All the latest updates, farewells, outreaches, and honors… it’s been a busy 5 weeks!

Between the Cubs’ victory parade, postseason awards, Thanksgiving, Winter Meetings, and now the approaching week filled with Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year, the Yankees have been everything but quiet and stagnant. Some years, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s job seems to just sit back and watch other teams do the postseason dance that is somewhere between an elegant waltz and a fire-sale at times. But not this year.

Cashman has been busy, even making some pretty big moves. First, in the middle of last month, he traded catcher Brian McCann (and cash considerations) to the Astros for a pair of young pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. Sorry, McCann fans, but McCann wasn’t exactly ready to be a once-a-week player with Gary Sanchez taking a much larger (and well-deserved role). This was a good move for everybody.

Earlier this week, as part of the Winter Meetings (hosted at the beautiful Gaylord Resort, just south of D.C.), Cashman also made a play for two big players. First, he signed Matt Holliday, a veteran outfielder who is slated to primarily fill the position previously occupied by Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran (outfielder/designated hitter). Holliday, a 7-time All-Star, began his career with the Rockies, spending 5 seasons there and making a name for himself, before finding a nice home with the Cardinals for the last 7 1/2 seasons, being a crucial part of their 2011 World Series championship. Holliday seems very excited to be playing in New York, which isn’t really surprising as he wore #7 in St. Louis for Mickey Mantle. You know, David Ortiz said once last season that there are two kinds of players — those who were born to play with the Yankees and those born to play against them (Ortiz being the latter).

Another big pick-up was the deal made when the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year, $86 million deal. Yes, Chapman fans, two of the Warriors Three will be back in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. This time, with Chapman’s shiny World Series ring glaring and pushing the Yankees to give him another one. A physical exam is still pending the finality of this contract, but things look good for the closer to return to Yankee pinstripes for the next five seasons.

Cashman’s focus was clearly on building up the bullpen as most of the roster moves these last 5 weeks. So try to keep up: Branden Pinder was originally designated for assignment early in November, but then was outrighted to AAA Scranton, so we’ll be seeing Pinder again; Joe Mantiply (after being claimed off waivers from the Tigers), Nick Rumbelow, and Nathan Eovaldi were designated for assignment and then released all three of them just before Thanksgiving; James Pazos was traded to the Mariners for reliever Zack Littell; Dustin Ackley was released; Jacob Lindgren elected free agency; and the Yankees then filled a bunch of holes on their roster with minor leaguers Jorge Mateo and Yefrey Ramirez (from the Single-A Tampa Yankees), Ronald Herrera and Miguel Andujar (from AA Trenton),  and Dietrich Enns and Giovanny Gallegos (from AAA Scranton).

But it didn’t stop there. In coordination with the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees moved some minor leaguers around and said some goodbyes. The Brewers claimed reliever Caleb Smith, the Red catcher Luis Torrens, reliever Tyler Jones went to Arizona, and the Pirates got reliever Tyler Webb. The Yankees themselves picked up a few minor leaguers, catcher Jorge Saez (Blue Jays) and reliever Colten Brewer (Pirates).

All the postseason awards have been doled out, and the Yankees got… two. And nothing went to our Rookie of the Year, Gary Sanchez. No, the big Yankee winner this postseason was Brett Gardner, who took home both the Gold Glove and Defensive Player of the Year for doing the outstanding job we’re used to seeing out there in left field.

However, there are a few alumni honors come next month. BBWAA vote for the Class of 2017, with any new inductees to be announced next month. Several former Yankees grace the ballot this year, none more so than Jorge Posada (the first of the Core Four to reach such an honor). However, the chances everyone seems to hold for Posada (and the few other Yankees alums) seem rather slim, especially as the voters seem to be rather stringent in their voting, less nostalgic as your average baseball fan and more strategic in their selection parameters.

Also selected for Hall of Fame honors this year are current Braves’ president John Schuerholz and former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, both elected by the Today’s Game Committee. Other familiar faces on this ballot, who failed to make the cut this year, include former manager and player Lou Pinella, former players Albert Belle, Orel Hershiser, and Mark McGwire, and former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Debates as to which of these deserve to be in Cooperstown rage on.

Two other awards honored journalists for outstanding writing and broadcasting — the late Bill King, known for his coverage of San Francisco sports, distinctive facial hair, and his catchphrase “Holy Toledo!”, and veteran journalist Claire Smith, who became the first woman to receive the honor. Neither will be officially in the Hall of Fame, but will be part of a permanent exhibit to honor such journalist excellence and contribution to the game. I mean, without them, our knowledge of the game would not be what it is today, even with direct information like social media. It would certainly make my job a lot harder!

And speaking of Yankee alumni, the Yankees announced that they will be officially retiring the number 2 in honor of Derek Jeter on before the game on Sunday, May 14. Rather fitting really, with the extensive knowledge of how close Jeter is with his family, Jeter’s long-sacred number will become the 22nd one the Yankees send to Monument Park, and with that move, all the single digits (save a zero) are officially removed from jersey circulation. Single game tickets are not directly available yet (though they feature prominently on the secondary online marketplaces), though season tickets and multi-game ticket packages are available.

This week, in Tampa, the Yankees foundation hosted their holiday celebration, led by Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal with special guests Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, and Nick & Joanna Swisher. Hundreds of local children were treated to the Yankees 28th Annual Holiday Concert, complete with gifts and carol singing, in preparation for the holidays. The Yankees also hosted other local community outreaches in New York for the holidays including a Thanksgiving food drive and giving back to the children and families of the Bronx with a great goodie bag full of both basic necessities and special gifts.

