Game 77: HOU vs. NYY — Record setting loss on Old Timers’ Day

The Yankees know how to snap their streak in a big way. After winning 8 straight games, and the Astros losing 7 straight, the tables flipped as the Astros got tired of losing and the Yankees had pitching issues.

JA Happ had another shaky start in this afternoon’s finale against the Astros. He threw 68 pitches into the 5th inning, gave up 11 hits and 8 runs, and struck out just 2 batters. The lead-off batter of the game struck a big solo home run to start the Astros off early. In the 3rd, a 1-out double scored on a 2-out single to double their score.

Then in the 4th, Happ loaded the bases with consecutive singles to set up a big grand slam to keep the visitors’ small fan base in the stands rather happy. Happ came back out for the 5th and gave up a single and 2-run home run to keep the ball rolling for the Astros before the Yankees finally opted to end the mess.

Luis Cessa gave up a solo home run before settling in and getting 12 outs (or 4 innings) and keeping the Astros to their large lead. David Hale closed out the game with a scoreless 9th. But the Yankees needed their pitching to calm down to chip away at the visitors’ lead.

In the bottom of the 5th, with 2 outs, Hicks and Gardner each singled. DJ LeMahieu smacked a big 3-run home run to finally get the Yankees on the board. But their chances to score beyond that were few. After the starter left the game, the Yankees found one more in the 8th. With 1 out, LeMahieu tripled and then scored on Aaron Judge’s baby ground out.

Final score: 9-4 Astros, Yankees win series 3-1

Next up: The Yankees host the Blue Jays for 3 games starting tomorrow before taking two days to travel across the pond. In London, the Yankees and Red Sox will meet to play the first ever regular season baseball series on English soil. When they come back to the states next month, they hop the train to Queens for a 2-game miniseries against the Mets before heading down to Tampa Bay for a 4-game weekend series just before the All-Star Break.

With DJ LeMahieu’s 3-run home run in the 5th inning, the Yankees set a new record for 26 consecutive games with a home run. The MLB record is 27, something the Yankees could easily tie and then break with the Toronto series this coming week.

Older Timers’ Day: The Yankees hosted their 73rd Annual Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium, featuring fan favorites and Yankee alumni like Aaron Boone, David Cone, Johnny Damon, Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson, Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, Paul O’Neill, Lou Piniella, Willie Randolph, David Wells, and Bernie Williams.

But the man on everyone’s mind today was Old Timers’ Day rookie and this year’s Hall of Fame inductee Mariano Rivera. Rivera soaked up the greatness and fun that is this day, even going back to the mound to pitch a bit and later playing center field. But the great achievement was his first ever hit in pinstripes — an inside-the-park home run, thanks in part to some really sluggish outfielders.

Go Yankees!

Game 76: HOU vs. NYY — Yankee power, even in singles

The Yankees’ march into the summer and towards the All-Star Break with dominance, hitting the harder part of their schedule in the perfect spot, and (now, I’m just guessing here) this could make all the difference come time for October baseball in just a few short months.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start for this third game of the weekend series against the visiting Astros. It really wasn’t his best outing, but he kept the Astros scoreless for most of his outing. He threw 88 pitches in 6 innings, gave up 8 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and struck out just 1 batter. It wasn’t until his last inning that the Astros got on board with a lead-off single that scored as part of a 1-out 2-run home run.

That actually tied up the game as the Yankees were the first to get on the board. They too were scoreless for the first half of the game. In the 5th, Hicks worked a 1-out walk and scored on Gio Urshela’s 2-out 2-run home run. After the Astros tied up the game, the Yankees came back in the bottom of the inning to reclaim those runs, loading up the bases with walks to LeMahieu and Judge and a single to Voit. Giancarlo Stanton’s single scored both LeMahieu and Judge.

Once again, this didn’t last long. Jonathan Holder had some trouble in his 7th inning. With 2 outs, he gave up consecutive singles that boosted the Astros’ score up and over the Yankees when the next batter hit a big 3-run home run. That slim lead was erased in the bottom of the 7th when Austin Romine smacked a 1-out solo home run on the first pitch of his at-bat.

