Spring Games 29 & 30: NYY vs. ATL & TOR vs. NYY — Double the win, double the fun

Okay, it was a busy day for the Yankees playing split squad games and dealing with a mix of changes and potential alterations to the lineup. A portion of the Yankees traveled over to face the Braves in Kissimmee (on Disney World property), and another portion stayed in Tampa to face off against the visiting the Blue Jays. They will play both teams later next week — the Braves in a final exhibition game in Atlanta on Monday night and the opening series in Toronto next weekend.

Game 1: Yankees at Braves
This game was oddly routine for most of the game this afternoon. Luis Severino got the start and gave up 2 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs in his 5 innings, striking out 7 batters along the way. Oddly, all of his allowed hits, walks, and runs came in just the 4th inning. He gave up a single that scored on a big 2-run home run to get the Braves on the board. He then gave up 2 walks but then buckled down and got 2 strikeouts and a ground out to get out of the inning.

Chad Green had a great 6th inning, but then gave up a single in the 7th before the Yankees handed the ball to Adam Warren. A sacrifice bunt moved that runner to 2nd and later a 2-out single scored that runner, charged to Green. Warren came out for the first out of the 8th before handing things over to Ben Heller for a flawless 2 strikeouts. Cody Carroll then flew through the 9th inning. Overall, the Yankee pitchers collected an impressive 14 total strikeouts.

The Braves actually kept the score pretty tight and in their favor for most of the game. The Yankees got on the board first in the 4th, with Aaron Hicks’ lead-off solo home run and Ryan McBroom’s 1-out solo shot. After the Braves tied up the game and then took the lead by the top of the 7th, the Yankees didn’t get their next option until the 9th inning. And boy did they pounce. McBroom led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd on Aguilar’s single, and then scored on Gleyber Torres’ 2-out single to tie up the game.

Then Billy McKinney’s single then scored Aguilar to put the Yankee ahead, and a wild pitch moved runners to scoring position. Shane Robinson’s single scored Torres, and the Braves called for a new reliever to find that elusive 3rd out. But then Hendrix worked a walk to load the bases, and Francisco Diaz followed that up with a walk of his own to scored yet another run. Back to the top of the inning’s order, McBroom then hit a long single and 2 runners scored thanks in part to a throwing error.

Final score: 8-3 Yankees

Game 2: Blue Jays at Yankees
Meanwhile, back in Tampa, the game was anything but usual, with both teams going back and forth for much of the game. David Hale got the start with mixed results in his 3 innings. He gave up a 1-out single and a 2-out 2-run homer right in the 1st inning. In the 3rd, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a ground out and then scored on a 2-out single.

The Yankee batters kept the score close though. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Stanton worked a walk and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ 2-run home run to tie up the game. In the 4th, Miguel Andujar worked a walk, stole 2nd, and then scored on Austin Romine’s long 2-out double that bounced off the center field wall (just inches from the top off the wall to be a home run).

Judge hit a 1-out single in the 5th and then scored with Giancarlo Stanton’s monster 2-run home run that dented the Pepsi sign on the top left of the big scoreboard in left field. In the 6th, they loaded up the bases with singles by Andujar and Florial and a walk to Romine. With 1 out, Brett Gardner hit a long sacrifice fly and scored Andujar. Then Rashad Crawford hit a solid double to scored Florial. That gave the Yankees a nice lead.

Giovanny Gallegos threw a strong 2 innings, before handing the ball to JP Feyereisen in the 6th. Feyereisen had a fairly strong 6th, despite giving up a 1-out solo shot. But the lead-off batter in the 7th hit a sharp comebacker that smacked Feyereisen’s hand. He was flexing it, and they let him continue. But he struggled with control (an oddity for the young prospect) for the rest of the inning — giving up a ground-rule double, a 2-RBI single, a double play, and a walk.

Young reliever Josh Rogers came on to finish off the 7th for Feyereisen and closed out that inning scoreless before plowing through the next 2 innings and keeping the Blue Jays from adding to their score and chipping away at the Yankees’ lead.

