Game 105: TB vs. NYY — A near perfect day in the Bronx

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Derek Jeter (right) presents retiring Hideki Matsui
with a commemorative jersey in his honor
via espn.com

It was as if all the stars were perfectly aligned for today’s win. And there’s so much to talk about. Today was the designated Hideki Matsui Day at the Stadium because free agent Matsui agreed to sign a one-day minor league contract with the Yankees and then retire as a Yankee, his first team in the US, and where he made such an impact, like winning the MVP of the 2009 World Series. It was truly remarkable to see Matsui in pinstripes again, even if it was just to throw out the ceremonial first pitch (one of the better ones I’ve ever witnessed). Welcome back and congrats on your retirement, #55!

There were a ton of “Super Captain” and #2 shirts, which is no surprise usually, but the significance today was in honor of Derek Jeter’s 2nd return to the season, after his recent stint to rehab a quad strain. And today (like a few weeks ago), he helped his team win with style. But this day, he seemed back to the Jeter we knew before the October injury. (More on this later.)

And I had the honor of sitting with the ultimate Yankee fans — the Bleacher Creatures in Section 203. Every game, following the first pitch, the Creatures do a Roll Call — cheering on each Yankee player to which each player takes a turn greeting the fans with their own particular recognition (Gardner does a “muscle man”, some point, Granderson did a little two-step, most infielders just raise their gloves). It’s really so much fun, and today, after the last fielder, a “MAT-SU-I” cheer went out to honor his significance to the Yankees. I must say that there is something about watching a game from the bleachers; it’s like touching a bit of history, something I think my grandfather would have enjoyed and did enjoy when he would catch games on his lunch break when he was like my age. If you can, catch a game from the bleachers; and if you like loud, make it Section 203 at Yankee Stadium.

Oh, and there was a game today… boy, was there a game!

Starter Phil Hughes really had a rather rough outing today, giving up 9 hits and all 5 runs the Rays earned today, via an RBI double in the 2nd, a 3-run home run in the 3rd, and a lead-off solo home run in the 5th. It looked awfully bleak when Preston Claiborne entered as his replacement two batters into the 5th inning, but Claiborne did what he’s really proven his capable of doing and that’s keep the Rays scoreless for 2 innings. Then Logan and Robertson kept the momentum going for the 7th and 8th innings.

Okay, so leave it to Derek Jeter to start the run rally today. In the 1st inning, Jeter took the first pitch he saw into the left-center field seats. Then Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano each singled, where Vernon Wells could hit a nice sacrifice fly and score Cano. Soriano would then score on Ichiro Suzuki’s single. And the Yankees would end the 1st inning ahead 3-0.

The Rays would jump ahead by the bottom of the 3rd inning 4-3, but the Yankees never let them lead too long. So Jeter leads off with a single, and then Soriano decided to re-earn his pinstripes with a 2-run home run. And the Yankees were back up 5-4. The Rays would tie up the game in the 5th, and there the teams would sit. As the sun began to shine and push the sprinkling rain away, the innings and outs ticked by.

And then came the 9th inning, on a stroke of genius, Girardi’s call to the bullpen was to put in Mariano Rivera, which was the ultimate treat on an already special day. Rivera took 12 pitches to get his 3 outs and would walk away with today’s win. In the bottom of the inning, Brett Gardner walked and then they intentionally walked Jeter (much to the dismay of the entire booing crowd), which brought up Alfonso Soriano. Soriano promptly singles straight up the middle, scoring Gardner and getting surrounded by a cheering Yankees and 40,000 cheering fans. Gardner later thanked him by dumping the Gatorade jug onto Soriano, perhaps a much needed relief because of the rising heat off the field.

And the Yankees take Matsui Day 6-5 from the Rays, celebrating Jeter’s solid return and honoring one of the great Yankees. And if it hadn’t rained through the first half of the game, it might have been just about perfect. It’s a great day to be a Yankees fan. But then again, isn’t it always?

Go Yankees!

Game 54: BOS vs. NYY — Back in business & ain’t it grand

Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis picked a great night to come back. The rivalry of the Boston-New York is alive and well, especially as the two teams are currently battling for domination over the AL East. And coming off a 5-game losing streak, the Yankees certainly needed a win tonight, and a win is what they got thanks to the dominance of CC Sabathia. Sabathia was in fine form tonight, throwing 109 pitches over 7.1 innings, allowing only 1 run (an RBI double in the 7th) off 6 hits, walking no one, and striking out 10 Red Sox batters. That last statistic alone is what makes me think Sabathia is back in true form. Most teams are lucky to get 10 strikeouts over an entire game from 3 pitchers; in fact, the Red Sox notched 8 Yankee strikeouts for all 3 of their pitchers tonight, and their starter is about as good as Sabathia with his form and consistency, including strikeouts.

But the Yankees weren’t going to let their slide continue. So the offense struck early. Teixeira earned a lead-off walk in the 2nd inning, Vernon Wells doubled, Jayson Nix singles and scored Teixeira (nice way to mark your 2013 MLB debut), a strike out, Ichiro Suzuki singles Wells home, and a double play to end the inning. The Yankees were 2-0 very quickly.

Then we had some drama in the 5th inning, with a close call on David Adams, for which Girardi went out to argue and promptly was ejected from the game. Unfortunately, the umpires got the call right, but it was nice to make a fight for his player. At the end of the inning, Kevin Youkilis singles to hit in Ichiro to make it 3-0, and right after he scored the run, Stewart makes a run for 3rd and is tagged out for the 3rd out. It’s not often that you can score a run and make the 3rd out in what is essentially the final play of the inning.

In the bottom of the 7th inning, after two Yankee singles by Ichiro and Stewart, a replacement pitcher allows a single to Brett Gardner which scored Ichiro again for the 4-1 final score. The bullpen finally kept the Yankees from doing any further damage, getting the next five batters out straight.

On the Yankees’ side of things, David Robertson is really developing very nicely in his role as set-up man for Mariano Rivera. Both threw excellent games tonight to wrap up the final 5 outs in the game. To me, a near perfect game is when Sabathia starts through 7 innings, Robertson sets-up in the 8th, and Rivera closes for the save in the 9th. And that’s what we saw tonight. And with recent bouts of inconsistency on some of these very reliable pitchers, it was rather reassuring to see these three back into their usual momentum and excellence.

To make room for Teixeira and Youkilis on the roster, Ivan Nova and Vidal Nuno were optioned to AAA Scranton, which means either of them can be pulled up again easily if they are needed, but they will be able to play more on a regular basis rather than waiting for a bullpen opening.

Also on the random news front, the postponed Blue Jays-Yankees game from May 19 will be made up August 20 in the early game of a doubleheader to start off their next series. And on July 28, the Yankees will re-sign former Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui for one day so that Matsui can retire as a Yankee. Matsui played seven seasons (2003-2009) with the Yankees, his last appearance in pinstripes was in the final game of the 2009 World Series where he hit a home run, drove in 6 runs in Game 6, and was unanimously picked as the Series MVP. Matsui will don his old number 55 and officially announce his retirement. This day also coincides with the promotional Hideki Matsui bobble head day. It will be an honor for the fans in the stadium that day as they play the Rays (the last team Matsui played for) in the Bronx to witness the retirement of yet another great Yankee legend, known affectionately as “Godzilla”.

It just goes to show you that no matter how many other teams you may play for, or how many other uniforms you may don, once a Yankee, always a Yankee. Congratulations on your impending retirement, Matsui.

Go Yankees!