Game 63: DET vs. NYY — A Grand Old Time, but a disappointing loss

In Motor City, they have a small reason to celebrate. Today’s win for the Tigers made it the first time since the Tigers have won a series at the new Yankee Stadium (built for the 2009 season). This, of course, means the Yankees have slipped back under par in the standings. This weekend hasn’t exactly been the strongest showing for the Yankees in some aspects, but they’ve been pretty good in minor areas that unfortunately collectively don’t add up to wins.

For example, Michael Pineda started this afternoon’s finale against the Tigers, throwing 114 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, and solidly striking out 8 batters. In what amounted to a weird summary of the game, the 4th inning was a bit of an issue. Pineda quickly loaded the bases with singles from the strongest hitters on the Detroit roster. A sacrifice fly scored one and a single quickly loaded up the bases again. But then things started working for the Yankees as a great line out to Gregorius and nice strike out closed the door on what could’ve been a messy outing. In the 5th, with 1 out and runners on the corners, a ground out scored the runner from 3rd to double the Tigers’ lead at that point.

But that was all Pineda allowed in the scheme of things. Anthony Swarzak picked up the ball in the 7th inning. A single and a 2-run home run kicked things off roughly for him, but then between his strikeout and a couple of fly outs for the defense, that would be it for the Tigers. Goody and Green closed things out with an inning a piece without allowing any further Tigers’ runs.

So we turn to the quieted offense once again for a sign of something off. They Yankees even faced two former teammates now with the Tigers’ bullpen, but with a single exception, it didn’t seem to make much of an impact. It wasn’t until the 8th inning that the Yankees poked through the Tigers’ pitching. Ellsbury led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Beltran’s 1-out walk, and then scored on Chase Headley’s 2-out single.

Yankee pitchers managed to strike out 12 Detroit batters, yet gave up 9 total hits. Meanwhile, the Yankees offense managed 4 hits and 4 walks and struck out 9 times, and only managed a single run.

Final score: 4-1 Tigers, Tigers win series 2-1.

Roster moves: After the game, the Yankees optioned reliever Chad Green to AAA to make room for their other big move today. The Yankees signed 1st baseman Ike Davis. After all the recent blows their string of 1st basemen and their replacements have taken, the Yankees were looking for a strong, tested (albeit somewhat ideally temporary) veteran presence at 1st. Davis is mostly known for his time with the Mets (2010-2014), but after a short stint with the Pirates and the Athletics, Davis spent most of this year with the Rangers’ AAA team before being released and then signed by the Yankees today.

Also, today, the Yankees celebrated the 70th Annual Old Timers’ Day. On the roster for the game between the “Bombers” and the “Clippers” included Hall of Famers like Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, and Joe Torre and other Yankee greats like Don Larsen, Stick Michael, Lou Pinella, Willie Randolph, John Wetteland, and Bernie Williams. But the talk of the day was 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui celebrating his 42nd birthday today with a monster 2-run homer into the 2nd deck in right field off another great Yankee David Cone.

But the greatest presence this afternoon was the greatest absence. Yogi Berra was a fixture at this day nearly every year, and today’s OTD game was played in his honor, complete with special plaques on the bases and patches on the uniforms. Berra continues to be honored and celebrated this year, deservedly so.

{Media note: you can watch the entire Old Timers’ Day pre-game ceremony, including all the introductions of the former Yankee greats here. Or watch the shorter version and game highlights here.}

Go Yankees!

Also, I want to send my thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families of today’s terrible tragedy in Orlando. My heart goes out to the city in light of this and the other tragic loss of just a few days ago. May we learn how to bind together as a community to make smart, active decisions on how to prevent such terrible things from happening ever again and become a community that prove our differences are really our greatest strength as they become such an amazing unique pattern that is humanity at its strongest and most beautiful.

Reporting for duty, part 1

Well, it’s that time of year again, ladies and gentlemen. Today, the Yankees Minor League Complex in Tampa swarmed with pitchers and catchers reporting in for Spring Training. As usual, many are already in town taking advantage of a week of 70°+ highs to get back into pinstripe-worthy shape.

