Game 95: NYY vs. CLE — Splitting the series with loss in half finale

The Yankees were hoping to close out this first half of the season on an upswing, so to speak. But they had to settle for a split series and a loss this afternoon in Cleveland going into the All-Star break.

The Yankee bats did what usually ensures them a win — get on the board first and give enough lead to allow the starter and bullpen to keep things together. Gardner led-off the 3rd with a single, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, advanced to 3rd on Gregorius’ 1-out single, and then scored on Aaron Hicks’ 2-out single. And Neil Walker hit a big 2-out solo home run in the 4th to double their score.

This was good news to today’s starter Masahiro Tanaka, who was fairly efficient with just 77 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and striking out 5 Cleveland batters. The game ended up tied in the bottom of the 4th, when that lone walk scored as part of a solid 2-run home run.

With a runner at 2nd and just 1 out in the 7th, the Yankees turned to the reliable Chad Green to keep things close and get out of the threat. He did. In that inning, at least. But in the 8th, things got messy. The Indians broke the tie when their lead-off batter hit a solo homer. The next batter singled, stole 2nd, and ended up at 3rd on the steal due to a bad throwing error. The next batter was hit by a pitch, a wicked shot to the back hand on an errant inside pitch. And after an out (finally), he intentionally loaded the bases.

A long sacrifice fly to right field tested the speed of the runner against Stanton’s arm and Higashioka’s reactions. It seems the runner slid just under the tag to give the Indians their insurance run. During the throw, the other runner moved to 3rd and would later score on a bad wild pitch. A quick 12-pitch 9th by the Indians’ closer ended the Yankees chances for a rally.

Final score 5-2 Indians, series split 2-2

Next up: after today, all of MLB enters the official “half-time”, the All-Star break. A select few will travel (or are traveling) to Washington, D.C. for all the festivities of the All-Star Game. As I write this the All-Star Futures Game is underway, with Yankees’ prospect pitcher Justus Sheffield set to pitch for Team USA. The Home Run Derby will be tomorrow (Monday) night as the cap to Work-Out Day. And then after the Red Carpet Parade, the big exhibition game will be Tuesday night, featuring Judge and Severino with Torres and Chapman (both resting due to injuries) cheering on from the AL dugout.

Following a couple of days off, baseball returns on Friday, with the Yankees hosting the Mets for a 3-game weekend series. They’ll take a quick trip down to Tampa Bay for a 3-game series before returning to the Bronx for 4-games against the Royals, a day-off, and 2-games against the Orioles to close out this month.

And if you’re a trivia nerd, here’s some numbers to sound smart in conversations about baseball. The Yankees finish this first half with 62 wins, 33 losses, 4.5 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East but tied for 2nd (with Houston) in all of MLB.

As a team, the Yankees are 1st in home runs (160), 2nd in walks (1st in the AL, with 363), 3rd in runs scored (491) and RBIs (474), 2nd in On-base percentage plus slugging (.796), 2nd in pitching ERA (3.46), and their pitchers rank 2nd in strikeouts given (945).

Individually, the team leaders include Luis Severino in ERA (2.31, also 5th in the AL) and wins (14, also 1st in MLB), Aroldis Chapman in saves (26, 4th in MLB), Miguel Andujar in batting average (.283), Giancarlo Stanton in hits (103), and Aaron Judge in home runs (25, also 3rd in MLB), runs scored (66), RBIs (60), and OPS (.937, also 6th in AL).

Basically, things are in a good place. Plus, they hope to have both Sanchez and Torres back right after the break, though their AAA back-ups (Higashioka and Wade) are doing quite a good job in their stead. And with that looming trade deadline at the end of the month, the Yankees aren’t just battling for a winning season, they’re contending for their 28th championship. And with teams like the Astros and Red Sox (really their biggest threats this season so far) who are battling with them in nearly every category, the Yankees have some work to do.

The second half is going to be something to watch. So stay tuned. There’s so much more baseball left to play.

Go Yankees!