The game was tied again. LeMahieu singled and took 2nd on a wild pitch before Judge got 1st on catcher’s interference. (Is that still a thing?) Both runners moved up on a ground out and then scored again on Stanton’s single.

Ottavino and Britton closed out the game with a scoreless inning a piece, though both got themselves into and out of self-inflicted jams.

Final score: 7-5 Yankees

Injury update: After an MRI, Cameron Maybin has been diagnosed with a grade 2 calf strain in his left leg. So, yes, he’s headed for a stint on the IL. For how long and who will replace him is still to be determined. But with a packed outfield already, the replacement will probably favor expanding the bullpen.

Yankees Trivia: With Gio Urshela’s 5th inning home run, the Yankees officially tied the Yankees franchise record set in June 1941 of 25 consecutive games with a home run. They’re also closing in on the MLB record of 27 set by the Rangers in August 2002. I know I’m not the only one who is hoping for both a new franchise and MLB record. This team deserves the honor and the legacy.

Go Yankees!

Game 75: HOU vs. NYY — HOPE Week sweep

The Yankees continue their dominance in HOPE Week, and with tonight’s win, the Yankees overall HOPE Week record since 2009 is 38 wins to 13 losses. It’s almost as if generosity is good for the soul and for the morale.

James Paxton got the start in tonight’s second game of this 4-game series against the visiting Astros. Paxton threw a strong game, with 100 pitches in 5 innings, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks, and 1 run, and striking out 7 batters. In the 4th, with 2 outs, consecutive doubles scored the Astros’ lone run of the game.

Ottavino, Kahnle, Britton, and Chapman closed out the final 4 innings of the game, keeping the Astros at bay from adding to their score and handing Chapman yet another save (his 21st).

The Yankees started the scoring in the 3rd. With 1 out, Maybin singled and then scored on Gary Sanchez’s monster 2-out 2-run home run. And then in the 7th, with 1 out, Gardner doubled, and Gleyber Torres edged a 2-run home run just over the right field fence for a 2-run home run to double the home team’s score.

Final score: 4-1 Yankees

Injury updates/roster moves: Aaron Hicks began today on day-to-day with some shoulder pain, but he was called in when Cameron Maybin had to come out of the game. Maybin felt a “pop” in his calf as he ran the bases during Sanchez’s 3rd inning homer, and as he struggled to even go down the dugout stairs, an MRI would be the next step to determine the severity of his strain.

And before the game, the Yankees activated Aaron Judge from the 10-day injured list and optioned reliever Nestor Cortes Jr. back to AAA Scranton. The move with Maybin going on the IL and his replacement is forthcoming.

All-Star Game Primary Results: Tonight, MLB announced the results of the voting for the All-Star Game starters. The top 3 from each position (and top 9 in the outfield) are considered finalists, and all the vote counts reset to 0 for the final starter vote. The Yankees are well-represented in the finals with the entire infield being finalists.

Gary Sanchez (catcher) and Luke Voit (1st base) topped their categories, Sanchez coming in as the most voted for Yankee with over 2 million votes. Gio Urshela (3rd base) came in 2nd, Gleyber Torres (shortstop) and DJ LeMahieu (2nd base) were 3rd, and Aaron Judge (outfield) was 7th in their respective categories.

Final voting starts Wednesday at noon and will open just 28 hours for fans to select their favorite of the finalists, closing at 4 pm on Thursday. Selected starters will be announced Thursday night at 7 pm and the rest of the roster revealed Sunday at 5:30 pm. (All times are Eastern.)

HOPE Week Day 5: For the final day of HOPE Week, the Yankees honored two amazing people. First, Sandra Alfonzo, the founder of AdaptAbility, a non-profit that builds custom-made bicycles for kids with disabilities. Alfonzo owns a bike repair shop, Behind Bars in Brooklyn, and in 2015, she noticed kids in the park unable to enjoy the freedom of riding a bike because they were limited by their disabilities. So she used her skills to found AdaptAbility to give all kids the opportunity to ride a bike. And how Sandra met Kiko, the other half of today’s honoree, is a great chain of events that is pure kismet.

