Game 52: HOU vs. NYY — Ace proves once again he is #SevySharp

Honestly, as much as it was rather satisfying to watch the Yankees’ offense make another impact on another good team, the star of the night was easily the Yankees’ starter Luis Severino, who is emerging again as the clear ace of the rotation. Tonight, he threw 103 pitches in his 7 innings, gave up 4 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and struck out 11 batters in the finale against the Astros tonight.

Even further than this, Severino sailed through his early innings, not giving up a hit until the 4th inning. In the 5th, with 1 out, Severino gave up a walk, who moved to 2nd on a ground out and then scored as part of a 2-run home run. After those strong innings, David Robertson kept that momentum going and threw a scoreless 8th inning before handing the ball over to the Yankees’ closer.

But before that, the Yankees gave Severino a bit of a cushion to secure his 8th win of the season. Aaron Hicks worked a walk to lead-off the 1st inning, made it to 3rd on Judge’s single, and then scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s sacrifice fly to get the Yankees on the board early.

Later, down 2-1, the Yankee found their next opportunity to reverse the scoreboard in the 5th. With 2 outs, the Yankees loaded the bases with singles to Romine and Judge and a walk to Stanton. Gary Sanchez then smacked a long single to score both Romine and Judge to give the lead again.

In the 6th, Torres led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ single. A new pitcher got a strikeout, then his defense caught Gregorius trying to take 2nd, and gave up a walk to Romine. Aaron Hicks then hit a double to scored Romine from 1st. (I guess we can say that Hicks’ recent offensive slump is pretty much over.)

Anyway, the Yankees were far enough ahead by the time Aroldis Chapman entered the game. He gave up a lead-off single, but then he was able to get the next 2 outs quickly. When the runner scored on a double, Chapman needed just 3 pitches (of the 10 he threw in the inning) to strikeout the final batter and earn his 12th save.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1

One weird play during the game happened in the 7th inning. So, the lead-off batter reached 1st on a fielding error by 3rd baseman Miguel Andujar. That runner advanced to 2nd on a 1-out single, and then the next batter hit a grounder to a waiting Andujar. Now, as he was fielding this, the Astros’ lead runner ran smack into Andujar. Andujar went crumbling on the infield dirt as the fielder somehow untangled his legs and twisted around towards 3rd. It was so sloppy that shortstop Gregorius going in for back-up tumbled over Andujar into the grassy infield, so even he couldn’t field the ball.

After the Yankees checked out Andujar for possible complications (Gregorius helped by asking him “1+1” and making him laugh), the umpires upheld the simple call that the runner was out for interference. The runner simply can’t interfere with a fielder in the process of doing his job — fielding the ball. It’s really a good rule in general — don’t interfere with people doing their job.

Next up: the Yankees head down to Baltimore for a 4-game weekend series there. After that, they head to Detroit for their doubleheader make-up game from April and then up to Toronto for a short 2-game series.

And for those of you who were wondering (or was that just me?), MLB released the nominees for the upcoming All-Star Game (held July 17 in Nationals Park in D.C.). Fan voting will begin on Friday, so you can vote for your favorite All-Star (or, you know, Yankee) to appear in this year’s exhibition game.

It’s worth noting that it’s all rookies on the bases (Tyler Austin, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar) due to early injuries and veterans on the DL, but let’s be honest, they are certainly worth the consideration with the way they’ve played so far. More on this once voting begins.

Go Yankees!

Game 51: HOU vs. NYY — Gardy Party brings win in 10th, despite 5 errors

No one can say tonight’s game was anything close to cleanly played. Not with 5 errors on the scoreboard. The defense certainly needs some work, some basic throwing and catching and fielding routine grounders.

And yet, despite that mess, the Yankees kept the game tight enough to find a win in extra innings. CC Sabathia started this middle game of the mid-week series against the visiting Astros, threw 99 pitches in his 5 innings, gave up 8 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs (3 earned, thanks to a few of those errors), and struck out 4 Houston batters.

