Spring Game 24: NYY vs. HOU — Chase & errors for the win

So, the Yankees took a bit of a journey today down south, heading down to a 2-day stint at The Ballpark of Palm Beaches, the new Spring home for both the Astros and Nationals. On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, the new stadium hosted its first sold-out crowd of the Spring (7,721 guest) to watch the Yankees take on the Astros. And thanks to a rather messy defensive game, fans got 3 hours and 36 minutes of on-field action.

Adam Warren got the start today and threw a great game, into the 4th inning with just 1 allowed hit (outside the sticky inning), relying on his defense to keep things close. His lone sticky inning was the 2nd. With 1 out and runners (thanks to a walk and single) on the corners, a sacrifice fly scored the Astros’ first run. Then 2 more singles loaded the bases, but a pop-out ended the Astros’ opportunity that inning. Heller closed out the 4th inning for Warren.

Now, the Yankees actually struck first in the 1st inning. Gardner and Hicks on base with singles and 2 outs, it would be Chase Headley to begin his offensive show today with a double that scored both runners. Then in the 6th, with 1 out, Headley singled, Judge singled, and Torreyes hit into a fielder’s choice at 2nd to put runners on the corners. So, in a rather unexpected move, the Yankees pulled off a double steal. Yes, Headley stole home while Torreyes took 2nd for distraction. It worked and gave the Yankees an insurance run they’d need.

Luis Severino came on in the 5th and got into a bit of trouble in the 6th. With 1 out, Severino hit a batter and gave up a single to allow the Astros to threaten. Two more singles scored 2 runs to tie up the game. After a flyout, another single snapped the defense into action where Hicks (in center) fired a shot directly to the waiting Higashioka (at catcher) to get the runner out at home.

The game tied, both teams made every effort to advance their cause. Severino, for his part, kept things even during his time into the 8th inning, giving up a lead-off walk and a fly out before they opted for Gallegos to close out the inning. He, however, gave up a single to put runners int he corners and a sacrifice fly to score the go-ahead run for the Astros, and a throwing error allowed the other runner to advance to 2nd. But that final out, a fly out, shut down another Astros’ opportunity.

So, with the Astros now up over the Yankees with a slim lead, the Yankees took the opportunities granted them, something that seemed practically gift wrapped in the 9th inning. Clint Frazier started things with a 1-out single, Choi worked a 2-out walk (and was pinch-run by Estrada), and Rob Refsnyder also worked a walk to load up the bases. And then things just got messy. A wild pitch and throwing error allowed both Frazier and Estrada to score. Another wild pitch moved Refsnyder to 3rd. Donovan Solano’s walk and a pitching change, and the Yankees still weren’t done. Solano went to steal 2nd, which triggered yet another throwing error, allowed Solano to end up at 3rd and Refsnyder to score.

Final score: 6-4 Yankees.

And there was quite the game in the World Baseball Classic last night. The teams representing the United States and the Dominican Republic battled it out until the very end, with some amazing plays. But the victory would go to Team USA at the end of the night, 6-3. Team USA will now advance to semi-finals, which begin tomorrow at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Unlike the previous two rounds, the semi-final games are one-off games to decide which 2 winning teams will advance to the final game on Wednesday. Tomorrow night, the teams representing the Netherlands and Puerto Rico will face off, and Team USA and Japan will play on Tuesday night.

Now,  seeing as my WBC bracket got shot to pieces two rounds ago, I’m not going to be a masochist and do a new one. However, I’m a bit torn to pick favorites. Yankees (current and former) are on 3 of these teams, and doing amazing to keep their home country’s championship dreams alive. I supposed I should be patriotic and root for Team USA. But I guess, I’ll just use a friend’s motto: “Go Sports!” to be as middle of the road. It’s partially apathetic, I guess, but it’s all baseball. I suppose I’m really rooting for rather spectacular last three games. Maybe it should just be: “Go Baseball!”