Last summer, Kiko Mina attended a special bike camp as part of the iCan Shine program, an organization that provides recreational activities for kids with limited abilities. A special guest of the program met Kiko and later invited him and his parents to a special event he was participating, Tour De Farm. There, the Minas met the Epsteins who volunteer with InTandem, a nonprofit that bikes on special tandem bikes (bicycles built for two people) with children of limited mobility. After Kiko learned how to ride tandem, the Epsteins let the Minas know about AdaptAbility, and they applied for a special bicycle for Kiko.

It takes an average of 2-3 months and $4000-5000 to build a single bicycle at Adaptability, so on Friday, Kiko’s new bike was ready to go. But it wasn’t just the new bike, he also made some new friends. Aaron Boone, Aaron Hicks, DJ LeMahieu, Cameron Maybin, and Adam Ottavino showed up to surprise both Kiko and Sandra. Maybin even took Kiko out on his new tandem bicycle around the area and through the park.

Before tonight’s game, Kiko was the one to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The fourteen year old got to show off his baseball skills as a former player with the Little League Challenger Division, an adaptive baseball for special needs children. The Yankees also donated $10,000 to help AdaptAbility continue their generosity.

A HOPE Week Final Thought: I say it every year, and it’s no less true this year, but HOPE Week is my favorite week of the year. As a baseball blogger, one might assume that my favorite week should be the World Series or even the All-Star Game. But baseball is more than just the game on the field. Professional athletes, as public figures and representatives of both MLB and their teams, have a responsibility to be not just good players but also good people.

I believe that a truly great player must have three things — ability, teamwork, and character. Ability (often boosted by natural talent) is the stuff we see on the field, teamwork is what the organization sees in the clubhouse, and character is what we see when nobody is watching. Of the three, it’s character that matters most. Your abilities will come and go, and relationships change with time and simple organizational trades. But character — that’s what will carry you through life, that makes someone more than just a good ball player. It makes you a great person.

Go Yankees!

Game 74: HOU vs. NYY — Rain-soaked and still triumphant

Dark skies threatened and dropped moments of rain on the Bronx most of yesterday. But things looked promising for the game, which actually started on time. The Yankees began their 4-game weekend series against the Astros tonight, and despite a rather messy and soggy 4th inning, they still pulled it out in the end.

The Yankees have had a lot of success with the new pitching model of the “opener”, especially on the back of Chad Green. Green did it again, with a strong 2 scoreless innings before handing the ball over to reliever Nestor Cortes Jr for 3 innings. His problem came after the game back from a rain delay.

But first, the Yankees took advantage of the thundering skies and jumped on a bit of weakness by the Astros’ pitching staff tonight in what turned into a very decisive 4th inning. Gary Sanchez led-off the inning with a solo home run. Stanton then doubled, and in the middle of Encarnacion’s at-bat, it started pouring.

The umpires briefly checked in with the grounds crew for a weather report as fans were scattering for the concourse and nearest overhang. Encarnacion ended up working a walk. As the rain continued to pelt down on the field, Gleyber Torres hit a big 3-run home run into the visitor’s bullpen.

Then after the inning’s first out, in the middle of Maybin’s at-bat, the umpires checked in again with the grounds crew, who came out to clean up the mound a bit from the muddy mess it was. After Maybin worked a walk, the Astros called in a new pitcher, and the grounds crew took the break to add more drying agent to the mound and at the plate.

The rain kind of lightened up as Maybin stole 2nd. After another out, DJ LeMahieu pelted a 2-run home run into Monument Park to keep the Yankees’ offense going. Voit then singled, and in the middle of Sanchez’s at-bat, the home plate umpire suddenly called the game as the rain just dumped on the Bronx. The tarp came on, and the game went into a 37 minute delay.

When the game resumed, Sanchez ended up grounding out to end the inning. So Cortes came out again for the 5th inning, after the long 4th inning and the rain delay. That might have been part of the problem because after 2 outs, he gave up 2 solo home runs to get the Astros on the board.

But the Yankees came back in the bottom of that inning to reclaim those runs. With 1 out, Encarnacion walked, Torres singled, and a wild pitch moved both into scoring position. After another out, Cameron Maybin hit a strong double to score both Encarnacion and Torres. Stanton led-off the 7th with a single and then scored as part of Edwin Encarnacion’s 2-run home run to cap off the Yankee’s big offense tonight.

