struck first with a ground-rule double by Brett Gardner, who was knocked in by Derek Jeter’s single and a fielding error by the left fielder. Gardner scored the first run, and Jeter landed at 2nd, advancing to 3rd on Cano’s fly out.

And then it rained. For one hour and 53 minutes.

The tarp came off the field, Hughes’ day done, and David Huff on the mound, finishing the final pitch of that one batter and closing out the inning unscathed. Actually, Huff proved a reliable long-term reliever in the bullpen, something that seemed non-existent yesterday. He allowed 5 hits, struck out 3 Chicago batters, and a single run (a solo home run in the 7th inning).

But it was the 4th inning that was the ultimate game changer for the game. Borrowing a page from the Orioles’ game yesterday, the Yankees racked up a whopping 8 additional runs in the 4th inning alone. Yes, that’s right — 8 runs. 13 batters in that inning for the Yankees, 7 hits, 2 walks, 2 errors, and 3 outs (finally).

Here’s what happened: Alex Rodriguez doubled; Vernon Wells singled; Curtis Granderson walks to load the bases; Mark Reynolds singles home Rodriguez (2-0), keeping the bases loaded; Austin Romine’s single scores both Wells and Granderson (4-0); Gardner doubles (he is turning into the king of doubles this year) and scores Reynolds (5-0); Jeter’s 2nd single of the game scores Romine (6-0); Cano pops out in the infield; Alfonso Soriano doubles home Gardner (7-0); Rodriguez (back again) walks, loading the bases (and the White Sox incur an error on a missed catch foul pop up); the White Sox finally make a pitching change; Wells reaches on a force attempt and throwing error, which scores both Jeter and Soriano (9-0); then back-to-back force outs to finally get those last two outs, mercifully ending the inning for the White Sox.

After the Sox put one on the board in the 7th, the game sat at 9-1, gliding gracefully into the 9th inning, under clear, sunny blue skies. By the way, to end the 7th, it’s Robinson Cano to show off some nifty defensive skills, hustling out to mid-center field to catch a fly ball and then almost sideways throwing the ball back to first to get the runner who doubled off the base — a fun and unique double play.

Cesar Cabral, a recent September call-up, came in for Huff (who ended up with the win) in the 8th to throw his 13 pitches. The field shifted around in the bottom of the 8th for the Yankees with such a cushy lead, and it was Adam Warren to close out the game in the 9th.

Nunez, Ichiro, Overbay, and Adams all grabbed some playing time at the end of the game. And today was JR Murphy’s MLB debut, and in front of his family, he hit a nice single and got on base. Then Ichiro’s 13 pitch at-bat had him running to 2nd and jogging back to 1st on 6 foul balls. Unfortunately, Ichiro’s 13th pitch ball landed in the right fielder’s glove for the 3rd out, so Murphy will have to wait for another game to score his first MLB run. Murphy now serves as the 3rd catcher, behind Stewart and Romine, due to the September call-ups. A big congrats to him, and welcome to the big leagues.

But it was a nice win today, in spite of the smooth then rocky (because of the rain) start. A great way to start this series, and another much-needed win. Well, actually, at this point in the season, every win is very much needed for the Yankees. And every win they collect helps inch them closer to that ultimate goal — nope, not the postseason, the World Series.

Hey, you never know!

Go Yankees!