But on here, it’s always…

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 12: NYY vs. PIT — Shaken, but not stirred

Well, the eked out days of losing games this Spring had to end some time. But it was just a terribly messy game and the score reflected just a weak show of pitching, fielding, and offense that we hadn’t seen from the Yankees in a real way at all this season. So, let’s hope this was an odd Monday quirk, a one-off thing.

The Yankees took on the Pirates again, this time at their Spring home in Bradenton (about an hour south of Steinbrenner Field), and it just wasn’t good from start to finish for the Yankees. The strength the Pirates showed yesterday was in full force this beautiful Monday afternoon, and it effectively shut the Yankees down and out almost from the beginning.

Honestly, the biggest issue was easily the pitching today. Overall, the staff gave up 13 hits and 5 walks, and still struck out 7 Pirates’ batters. There were only a few clean innings, and that allowed opportunity for the Pirates to pounce and then shine for their Spring hometown crowd.

Bryan Mitchell struggled into the 3rd inning with his start. In the 2nd, he loaded up the bases with consecutive singles, and then all of those runners scored on a 2-RBI double and a ground out. A lead-off solo home run began the 3rd inning, and after a 1-out single, the Yankees went to JP Feyereisen. Feyereisen kept things interested loading up the bases with 2 walks and 2 outs on the board before getting the needed 3rd out and leaving the runners stranded.

Under Montgomery in the 5th, he watched a lead-off walk score on an RBI double and then that runner score on another RBI double before he got the 3 outs to get out of that inning. Rutckyj’s messy 7th inning was not entirely his fault, though. After loading up the bases with 2 singles and a walk, a fielding error allowed one run to score and kept the bases loaded. Rutckyj walked in the next run before a bases-clearing double put the Pirates into double-digits on the scoreboard.

With no outs scored and a runner at 3rd, the ball went to Graham who promptly got 2 strikeouts. But then a double easily scored the runner, and the next batter doubled that guy home. Graham got that much-needed 3rd out on the 11th batter of the half-inning.

The Yankees faced former teammate Ivan Nova, whose 3 innings seemed to breeze through the roster at first. In the 3rd, Nova’s own errors allowed the lone Yankees’ run of the afternoon. Brett Gardner reached on Nova’s throwing error (trying to throw him out at 1st and missed), which landed Gardner at 2nd. Gardner then advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch before rushing home as Jacoby Ellsbury benefited from Nova’s fielding error.

Other than that, the Yankee worked a grand total of 5 hits and 1 walk all afternoon, striking out 9 times. Like I said, it was not a good day for the Yankees. The Pittsburgh fans, however, think Monday is a great day.

Final score: 13-1 Pirates

And, early this morning (as in 4:30 am EST), the World Baseball Classic began in Seoul as the home team (South Korea) took on the much-talked about team representing Israel. Going into extra innings, Israel came out on top 2-1 over South Korea. Israel plays again later tonight, facing Chinese Taipei (at 10:00 pm EST).

Now, if you’re wondering if the Yankees are well-represented in the World Baseball Classic, they are. And they’re all over the world: catcher Kellin Deglan is playing for Canada; pitcher Dewin Perez, outfielders Tito Polo and Carlos Vidal, and infielder Donovan Solano represent Columbia; pitchers Dellin Betances and Luis Severino are suiting up for the reigning WBC champions Dominican Republic; pitcher Richard Bleier is playing for Israel; pitcher Tommy Layne represents Italy; pitcher Giovanny Gallegos is throwing for Mexico; infielder Didi Gregorius is playing for the Netherlands; and pitcher Tyler Clippard is part of Team USA.

So, while I probably should be rooting for Team USA, I’ll be keeping a close eye on all those other teams with our pinstriped guys. And, honestly, if you can claim heritage to play on certain teams, USA is the only personal heritage I could qualify for, as the other teams got knocked out in the qualifying rounds last year. Let’s just say, my “heritage” teams are probably more familiar with the World Cup than the World Series.

Go Yankees!