Looking ahead, many players have already committed to playing for various teams around the world in the World Baseball Classic this March. The Yankees only current representative is Dellin Betances, who agreed to play for the reigning champions, the Dominican Republic, alongside former teammate Cano. Other former Yankees who will play in the WBC include Martin for Canada and Beltran for Puerto Rico. Betances, who was also recently married, will be an outstanding contribution to any team. Also, a big congratulations to Dellin and Janisa Betances!

As far as everything else, there’s still 63 days until Pitchers and Catchers report for Spring Training. So there’s a lot of time left for the Yankees to do something else, despite reports that they’re pretty much done with big moves this off-season. That statement, however, doesn’t preclude any minor “tweaking”, and you must know by now they love their “tweaking”. Enjoy your holiday season!

Go Yankees!

Game 51: NYY vs. TOR — Good start = a loss without more runs

The worst part about some of these games this season is that sometimes you get a pretty good starting pitcher but without enough run support, he earns the loss. Which is the worst part about these statistics — they don’t show you the reality behind the numbers. They don’t show you that a veteran pitcher totally threw an amazing game, but because his team didn’t help lift their offensive numbers he winds up with a negative outcome.

Such was a night for starter CC Sabathia in this middle game against the Blue Jays. Sabathia had a great night on the mound, coming off a great May as the leading AL pitcher in ERA at 0.45 (basically ridiculous numbers this month). He threw 80 pitches into th e7th inning, giving up 5 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and struck out 4 batters.

In the 4th, a lead-off single got erased with a double play. Well, it was originally deemed a force out a 2nd, but the wonders and magic at MLB HQ, instigated by a Yankees challenge, poof!-overturned-a double play (one of 3 great double plays tonight, by the way). Which came in super handy as the next batter hit a big solo home run. Before replays, that would’ve been a 2-run homer. Welcome to the wonders of 21st century baseball.

Sabathia held the Blue Jays to that lone run until the end of his outing. He gave up a double to lead off the 7th inning, which put him on the hook for that runner as he exited the game in favor of Dellin Betances. Betances kept that runner there through 2 outs before he got into a bit of trouble, starting with an allowed walk. A single scored the lead runner (Sabathia’s) and moved runners to the corners. Then another single scored 2 more runs before that batter got stuck in a bit of a run down before becoming the third out of the inning.

That would be it for the Blue Jays’ scoring tonight as Kirby Yates came on in the 8th inning and just shut them down in order. All of this waiting for the Yankee offense to come and lift them out of the hole.

The Yankees actually struck first in the 2nd inning with Headley’s double and Romine’s single had them on the corners with 1 out on the board. Aaron Hicks’ force ground out got Romine out at 2nd but scored Headley before a pop out ended the inning.

The Yankees actually pretty much matched the Blue Jays in most offensive stats except runs scored. And as we all know, that’s the only stat that matters at the end of the day.

Final score: 4-1 Blue Jays.

Injury update: Okay, bad news alert! Dustin Ackley will have the surgery to repair his torn labrum (shoulder muscle), which will end his 2016 season. Ackley injured his shoulder Sunday diving back to 1st on a pickoff attempt, dislocating his right shoulder, which tore the muscle tissue that keeps that joint in place. After an MRI and a visit with the team doctor, surgery was chosen as the best option for the infielder.

Of course, this does continue the conversation of depth at 1st base with names like Swisher and Parmalee currently with AAA Scranton playing that role or a possible trade or acquisition to provide the Yankees with an infield bench player for some solid back-up to Teixeira. I don’t see them trying to float on the current selection for long.

Also, can we just please have the back-up 1st basemen stop injuring their shoulders that require surgery? Seriously, guys, get well soon and stay healthy!

Okay, the first list of top 10 popular votes for the All-Star Game starters was released today, and only 2 Yankees made the list — Brian McCann (catcher) and Carlos Beltran (outfield). Which does make sense. But the list is definitely missing some of the other All-Stars on the team (like, I don’t know, Gardner, Ellsbury, Teixeira, Castro, Gregoirus, Headly, and Rodriguez). So, it’s your time to vote for your All-Star Game starters. You can vote up to 5 times a day for up to 35 total times. Vote today, vote often, and let’s get some more pinstripes on that field in July!

Go Yankees!

Game 50: NYY vs. TOR — Delayed bats not enough

On this day every year, we take the time to honor and remember all those in the armed forces who sacrificed for our freedoms. So a big thank you right off the top for your service and we will never forget you.

The Yankees flew north of the border for tonight’s first game against the Blue Jays. And like many noteworthy days, the Yankees and Blue Jays honored the military by wearing specially designed uniforms and hats. They say that camouflage goes with everything, but a camo hat on a guy in a Blue Jays home uniform begs me to disagree. Camo is not the new black. And while I appreciate the effort, perhaps there needs to be a slight alteration in how the MLB honors our vets on this day and other similar days that make it less glaring on the visual side of things.

Anyway, the Yankees visited Rogers Centre in the heart of Toronto for the first of this 3-game series. And it’s rather unfortunate that the Yankees’ bats didn’t make it through customs until right at the very end (totally stole that line from Twitter-verse, by the way).