Joe Girardi gave his usual pre-season press conference, focusing the season on some retooling, especially in the bullpen so that the annual goal of being World Series Champions doesn’t get pushed back to “next year” once again. If it seems like he says the same thing every year to you, imagine what it must feel like on his side of the table. He’s asked to make predictions based on guys he’s never really seen play, some he’s had limited interaction with, and somehow promise people a championship. Realistically, the goal is championship, but the failure to get there is a combination of factors, most of which cannot be predicted or even imagined here in February.

Masahiro Tanaka was also available for the press, who were keen to know more details after his off-season surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow. It caused a bit of a stir when he mentioned the other day that he may not be ready for Opening Day (April 4), but let’s clear something up. First, Tanaka may not be the guy they choose for Opening Day anyway in the grand scheme of things. And second, I think it’s just wisdom to not make blanket promises. The most important thing isn’t that Tanaka is ready for April 4th, but that he will still be ridiculously healthy and fierce come October.

Some old faces popped up at the complex this past week to lend their experienced voice to the young players hoping for a roster spot or at least some encouragement to keep chasing their dreams. Both Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter contributed in their own way — Pettitte threw batting practice to prospects like Aaron Judge (the veteran was impressed with the power from Judge’s bat), and Jeter took the invitees out to dinner for a chat about being a young Yankees (about the same time most of those guys were born).

Other former Yankees are scheduled to appear at camp as Guest Instructors include many familiar faces like “Goose” Gossage, Ron Guidry, “El Duque” Orlando Hernandez, Reggie Jackson, Hideki Matsui, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill, and Willie Randolph. Comforting sights every Spring as it represents the continuing legacy of the Yankees — one generation helping the next succeed and even surpass them. I mean, you never know which of these random invitees might one day have their likeness emblazoned on the walls in Monument Park, or even Cooperstown.

Position players report on Wednesday, with the first full-squad workout held next Thursday. And from there, it’s just 6 days until the Yankees host the Tigers for their Spring Opening Day. Winter, your days are numbered! It’s almost Spring!

Masahiro Tanaka and his wife welcomed their first child, a son, born Monday in New York. A great addition to the Yankee family! Congratulations to their growing family!

Select single game tickets for Yankees regular season games are open to MasterCard ticket holders this weekend. All tickets will go on sale to the general public on Monday, February 22 at 10:00 am EST (including online tickets).

And a little motivation via a sign posted in the Yankees’ Clubhouse…

 

Go Yankees!

A chip on the shoulder works

Spring Training batting practice, Chase Headley (#12) waits his turn (Photo via YES Network)

Today, beneath ironically overcast skies in the Sunshine State, the Yankees hosted their first full squad work-out day. 67 men found their way on the field in pinstriped pants and navy BP jerseys to run drills, hit some BP, and show off their stuff for the coaching staff.

This coaching staff included several of the guest coaches, former Yankee players asked to return to camp to help the new guys work on their stuff with the guys “who’ve been there”. Today, noted Yankee alumni included Hideki Matsui, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and Mariano Rivera. Former Yankee and current Yankee scout Eric Chavez has been seen around camp for the last week; he will also get some time in the broadcasting booth this season. Other guest coaches will include familiar face often seen during Spring Training like Andy Pettitte, Billy Connors, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill, and Reggie Jackson.

Of course, for the last couple of days, much of the chatter has been centered around Rivera, who stated he probably could still pick up and throw his famous cutter if he wanted to. No doubt about that. But Rivera isn’t here for himself, and he enjoys spending time working with some of the young pitchers. Actually, he always has. In his last year (2013), Rivera was often seen talking to young pitchers in the bullpen, something I think many cherished — whether a lesson in pitching or a lesson in life. When Rivera talks, you listen.