Tommy Kahnle came out for the 6th inning and gave up a 1-out solo home run. Then the game was handed over to David Hale, who held the Astros off for the 7th, but he got into trouble in the final 2 innings that the Astros tried to rally to overcome the Yankees’ big lead. In the 8th, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on a 2-out single.

Hale gave up a 1-out solo home run to lead-off the 9th inning. He then gave up a walk. After an out, the next batter hit into a fielder’s choice, the Yankees unable to get a double play to end the inning. A double then scored the lead runner. After a single put runners in the corners, the Yankees called in Aroldis Chapman to close out the game. Seven pitches later, the game was over, and Chapman notched his 20th save of the season.

Final score: 10-6 Yankees

It’s worth noting that the Yankees have hit home runs in 23 straight games, making them tied for the 8th most in MLB baseball history. The Yankees’ record is 25 games way back in June 1941, during Joe DiMaggio’s famous hitting streak.

HOPE Week Day 4: Today, the Yankees honored a great nonprofit organization that provides furniture to local families in need. Kate Bialo started Furniture Sharehouse in 2007 to serve the Westchester community (a suburb of New York, just north of the City), and to date have helped more than 4000 families. The families are referred to the charity by social service agencies include survivors of house fires and natural disasters, working families bordering the poverty line, families escaping domestic violence, families transitioning from homeless shelters to permanent housing, and young adults aging out of foster care.

The Yankees showed up to the donation warehouse housed at Westchester County Airport to volunteer as “personal shoppers” for two surprised local families, the Collazos and Gullivers. Zack Britton, JA Happ, Jonathon Holder, Austin Romine, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Luke Voit, and bullpen coach Mike Harkey drove 2 trucks full of furniture as part of their donation to the charity and hosted a pizza party lunch for the families after helping them select new furniture for their homes.

The families and Furniture Sharehouse founder Kate Bialo were the Yankees’ guests at the game tonight, and Bialo threw out the ceremonial first pitch and accepted an additional donation of $10,000 to their operating costs (overhead, delivery, repairs, etc.) on behalf of the Yankees. The estimate is that they spend about $350 to help each family, so imagine how many more families they can help with the Yankees monetary and furniture donations. Somewhere, a family is will sleep in real beds and eat dinner around a real table tonight because of their generosity.

Go Yankees!

Game 12: NYY vs. HOU — Swept away in Space City, but don’t get swept away

Consider it an interesting turnabout for the Yankees. They swept the Orioles; the Astros swept them. And the road trip finishes with 2 sweeps, but only 1 in the Yankees’ favor. And of course, social media exploded by giving up on the Yankees after only 12 games, as if they are now destined to lose the next 150. Talk about your fickle “fans”.

The honest truth is that the Yankees just didn’t play well tonight. (And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that the Astros opened the roof of their field for all 3 games. Silly superstitions.) James Paxton got the start for the Yankees tonight and struggled his way through 95 pitches into the 5th inning.

In the 1st, Paxton gave up a 1-out solo home run to get the home team on the board. Then a 2-out walk scored on a long triple. With 1 out in the 3rd, a single scored on a double. After another solo home run (by the same Astros’ star) and a single, the Yankees went to their bullpen, but they too found their own issues.

Tommy Kahnle promptly gave up a 2-run home run. After an out, 2 singles put runners on the corners. After another single scored the lead runner, the Yankees called on newly called-up Joe Harvey. Harvey was just stellar in his MLB debut, closing out the 5th with a strong strikeout and then sailing his way into the 7th inning with 2 more strikeouts. Tarpley closed out the 7th with just 3 pitches.

Things were looking better for the Yankees, miles away from the problems that have plagued their bullpen all series (and most of the season so far). Zack Britton came out for the 8th, in hopes of maintaining that momentum. It was not to be. A lead-off single ended up at 2nd due to a throwing error before scoring on another single. Britton later loaded up the bases with just 1 out, but the Yankees’ defense made it up for him with a snazzy double play to get out of trouble.