{Note: I chose today’s title because although a certain famous fictional spy loves his martinis as such, every good bartender knows it’s the surest way to destroy of martini. Shaking it bruises the vodka (or gin) and thus muddles the taste. A true martini should be stirred to allow the mixer to blend naturally with the liquor. Thus it applies to today as they did a lot of things really wrong, and the result left a metaphorically nasty taste in the mouth and a temptation to grab an alcoholic beverage to forget the mess that was this afternoon.}

Spring Game 10: NYY vs. DET — The dominant and daring Yankees

It was a rather pleasant and sunny Saturday afternoon, a lovely 76° in Lakeland as the Yankees took on the Tigers today. “Took on” might be a little generous, “trampled” might be more appropriate. Michael Pineda took the helm to give the Yankees a good start, earning 5 sharp strikeouts over his 2 innings to kick off good things for the Yankees today.

Dellin Betances followed that up with a bit of drama in the 3rd inning, allowing 2 runners on base, but kept them from doing anything more than that brief show. Chad Green’s 4th inning was the lone moment for the Tigers. With 2 outs and 2 runners on base, a batter hit a double to score the Tigers’ lone run of the afternoon.

Heller, Holder, Shreve, and Gallegos closed things out for the Yankees from the mound, and together (with the 5 from Pineda) they compiled 12 strikeouts, keeping the Tigers’ offense to just 6 hits this afternoon.

The Yankees’ offense, on the other hand, couldn’t be stopped today, racking up a total of 13 hits and working 10 walks. (And yes, that’s 23 total base runners over the course of 9 innings.) All this began in the 3rd inning with Aaron Hicks’ lead-off walk and followed up immediately with Gary Sanchez’s 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board and leading with power. Then Bird singled and scored on Starlin Castro’s 1-out double.

In the 4th, Fowler hit a 1-out single and scored as part of Hicks’ 2-run home run over the right field fence. With 2 outs in the 5th, the Yankees loaded up the bases with 2 walks and a single, and the Tigers tried to shake things up by changing relievers. It didn’t help them as they walked both Rob Refsnyder and Gary Sanchez to score 2 more runs for the Yankees. Donovan Solano then singled Fowler and Refsnyder home before the Tigers finally got their desperately needed last out of the inning.

To cap things off, the Yankees added on a couple more in the 6th inning. With 2 outs and Kozma at 1st, McKinney doubled and moved both of them to scoring position. Rookie outfielder Crawford singled to score Kozma and McKinney to end the Yankees’ run-scoring this afternoon.

And yes, if you’re keeping up with the math, that’s a whole lot of run-scoring for the Yankees today.

Final score: 11-1 Yankees.

It should be worth noting that Gary Sanchez has become the king of throwing out guys trying to steal 2nd. He showed off his quick, strong arm today, getting a runner in the 3rd inning. Together with Betances, the two young players make quite the team to keep threatening even the speediest of runners from making such an attempt.

Honestly, it’s always impressive to watch guys make a run for it, just as much as it is to watch guys get them out. It’s one of those plays in baseball where it’s usually a surprise and sudden rush of excitement, and it’s anyone’s guess how it will turn out.

Much like baseball specifically, and life in general, I think. It’s the moments of daring that make all the difference sometimes. Without those moments, it’s just a standard game, a boring life. We need a little excitement to make sure we don’t sit on our laurels and get complacent. So be adventurous and daring every now and then!

Go Yankees!

{Media note: no video links for today’s game. It happens sometimes during Spring Training.}

Spring Game 2: NYY vs. PHI — Wild pitches, a messy game, a walk-off upset

Today’s game in Clearwater was a bit of a reversal of fortunes for the Yankees, though not with the strong show from the boys across the bay as it was yesterday. The Phillies used their home opener to please their home crowd with a rollercoaster game and walk-off celebration.

Adam Warren got the start for the Yankees today and made a good case for the Opening Day roster with his 8-pitch 2nd inning and clean sheet in today’s 2-inning outing. Heller and Holder also kept things clean during their 7th and 8th innings, respectively. But other Yankee pitchers weren’t as lucky.