Game 94: NYY vs. CLE — Messy 6th inning, plus a “Little League Home Run”

The tight games in Cleveland continue in this third of four games this weekend. Both teams trying to pad their winning seasons before the All-Star Break. While the Indians are the only winning team in their division (and thus the leaders), the Yankees are in a constant battle with the Red Sox for the lead (though the Red Sox are on quite the winning streak recently). Tonight certainly helped, but the Red Sox won again too. So it’s rather as-is in the AL East.

CC Sabathia got the start for the Yankees tonight, throwing 92 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 4 hits, 2 walks, and 4 runs and struck out just 2 batters along the way. He gave up a 2-out solo home run in the 1st, and then a lead-off single in the 3rd stole 2nd and moved to 3rd on one ground out before another ground out scored that runner.

In the 6th, with 1 out, he gave up a single and a walk and a ground out moved both runner to scoring position. They both did so on a long, messy single that was complicated by a couple of off-center and late throws attempting to get a few outs on the bases. That was the end of Sabathia’s night, and he turned over things to David Robertson.

After a walk, Robertson got the final out of the inning and then breezed through the 7th. Betances followed that up with a beautiful scoreless 8th inning, and Chapman’s 9th inning delivered a fairly efficient save, his 26th save of the season.

The Yankees actually kick-started their offense in the 1st inning. Gardner led-off the game with a walk and moved to 2nd on Judge’s single. Then Didi Gregorius hit a big 3-run home run up the middle. They defended that early lead through much of Sabathia’s outing, not adding to that until the questionable 6th (see below). With 2 outs, Greg Bird hit a big solo home run into the right field seats.

The Indians tied up the game in the bottom of that inning, of course, and it would be up to an unlikely source to break the tie and score the Yankees’ winning run in the 7th. Austin Romine technically led-off the inning with a double. But a fielding error had him jogging for 3rd, and the cut-off man threw the relay to 3rd into the dugout which allotted Romine home base. In other words, really sloppy defense gave Romine an inside-the-park homer, or more commonly dubbed a “Little League Home Run“. Not something you expect to see at this level, but still entertaining as it is with 8-year-olds instead of 28(ish)-year-olds.

Final score: 5-4 Yankees

Okay, let’s discuss that 6th inning. It all started with Giancarlo Stanton’s at-bat. A called strike and a foul got him down in the count 0-2 quickly. Then the next pitch hit his hands as he swung at the ball and missed. But the ball bounced off his hands as if it were a foul ball. It wasn’t a direct call right away. I think even Stanton thought it was a foul (and thus an extra 2nd strike), but as he was stepping back into the box, the umpire decided it was an out.

Stanton immediately questioned the call, Boone questioned the call, even the broadcasters questioned the call. After a brief umpire huddle, the home plate umpire just told them all that was the call and maintained his call. Boone let him have it, got ejected, and kept fighting. He thought it should at least be a foul. Honestly, I thought it was a hit-by-pitch. And questionable hit-by-pitches are open for review and replay. They didn’t, and Bird’s no-doubter home run just an out later felt a little like justice.

Now, I had to dig really far into the official rule book (you can download your own copy here). Rule 5.05(b)(2) states that “if the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched… When the batter is touched b a pitched ball which does not entitle him to first base, the ball is dead and no runner may advance.” And Rule 5.09(a)(6) states that “a batter is out when… he attempts to hit a third strike and the ball touches him.”

The reason I cite both these is because they are the two rules social media commentators used to justify the call in that 6th inning. And while I think one can make a case for the latter rule, the “3rd strike” was really inside and not in the strike zone. Yes, he swung at it, but it hit him. And most other times this happens, the batter is awarded 1st base as a hit-by-pitch. I just wonder how often this “rule” is enforced.

While it does seem intent on preventing the old trick of stepping into a pitch to get on base (though that does still happen on occasion, if we’re being honest), I don’t think this is the kind of call or play they had in mind. Perhaps, tonight’s call will be something they discuss at next year’s winter meetings as they continue to readjust the operating rules of the game. If the intent is to keep fair ball and player safety a priority, they can’t exactly promote a rule that intentionally punishes potentially and accidentally hurt players. Though Stanton didn’t seem to suffer from the hit, the next player might be hit worse.