Oddly paralleling the other game, the Yankees had a rather big offensive inning at home. This one in the bottom of the 7th. They loaded up the bases with a single, an error, and a walk. Estevan Florial worked a walk to score a run before Erik Kratz powered a big bases-clearing, 3-run double. One out later, Zack Zehner hit a big 2-run home run off the black screen above center field. Despite loading up the bases and a pitching change, the Yankees weren’t able to add more to their score.

But they really didn’t need it.

Final score: 13-6 Yankees

Ones to Watch: for the final Spring Training nominees, we’ve got outfielder Rashad Crawford and pitcher Josh Rogers. Crawford is consistent in his defense, for a second Spring in a row, and his outstanding offense today (2 hits in 2 at-bats, 1 RBI) helped the Yankees power through toward victory. And the dominance of Rogers’ pitching helped keep the Blue Jays away, throwing 7 solid outs and earning the save in today’s game. Both young players (ages 24 and 23, respectively) are certainly worth keeping an eye on, with a call to the Bronx sometime in the near future.

Next up: the Yankees play their final Florida-based Spring Training game tomorrow afternoon in Port Charlotte against the Rays. It’s almost over, everyone. Opening Day is right around the corner.

Injury: Brandon Drury is nursing a bruised elbow, buying an elbow pad to be worn for all future at-bats, and being grateful there wasn’t something more serious that would deter him from playing in the opening series next week. And Greg Bird was scheduled to start the game against the Braves, but during batting practice, Bird felt a soreness in his foot. And what complicates things is that it’s the same area that troubled him for most of last season that hampered his play time. They are sending him to further testing, while crossing fingers and hoping for the best. The small advantage is the ridiculous depth the Yankees do have now — Tyler Austin, Neil Walker, and even Austin Romine can all play 1st if necessary.

Roster: before today’s games, the Yankees sent Domingo German down to AAA Scranton, effectively making Jonathan Holder the extra reliever the Yankees hope to carry into the season. More roster moves are expected this weekend before the Yankees leave for Atlanta, but most of the spots are now pretty set. And that alone should give everyone some really big hope for this season. They’re really good. Their back-ups are really good. This whole team could be something to watch this season.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: limited media available for the home game against the Blue Jays. It was amazing, so I’m sorry you won’t get to see it.}

Spring Game 18: DET vs. NYY — Falling short is breaking even in first Spring tie

If we were in a relegation league (like European football or soccer), a tie is an acceptable outcome because it still counts for a point. Basically, they run off a points collection system — a win is 3 points, a tie (or draw) is 1 point, and a loss is 0 points. At the end of the season, the bottom 2 teams are relegated to the next level lower and the top 2 teams of that level are promoted. Meanwhile, the four teams with the most points are automatically in the play-offs. (Disclosure: yes, I do also watch the Premier League or the soccer league in the United Kingdom. Sports fans are often diversified in their consumption, and it certainly fills the baseball off-season watching guys in shorts chase around a ball in the sometimes snowy fields around England.)

Anyway, in Spring Training, we don’t get any points for any games. So since the games don’t count and the points don’t matter, a tie is entirely possible. And after today’s game in Tampa, there have been a total of 20 ties so far in Spring Training in both Florida and Arizona. (Note: as of this posting, there are currently 6 in-progress or scheduled games for the rest of today.)

And truthfully, it was kind of the expected outcome on this lazy, cool Tuesday afternoon, under clear blue skies. CC Sabathia was certainly strong in his 4 inning outing today against the visiting Tigers. His lone allowed run was a 1-out solo shot in the 3rd inning, but mostly, Sabathia showed that he is continuing his momentum from his strong last season. From there, the rest of the pitching staff mostly continued that momentum for this game.

Adam Warren, Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, and Chad Green each took an inning and kept the Tigers to their lone run. But then Giovanny Gallegos, who has had a patchy Spring this year, struggled a bit in the 9th. He gave up a lead-off single that moved to 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on a long single. But then he buckled down with consecutive strikeouts and a line drive out to 2nd to escape the inning.

However, up until then, the Yankees were certainly just not hitting off the Tigers’ starting pitcher, a veteran starter formerly from the Nationals’ power-packed pitching staff. But then the relievers held off the Yankees’ hitters for most of the game. The Yankees only got 4 hits off Tigers’ pitchers in today’s game. They just really weren’t hitting well again.