A lead-off solo homer in the 2nd got the Astros on the board. In the 4th, with 1 out, Sabathia gave up a walk and single that both scored on a big double. And in the sloppy 5th, the lead-off batter made it safely on a messy throwing error, advanced all the way to 3rd on a single that was further complicated by another throwing error, and then scored on a single. A sacrifice fly scored on more run for the Astros.

Then Jonathan Holder came on in relief of Sabathia for 2 innings, and set a pattern the rest of the bullpen would keep for the rest of the game, keeping the Astros from adding to their score and lead. Robertson and Betances continued that momentum through their innings in the 8th and 9th, respectively.

And because this was that kind of game, the Astros’ pitching staff pretty much matched the Yankees’ in many ways. The Astros’ starter gave up 8 hits, a walk, and 3 runs in his time on the mound (6 innings). And most of their bullpen helped keep the Yankees from any potential hope, despite the close game and all their defensive errors.

I once heard someone say that the way Brett Gardner goes, so goes the Yankees. So we should have known something was up when Gardner led off the 1st inning with a big 2nd pitch solo home run. In the 2nd, with 2 outs, Miguel Andujar doubled, moved to 3rd on a passed ball, and then scored on Gleyber Torres’ single. Then the Yankees loaded up the bases with Gardner’s single and Judge’s walk, but left them stranded. Aaron Judge later kept the game tight with a 1st pitch solo home run to the right field seats to lead-off the 5th inning.

Again, a rather tight game ensued, which is really what surprised me with all the sloppy fielding. So into the bottom of the 9th, the Yankees found their next opportunity. Andujar led-off by working a walk, and then 1 out later, Brett Gardner hit 2-run home run just over the right field wall to tie up the game. And the remaining fans of the sold-out game went crazy. (This is the reason you stay until the last out, people!) Judge followed that with a solid double and moved to 3rd on Stanton’s 2-out single, but Sanchez’s big swinging strikeout sent them into the 10th inning.

Aroldis Chapman came on for the top of the 10th and held the Astros scoreless. With 2 outs, he gave up a walk that moved to 2nd on a wild pitch. But then on another wild pitch, catcher Gary Sanchez played the ball off the back wall and fired it down to a waiting Andujar at 3rd to tag out the runner there.

So the Yankees got their 2nd chance (or rather 10th, I guess) to find the winning run in the bottom of the inning. But with 2 fairly quick outs, things were looking grim. And then Miguel Andujar hit a solid double into the left field corner. It would be down to Gleyber Torres. He worked through the at-bat and somehow found a solid enough single to score the speedy Andujar with time to spare for a great walk-off win.

Final score: 6-5 Yankees, in 10 innings

If tonight is any indication, you can understand why the young rookie Gleyber Torres was named the AL Player of the Week. Last week, Torres hit 5 home runs and 9 RBIs and maintained an average of .368 in those 6 games. And he’s certainly making a case for being considered such on a regular basis.

And the annual amateur draft is coming up June 4-6. It’s where we first heard first-round names like Thurman Munson (1968), Derek Jeter (1992), and Aaron Judge (2013). Who knows who the Yankees will choose this year. And every year, the Yankees send representatives to make the announcements of their choices. This year, the Yankees will be represented by former Yankees outfielder and current special assistant to the GM Nick Swisher and Yankees Manager of International Operations Victor Roldan.

Go Yankees!

Game 50: HOU vs. NYY — A few stumbles isn’t going to win these kinds of games

To be perfectly fair, the Yankees faced one of the Astros’ ace starters. He was brutal for the Yankees in the playoffs last year, and he was dominant when the Yankees faced him earlier this season (though fortunately, that ended in the Yankees’ favor due to some ironic dominant pitching of their own by today’s starter). And because of how the games landed, the Yankees weren’t able to send in their ace. And with the slight stagnancy the Yankees’ bats are hitting recently, it might not have mattered so much.

And despite that, the Yankees were able to hold off the Astros in comparison to what could be. Domingo German got the start, throwing 104 pitches into the 6th inning, giving up 5 hits, 2 walks, and 4 runs (3 earned), and still struck out 7 Houston batters. In the 2nd, with 1 out and 2 runners on base, a big 3-run home run got the Astros on the board early. And a throwing error in the 4th allowed the lead-off runner to make it to 1st safely. He advanced to 2nd on a single and then scored on another single.