Steinbrenner Field opened its doors this week to any fans who want to watch their favorite players work out before the games officially begin (First Game is March 3, Opening Day is March 4). Many are interested in seeing how returning players like Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka are doing after their struggles this last year(s) or how Alex Rodriguez is transitioning back to the team after his suspension. And fans are interested in the new guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, Didi Gregorius, and Andrew Miller (and more!). I’m glad to report that for the first time, everyone seems happy and healthy and fired up to win this year.

Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury called it a “chip on their shoulder” — that undercurrent that seems to prevail in camp this year after falling short last year. Players come to New York to win, and anything short of that is frustrating, especially for guys like Ellsbury who signed up for that kind of team. I was thinking about his comment, and I think I have to agree with that mentality. But I also have to say that this is the right season for that kind of attitude. It’s a very new team, a weird combination of the “old guys”, the “career veterans”, and the “new kids”. And I have to say it again. It reminds me oddly of another weird year — 1996. So I guess that’s why I’m holding out some hope. It’s too eerily familiar.

I spoke with a Cubs’ fan recently, and we joked about the Back to the Future II prediction for the World Series. If you don’t remember, Marty McFly heads into the future to 2015 and sees on a digital billboard that the Cubs won the Series over Miami, something that he finds weird because at that point Miami didn’t have a team. Now, Miami does have a team (though it’s not the “gators” as seen in the movie), but they are in the National League with the Cubs. Cubs fans are assuming that this means they’ll be celebrating the NLCS victory over the Marlins instead of the Series. And due to the date Marty travels into the future (October 22, 2015) and how late the season will go this year, an NLCS prediction at this point seems more likely… that is if the movie is an accurate predictor of baseball.

It’s amusing to dream about such things, but like so many other media-soaked predictions, they are just that — predictions. Some teams are already assuming they have the best team. One player already asked for his “ring” due to some recent acquisitions for his team, only really half-joking. A broadcaster I didn’t expect to be so level-headed clarified that player’s comment by saying that he is right in a sense because his team does look amazing on paper. But paper doesn’t mean squat at the end of the season. Other teams seem to build similar patterns of strong starting rotations, but really lack where it ultimately matters — offense.

This left me thinking. Lately, so much of the focus has been on pitching. And I understand that. The old adage “if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything” isn’t just an adage. But if all you have is pitching, you won’t win that many games. To win games, you must score runs. To score runs, you must have hits. To have hits, you need a good offense. So (pardon the corruption of the adage) if you don’t have offense, you won’t win any games and thus no World Series. Many teams have a small group of players capable of some power, but relying on a small group of guys isn’t enough. Far too many teams seem to rely on this formula, which usually leads to divas and reduces a team to a single star carrying the weight of the hopes and dreams of an impossible goal.

Instead, I’d prefer to see a balance. Good rotation + good offense + good defense + great morale = championship. Teams win games. Good teams win lots of games. Great teams win championships.

Here’s to a great team this year…

Go Yankees!

Game 74: BAL vs. NYY — Old Timers, Goose, & a bad shut-out

One of my favorite days during the season is Old-Timers’ Day, and that was today at Yankee Stadium. The one day when all the greats from way past to recent past come together to celebrate the long Yankee legacy of greatness. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui made their first appearances at the 68th Annual Old-Timers’ Day. They joined legends like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Paul O’Neill, David Cone, Ron Guidry, Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage, Jeff Nelson, Willie Randolph, and Joe Torre (to name just a few). And the former pinstriped donned their numbers, got their own personal roll call from the Bleacher Creatures, and played a rather fun game for the fans in the sold-out stadium before the official game today.