It wasn’t until the 8th inning, when Didi Gregorius hit a lead-off big solo home run to tie up the game at that point. Aaron Hicks followed that with a single and moved to 2nd on a ground out. After Lind and Torres worked walks, the bases were loaded. Shane Robinson hit into a ground out at 2nd, but the Tigers were unable to turn two and Hicks scored. With runners on the corners, Robinson was caught stealing (maybe? those questionable calls resumed throughout today’s game too) and ended the rally.

Once the Tigers tied up the game in the top of the 9th, the Yankees had their last shot in the bottom 9th. Jeff Hendrix worked a lead-off walk, and in the process of stealing 2nd, he ended up all the way at 3rd thanks to a throwing error. Two outs later, Wade worked his own walk and then stole 2nd on defensive indifference, putting both runners in scoring position, but a dribbly ground out ended the inning and the game.

Final score: 2-2 tie

O2W: This one was a bit harder to choose today because we’ve reached the part of the season where the Yankees’ starters play longer in the game, giving the up-and-comers less of a chance to show off their stuff. I make it a point of not choosing a veteran, even one technically under a minor league contract like Adam Lind, who certainly showed off a bit today in his attempt to land a spot on the Opening Day roster. So, when I think back on the game, I was impressed with Jeff Hendrix‘s speed and base-running sharpness in that 9th inning today, certainly threatening the Tigers. He was able to read the situation well and respond to his best advantage. That’s a skill that worth watching at the very least.

Next up: the Yankees head down to Sarasota to face the Orioles tomorrow afternoon, one of the few games they’re not playing at Steinbrenner Field this week. Yankees’ prospect Chance Adams is on tap to start that game.

Roster move: after game, catcher Kyle Higashioka and Gleyber Torres were optioned to AAA Scranton and reassigned to minor league camp. With the addition of Walker to the infield competition, Torres will not be making the starting roster, which is really good for the young infielder. Torres can use his time in Scranton to really hone his skills and get himself ready for a potential mid-season call-up or even the 2019 roster. It worked out well for the likes of Judge and Sanchez (and even Jeter and Pettitte) to have some extra time in the minor leagues, so I believe that will work out well for Torres and many of the other guys that will join him over the next two weeks.

I know I said I wouldn’t talk about the standings again, but I have to just do a completely objective update, especially as the Yankees haven’t been as strong in recent games as they were earlier this Spring. Currently, the top 4 teams in baseball are the Astros, Cubs, Yankees, and Brewers — two AL and two NL teams, also two Florida and two Arizona teams. The Cubs have 11 wins, 4 losses, and 3 ties in 18 games (average: .733); the Astros have 13 wins, 5 losses, and 2 ties in 20 games (average: .722); the Yankees and Brewers each have 11 wins, 6 losses, and 1 tie in 18 games (average .647). No comment, just basic statistics, and a reminder that the games don’t count and the points don’t matter.

Go Yankees!

One more sleep until baseball…

I’ve been contemplative all day really. When you write a daily blog that revolves around a single thing, your life is pretty much built around that. Like when you grow up, your entire world is built around the school schedule. You know when your vacation days are, you known when exams will be so you know when you will need to pull all-nighters, you structure your days, your life around one stable thing. And it works.

That’s me and baseball. The season technically starts tomorrow with the first Spring Training game against the Tigers (more on that in a moment). And the last baseball game was November 1, Game 7 of the World Series when the Astros defeated the Dodgers to become champions last year. For the average fan, they catch a random game some time between March and September, maybe use a mobile app a few times a week to see where their team currently sits in the standings. But my life pretty much revolves around the baseball season, which means from the first pitch of Spring Training to the final out of the World Series, I’m locked in. I take my blog with me on vacations (even to Europe a few years ago), I write after weddings and birthday parties (sometimes late into the night or early the next morning), I’m pretty much always on my phone (thanks to Twitter and my own mobile apps).