Ivan Nova got the start tonight and had some mixed results again. In 6 innings, he threw 101 pitches, gave up 8 hits, 1 walk, and 4 runs, and struck out 4 Toronto batters. He did his best to spread out those runs though. In the 1st, a 1-out single scored on an RBI double to kick things off for the Blue Jays. A lead-off double and walk in the 3rd inning moved into scoring position on a ground out before scoring on another ground out and a nice double. And a lead-off solo home run in the 5th inning capped off the Blue Jays’ scoring tonight, both under Nova and for the game.

Part of that is due to the strong show in relievers Nick Goody for the 7th and into the 8th innings and then to Richard Bleier making his MLB debut to finish off the 8th inning. Bleier threw just 3 pitches for his 2 outs and proved that sometimes it’s not about quantity but quality for the outs that matter. Not a bad way to break out onto the MLB scene.

Like I said, the Yankees’ offense certainly didn’t turn up until late in the game. Toronto’s starter plowed through 8 innings, giving up just 3 hits and 3 walks to the Yankees’ roster. In fact, it would be the relievers hit the hardest tonight in the 9th inning. See, change is a good thing.

With 1 out and Beltran on base with a hit-by-pitch, Brian McCann’s monster 2-run home run off the center field wall halved the Blue Jays lead, gave a modicum of hope to the meager Yankee fan base at Rogers Centre (almost a worse place for Yankee fans than Fenway some seasons), and forced the Blue Jays to dig up another reliever.

Then with Teixeira standing at 2nd with a double off the new guy, he buckled down and got the requisite 2 outs to get out of the game and deliver a win for the Blue Jays. Change can also be a not so good thing. It’s all in the perspective of the outcome.

Final score: 4-2 Blue Jays.

Injury Update: prior to today’s game, the Yankees put Dustin Ackley on the 15-day DL. Yesterday, he slid back to 1st on a pick-off attempt and dislocated his shoulder. This also tore the cartilage around that joint (the labrum), a common occurrence with a forceful injury like a complex joint dislocation. He will see the team doctor in New York to see if surgery is necessary, which would lead to a fairly long stint on the DL. I think they’re waiting to see what Dr. Ahmed says before proceeding with a more accurate corresponding roster move than what they made today.

Speaking of which… the Scranton Shuttle was back up today. The Yankees activated Luis Severino after his rehab start with the Tampa Yankees last night (a decent outing overall), but optioned him to AAA Scranton to spend some time working out his kinks that led to some struggles this season. To fill in that empty roster spot by Ackley, the Yankees recalled Rob Refsnyder from Scranton.

Now, if you’re wondering what that means for 1st base depth, you’re certainly not the only one. The reality is that the Yankees are always better off with a healthy, hitting Teixeira, but his back-up after Bird’s shoulder surgery was Ackley. So that leaves Romine as their current best option. Yes, McCann can play 1st, but Romine is more comfortable having spent time there last year in AAA. After Romine would come left-side infielders like Headley and Torreyes. Then maybe Refsnyder? I think Refsnyder is in the mix to give a break to one of the other infielders.

Again, all the more reason I’m glad I’m not the one making any of these decisions. But I think we are just hoping for a healthy, fully capable team that is exceeding their potential like we’re used to expecting from this organization. You know, the normal season of the Yankees.

Go Yankees!

Game 49: NYY vs. TB — The 1-hit win

To be fair, this was quite a pitching duel this Sunday afternoon. Nathan Eovaldi faced off with one of the Rays’ better starters. (There are 3 on their rotation, and the Yankees faced all 3 this weekend.) And neither the Rays nor the Yankees were willing to give up the win for the weekend, and today’s game was certainly proof of this.

Eovaldi started today’s game, and while it wasn’t his best outing, it was still pretty good in the scheme of things. He threw 105 pitches in 6 innings, giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, and a single run, and striking out 7 Rays batters. The lone run he gave up came in the 3rd inning — a 1-out single moved to 2nd on a ground out, then 3rd on a wild pitch, and then scored on a single. But other than that, there was minimal allowance for the Rays to add to their small score.

The Yankees on the other hand seemed quite stymied by the Rays starter today for much of the game. He was actually throwing a no-hitter for the first half. The Yankees got their first base runner in the 6th inning due to a throwing error on Dustin Ackley, which was challenged but the call stood (there wasn’t enough to overturn it). But an easy double play ended that hope.

Then in the 7th, Gardner worked a 1-out walk to get the first legitimate base runner. Then the Rays gave up their lone hit of the day to Starlin Castro. It just happened to be a 2-run home run into that “Ducky” section of left-center field. But that would be it for the Yankees’ offense.

And for some crazy reason, that was all they needed in the end.

Okay, that reason was easy — the “Warriors Three”. Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman just plowed their way through the next 9 outs to close out the game and deliver a win and the series to the Yankees, ultimately dominating with a total of 14 strikeouts (including Eovaldi’s 6). It was like the perfect example as to why the Yankees compiled the “Warriors Three” in the first place.

Final score: 2-1 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1.

Injury update: Dustin Ackley, who’s been featured often at 1st base to cover Teixeira during his rest and recovery from neck spasms, jammed his shoulder on a sliding dive back to 1st today (after reaching on that error in the 6th). He will stay in Tampa for an MRI to determine whether he will be headed to the DL or just a few days rest. He said he felt it “pop out of place” for a moment. Yeah, take a couple of days to rest that one.

Like I said, Mark Teixeira has been out for a few games when his neck started acting up with spasms, leading to not being able to even turn his head at times. But between rest and treatment with cortisone shots, Teixeira was initially thought to come back into the lineup today. But they gave him an extra day. That is until Ackley came out of the game in the 7th inning with his own issues. Suddenly, a Sunday return for Teixeira wasn’t off-the-table, but a reality, and he played the rest of the game at 1st.

