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!

It’s almost Spring…

Well, now that the other major American sport has taken its bow, it’s time to focus on the real American pastime. And before you’re wondering, I write a blog about the New York Yankees, which team could I possibly back in the big game last night — the team that plays in Boston or the one that doesn’t?

Anyway, just a couple of days ago, the Yankees posted pictures of their staff loading up all their equipment, loading it onto the truck, and sending it on its way down to Tampa. Many on the current roster and invitees (including quite a few of the Baby Bombers on the top 100 prospects list) are showing up at the minor league complex for early workouts. Tickets to games are being purchased, renovations at the field are almost done, and the countdown in down to mere days. Yes, Yankee Universe, it’s almost Spring Training.

The Yankees have wrapped up the last few weeks of their off-season in many ways. Last month, Chance Adams, Starlin Castro, Clint Frazier, Chase Headley, Matt Holliday, James Kaprielian, CC Sabathia, Gary Sanchez, Justus Sheffield, and Gleyber Torres helped out with the Yankees first ever “Winter Warm-up“, an event designed to introduce new players to New York and its legacy and community with the help of some of the veterans. This included surprising a life-long fan with VIP tickets; touring the City and Yankee Stadium; holding a live-streamed town hall for fans; visiting a senior center, an elementary school, a senior community event, and cancer center; calling season ticket holders personally; and surprising Bronx residents joining them for lunch at a local restaurant.

At a special awards banquet in January, quite a few Yankees were recognized for their contributions in baseball this past season. Last year’s “Warriors Three” (or No-Runs DMC, as some rogue reporters seems to believe they should be dubbed), Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were recognized by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with the “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke Award” for their outstanding teamwork this year. What is especially significant is that this three-headed monster was split in July when Chapman went to the Cubs (and got a ring) and Miller went to the Indians (and almost got a ring, settling for the AL MVP instead). Betances took over the closing role to finish the season but is more than willing to slide back to set-up man after the Yankees resigned Chapman in December. The local writers’ group also honored other Yankees at that dinner. Chase Headley received the “Good Guy Award” and Mark Teixeira shared the Slocum Award for Long and Meritorious Service with Boston’s David Ortiz, in addition to a number of other awards given across baseball.

Overlapping Spring Training once again is the World Baseball Classic. As of this posting, only two Yankees have committed to play for the WBC. Didi Gregorius will play for the Dutch team, which is scheduled to start its games March 7 in Seoul against South Korea, Taipei, and Israel. Dellin Betances has committed to play for the Dominican Republic, which starts its games March 9 in Miami against Canada, the United States, and Columbia. There was talk that Sanchez might join Betances on the reigning championship team, but the closer to Spring Training, the less likely the chances. Masahiro Tanaka was offered a spot on the Japanese team, but opted for Spring Training to get back in the momentum of being a Yankee and come out stronger than last year.

In a single day last month, the baseball world lost two of its members in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic. Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, 25, was a key part of the Royals’ 2014 World Series attempt and their 2015 World Series win, even earning Rookie of the Year in 2014. Former third baseman Andy Marte, 33, was originally signed by the Braves in 2005 before spending the bulk of his career with the Indians and most recently the 2014 season with the Diamondbacks and a team in South Korea. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families and friends as they mourn their loved ones.

I wish I could tell you the Yankees had some good news about the Hall of Fame results, but it was not to be this year. Instead, the BBWAA (the same guys who recognized Teixeira, Betances, and Headley) decided that just three former players would make it to Cooperstown this year — Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The trio are the only three who made the cut-off at 75% of the earned votes. Most Yankee fans will probably only remember two names — Mike Mussina (holding on for another year at 51.8% of the vote) and Jorge Posada (who failed to get the minimum 5% voting needed to stay on the ballot next year at 3.8%).

Bagwell spent all 15 seasons (1991-2005) with the Astros, as their star first baseman. Raines is predominantly known as the left fielder of the Expos (1979-1990, 2001), but he also spent some of his 23 seasons with the White Sox, Athletics, Marlins, Orioles, and Yankees. Raines spent his time with the Yankees during the start of the most recent dynasty, 1996-1998, even earning a 1996 World Series ring for his postseason contributions. Rodriguez spent the majority of his 21 seasons with the Rangers (1991-2002, 2009), eventually spending time with the Marlins, Tigers, Astros, Nationals, and Yankees. Rodriguez may be the most familiar to current Yankee fans as he spent the latter half of the 2008 season in pinstripes as back-up catcher. As expected, neither of the former Yankees will be donning a Yankee insignia on their monument plaque in the Hall of Fame, which will be honored and unveiled on July 30.