I know it’s sometimes confusing to my friends and family that I’m not always present or available during the season. I’m not quite a journalist, though because I went to school for journalism, my approach is often more sports writer than your average blogger. But I’ve found something that works. I get to appreciate the game from the fan’s perspective, recap it for those who don’t watch every game, and then talk about the state of the game and the team how I see it. My approach, my perspective, my appreciation, even my opinions have evolved over this blog, as they should, as we should grow in ourselves and expand our worldview.

I started this blog five years ago on a whim, just to see if I could do it for a season, and honestly, hoping I could follow one team through to winning the World Series. In the last five seasons, I’ve seen big retirements, big signings, and thousands of little moments that matter even more. I’ve made memories at stadiums all over the country, friends from all over the world, and discovered that the sport we love is so much more than the game we see on the field.

Now, on the eve of my sixth (!) season following the Yankees, I’ve never been more hopeful for this team. The roster is different, younger, and catching the eye of the talking heads (and actually in a good way). The fans in general are cautiously optimistic after last year, and I don’t blame them. And while the real season starts in about a month, baseball’s warm-up season begins tomorrow afternoon.

I don’t think I really understood the value of Spring Training until I started this blog. But now, I think I look forward to it more than any other time of year. I’ve been watching the likes of Aaron Judge and many prospects now on other organizations’ 40-man rosters. As much as everyone wanted to see Judge so much earlier, watching Spring Training proved both his potential but also that he needed another season or two working out the quirks. Now, he’s the reigning Home Run Derby champion, All-Star, Silver Slugger, and Rookie of the Year. Had they brought him up before he was ready, awards would not be there, and he would have had to work out all the quirks on a much bigger stage. How the “talking heads” would have loved discussing that!

But the value of Spring Training was understanding why the minor league system works. That very same system that brought all of the Core Four into the last dynasty, and the same system that is filled with prospects like Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, and Miguel Andujar, all of which have a very real chance to see the big leagues this year (maybe even the starting roster). The beauty of Spring Training is being able to see the random players in the organization that might be the next something special.

Or maybe they’re the star quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson. Wilson was acquired in a trade earlier this month from the Rangers and will be assigned to AA Trenton during the season. Wilson, who grew up playing baseball and football, was drafted by the Rockies in 2010 and spends his NFL off-season (which is now, of course) playing minor league ball, now with the Yankees this season. He posted on his social media today that he’s on his way to spend time in camp in Tampa, though as he’s not on the roster or not an official non-roster invitee, he won’t be playing any games at Steinbrenner Field. He’ll instead spend his time at minor league camp joined progressively by all those non-roster invitees and players on the roster that won’t be on the Opening Day roster.

So, it’s one more sleep until baseball…

And it’s all just beginning… once again…

Go Yankees!

Off Season Update: Holiday Wrap-up

Well, the Astros are the reigning World Champions, much to the city of Houston’s glee. The parade through the streets of Houston, which had been nearly devastated just a few months earlier was a big encouragement to those who are still trying to rebuild their homes and lives after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast in late August.

Winter Meetings begin on Monday, and between the Astros winning Game 7 over the Dodgers and the Winter Meetings on Monday, it’s not exactly been a quiet off-season. Especially for the Yankees.

Awards Season: Almost immediately following the World Series, MLB Universe wraps up its season by handing out all sorts of awards. Mostly, it was Aaron Judge that was up for many of the awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year, but it was a tough year for nearly every category as there was some really outstanding players and plays made this season. You can catch up on all the awards (with extensive coverage and video clips) here. But I’m just going to do a brief Yankee Universe summary.

As expected, the MVPs and Hank Aaron Awards of both the AL and NL went to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, though Judge’s name was tossed about quite a bit for the AL versions of both awards. Judge did snag Rookie of the Year, voted so unanimously, the first Yankee to do so since Jeter in 1996. (Side note: also in the mix for ROTY — breakout starter Jordan Montgomery.) Judge was also awarded the Silver Slugger for right field, something he shared this year with teammate Gary Sanchez, who won it for his catching position. And Judge was also voted on by his fellow players for the Players’ Choice Award of Outstanding AL Rookie.