And the Yankees continued the parade of honoring Yankees with a pre-game ceremony for Goose Gossage. A plaque (like Martinez yesterday) will now hang in Monument Park signifying the impact the former closer had on the Yankees during the late-70s. Gossage was a 9-time All-Star who racked up 151 saves and 512 strikeouts during his 319 games over 7 seasons as a Yankee. He helped the Yankees earn that 1978 Championship. Gossage was humbled by such an honor, but almost more so by being invited to share the field with some of the greatest Yankees on Old-Timers’ Day. Cherishing his time with the Yankees, Gossage is a fixture at such events like today and every year at Spring Training. He’s hard to miss with his bleached moustache, but his presence is part of the bridge that ties the dynasty with Berra to the dynasty with Jeter. And all three were present and having a great time on this Sunday in the Bronx. Gossage also got to throw out the first pitch before today’s regular game. {Long-version of Gossage’s pre-game ceremony here.}

And then there was the game with Masahiro Tanaka taking the start. And unlike most other Tanaka days, this wasn’t quite up there. But it’s complicated. Tanaka threw 106 pitches over 7 innings, allowing 6 hits, 3 runs, and 1 walk, and striking out 6 Baltimore batters. Now, just looking at that line, it doesn’t look that bad. And honestly, it really wasn’t terrible. Initially, Tanaka gave up a solo home run in the 2nd before he and the Baltimore starter kind of got into a bit of a pitching duel, both rather sharp and allowing just a handful of runners from hits and walks but nothing to threaten. In the 7th, Tanaka was pushing his limit, giving up a single and double, so that a ground out scored the first runner and a sacrifice fly scored the second.

So Baltimore was up 3-0, and the Yankees hadn’t managed to crack their pitcher. And here’s where trouble began for the Yankees. Adam Warren, normally pretty reliable out of the bullpen, certainly struggled today in his relief outing in the 8th inning. Two singles put runners on base with no outs, a force out turned messy with a throwing error and runners ended up on 2nd and 3rd. An intentional walk loaded the bases, which clear turned out to be a mistake because the next batter’s sweet double cleared the bases, scoring 3 more Baltimore runs. A single from the next batter scored one more run before a double play mercifully ended the 8th inning with Baltimore leading 7-0.

A scary moment in the bottom of the 8th had Mark Teixeira being hit by a pitch right on his foot. He was pulled from the game, sent straight to the trainer’s room for a full exam and x-rays. Teixeira was almost certain he was headed for the DL with something broken, and yet another set-back injury after the last few years being so injury-plagued. Fortunately, x-rays came back clean, no breaks, so it looks like a couple of days rest with some bruised feet is all that the doctor has ordered for the frustrated 1st baseman.

So into the 9th inning they went. David Huff, coming in for a struggling Warren, promptly gave up a solo home run, pushing the Orioles up to an 8-0 lead and eventual win for the AL East rivals.

Today’s loss tied the Yankees with Baltimore for 2nd place in their division, just 1.5 games behind Toronto. And this is going to be crucial info as the Yankees are headed north of the border for a series against those pesky Blue Jays for a brief 3-game trip away, a weird quirk in the scheduling.

Actually, these last two weeks in June seem to be division rivals week for the Yankees — just swept the Blue Jays and split the Orioles 1-2 at home, before 3 games at Toronto, then home for the Red Sox and Rays, before heading on the road to finish the first half of the season.

I’ve said it before, but I really don’t understand the scheduling of MLB games. But I’m not complaining too much. I’m certainly glad it’s not my job. I’d rather just watch games and tell people what I think. Oh wait…

Go Yankees!

Game 64: NYY vs. SEA — A complete Tanaka showdown

It took Masahiro Tanaka exactly 110 pitches to get 27 outs (9 innings) and grab his 10th win of the season. He gave up 6 hits, 2 runs, and 1 walk. But the measure of his Tanaka-ness was the 11 strikeouts of Seattle batters. Actually, Tanaka was running a complete game shut-out right up until the 9th inning — two outs away and he allowed a single and a 2-run home run (by former Yankee Cano) to eat in at that shut-out. But he finished the game with 2 strikeouts, hitting 95 mph with his last fastball pitch. If you know anything about the exhaustion of a complete game for a pitcher, to be able to get all the way to the last pitch and still pitch 95 mph says more about the pitcher than it does about anything else in his style or performance.