Okay, so here’s important Spring dates to remember: February 14 — pitchers and catchers report to camp (8 days away); February 15 — pitcher and catchers work out day, Steinbrenner Field open to public if you want to watch the work outs (9 days); February 18 — full squad reporting day (12 days); February 19 — full squad work out day (13 days); February 24 — Spring Training home opener vs. Phillies (18 days); April 2 — Season Opener at the Rays (55 days); and April 10 — Home opener vs. the Rays (62 days).

Yes, it’s almost Spring…

Go Yankees!

World Series 3: CLE vs. CHC — Shutout in Wrigleyville

On the north side of Chicago, Wrigleyville was packed tonight with fans excited to bring the World Series back to Wrigley Field for the first time in 71 years. The last time the Cubs were in a World Series (October 6-10, 1945), the world had just declared peace a few weeks prior, and the majority of the 40,000+ fans inside the stadium (and the thousands outside) hadn’t even been born.

So, it’s understandable that Chicago is pretty excited to see its team not just in the World Series, but having a pretty good chance of bringing a championship back to Cubs (since 1908) and to Wrigley for the first time (Wrigley opened in 1914). But not based on how they played tonight.

Actually, the Indians and Cubs’ starters had quite a bit of a pitching duel for most of the game tonight. The Indians’ Tomlin really kept things tight for his team, throwing just 58 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up just 2 hits and a walk. Meanwhile, the Indians’ batters pushed the Cubs’ starter Hendricks in his pitch count — 85 pitches into to the 5th inning, giving up 6 hits and 2 walks. Yes, the Indians had more opportunities, but the Cubs were able to get the outs in the right places, allowing their hometown fans to have quite a stressful night on the edge of their seats (so to speak, as most of the fans stood for the full game in anticipation).

Both bullpens kept the game tight, and mostly scoreless. Miller, Shaw, and Allen split the final four innings for the Indians and did what they do best — dominate and keep their opponents from advancing. Now, the Cubs’ bullpen was actually really strong tonight as well (with a single inning exception), as Maddon (the Cubs’ manager) pieced together the best combination to keep the Indians from doing much on their end as well.

Like I said, there was a single inning where the Indians finally broke the scoreless game. Albeit a momentary break. But in these kinds of games, you grab what you can. In the 7th inning, the Indians led-off with a single. The pinch-runner moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch put him at 3rd. After a walk to Davis, the Cubs’ reliever attempted to pick-off the lead runner, but the runner was deemed safe. The Cubs thought it was too close and challenged it, but the call was upheld.

This ended up being good for the Indians as pinch-hitter Crisp’s single scored that lead runner to get a run on the board. The other runner was thrown out at 3rd on the play, and the Cubs went to a new reliever. A ground out (and subsequent challenge that was upheld) ended the inning and the run-scoring for the night.

Final score: 1-0 Indians, Indians lead series 2-1.

The Indians now hold record for most postseason shutout games, at 5. That says a lot about the state of pitching for both teams in this series actually. I wouldn’t be surprised if the MVP for the World Series (despite which team wins) was a pitcher (like it was for both the NLCS and ALCS).

Chicago native, former Yankee, and current Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award prior to tonight’s game. Granderson has been committed to giving back to the community since his college days, making a large personal donation to his alma mater (UI-Chicago) to help build a baseball complex to serve inner city kids, and is the current home of his foundation’s youth clinics in Chicago. His foundation also runs clinics in New York and Florida. Granderson is also involved in other charities in New York like food banks, housing projects, the USO, and YMCA, and is the active in campaigns to fight childhood obesity, water initiatives, and MLB’s Diversity Task Force. A good guy to receive a “good guy award”.

Brett Gardner was announced today as a Gold Glove Award finalist for his outstanding defense as the Yankees’ left fielder. Every year, the award is given to the best defensive player at each position. Managers and coaches votes (within league and not for their own players) are weighted at 75% of the vote with the other 25% weighted by the actual statistics. But anyone who’s watch Gardner leap, slide, dive, and somersault in the outfield ever know how much he deserves the honor. Fingers crossed that everyone else sees it too.