Now, Esurance sponsors its own array of awards for the season and quite a few Yankees graced the finalists lists. Best Major Leaguer was awarded to Altuve over 9 other finalists including MLB legends like Stanton and Trout as well as (of course) Judge. Severino was nominated for Best Pitcher, but lost to the Indians’ Corey Kluber (who had an outstanding postseason in his own right). Of the 6 finalists for Best Rookie, who else but Aaron Judge became the natural choice. The Astros’ manager AJ Hinch edged out 9 other finalists for Best Manager, including Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman got the same treatment in the Best Executive category as the Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow snagged that one. Other awards include Best Postseason Moment, Best TV/Radio Call, Best Play, Personality of the Year, and Best Fan Catch, none of which unfortunately include any Yankees

Hello, old friend: At the end of October, before the World Series was even complete, the Yankees announced they were parting ways with their long-term manager Joe Girardi, and began the search for their new skipper. With former bench coach Rob Thomson singing on to be the Phillies’ new bench coach and 3rd base coach Joe Espada the Astros’ bench coach, the Yankees ended up narrowing the manager candidates down and included two former Yankee players — Carlos Beltran and Aaron Boone. Just a few days ago, the Yankees announced that they were going with Aaron Boone, known to most Yankee fans as the hero of the 2003 World Series and more recently as a ESPN broadcaster. Boone, who will wear #17, will be thrust back into Yankee Universe in a crucial role, one that could either expose his inexperience as a manager or one that could see him flourish thanks to his extensive baseball knowledge, legacy, and intelligence. Only time will tell.

Big splash denied, big splash made: All 30 MLB clubs were hoping to sign an international sensation, 23-year-old Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, who is known both as a stellar pitcher and as a big power-hitter. The international market has some complex rules about signings, and many assumed that Ohtani would sign with a big name NL team so that he could use both of his famed tools. Almost immediately, most East Coast teams were eliminated, including big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. With most of the chatter leaning towards the Mariners (despite being an AL team), the big surprise was when the Angels (also an AL team) announced their newest acquisition just a few days ago.

But without that possibility, the Yankees started searching for their big splash. Within about 24 hours of word leaking that the Marlins were shopping their superstar Giancarlo Stanton, it was confirmed just today. Former HR Derby champion Stanton would join current HR Derby champion Judge in the Yankees outfield and in Yankee pinstripes for the 2018 season. Details are forthcoming, but it looks like the Yankees will send prospect pitcher Jorge Guzman (the #9 Yankee prospect), prospect shortstop Jose Devers, and Starlin Castro to the Marlins in exchange for Stanton and about $30 million. Castro has 2 years and about $23.7 million left on his current contract.

Okay, what that means and leaves wide open for the Yankees to answer questions this off-season. First, removing Castro from 2nd leaves a wide open space for perhaps Ronald Torreyes to play more frequently, especially as he was clearly one of the more reliable and consistent defenders and hitters (basically the ideal bench/utility player) for the last 2 seasons. However, there are several prospects that could earn the everyday position in Spring Training including the much talked about Gleyber Torres.

The Yankees now have 6 potential outfielders — Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge, Stanton, Hicks, and C. Frazier. Frazier will likely spend time in AAA once again, which leaves either Gardner or Ellsbury (mostly due to age, unfortunately) as the prime potential for a trade. However, Ellsbury has a no-trade clause in his contract, one that he could easily waive if asked or volunteer to be traded on his own if he so desires. A lot of that usually depends on who’s asking. That prevents players from being traded into a clubhouse or organization they don’t like. If I was a player, there are definitely certain clubs I would avoid like the plague, or take a pay cut to play with a better team.

Also, the Yankees are dealing with 8 arbitration-eligible players and 10 with less than 3 years on their contracts, most notably Headley, Robertson, and Gardner, who are all on their final year of their deals. Arbitration-eligible means that the Yankees will extend an offer (a proposed salary) to keep them on their roster, and the player either accepts it or counter offers and it goes to arbitration for the mediator to pick the correct number. Basically, it’s a negotiation tool, and this off-season, the Yankees will have to negotiate with Betances, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Romine, Shreve, and Warren. Unless they trade them, of course.