Not that the Phillies’ pitching staff were all that clean in their show today. The Yankees got on the board first in the 3rd. Prospect Gleyber Torres kicked off the inning with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on the first of two wild pitches this afternoon.

The Phillies came back to tie up the game in the bottom of that inning. With 1 out and a single, another batter reached base safely on a throwing error, and both runners ended up in scoring position. A ground out easily scored the tying run. The Phillies broke the tie in the bottom of the 4th with a solo shot over the left field fence.

That didn’t last long because the Yankees answered back in the 5th. With 1 out, Miguel Andujar and Torres were in scoring position due to a single and double before both scored on a really messy wild pitch to put the Yankees back in the lead.

The Phillies came back strong in the bottom of the 6th putting runners in the corners with singles. But then a double play still scored the tying run. The next batter hit an inside-the-park home run to push the Phillies back in the lead before the next player added an insurance run. To be fair, the ball rolled under the outfield fence and was considered a dead ball, but then the outfielder was told they could see it and reached for it. As soon as he did that, it became a live ball again, and the runner scored. It seems a little wonky to me. But I guess they’re treating it like the ivy wall at Wrigley or something. (Let’s be perfectly clear here though: Spectrum Field is definitely no Wrigley.)

Into the 8th inning, the Yankees came crawling back. With 1 out, Wade walked, moved to 2nd on a ground out, and then scored on Deglan’s single. And in the 9th, Choi hit a 2-out double and then tied the game up on Donovan Solano’s single.

Then, the 7000 fans in red all over Spectrum Field got their final wish in the bottom of the 9th. With 1 out, a batter doubled and then (his pinch-runner) scored on a walk-off single.

Final score: 6-5 Phillies.

Well, if anything, we can definitely call today’s game more of a typical Spring Training game. It had its moments of greatness mixed in with a lot of messy. And the score was basically a good reflection of the day.

The schedule for the Yankees this Spring is a bit repetitive really. To cut down on bus travel, the Yankees won’t be playing all of the teams that play in the Grapefruit League. So, we’ll be seeing many of the same teams over the next five weeks. That means: no Marlins, Cardinals, Astros, Nationals, Twins, or Mets. And only a game (or two) from those a bit further: Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, Pirates, and Braves.

It makes me a little sad actually. Not just for missing seeing those teams, but because part of the experience for these players is the bus ride experience to away games. It’s a bonding time, a time for memories to be made, and yes, it should be uncomfortable. It’s not a limo or private jet. It’s part of the experience of being a ball player.

Okay, and yes, I will miss seeing the other teams during Spring Training.

Go Yankees!

Game 151: NYY vs. TB — 8 home runs & Gary Sanchez

Masahiro Tanaka had a somewhat bad night. And yet, he still ended up with the win. That was partly due to the Yankees’ surging offense again and partly due to the really sloppy pitching by the Rays. The host team certainly didn’t put up much of a fight (save a single inning), much to the chagrin of the small hometown fan base represented at the Trop tonight. As usual, a good portion of the Tampa Bay area crowd were Yankee fans.

Okay, weird stuff first. So, except for the 3rd inning, Masahiro Tanaka actually had a pretty good night — 70 pitches in those other 5 innings, 3 allowed hits, 2 allowed walks, and 4 strikeouts. So for 29 pitches in the 3rd, Tanaka did the unheard of — gave up 4 solo home runs to the Rays in a single inning. A first-pitch lead-off home run got the Rays on the board, before worked his way through a strikeout and a ground out. Then he gave up back-to-back-to-back home runs before getting out with a line drive out. Tanaka has never given up 4 home runs in a game ever, let alone in a single inning, and it set a club record for the Rays.

Weird trivia bit: Tanaka joins an odd little group of Yankee pitchers that allowed 4 homers in a single inning — Chase Wright (in 2007), Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (in 2005), Scott Sanderson (in 1992), and the great Catfish Hunter (in the infamous 1977 season).