Bird and Romine’s runs helped even out the bad call and slide the game into the Yankees’ favor, so it’s hard to stay “hurt” by the call. However, just because it didn’t “hurt” in the end doesn’t make it a good, fair, or just call. Because one day, that kind of call could make the difference in a crucial game, let alone seriously injure a player. And no one wants either of those scenarios.

Go Yankees!

Game 93: NYY vs. CLE — Late offense came close, not close enough

The Yankees didn’t seem to find their footing in tonight’s game against the Indians for the first part of the game, both with their pitching and hitting. Domingo German had trouble out of the gate, once again, and still had some trouble staying consistent. He threw 91 pitches into the 5th inning, gave up 5 hits, 4 walks, and 6 runs, and still struck out 6 batters.

He gave up consecutive walks to lead off the 1st that moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. However, a ground out only allowed one run to scored before 2 strikeouts ended the threat. In the 2nd, with 1 out, a single scored on an RBI double, and after a walk, a long double scored 2 more runs. Then in the 5th, a lead-off single scored on a triple that ended German’s night.

He handed the ball over to Jonathan Holder, who promptly walked his first batter and then gave up a single to score German’s final base runner before getting out of his own jam. Then Holder sailed through the 6th inning. Shreve followed that up with 2 scoreless innings of his own, and though both were fraught with their own threats, he kept the game tight.

The Yankees were held off from their offense until the 5th inning. Bird led-off with a double, and Andujar worked a walk. Neil Walker’s double scored Bird, and a wild pitch scored Andujar and moved Walker to 3rd. One out and one single, Brett Gardner’s long sacrifice fly to score Walker.

Wade later led-off the 8th with a double and ended the Indians’ starter’s night. He moved to 3rd on a passed ball and then scored on Gardner’s ground out. With another new reliever, Judge was hit by a pitch.

And in a still questionable decision, the Indians pulled a “strike-em-out-throw-em-out” double play as Hicks struck out and Judge got tagged out stealing 2nd. Originally, Judge was ruled safe, but after an Indians’ challenge, the call was overturned. Why they’d risk a double play on a steal when Stanton was up next had everyone kind of “message board managing”.

It’s worth noting that Giancarlo Stanton hit a big solo home run to lead off the 9th inning to inch the Yankees closer to the Indians’ lead. However, 3 outs later, the Yankees ran out of outs.

Final score: 6-5 Indians

There’s been a lot of conversation, rightly so, about next week’s All-Star Game, and several new additions have been called up to replace selected players who are either inactive, injured, ineligible (starting Sunday), or choose to remove themselves from the roster. Like Aroldis Chapman. He’s been dealing with knee tendinitis since at least May, so he chose to attend but not play in the exhibition game on Tuesday. Chapman has been an All-Star previously (4 times with the Reds, 2012-2015), and will be considered as an All-Star for this year. But he’s got half of a regular season (and potential postseason) to go.

And as odd as this may seem, the benefit to this is that players selected for the game are often first-time All-Stars (like the one selected to fill Chapman’s spot). That means, they get to experience all the buzz, excitement, and special camaraderie for the first time next week. And that is kind of cool. Plus, it’s something that will forever be on their Wikipedia page, even if they just end up coaching Little League one day.

Go Yankees!

Game 92: NYY vs. CLE — Not a pitchers’ duel despite 2 Aces, just a Gardy Party

I’m still guilty of pre-judging how a game will turnout when they release the daily line-ups. And far too often, I’m very wrong. Tonight was one of those nights. I saw the pitching match-up for the opening game of this weekend series in Cleveland, and immediately thought this was going to be quite the pitching duel. The Indians sent in their ace starter, and the Yankees matched him with theirs — Luis Severino.

Severino threw 94 pitches in his 5 innings, gave up 9 hits, a walk, and 4 runs, and struck out just 1 batter. (Comparatively, the Indians’ starter threw 114 pitches into the 8th inning, still gave up 9 hits, 2 walks, and 6 runs, and struck out 9 Yankee batters.) Severino’s allowed runs came in the odd innings — 1, 3, and 5.