Meanwhile, the Yankees once again got on the board first with Brett Gardner’s big lead-off home run into the right field seats in the 1st. But then things got relatively quiet for the Yankees’ offense. In the 4th, Torres led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on Bird’s single, and then scored on DJ LeMahieu’s sacrifice fly.

With quite the deficit on the scoreboard, the Yankees found one last chance for a rally in the 8th in what proved to be the Astros’ lone weak inning. With a new reliever, Judge led-off with a walk and scored as part of Luke Voit’s big 2-run home run. Then Torres singled, and Bird worked a walk. After a pitching change, LeMahieu, who is definitely on quite the hitting streak, got another RBI with a great double to score Torres.

Clint Frazier’s deep sacrifice fly then scored Bird, but a pitching change and 2 outs later, the rally fizzled. The deficit proved to large to overcome as the Yankees just ran out of outs.

Final score: 8-6 Astros, Astros sweep 3-0

Next up: After an off-day/travel day tomorrow (Thursday), the Yankees return home to host a 9-game home stand. They host the White Sox this weekend. After an off-day on Monday, the Yankees host their first rivalry games — a 2-game mini-series against the Red Sox. They will finish the week with a 4-game weekend series against the visiting Royals before they head out for their first West Coast road trip of the season.

Roster moves/”Scranton Shuttle”: Before the game, the Yankees sent Jonathan Loaisiga back to AAA Scranton and recalled Joe Harvey. This was due mainly to get a fresh pitching arm. With so many injuries and Severino’s recent setback, I imagine we’ll see lots of these kinds of moves. I think we can officially say the “Scranton Shuttle” has returned for this season.

Again, I just want to reiterate that it’s a long season. I know it gets spoken so often it really could be a cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I don’t worry about the standings or the statistics until much later. Check back about the All-Star Break for a better idea of where things stand.

Look, there’s not a sports team or fan in the world that doesn’t want to win every game and isn’t upset when they lose. No one goes into this dreaming of losing 100+ games every season. And as Yankee fans, we’re used to winning more than we’re used to losing. But don’t just drop your team because you don’t like the outcome of a few games.

Think about all the Cubs or Red Sox fans that stood by their team through “curses” and major losing streaks, still showing up to every single game to hope “maybe this year”. Because that’s what it’s all about — the hope that you might be there to witness some crucial moment in time that leads to the championship, the one where they win it all. And we, of all fan bases, know that it’s not so much an “if” but “when” for the Yankees.

Go Yankees!

Game 11: NYY vs. HOU — No good news on a Tuesday

The hardest part about watching some of these early season games is just how the Yankees don’t seem to be clicking in all the right places just yet. Of course, with all their injuries and players on the injured list, it’s no wonder the Yankees seem more like a patchwork of talent than a well-oiled machine.

Sure, there’s always some rough patches early in the season as they try to recover the smoothness from the previous fall, but usually, that gets worked out mostly in Spring Training. That’s a good part of what Spring is for — to work out the off-season kinks.

But tonight was a good example of what happens when the Spring wasn’t successful in doing that because of the increasing list of injured veteran players. The Yankees played their middle game in Houston tonight, hoping to recapture whatever magic they had in Baltimore, and ended up falling short again.

Jonathan Loaisiga threw 71 pitches in his 3 innings, and after a quick 1st inning with 3 amazing strikeouts, he had some trouble through the rest of his outing. In the 2nd, a lead-off double moved to 3rd on a wild pitch and then scored on a sacrifice fly. A 1-out solo home run in the 3rd doubled the Astros’ score. In both innings, there were allowed base runners, but Loaisiga got himself out of both innings without too much damage.

Once again, the Yankees got on the board first with Luke Voit’s monster 2-out solo home run in the 1st. After the Astros tied up the game, the Yankees came back in the 6th. Gardner and Judge each worked a walk, and Voit hit into a force out at 2nd to put runners on the corners. Gary Sanchez then doubled home both Gardner and Voit to give the Yankees the lead again.

Tarpley basically breezed his way through a 9-pitch 4th inning, and Cessa’s 5 outs kept the Astros from adding to their score. Jonathan Holder closed out the 6th cleanly but had some trouble in the 7th. With 2 quick outs, he gave up back-to-back doubles that scored the tying run for the home team, before handing the ball over to Chad Green.