And Carlos Beltran came out of yesterday’s game, mostly because the score spread was so large, but also because he felt a weird tightness near his scapula (the shoulder blade). So they opted to rest him today, and all seems well enough for him to be back in the lineup in Toronto tomorrow.

Luis Severino was officially sent to his rehab assignment with the Single-A Tampa Yankees tonight across the state on the other coast. He is scheduled to throw about 50-60 pitches. He’s still on the DL due to his triceps strain, which may or may not have been the cause of his recent pitching struggles (depending on who you talk to). He would technically be available to pitch in Detroit for the Yankees, but I doubt they will want to risk a short rehab start on the young pitcher who’s been through quite a few struggles this season.

Anyway, the Yankees are headed up to Toronto now for their series against the Blue Jays, a quick game against the Tigers to make-up for the “snow-out” from earlier this season, and then ending the away trip in Baltimore. It’s going to be a long week, but today’s result gave them some hope to continue their upwards climb in the division standings (against their division rivals).

Go Yankees!

Game 36: CHW vs. NYY — A bit of the old tug-o-war

I have a good friend who lives outside of Chicago. Her idea of being a sports fan is anything Chicago. She rooted for the Cubs, of course, last postseason. She was a passionate Blackhawks fan last year. She’ll be a Bears fan this fall. But her biggest love is the Windy City. Chicagoland. Chi-town. The 312. The Second City. So when it comes to debating all things Chicago versus New York, I always wait to pull out the ultimate ace-in-the-hole — The Second City, to remind her just who exactly will always be First.

The name came from a 1950s New Yorker article not so subtlely referring to the building boom of the 19th and 20th centuries, later made popular by the famous comedy group. It should be noted that many of their famed alumni like Alan Arkin, Bill Murray, Jim Belushi, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, and Amy Pohler are all New Yorkers (either native or current residents).

So whenever a team from the Second City plays the Yankees, I have to bring up this geographic rivalry. Though no real sports rivalry exists between the cities because it seems that whenever one city’s sports team is good, the other’s just isn’t. So there’s no real athletic competition. It’s just as imaginary as the building rivalry a century ago. And it’s about as serious as the silly banter my friend and I have every now and then.

For three hours and thirty-six minutes today, the Yankees and White Sox closed out this weekend series (and the Yankees’ home stand) with a rather extended tug-o-war. Neither team’s pitching staff was extraordinary, which was very odd for the Yankees as it was a Masahiro Tanaka start. Tanaka just struggled his way through his 5 innings, pushing his pitch count up to 102 pitches, giving up 8 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs. One stat that was very Tanaka-esque was one that shows his 7 strikeouts.

In the 2nd, with 1 out, Tanaka put 2 runners on base with walks, so that a single scored the lead runner before he got 2 great strikeouts. Then a lead-off solo shot in the 3rd inning added to the White Sox score. And the lead-off batter in the 4th singled, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a single, and scored on a sacrifice bunt. Another single in that inning scored their 4th run.

Meanwhile, the Yankees started things off right with Ellsbury and Gardner’s consecutive singles in the bottom of the 1st. Ellsbury then scored on Carlos Beltran’s sacrifice fly. Then in the 3rd, with 2 outs, the Yankees loaded up the bases. Starlin Castro’s single scored Gardner, and then Dustin Ackley worked a walk to scored Beltran.

The Yankees were down 4-3 as Tanaka exited the game. Yates took over in the 6th and kept the White Sox from adding to their lead. But then in the bottom of the 6th, with 1 out, Ellsbury reached on a throwing error and moved to 2nd on a ground out. A pitching change didn’t seem to help Chicago as Carlo Beltran smacked a beautiful 2-run home run into the left field seats to push the Yankees up and over the White Sox. That was also his 400th career home run for the switch-hitter, making him only the 4th switch-hitter to do so (joining the likes of Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Chipper Jones).

Dellin Betances came on to keep that lead in the 7th, and well, didn’t. Consecutive singles threatened, and a double scored the lead runner even before Betances got a single out. But then he breezed through and got 3 consecutive outs, including 2 nasty strikeouts to get out with a tied game and a blown save.

But then the Yankees decided they wanted this game and put Betances in position for a win. With 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th (can anyone say “God Bless America”?), Gregorius worked a walk and then scored on Chase Headley’s pinch-hitting double to break the tie. Despite a bases-loaded scenario just a few batters later, the Yankees couldn’t get that insurance run.

That’s okay. That came in the next inning with Brian McCann’s 1-out solo home run.

Of course, Miller breezed his way through the 8th, like usual, setting up the closer Chapman. Chapman first battled with the lead-off hitter (12 pitches in that at-bat), finally winning that battle and then quickly getting through the next two in just 4 pitches for the save.

It should be noted that while there were 22 total hits and 9 walks between the 2 teams this afternoon, of the 15 strikeouts, 12 were issued by Yankee pitchers. Because… well, have you seen them pitch?

Also, coolest play the Yankees made today was a hopping tag out at 2nd base. So, on a low ball in the 6th inning, the Chicago runner tried to steal 2nd base on Didi Gregorius. But McCann fired the ball to Gregorius who had to jump over the sliding runner to avoid being taken out himself. But in the process Gregorius tagged him on the foot just before he tagged 2nd. Initially called safe (a stolen base), the Yankees challenged, the play was reviewed, and then it was overturned and added to the highlight reel. Perhaps all those childhood games of leap frog came into good use today for him.