And in Baby Bomber news: Gleyber Torres was named as the Arizona Fall League’s Player of the Week. Torres, you may remember, was part of the trade that sent closer Chapman to the Cubs (and eventually to the World Series), but his impact in the Yankees’ organization is becoming quite the conversation. He is considered one of the best prospects in the Yankee farm system and one of the best prospects in the all of MLB. In other words, everyone is watching this young kid from Venezuela with high hopes for the future. And he’s currently wearing Baby Bomber pinstripes.

Go Yankees!

Game 99: NYY vs. HOU — Goodbye, new friend… Hello, old friends

Okay, the trade rumors proved true to an extent. One pitcher is on his way to the Cubs, and another is on his way to join the Yankees in Houston for their series there this week. Plus, the Yankees clearly got the better end of the deal picking up 3 prospects, including one rather promising 19 year old infielder. But that’s covered below after the game.

Because despite all the chatter being about the trade, it was still a game day, and the Yankees began their 3-game mid-week series in Houston facing the Astros, who are doing a pretty good job this year themselves. Plus, the Yankees faced off against their ace tonight, and like they did with the Giants, the Yankees proved they’re a better team than their current stats say they are.

Michael Pineda got the start tonight for the Yankees, and his command from start to finish was one of a mature starter who is now settled into his role on this team. He threw 103 pitches in his full 7 innings, giving up just 5 hits, 2 walks, and a single run, and striking out 8 Houston batters. That lone run was a lead-off solo home run right in the 1st inning, but the Astros couldn’t do much after that. In fact, they didn’t add any further runs to their score. This meant that Pineda, his relievers, and the defense spent the rest of the game defending and waiting for their offense to pick up.

Of course, it helped that Pineda’s relievers were the “Dynamic Duo” (formerly combined in with the “Warriors Three”, but that’s further explained below). Dellin Betances breezed his way through the 8th with 3 seemingly easy strikeouts, and Andrew Miller’s 9th inning and game-ending double play (after a messy attempt at one just a batter earlier) gave him his 8th save of the season.

And this save came into play because the Yankees did respond offensively against the Astros’ ace starter, albeit a few small contributions. But sometimes, the route to a win is via that “small ball”. In the 5th, with 2 outs, Didi Gregorius doubled and then scored on Chase Headley’s single. And with the game tied, the Yankees went into the 8th inning with a great opportunity in Headley’s lead-off single. He then came in to score the winning run on Austin Romine’s double. Two outs and Romine on 3rd, the starter was out of the game, and they brought in a fairly efficient reliever to close out the Yankees attempt at an insurance run. That reliever shut down the Yankees in order in the 8th.

But that 1-run difference was enough in the end. That, and the Yankee pitchers combining for 12 total strikeouts.

Final score: 2-1 Yankees.

Before the game, former Yankee and long-time Houston resident Andy Pettitte stopped by to visit his former team and help out by throwing batting practice. Pettitte, still enjoying retirement, loves visiting with his former team when they’re in town, chatting up the newer guys, checking in with the veterans, and giving some great advice to the rookies.

Roster moves: Okay, the Yankees sent their flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in exchange for 4 players, including Adam Warren. Seen as getting the better end of the deal for many reasons, the Yankees acquired outfielding prospects Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford and infielding prospect Gleyber Torres in addition to former Yankee reliever Adam Warren. (Warren was traded to the Cubs this offseason. Torres, however, is the one everyone is talking about as he’s considered one of the best prospects in the game (ranked #24).

And in case you were wondering, Torres and Crawford have been assigned to High-A Tampa, McKinney to AA Trenton, and Warren joins the Yankees in Houston.

For all you Chapman fans out there, know that Chapman is a free agent after this season. This means he could get his wish (“God willing,” as he said in an interview) and head back to New York for next season. Chapman reassured the press (and himself) that this was a good thing because the Cubs do stand a pretty good chance to be in the World Series this year. He’s right, of course, but he did express a bit of regret not being able to finish the season with his new “family” as he dubbed the Yankees. So, who knows?

Also, Luis Severino is back, being recalled to the Yankees after spending some time with their AAA Scranton team after his rehab stint back in May. The corresponding roster move hasn’t been announced yet, but I imagine before next game and all the pieces have been moved around the board, we’ll know something and things will be settled into place.

Go Yankees!