Again, the Winter Meetings start on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (a.k.a. Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin Resorts, for anyone not familiar with Central Florida geography). Winter Meetings are when representatives from all the MLB clubs and their minor league teams, as well as MLB executives, meet up for about four days and do business face-to-face. So, there’s going to be trades, discussions, executive meetings to discuss baseball operations and potential alterations to rule of play. Often scouts, owners, general managers, international visitors, job-seekers, and trade show exhibitors will also be milling around the meetings. In other words, we can expect more news to come out of this next week’s meetings. And I was going to wait until after that to post, just in case the Yankees make another big splash, which they could as they still need to shore up the starting rotation. But today’s news was too big to pass up.

But barring a big splash, I hope everyone has a good holiday season as we close out this 2017 and hope for a really wonderful 2018. I mean, it really looks like 2018 could be the year we finally celebrate #28.

Go Yankees!

Game 68: LAA vs. NYY — Skidding out of 1st place

Well, coming home didn’t help the Yankees’ West Coast skid, now on a 7-game losing streak. Maybe it’s because they technically brought the West Coast with them starting this mid-week series against the Angels. This also means that the Yankees have slipped out of 1st place in the AL East to the (ugh!) Red Sox.

And here’s how that happened tonight…

Michael Pineda actually had a pretty decent outing tonight, after a bit of a messy start. He threw 105 pitches into the 6th inning, giving up 7 hits, a walk, and 3 runs (only 1 earned), and striking out 7 Angels’ batters. In the 1st, a lead-off double scored on an RBI single to get the Angels on the board (the only earned run allowed by Pineda). The lead-off batter in the 2nd reached on a fielding error, ending up at 2nd as a result, and then scored on a 1-out double. That batter then scored on a 2-out single to give the Angels an easy early (and mostly unearned) lead.

Meanwhile, the Yankees took advantage of the Angels starter, who only gave up 2 hits, but also 5 walks in his 5 innings. In the 4th, Castro led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Sanchez’s walk, to 3rd on a fly out, and then scored on Chase Headley’s sacrifice fly. Aaron Judge hit a 2-out solo home run, his 24th homer of the season, in the 5th. Then facing a new pitcher, Gary Sanchez hit a 1-out solo home run into the right field seats to tie up the game.

And things were looking good for the Yankees. Pineda finished his outing strong, handing the final out of the 6th to Chasen Shreve who used just 5 pitches to get that final strikeout. But Tyler Clippard just struggled out of the gate in the 7th inning, giving up a lead-off solo home run, a double, a fly out (yay!), and an RBI triple. And that was it for Clippard.

Jonathan Holder came on to stem the tide, but still had his own issues. An RBI single scored one more run, charged to Clippard. In the 8th, a lead-off ground-rule double moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on a single. And to cap off the game for the Angels, a player hit a 2-out solo homer up the middle.

And the Yankees’ offense against the Angels’ bullpen? Holliday’s double in the 8th. And that’s it. The Angels’ bullpen was showing their strength tonight in the Bronx, and the Yankees, well, weren’t.

Final scores: 8-3 Angels

Prospect watch: Yankees’ #2 prospect Gleyber Torres was pulled from a game on Saturday due to some soreness in his left elbow after an awkward slide. After some tests, it was revealed that Torres hyper-extended his elbow on that slide, tearing his ulnar collateral ligament (or UCL), which requires the surgery named for famed pitcher Tommy John to repair it. Because Torres is not a pitcher, nor is the injury in his actual throwing arm, the return to baseball activities is less than standard for the injury and surgery option. Torres will miss the rest of this year, and there is no set date for the surgery as of yet. Speedy recovery, kid.

And just a quick heads up: 20 of the 40 players drafted last week in the MLB draft have signed with the Yankees, but a few more (including the top 2 picks) are expected to exercise their option and sign on as well. Players can opt out of the selection and choose a different path for this next year, putting themselves up for the draft next year or doing something else entirely. But over 50% signed to be Yankees? And in the middle of this losing streak? Yeah, I’ll take it as a sign for good things to come for the organization.

Now, if only that can make that happen on the field… like this week… like tomorrow…

Go Yankees!

Game 15: CHW vs. NYY — 4 homers sail Yankees to easy victory

Not a bad way to close out the Yankees’ first home stand of the season. And the Yankees were looking for a solid win to carry into their short road trip to Pittsburgh and up to Boston next week. They certainly made that work in their favor. And now, with the 4 home runs in tonight, the Yankees lead the AL with 22 home runs this season (and 3rd in all of MLB behind the Brewers and Mets, oddly).