Final score: 7-5 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1. (“Second City” indeed, my friend.)

It was “Play Ball” weekend at Yankee Stadium these last 2 days. Yesterday, Alex Rodriguez met young fans at one of the gates at the stadium to personally hand out his replica bat and take pictures with the fans. Today, youth baseball and softball players got to parade around the stadium before the game and meet some of the current players. Two local kids got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch (to McCann and Romine), and a local championship middle school softball team were honored before the game. This weekend across MLB was to stay connected with youth sports and encourage kids to get active and get involved.

Go Yankees!

Game 31: KC vs. NYY — Battle of the blues

To be perfectly fair, neither the Royals nor the Yankees are on the plus side of this season. Plus, the Royals are 7 games behind the White Sox (and yes, it’s not a decade ago), and the Yankees 6 games behind Baltimore and Boston. It’s not like either team has had a great April, but the Royals are clinging to last October the way the Yankee fans cling to the 1990s and even 2009.

So for game 2 of this week’s series, the Yankees looked to Masahiro Tanaka to set the course for the Yankees tonight. And honestly, despite the outcome, tonight wasn’t one of Tanaka’s best outings. In 7 innings, he threw just 79 pitches, so he was efficient, but he still gave up 7 hits and 6 runs, striking out just 4 Kansas City batters. In the 2nd, the lead-off batter hit a double and then scored as part of a 2-out 2-run home run. A 1-out solo home run added another run to the Royals’ total. And then in the 5th, with runners in scoring position and 1 out, another home run (by the same hitter in the 3rd) got a 3-run home run to double the Royals’ score.

In the mean time, the Yankees just burned through the Royals’ pitching staff, facing 6 different batters over the evening. In the 1st, with 1 out and bases loaded, Dustin Ackley’s sacrifice fly got one run in to start the Yankees’ scoring. Gregorius led-off the 2nd inning with a double and then scored on Chase Headley’s single to tie up the score at that point. Beltran’s lead-off double and Ackley’s walk was enough to push the Royals’ starter out of the game in the 3rd inning. A wild pitch by the new pitcher moved the runners up before he loaded the bases with a walk to Hicks. It would be Didi Gregorius’ monster double that allowed all 3 to score and shove the Yankees into the lead again.

The Royals’ staff kept the Yankees’ bats a little quieter until the 7th inning. McCann hit a 1-out single, moved to 2nd on a balk, and then scored on Ackley’s 2-out single. Ackley ended up at 2nd on the wide throw home, which allowed him to score on Aaron Hicks’ double.

At this point, the Yankees had a nice lead, and thus prepared for their back-end bullpen power, starting with Andrew Miller in the 8th. Miller went into tonight with a 0.00 ERA, but that was blown by a lead-off solo home run (same guy who hit 2 before, by the way) to tie up the game. Despite the blown save, Miller got his 3 outs though, with 3 great strikeouts.

So, the Yankees came back in the bottom of the 8th, when Gamel reached on a fielding error and then scored on Brett Gardner’s double (Gamel’s first run scored in the MLB). Then with Castro on base with a hit by pitch, Brian McCann’s double scored both Gardner and Castro to give the Yankees a 3-run lead over the Royals.

Of course, this meant the first save opportunity for Aroldis Chapman in the 9th inning. Chapman’s fastballs were on fire tonight (topping at 102 mph) and getting batters to swing at junk. He did give up a 2-out walk, who moved to 2nd on defensive indifference and then to 3rd on a wild pitch, but a 101 mph fast ball was hit into a pop up to Castro who ended the inning and the game, giving Chapman his first save as a Yankee.

Final score 10-7

Injury update: Mark Teixeira is the latest Yankee plagued with the injury bug. Teixeira sat out tonight and is expected to be out tomorrow’s game as well due to neck spasms. He joins teammates Ellsbury and Rodriguez on the bench waiting for their body to catch up to their mind on readiness. Ellsbury is running some, but the test for getting back in the game will be when he can sprint successfully without pain in his hip. Rodriguez is thought to be out a total of 15 days, and we’re about halfway through this estimated time slot. Castro, however, was back and contributing despite whatever slight twinge he might have felt in his own oblique.

I won’t make the obvious case about the only major difference between the 3 veterans on the bench and the one who went 1-for-3, with 2 runs scored tonight. But in professional sports (as in most life instances, it seems), a 20-something body does bounce back faster than a 30-something one. Of course, it’s a lot easier to believe you’re still pretty invincible when you’re 20-something. By 30-something, your moments of enlightenment remind you that it’s okay to take a little longer, to linger in bed more in the morning, to celebrate getting to bed before 10:00 pm, to laugh at creaking joints when you get up, to recognize that those dessert calories just go directly to your thighs now and never leaves, and to be very comfortable that you’re a mature grown-up that still giggles like a schoolgirl at stupid jokes and screams at the television during a sports game like they can hear you.

Celebrate who you are, at any age. Just know that it may take a little longer to reach the cake the older you get. But still, there’s cake. So we’re good.

Go Yankees!

Game 27: BOS vs. NYY –Hick-up & win

Okay, I have to be honest, it’s really nice to write about a win. I mean, it’s always nice to write about a win against the Red Sox. Jeter recently described the Red Sox fans as soft now after winning the Series (I’m assuming he meant the 2004 “Break the Curse” one). But I can’t say that I agree. Maybe they warmed up to him enough to (as he said) “not yell at him in restaurants” anymore, but this is still the best rivalry in baseball. Maybe they have evolved into more palatable outside of the actual ball park setting, and the ribbing of each other is almost more entertainment and part of the mantle of being a Red Sox or Yankee fan.