While Green got out of the 7th without further damage, it was his 8th, combined with some messy defense that soured the Yankees’ chances for the win. With 1 out, Green loaded up the bases with a single and 2 walks. A nice double scored 2 runners to put the Astros in the lead. Still with 2 runners on base and only 1 out, the Yankees turned to Tommy Kahnle. He gave up a sacrifice fly to score 1 run but was able to get out of the inning.

The Yankees’ offense was virtually silent after the 6th, with no late-inning rally even in the works tonight. Not even an attempt.

Final score: 6-3 Astros

Injury update: And in not good news, Luis Severino went in for a new MRI to see how his shoulder injury was progressing. While his original injury of rotator cuff inflammation seems to be healing, there is a new injury — a grade 2 lat strain. A lat strain, or micro tears in the large back muscle that connects the hip to the shoulder, is incredibly common in pitchers, especially near the shoulder joint like with Severino. A grade 2 strain is typically a month of recovery, so Severino has been shut down from all baseball activities for 6 weeks.

Again, this team is basically limping around this early season, yet still finding its way not to be the worst team in baseball. This isn’t exactly the kind of positive message I like to post on here, so I’ll leave you with some positive imagery. Even if you’re a cynic like me, a little bit of hope for better isn’t that far out of reach.

So, while the Yankees currently aren’t doing so hot and yet still hanging on just a game under .500, imagine what the team could be like as veteran players come off the IL, rejoin the team, and make an impact. It’s coming. Just hang on to that thought and pray for a healthy team.

Go Yankees!

Game 10: NYY vs. HOU — Late inning pitching disturbs “Tanaka Time”

Tonight, the Yankees began their series against the Astros in Houston with a strong start thanks to Masahiro Tanaka’s great outing. He threw just 78 pitches through 6 innings, gave up 3 hits, 2 walks, and just 1 run, and struck out 3 Houston batters. His lone allowed run was a lead-off solo home run in the 4th.

Couple that with a strong offensive start for the Yankees, and things were looking up to continue their win streak from Baltimore this weekend. In the 3rd, with 1 out, they loaded up the bases with Urshela’s walk, Gardner’s single and stolen base, and Judge’s walk. Luke Voit hit a short single that only scored Urshela but still got the Yankees on the board first.

With the game tied in the 4th, the Yankees came back in the 5th with Aaron Judge’s 1-out solo home run into the right field seats. And with 2 outs in the 6th, LeMahieu doubled and then scored on Clint Frazier’s long single.

Yes, things were looking up as the Yankees looked to their bullpen to close out the game in the final third of the game. But it didn’t really work out that way for either of their relievers. Zack Britton just struggled his way to find outs in the 7th. A lead-off single was out on a force grounder and failed double play attempt. A ground out moved that new runner to 2nd and a walk put the tying runs on base where they would both score on a long double and tie up the game.

That was it for Britton, and Adam Ottavino came in to close out the inning with a strikeout. But after another strikeout to kick off the 8th inning, he found his own problems. A walk and single put runners in the corners before a dribbling single unfortunately scored the lead runner to put the Astros in the lead.

While the Yankees had a strong starter and weak relievers, the Astros seemed to have the reverse issue, closing out the game with a 6-pitch 9th inning to win the game.

Final score: 4-3 Astros

And today, the Yankees and PitCCh In Foundation announced the 2nd annual celebrity softball game to be held at Yankee Stadium on May 16. Last year, CC Sabathia, his foundation, and the Yankees gathered their noteworthy friends like athletes Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Mo’Ne Davis and celebrities like DJ Envy, Leslie Jones, and Jennifer Lopez. They raised over $1 million for their foundations.

This year will start with a red carpet VIP event before they play the game and award the winning team a trophy. Celebrities will include Tiki Barber, Action Bronson, Andruw Jones, Tracy McGrady, and CC and Amber Sabathia among others to be announced. Tickets are available for sale for fans to enjoy all the festivities that Thursday night. Plus, it’s a great way to enjoy a game at the stadium and give back to a very worthy cause.

Go Yankees!