Masahiro Tanaka had a great outing tonight in the series finale against the White Sox, throwing 96 pitches through 7 innings. He gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, and a run, and struck out 6 Chicago batters. His lone struggle fell in the 4th, when a lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on another double. It would be the only run the White Sox got tonight.

Tanaka handed the game over to the birthday boy Bryan Mitchell for a beautiful 19-pitch outing into the 9th inning. Tommy Layne took over for the final 2 outs, in just 8 pitches.

The White Sox’s starter had a much less pleasant experience in the Bronx tonight right from the start. The veterans started the fun. Brett Gardner led the game off with a double and ended up on 3rd due to a fielding error. Then Chase Headley followed him up with a big 2-run home run to start the home run rally tonight. And in the 2nd, the young guys got in on the action. Judge singled and Bird doubled to start off the inning. Austin Romine singled home Judge, and Torreyes’ fielder’s choice scored Bird to give the Yankees a solid lead.

Then in the 5th, with 2 outs and Holliday and Ellsbury on the corners with consecutive singles, Starlin Castro hit a big 3-run home run into the visitor’s bullpen. Only to have that followed up by one of the hardest hit, biggest home runs ever in Yankee Stadium by (who else?) Aaron Judge, a deep solo home run into the left field bleachers. And I’m pretty sure it bounced off those flag poles between the upper decks in left field and the scoreboard over the visitor’s bullpen and bleachers.

Then the Yankees faced a couple of good relievers of the White Sox bullpen for a couple of innings, but then they faced one that was not so much. Pinch-hitter Aaron Hicks led-off the 8th inning with a solo home run to add just one more to the Yankees’ lead tonight.

Final score: 9-1 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1.

And here’s some random facts about tonight’s big play: Judge’s home run in the 5th tonight was his 5th home run of the season. It traveled 448 feet into the stands, coming off the bat at 115.5 mph, making it the hardest hit home run in Yankee Stadium. According to Statcast, it left the stadium in 6.2 seconds and the 3rd longest home run in Yankee Stadium (falling short of Holliday’s monster 459-foot one just 2 days ago). This and Castro’s homers are the first back-to-back homers of the season for the Yankees.

Injury news: Gary Sanchez threw a bit on the infield hours before tonight’s game. It was the first time he’s thrown a ball since injuring his arm last earlier this month. He later posted on his own Twitter account that: “Rehab is going well. Hope to be swinging soon. Thank you for the well wishes.”

And highly rated Yankees prospect Gleyber Torres, currently with AA Trenton, is currently on the 7-day DL after an MRI revealed he had inflammation in his shoulder. But common thought seems to be it will be a brief stint thanks to things like rest and treatment.

Before the game, Brett Gardner got honored with another award from his outstanding performance last season. Tonight, he was presented with his Gold Glove Award. The Gold Glove Award is given annually to the players who have “exhibited superior individual fielding performances at each fielding position in both the National League (NL) and the American League (AL), as voted by the managers and coaches in each league”. Yes, Gardner is continuing to get the recognition that we all know is well-deserved.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 26: BOS vs. NYY — Or rather Sale vs. the Yankees (the new rivalry?)

A nice night for a good old rivalry game. Not surprisingly, tonight was also the Yankees’ most-attended game so far this Spring, with about 500 more fans in attendance over the last home game on Saturday (and just 154 short of a sell-out). But the Red Sox are in town, so what do you expect?

Bryan Mitchell got the start tonight and, honestly, did a really great job in fending off the Red Sox. He gave up 7 hits but struck out 7 Boston batters, throwing into the 5th inning. A lead-off solo shot in the 3rd got the Red Sox on the board, and then a single and double put runners in scoring position. Another single scored one more run for the Red Sox, and with runners on the corners, there was still no outs. But then the guy on 1st made the mistake far too many players have learned this Spring: “you don’t run on Gary”. You run, you get caught stealing. Once that out was notched, 2 strikeouts followed and got Mitchell out of the Red Sox only real threat under his tenure.