Anyway, the Red Sox are in town for the weekend. And it was Michael Pineda’s turn to start tonight’s game. Pineda actually didn’t do a bad job, giving up 8 hits, a walk, 2 runs, and striking out 4 in his 6 innings. His weakest inning was the 1st. After 2 outs, a batter doubled and stole 3rd, which set him up to score, something he did fairly easily as the next batter smacked a big 2-run home run to jump the Red Sox into the lead early in the game.

However, it would be the only runs the Red Sox would score all night. After Pineda kept the Red Sox from adding to their score during his tenure, the Yankees began to piece together the final 3 innings with their bullpen. Shreve struggled his way through a couple of batters, giving up a hit and getting an out before handing things over to Yates to finish off the 7th.

Then in came the Dynamic Duo. Betances got the first 2 outs of the 8th, and then Miller had a rough time of it for the final 4 outs — 36 pitches, 3 hits, and a walk, but still making sure all 4 outs were strikeouts. Of course, the Red Sox added their own bits of drama even at the end of the game with some ejections caused by arguing balls and strikes. (Seriously, why do they still do this? It’s like become an automatic ejection now. And the Yankees have been known to do the same thing, so it’s not just “everyone else”.)

Now, in order for the Yankees to actually win (and in some games already this season, they would not have done so), they needed to score a few runs. So they did. Already down 2-0 coming to bat in the bottom of the 1st, Jacoby Ellsbury worked a walk to lead off the inning, stole 2nd base, then stole 3rd (more on that below), and then scored on Brian McCann’s 2-out double.

The Yankees are not without their bits of drama either tonight; they just got it out of the way early and no one was ejected. In the 2nd, Castro led-off with a single and moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt. After another out and Torreyes’ walk, Dustin Ackley (Ellsbury’s replacement) singled, which easily scored Castro. But throwing the ball in for the out, the ball got diverted back to get Torreyes going to 3rd on a pretty heads-up play for the Red Sox to end the inning after the Yankees tied up the game.

And there they sat. And then “God Bless America”. I think I figured out why other teams don’t honor America at the 7th inning stretch. It isn’t because they don’t want to, but rather that they know it does stuff for the Yankees. Like it did tonight. Aaron Hicks hit his first home run of the season and as a Yankee to lead-off the bottom of the 7th inning and give the Yankees the lead.

It was enough.

Final score: 3-2 Yankees.

Injury updates: So, on that 2nd stolen base (the one to 3rd), Ellsbury came up limping from a sore hip and was unable to continue the game (hence both Ackley and Hicks in the outfield, Beltran was DH tonight). Ellsbury is on his way to an MRI and more tests. Ellsbury has had hip issues as recently as early last year. Hopefully, this isn’t the case. You know, he was just sparking offensively too. (Isn’t that always the case?)

Also, CC Sabathia is out with a groin injury and now on the 15-day DL (though realistically his recovery time is closer to 3 weeks). Ivan Nova will move from the bullpen into his starting spot fairly seamlessly. And in the meantime, filling the 25-man roster is veteran reliever and former Yankee Phil Coke, who was recently re-signed to the team with a minor league deal. Coke made his MLB debut with the Yankees in 2008 and was with the team through the 2009 season (yes, part of that team) before spending time with the Tigers, Cubs, and Blue Jays until last year.

Sabathia’s injury comes after his stellar performance last night too. Okay, so I’m not loving this pattern — just when a player gets good, an injury just crushes their playing time (and inevitably, their spirit). Um, let’s stop this pattern.

But this winning thing… now, that’s something I can get behind.

Go Yankees!

Game 26: NYY vs. BAL — Wasted #TanakaTime

So it looks like Charm City remembered it had a baseball team. Well, some of them did. The Orioles were at 43% capacity for tonight’s game for the final game of this series. But numbers-wise, it’s still low turn out for baseball games.

Masahiro Tanaka threw yet another beautiful game and came up with a no-decision because the Yankees couldn’t seem to collectively put together any run support. That’s what’s the most disheartening about tonight’s loss. I mean, if he’d pitched just terribly or the defense just crumbled, then it would be disappointing but not unexpected. It just hurts to watch this be swept away after all of Tanaka’s just beautiful work. Tanaka threw 102 pitches in 8 shut out innings, giving up just 5 hits and a walk, and getting 7 of Baltimore’s batters to swing at some of the nastiest pitches.

The Orioles’ starter practically matched Tanaka in numbers, as the Yankees couldn’t seem to collectively put anything on the board for run support. Plus, Girardi got ejected in the 4th inning asking for an explanation as to why a balk wasn’t called on the pitcher. Because you should always eject someone asking for an explanation and then continue to harrass them as they try to leave the game peacefully, intentionally enticing them into further argumentation. Trivia: the very same umpire gave Girardi his first managerial ejection back in 2008.

Starting in the 9th inning, both teams went to their bullpens. Betances sailed through a 10-pitch inning for the Yankees, and when the Yankees got a man on, the Orioles switched to a new guy. To match them, the Yankees went to Johnny Barbato for the 10th inning, which may have been a misstep in hindsight as in 5 pitches to 2 batters who both singled to get on base and put them on the corners. All 12 Baltimore fans were on their feet in anticipation. (Pardon the hyperbole, but the lack of attendance is reminiscent of jokes made about the Rays or some of the smaller market teams and is rather off-putting.)