In the 1st, a 2nd pitch lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a single. After Romine caught a runner stealing 2nd to clear the bases, a solo home run doubled the Indians’ early lead. A lead-off single in the 3rd stole 2nd and later scored on a single. And a 2-out solo home run in the 5th capped off the Indians’ runs for the night. Warren, Robertson, Betances, and Chapman each took an inning to close out the game for Severino, throwing beautiful, efficient innings and keeping the home team to their runs total.

Much like the Indians did to the Yankees’ ace, the Yankees offense pieced together their runs to take the Indians’ ace down a peg or two. Andujar led-off the 3rd with a double, and 2 outs later, scored on Brett Gardner’s 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board. Didi Gregorius then led-off the 4th with a solo home run up the middle. Then Stanton singled, moved to 3rd on Hicks’ bunt and a throwing error, and then easily scored on Greg Bird’s double.

With the game tied, Gregorius worked a walk to lead-off the 8th inning and then scored on Aaron Hicks’ 1-out double. That would be the end of the Indians’ starter’s night, and they spent the final 5 outs of the game piecing together their bullpen. With a new pitcher, Hicks stole 3rd, a call upheld (rightly so) despite a challenge on the tag, and then scored on Bird’s long sacrifice fly. Two pitchers later, in the 9th, Brett Gardner hit his 2nd home run of the game, a 2-out solo homer off the foul pole in right field.

Final score: 7-4 Yankees

The Indians-Yankees annual series is always a special series for my family because of the close ties my mom’s side has to the Northeast Ohio area. Of course, this was heightened in the 1990s when the Indians were about as good as they have been in recent years, making it to the postseason with several strong seasons, much like the Yankees did in those years. Not quite a recognized rivalry anywhere except in my family for the last 20-odd years, but something I always look forward to.

And for my Ohio family, it’s worth noting that four teams in the AL right now are actually statistically higher than the Indians — Red Sox, Astros, Yankees, and Mariners. In other words, Cleveland is enjoying success this season because the AL Central is the weakest division. It’s easy to be on top when you’re the only team in that division with a winnings season (above a .500 season average).

Go Yankees!

Game 34: CLE vs. NYY — Torres’ walk-off glory in sweep

With Montgomery out with elbow strain, it fell to Domingo German for the start in this afternoon’s finale against the Indians in the Bronx. And German rose to the occasion and excelled. He threw 84 pitches in his 6 scoreless innings, gave up no hits and only 2 walks, while striking out 9 Cleveland batters.

German actually matched the Indians’ starter pretty well. He held the Yankees’ batters hitless until Aaron Hicks broke the streak to lead-off the 5th inning, though he certainly walked several batters and the defense allowed a runner on an error. But the Indians held off the Yankees from scoring any runs.

Dellin Betances took over and breezed his way through the 7th inning but then got into some trouble coming out in the 8th. He gave up 3 consecutive singles that scored the Indians’ first run of the night and broke the scoreless tie. Betances was running out of steam, so the Yankees turned to Jonathan Holder, who did what he could to keep things under control. After a bunt pop-up, Holder gave up a double that scored 1 run and then a passed ball moved the runners up and scored another run. Finally, a sacrifice fly scored their final run.

And suddenly, the Indians were up 4-0. So the Yankees answered back in the bottom of the 8th. Walker led-off with a walk and Austin worked a 1-out walk to end the Indians’ starter’s night. And (like my uncle implied yesterday), the Yankees got to take advantage of the Indians’ weak bullpen. After another out, Brett Gardner singled and scored Walker for the Yankees’ first run. Aaron Judge followed him with a double to score Austin and Gardner.

Now, with the Indians’ lead reduced to a single run, the Yankees called on Chasen Shreve to breeze through the top of the 9th in just 18 pitches to get back to the Yankee offense in the bottom of the inning. Hicks led-off with a double and then scored the tying run when Neil Walker doubled. A new reliever got a ground out and then intentionally walked pinch-hitting Stanton. So with Walker and Stanton on base and just 1 out, it would be Gleyber Torres to smack a deep 3-run home run into the Yankees’ bullpen, just missing Monument Park, for a great walk-off victory.