Chapman was called in for 3 outs in the 5th and 6th innings. And Tommy Layne kept things interesting loading up the bases before getting out of the 6th unscathed.

Now, the Yankees were up against an absolutely stellar pitcher that the Red Sox just picked up from the White Sox this December. His name (Sale, as if you couldn’t pick that up from today’s title) is constantly thrown around with some of the best pitchers of the era, and deservedly so. He’s going to be a thorn in the Yankees’ side this season. The Yankees didn’t even get a hit off him until the 4th inning, and by then, he’d already racked up 7 of his total 10 strikeouts off Yankee batters. And the Yankees didn’t really even threaten until the 6th inning (his last). With 2 outs, Castro doubled, and Matt Holliday followed that up with a solid 2-run home run to tie up the game.

But the Red Sox followed up their new ace with a great show of the bullpen, adding 4 more strikeouts (for a total of 14) and just shutdown the Yankees’ roster for the rest of the game. To be fair, the Yankees’ pitchers had their own good stat — 12 strikeouts. But it would be the other stat that would sink today’s game — 13 allowed hits.

In the 7th, Luis Cessa came on and gave up a lead-off triple. Two ground outs later, that runner crossed the plate. An interesting play in this inning had outfielder Clint Frazier bounding head-over-heels into the Yankees’ bullpen to go after a foul ball. He ended up a little bruised, especially as he didn’t catch the ball, but the inning was over shortly thereafter. Cessa came back in the 8th for a cleaner inning, keeping the Red Sox close.

In the 9th, Niese took over. With 1 out, Niese hit a batter and then gave up a single (and all the Red Sox fans around felt the need to scream as if it was Game 7 of the World Series and their team was down). A deep single scored an insurance run for the Red Sox before Niese closed things out with 2 sharp strikeouts.

Thanks mostly to the Red Sox’s new ace, there was just no way the Yankees were going to win tonight.

Final score: 4-2 Red Sox

Player of the Game: this one was particularly difficult to call today for a single reason — there was basically no good or outstanding things by guys in the farm system today, usually found in the latter half of the game when they come on to replace all the starters (the guys on the 25- or 40-man roster). So, I’m going to break my own rule here. I’ve got to give it to Ronald Torreyes, who will probably be on the starting roster again this season. But he was just fantastic (as usual, I might add), especially at shortstop tonight, making 3 outstanding plays, including catching a couple of sharp line drives, and helped make the tag in Sanchez’s successful caught stealing  play in the 3rd inning. He’s really a joy to watch play the game.

Roster moves: after tonight’s game, infielder and top Yankee prospect Gleyber Torres was reassigned to minor league camp and AA Trenton. There was a lot of chatter about how Torres might make the big league roster this year, especially in light of some recent injuries. But I have to agree with the Yankees’ decision here. He’s clearly a good player, but he’s young and needs time in the farm system to develop his natural talent, power, and instinct to become the outstanding player they expect him to be in the next few years.

Speaking of injuries: the Yankees came out with an official diagnosis for injured Didi Gregorius. An MRI yesterday confirmed the deep bruise to his throwing shoulder, sustained during his time with the team representing the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. But they are going to be cautious as it has developed beyond just a bruise and into a strain of the muscle (the one that connects your shoulder blade and ball-and-socket joint in your shoulder). So, he’s now expected to miss the first month of the season. Bummer.

And speaking of the World Baseball Classic: the game last night between the Netherlands and Puerto Rico was amazing and tight, leading right up to extra innings. And now, in the 11th inning, teams start with 2 runners on base already (a rule I’m not really a fan of, truthfully). And in an 11th inning walk-off sacrifice fly, Puerto Rico saw their way into the final game, with their 4-3 victory. (Congrats, by the way, to the Netherlands, who really did an amazing job this tournament!)

Now, as I post tonight, the teams representing the United States and Japan are currently battling it out for the chance to face Puerto Rico in the final tomorrow night. Oh, and it’s raining pretty steadily in LA right now, with most fans watching from the concourse or hidden under those ugly plastic ponchos. It’s going to be a close game. And that’s what makes it good. At least to me.

Go Yankees!