So it was “Miller Time” to try to shut down the threat. Unfortunately, a sacrifice fly scored the runner from 3rd, and the walk-off worked for the Orioles. There was just an accumulation of little things that led to this event, and at one point, it was just kind of inevitable. Which, again, is a super shame because of Tanaka’s amazingness tonight.

Oh, and let’s talk for a minute about Dustin Ackley’s spider-man skills. Playing in right field for only the 2nd time in his career, Ackley made the play of the night in the 9th inning. On a long fly ball, Ackley jumped up and arched just right to catch the ball, slamming off this ugly hotdog ad and then throwing it back into get the runner doubling off 1st. Apparently, the Orioles didn’t believe Ackley could really make the catch and asked for a replay to confirm he didn’t catch it in a rebound off the wall. Nope. On any angle, it was very obvious that Ackley channeled his inner Peter Parker and made the play of the night (which essentially sent the game into extra innings, by the way).

Final score: 1-0 Orioles in 10, Orioles win series 2-1 (Also: Yankees went 2-7 on this road trip.)

On the Scranton Shuttle today: The day after James Pazos was called up, he was sent back to AAA today without throwing a pitch. Also, it was his 25th birthday. Happy Birthday, here’s your free ticket back to Pennsylvania. With Gardner still very sore from the hit-by-pitch elbow injury from yesterday (he pinch-run tonight but didn’t hit or defend), the Yankees need an extra outfielder. So they called up Ben Gamel (the story leaked through the press train via Gamel’s best friend who was stoked for his friend to finally make it to the majors). Gamel did impress for the last couple of Springs but still needed some fine-tuning, hence the extended stay in Scranton. Perhaps, he’ll have a chance to prove himself during this long upcoming home stand.

Yes, the Yankees are headed back to New York for a 10-game home stand — a weekend series against the Red Sox, then 4 games against the Royals, and winding up next weekend against the White Sox. I feel like there’s a joke to be made in there about pink majestic laundry, but I can’t seem to find it.

Go Yankees!

Spring Games 27 & 28: NYY vs. PHI & PIT vs. NYY — Keystone vs. Empire = Soggy shortened Tuesday

Okay, this late March weather has been kind of wacky, but the giant storm system that swept through today (and the only storm system in the entire country right now) ended up canceling 4 of the 8 games scheduled to play in the Grapefruit League today (though one is scheduled for tonight) and shortened 2 more due to extended rain delays. With split squad on the schedule for the Yankees today, the rain delayed and drastically affected both games.

First, the Yankees crossed the Bay to play the Phillies in Clearwater, but the storm delayed the start 35 minutes. When they started the game, it was looking promising, despite the rain keeping steady somewhere between a drizzle and actual downpour. The Yankees got off to a great start getting 4 runs in the 1st inning (thanks mainly to Dustin Ackley’s monster 3-run home run), and starter Masahiro Tanaka was keeping that lead solid, only giving up 1 run (an RBI double in the bottom of that 1st inning). Tanaka needed this kind of outing after his last near-disaster last week, as he’s slated (according to most sources) for the Opening Day starter next week.

The Yankees added onto that 3-run lead with 3 more runs (a nice 2-run home run in the 4th), giving them a 7-1 score going into the 5th inning.

But then, some nasty lightning swept through the area, and for the sake of safety, they went into a bit of a rain delay before finally calling it quits. As the game hadn’t been a full 5 innings, the game was officially cancelled and all scores and statistics reset to zero.

Final score for Game 1: nothing, because it was cancelled… it’s as if it never happened. And that is just awful because the Yankees were doing really good today in Clearwater.

So then over in Tampa, despite the threatening, overcast, very muggy skies, the game played on against the visiting Pirates (yes, it was the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. the City of New York today). So, the Yankees took the field behind CC Sabathia, looking for a good outing to get himself back on track for the Spring. And he did so, rather well actually. He was solid through his first 3 innings, with a bit of a dust-up in his 4th, overall giving up just 3 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, striking out 2 Pittsburgh batters. With 2 runners in scoring position and 2 outs, a nice single scored both runners to get the Pirates on the board.

In the mean time, the Yankees racked up enough runs to help Sabathia earn today’s win. In the 2nd, Mark Teixeira led-off with a walk, and just as the rain really started to come down, Carlos Beltran smacked a big 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board. Then Headley singled and scored on Starlin Castro’s double. All before any outs were recorded that inning. In the 3rd, Gardner reached safely on a fielding error moved to 3rd on Rodriguez’s single and then scored on Teixeira’s single. Rodriguez’s pinch-runner then scored on Beltran’s sac fly (making Beltran responsible for 3 of the Yankees’ 5 runs today)

So with the rain coming down at a steady pace, the Yankees went into the 5th inning (about the time the Yankees in Clearwater were in the midst of their “non-game”). Nick Goody came on in relief and really struggled once again. A lead-off home run added to the Pirates’ score and a double put a runner in scoring position before a line out ended Goody’s less than successful day. Johnny Barbato took his turn on the mound quickly getting a ground out, but a single scored that runner putting the Pirates within 1 run.

So at the top of the 6th inning, no one took the field. The home plate umpire, Girardi, and the grounds crew chief held a bit of a tete-a-tete to debate what they wanted to do with the weather. Initially, the decision was to call a delay. Out came the tarp, as fans (at least those who remained donning ponchos and rain jackets) went to join the non-ponchoed and jacketless on the concourse and breezeway to await the final call.