Adam Warren tossed a scoreless 7th and came on for the 8th. After getting his only strikeout of his outing, Warren gave up a solo home run. So with the Rays cutting into the Yankees’ lead, the Yankees rotated through Layne and Clippard for the next two outs of the inning. Holder threw a beautiful scoreless 9th inning to keep things steady for the Yankees.

Let’s be honest: the Rays had just an awful night, helmed primarily by the pitching staff. Their starter struggled from the very beginning, throwing a 34-pitch 1st inning. Gardner led things off with a single and Ellsbury worked a walk. They each scored on singles by Gary Sanchez and Brian McCann. And there was still no outs yet. So they finally got a couple outs before Ronald Torreyes got in on the action with an RBI single to score Sanchez. Not a bad start for the Yankees.

And for some reason, the Rays’ starter came out for more torture in the 2nd inning. Solano and Gardner singled and moved into scoring position on a ground out. Then Gary Sanchez hit his 18th home run, a 3-run blast to shove the Yankees deeply into the lead. Once McCann and Teixeira were on base with hits, the Rays realized they weren’t going to get much out of their starter and went to the bullpen. Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly tagged on one more run for the inning, but that reliever was able to stop the bleeding through the 3rd inning as well.

The Rays brought in a long-term reliever, who allowed some hits, but really kept the Yankees from doing much with them until the 6th inning. With 2 outs, it was Gary Sanchez to hit his 19th career home run to add to the Yankees lead. (More on this below.) Yes, that’s insane, and the small crowd at the Trop (even the Rays fans) kind of went crazy. Who is this kid?

The Yankees didn’t do much in the 7th or 8th innings, thanks in part to a few of the Rays’ better relievers. But they certainly took the 9th inning reliever to task. Gregorius led-off that inning with a single, moved to 2nd on a ground out, and then scored on Mason Williams’ single. Donovan Solano hit his first home run this season, scoring Williams and just solidifying the Yankees dominance in this game.

Final score: 11-5 Yankees.

The last time the Yankees allowed 5 or more home runs and still won the game by 5 or more runs was May 22, 1930, with a final score of 20-13 over the Philadelphia Athletics (the second game of a doubleheader, too).

So, tonight, the Yankees scored 11 runs off 17 hits tonight. That is some bad pitching, augmented by some sloppy defense. And this is a shame for several reasons. First, the power-hitting section of the Rays’ line-up has a ridiculous number of home runs this season (138 for their top 6 hitters, an average of 23 for those 6). They even added to their totals tonight in that 3rd inning, and actually all their runs tonight were oddly off solo home runs. Second, they really should be better overall. It’s why you can’t rely solely on statistics and “on-paper”. The intangibles mean and affect everything.

Okay, let’s talk about Gary Sanchez once again. So, Sanchez is the fastest player in all of MLB recorded history to hit his first 19 home runs (in just 45 games), which beats the Boston Braves’ Wally Berger, who hit his 19 home runs in 51 games in 1930. Sanchez also is beating Ruth’s 1927 record in per at-bat rate — Ruth’s record was 1 homer in every 9 at-bats, Sanchez currently sits at 1 in every 8.7 at-bats.

For your amusement:

Comparisons have been made to everyone from Ruth to Mantle to Bench. Personally, I think he’s just carving out who Gary Sanchez is. He’s even started a trending hashtag (#IAmGary or #ElGary). And being 23 years old and just starting out in his career, I’d say he’s right on track to find out who Gary Sanchez is and who he will be.

Go Yankees!

Game 149: NYY vs. BOS — “Finding a way to lose” and be swept

Red Sox haven’t swept the Yankees in a 4+ game series since June 1990. Until tonight, that is. And the AL East and Wild Card race is glaring at the Yankees in a rather unfriendly manner, and it’s not so pleasant.

CC Sabathia actually did a pretty good job for most of his outing, keeping the Red Sox scoreless for most of the game. It wasn’t until the 5th inning that he got himself into some trouble. The lead-off batter hit a ground-rule double thanks to fan interference (seriously, when will people learn?), though the umpires gathered to review it just to check it out to verify it wasn’t actually a home run. It wasn’t. Just fan interference.