Now, in order for Tanaka grab that win, the Yankees had to make it happen offensively. And then did.  Well, actually, they threatened a lot over the course of the game, but threats don’t mean anything without the power to back them up. So in the 3rd, Roberts singled, moved to 2nd on Gardner’s walk, and then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. Then in the 5th, Gardner and Ellsbury each singled and then scored on Mark Teixeira’s solid 3-run home run, pushing the Yankees up 4-0.

Thanks to Tanaka, the Yankees would go on to win 4-2 over Seattle tonight.

I like this winning thing the Yankees are doing, but I’m already falling into predictions. We’re about a month away from what MLB considers its “halfway point” or the All-Star Break, though the official halfway point is 17 games away (162 total games, so halfway would be 81 games). I don’t like making public predictions (though my friends and family are very much aware of my private opinions), but there’s an “on-track” aspect of predictions that I don’t mind. Like I think it’s pretty safe to say that Tanaka is “on-track” to win over 20 games this season. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jeter will be the starting shortstop for his 14th and final All-Star Game (don’t forget to vote). Technically, and this is according to 15 years out of high school math (I’m sorry, Mrs. Dempsey), this means the Yankees are “on-track” for 97 wins, which seems high for all the already predicted over-under of how many wins the Yankees are supposed to win.

But, this is why I don’t pay attention to predictions. Predictions are only reliable after the fact.

And in other Yankee news:

Shawn Kelley is back from his back injury, reactivated to join the team and put back in the bullpen. David Huff, who had a brief stint with the Yankees last season, was picked up off waivers from San Francisco. Wade LeBlanc was designated for assignment, while Matt Daley was optioned to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. In other words, the revolving door that is the Yankees bullpen continues to spin, and it’s taking all that the powers that be to keep that door from spinning out of control.

Francisco Cervelli is working his way back to the big leagues from his severe hamstring injury. He is currently rehabbing with the Yankees AA team — the Trenton Thunder. He admits to feeling better and healthier, though impatient to return to play the game he (and all of us really) love.

And it’s almost that time of year again — my favorite week of the baseball season — HOPE Week. Next Monday through Friday (June 16-21), the Yankees will honor and celebrate five different community programs around the city for their hard work and dedication to their community. This year, all facets of the Yankees will be participating in their own home communities — including minor league teams in Scranton, Trenton, Tampa, Charleston, and Staten Island.

Plus, a week from Sunday, on June 22, the Yankees will host their annual Old Timers’ Game. Invited alumni include Berra, Ford, Jackson, Torre, Matsui, and Damon. They will also hold a special ceremony to honor Goose Gossage for all his contributions as a pitcher and player for the Yankees with a plaque in Monument Park. The previous game, held Saturday, June 21, will honor another great Yankee Tino Martinez with his own plaque in Monument Park.

It’s going to be a month of memories and memory-making.

Go Yankees!

Quick update: Monument Park additions this year…

A brief update on this off-day:

The Yankees released a statement today that they will honor Joe Torre, Goose Gossage, Tino Martinez, and Paul O’Neill with plaques in Monument Park this summer. Over Old-Timers’ Day weekend, Martinez and Gossage will have their own ceremonies (June 21-22). On August 9th, they will honor O’Neill.

And the big celebration will be Torre’s plaque reveal on August 23, where the Yankees also plan on retiring his #6. This, of course, paves the way for the almost automatic retirement of #2 at the end of this season, meaning that all the single digit Yankee uniforms will be forever enshrined beyond center field.

Torre will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. So be prepared for a lot of Joe Torre news and stories and memories over the next few months, especially from those of us who remember fondly his Yankee years.

Also, the Yankees announced that they will also honor Bernie Williams sometime next season, leading some to speculate that they might be retiring his #51 as well. No one has worn that number (at least not long-term) since Williams retired in 2006. But that’s a little bit of a cliffhanger until 2015…

Go Yankees!