Tarp on the field, at Steinbrenner Field. (Photo credit: blog author)

After a 30 minute delay, they officially called the game, making it a shortened but complete game, having finished 5 complete innings (or 30 total outs).

Final score for Game 2: 5-4 Yankees, in 5 innings.

Roster update: Girardi (and the powers that be) hope to have a finalized 25 (and 40) man roster by Thursday, though he has confirmed that reliever Bryan Mitchell will be joining the Bronx-bound crew for Opening Day.

Also, no “one to watch” today because the rain robbed us of time to watch the farm guys in action. They’re out there, and they’re going to impact every level of the Yankees’ farm system, and some will even don the pinstripes with the big guys. Be ready… they’re coming!

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 26: DET vs. NYY — That 6th inning again… but the Empire Strikes Back

In one week, the Yankees will be back in the Bronx for Opening Day. But in the mean time, there’s still a week of Spring baseball to play in preparation and still (as of after the game) 37 players in camp to whittle down to the magic number of 25 in the next few days.

Tonight, for the last evening game of the Spring in Tampa, the Yankees hosted the Detroit Tigers. And with a full range of regulars or 25-man roster guys on defense, the Yankees called on bullpen prospect Luis Cessa to start tonight’s game, after some pretty decent relief outings over the Spring. He continued that trend with the lone exception of the 3rd inning, allowing 2 runners on base but then getting out of the inning unscathed. Cessa’s 4 strikeouts over his 3 innings isn’t a bad statistic either.

Barbato continues to make a case for himself in the bullpen as well, with his 4th inning tonight, but it was Chapman and his flawless 5th inning that had the chatter going around the stadium. Easily his best outing of the Spring, Chapman reminded Yankee fans why they should be counting the days until his pinstripe debut (May 9th, if you really want to count down), with 2 fiery strikeouts of his own.

Reliever Nick Goody got himself into a bit of trouble by doing what he was asked to do — throw strikes. The problem with throwing strikes is that sometimes good hitters will hit them and turn them into hits and runs instead. After an initial strike out, Goody gave up back-to-back solo home runs and then a single before getting back in the business of striking out the next two batters. Like I said, a pitcher has to throw strikes, and sometimes batters hit those strikes, and sometimes really good batters hit those strikes right out of the park. No reflection on Goody here with that one. He did his job, but then so did the Tigers’ offense in this inning.

Chasen Shreve came on in the 7th inning to do what he does best — plow through the opposing team’s lineup like it’s no big deal, setting them down in order, and righting the game for the Yankees once again. And it was Diego Moreno who got the last couple of innings for the Yankees’ stable of relievers tonight, working his way effortlessly through the 8th inning and with only a small hit in the 9th that was quickly erased with a snazzy double play (more in a moment).

On the other side of the diamond, the Yankees took their time during tonight’s 2 hour, 24 minute game to get themselves on the scoreboard. Mark Teixeira kicked it in gear with a lead-off solo home run in the 7th inning (there’s something to “God Bless America”, like I’ve said before). And in the bottom of the 8th, with 2 outs, the Yankees grabbed a couple of singles and then Dustin Ackley hit the runners (Silva and Corporan) home with a solid 2-RBI double to give the Yankees the lead.

With that double play by a really great DP duo (Torreyes and Kozma) in the 9th, the Yankees took their victory on a soft ground out to short stop (Torreyes) and Sinatra serenaded the crowd to the parking lot.

Also, kudos to the Yankee pitching staff tonight who racked up 11 total strikeouts of Tigers’ batters (compared to the 3 from the Tigers’ staff).

Final score: 3-2 Yankees.

Roster update: after tonight’s game, the Yankees reassigned Diego Moreno (who got tonight’s win, by the way) to minor league camp. That brings the number down to 37. 12 more cuts to go, and I don’t imagine anyone’s looking forward to the ax (neither the one swinging it nor the one getting it). This is a tough year for this. It usually seems easier with a couple of position exceptions.

Okay, ones to watch tonight (and I’ve mentioned this a couple of times) are Ronald Torreyes and Pete Kozma. They were a powerhouse in the middle infield defense, just showing off their instinct and teamwork with that 9th inning double play. With Kozma’s offensive contribution, he certainly is making a case for himself on the 40-man roster. I don’t think Torreyes is that far behind. Scranton could watch some great defense from those two, though I’ve seen both players in other positions that certainly prove their capacity as utility players.

I remember I had a conversation once with someone whose grandson had his heart set on being a professional baseball player. I think the old school of thought is to be the next Clayton Kershaw (starting pitcher) or Bryce Harper (power-hitting outfielder), but there is so much need for infield utility players — guys who can fill in at short stop or 2nd or even play some outfield — as well as middle relievers (pitchers who fill in the innings between the starter and closer).

And I think we’re moving away from the traditional single slot roles, especially at the minor league level. Players who are more versatile are getting more play time because they can be used wherever whenever, and not just when one guy needs a break. Sure, you’re not going to see utility players or middle relievers on the front of sports magazines (and why is that, by the way?), but they are so ridiculously valuable for every team as reliable, necessary, consistent cogs in the giant organization that is a professional baseball team.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: no video links tonight as there was no broadcast tonight. Wish I could show off Teixeira’s homer or the DP, but you’ll just have to wait for those guys to do it all again. Don’t worry — they will!}