After a walk and an out, another out and a bad throwing error by Sabathia (going for the double play) moved runners to scoring position. And then there was that lingering slider that didn’t slide enough that became a Green Monster 3-run home run. Sabathia came on for the 6th and promptly gave up 3 consecutive singles, one of which gave up the Red Sox’s 4th run.

Overall, Sabathia’s 112 pitches, 8 allowed hits, 4 allowed runs, 3 allowed runs, and 5 strikeouts just weren’t enough to hold off the advancing Red Sox. Blake Parker came on in relief to try to get an out in the 6th, which he did in just 3 batters, with 2 strong strikeouts.

Now, leading up to this, the Yankees actually came out strong and held this game for the good portion of it, while Sabathia held the Sox scoreless. In the top of the 1st, Gardner led-off with a double, moved to 2nd on Butler’s walk, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ single to get the Yankees on the board. Gary Sanchez added to this with a 2-out Green Monster-sized home run in the 3rd. (Seriously, what are they feeding this kid?)

And in the 4th inning, newly signed (see below) Donovan Solano singled (in an entertaining way) and moved to 3rd on Mason Williams’ double. The Red Sox challenge the ruling on Williams’ double, but the call on the field was upheld (as it should’ve been, he’s totally safe). Refsnyder helped load the bases with a walk. Solano then scored when Brett Gardner hit into an odd fielder’s choice ground out/tag out at 2nd, and Williams eased in at the last minute to score on Ronald Torreyes’ fielder’s choice. So the Yankees were comfortably ahead as the Red Sox starter exited the game in the middle of that 4th inning.

This was rather unfortunate as we’ve discovered this weekend that the Red Sox bullpen is pretty good. And they seemed to be able to shut down the Yankees at every turn. The Yankees poked a few holes in their pitching, getting 4 more hits off the next 6 batters in the next 5.1 innings. But it wasn’t enough to add onto their lead and allowed the Red Sox to tie things up right there in the 6th inning.

And they went on to push things further in the 7th against Tyler Clippard, who gave up a 1-out solo home run, again to the Green Monster. That would be the winning run that the Red Sox spent the next 11 outs defending that minuscule lead. It stayed minuscule in part to Tommy Layne, who breezed through the Red Sox in the 8th inning with just 10 pitches.

Final score: 5-4 Red Sox.

Looking back over this series in Boston, Mark Teixeira later commented, “Three out of these four I felt like we just found a way to lose, and that’s tough to take.” And that really was the overwhelming sentiment this weekend. The Yankees had three of these games early on and rather with some strength, but then they just gave them away with either errors or messy pitching or something that shouldn’t have happened.

Roster news: Today, the Yankees activated reliever Anthony Swarzak from the 15-day disabled list, though they haven’t officially moved him back to the 40-man roster. Yet, that is. They also transferred Chad Green from the 15-day to the 60-day DL with that right forearm tendon injury; this removes him from the 40-man roster. And so they signed infielder Donovan Solano from AAA Scranton. Solano is the easy choice with the recent injuries to Ellsbury and Castro (next paragraph).

Injury news: after exams with Dr. Ahmad (the Yankees team doctor), Jacoby Ellsbury was diagnosed with a right knee bone bruise, and Starlin Castro with a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring. Castro’s injury is the most concerning as strains are harder to gauge for recovery time, and talk is already beginning that he may not get any more play time this season, a rather realistic outlook actually. Ellsbury will need some rest and minor treatment, but the outfield is currently well-covered with bench players.

And finally, our prayer are with former Yankee (and current Padre) Yangervis Solarte and his young family after the loss of Solarte’s wife Yuliett. Just 31, Yuliett lost her battle with cancer on Saturday night. She also leaves behind three beautiful daughters and a large extended network of family and friends. My heart breaks for them.

Go Yankees!