Final score: 7-4 Yankees, Yankees sweep series 3-0

Next up: the Yankees have an off-day tomorrow. Then they will host the Red Sox for a 3-game mid-week series on Tuesday. This series is crucial as the Yankees are just a game behind the Red Sox in the AL East. They follow up that series with a weekend series against the Athletics to close out the home stand.

Go Yankees!

Game 33: CLE vs. NYY — Sonny times defeat Cleveland defensive errors

The Yankees have won 14 of their last 15 games, something that actually has people talking all around the league, because it’s the first time they’ve done so since 1998. (And we all know what happened that year.) Plus, it was a perfect Saturday afternoon for a game, this middle game in the weekend series against the visiting Indians.

Sonny Gray had a much better outing than many of his earlier games this season, throwing 93 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 4 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, and striking out 7 batters. His 2 allowed runs were a 2-out solo home run in the 5th and a ground-rule double that later scored on a ground out.

Chad Green really was the pitcher worth watching today, going 2 full scoreless and hitless innings and throw a dominant and efficient 24 pitches in the 7th and 8th innings, getting 4 of his 6 outs with strong strikeouts. David Robertson closed out the game with 2 more strikeouts in his 9th inning.

Meanwhile, like the Indians, the Yankees’ batters really didn’t get much offenive opportunities until the 5th. With 1 out, Walker and Andujar walked, and Torres singled to load the bases. Then Austin Romine worked a walk to score Walker. Ronald Torreyes hit into a play that ended up moving everyone up 2 bases thanks to 2 errors, so Andujar and Torres both scored, leaving Romine and Torreyes in scoring position. Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly scored Romine.

A new pitcher in the 7th gave up a 1-out double to Romine, after quite the embattled at-bat. The Indians needed to switch some defenders due to an injury where the fielder trying to get Romine’s long-hit ball rammed into the back fence. Romine would go on to score on Gardner’s 2-out single.

Final score: 5-2 Yankees

Injury updates: as you know if you’ve been following this team this season, early last month seemed plagued with injuries. Fortunately, the team has been relatively healthy for a few weeks now, and those on the DL are working their way back as soon as possible. Brandon Drury found a specialist in New York that located an irritated nerve on his neck that has been causing his migraines for years. He is receiving regular treatments, and it’s paying off — his time with AAA Scranton (and now with AA Trenton) have been rather productive. The Yankees aren’t in rush with him as Andujar, Torres, and Torreyes have been outstanding for the Yankees as pinch-bench players in both their offense and defense.

Despite being out for 6-8 weeks with elbow strain, Jordan Montgomery was simply glad it wasn’t going to be the dreaded Tommy John surgery for him, which would mean 12-18 months recovery time. It’s something every pitcher dreads and sits in the back of their minds every time there’s an elbow pain of any kind. So a few weeks must sound like a decent option. It’s not great, but they can make it work on all ends. Especially as Domingo German will get his first MLB start tomorrow against the Indians in the finale of this series.

And speaking of pitchers, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Warren are back throwing after experiencing some shoulder and back issues (respectively), so the Yankees hope to have these reliable relievers back in the bullpen before the end of the month.

My uncle, the one who’s a huge “Tribe” fan (or a person who roots for Cleveland), texted me after the Yankees won today to tell me that the Yankees were “looking good” and that his team was suffering from “no-bullpen-itis”. I can understand that feeling, as both teams seem to suffer most of their injuries in the bullpen this season (as reflected in the above injury report). But to me, that says more about the difference in their farm systems to rely on those guys when injuries hit the major league level.

So kudos to the Yankees for having the smarts to build the organization deep. And this says far too much about the AL Central because even with these 2 losses, the Indians still lead the division and are the only team above .500. Meanwhile, the Yankees are now just a half-game behind the Red Sox in the AL East, something that clearly will change with the coming series next week.

Go Yankees!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: 7-6 Yankees

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

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

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