AJ Cole closed out the 6th for German and had a pretty good outing overall for his 7 outs. Except for that pesky 1st pitch, lead-off solo home run in the 8th inning to add to the Astros’ lead. Tommy Kahnle came on strong in the 9th and needed just 11 pitches to close out the inning.

Meanwhile, that Astros’ starter just dominated the Yankees’ offense into the 7th inning, giving up just 5 hits. One of those was also a lead-off solo home run to Greg Bird, his first home run of the season due to his recent return from the disabled list. The Astros’ bullpen closed out the 7th and sailed their way through the final 2 innings and kept the Yankees to that lone allowed run.

Final score: 5-1 Astros

In honor of Memorial Day, the Yankees have donned uniforms and gear with camouflage accents, both today and yesterday. And at a certain point in the game, (3pm local time, or during the 6th inning), the Yankees participated in the National Moment of Remembrance, a moment of silence.

During the 7th inning at home games, they always take time to “honor America”, a staple in the Yankees’ home program since 9/11 to recognize and honor active, veteran, and fallen military and first responders. But today was a special moment across all of baseball and various parts of America, a special memorandum President Clinton signed in 2000. It is just the 2nd year that all of MLB has participated, but it quickly has become a favorite on this day.

And on that note, we wish everyone a safe and meaningful Memorial Day, as we remember those lost in service to their country and the families they left behind. Fallen, but not forgotten.

Go Yankees!

Game 31: NYY vs. HOU — Late inning heroics

I think the Yankees can officially declare this road trip a huge success. I mean, the sweep in Anaheim was a big deal, but taking 3 of the 4 games from last year’s World Series Champions (and the team that beat them in the ALCS) really sealed that victory feeling as they fell home today.

The Yankees got ahead of the Astros once again and kept it that way for most of the game. They loaded up the bases in the 2nd with Sanchez’s walk, Walker’s hit-by-pitch, and Andujar’s short single. Ronald Torreyes hit into another short single to keep those bases loaded and score Sanchez. Then Gleyber Torres hit a long sacrifice fly that scored Walker and get the first out of the inning. Two outs later and runners were stranded on base. Then in the 3rd, Gregorius hit a 1-out double, watched Sanchez work a 2-out walk, and then scored on Neil Walker’s single.

This offensive jump-start gave their starter a bit of leeway too. Masahiro Tanaka got the start this afternoon and really had a pretty good outing over all for the first 6 innings of his outing. He was cruising along at just 73 pitches through those 6 scoreless innings and only giving up 3 hits and no walks, with 5 strike outs. But then he got into some trouble in the 7th. He gave up consecutive singles and then hit the next batter. (Or maybe he didn’t, as the Yankees’ challenge of that call was upheld and not confirmed, though honestly, it never even brushed the sleeve, but they don’t ask my perspective at MLB HQ.)

So it was on to Chad Green with the bases loaded and no outs in the 7th. He gave up 2 short singles that kept the bases loaded and scored the first 2 runners, and a messy passed ball scored one more moving the remaining runners to scoring position, the tying run at that point. He finally got an out with a stellar strikeout, and a ground out scored another run for the Astros to put them in a narrow lead. A lead-off solo home run in the 8th gave the Astros an insurance run. And an out later, the Yankees turned to Chasen Shreve for a quick 9-pitch 2 outs to close out the 8th and shut the door on any possible furthering of the Astros’ lead.

And then the Yankees had quite the 9th inning, starting (as all big innings do today) by loading up the bases on this new reliever. Walker walked, Andujar singled, and Hicks singled. The Astros called in another new reliever, but that didn’t stop the Yankees. Gleyber Torres singled and scored both Walker and Andujar (making his RBI count at 3 tonight) that also moved Hicks to 3rd. After an out that was too short to score Hicks, Aaron Judge hit into a little grounder that the Astros fielded poorly, only getting the force out at 2nd and failing to “turn two”. So Hicks was able to score the winning run.

And I say winning because Aroldis Chapman came on for the bottom of the 9th and got a pretty good save, striking out the Astros’ best hitter (and last year’s MVP, I might add).

Final score: 6-5 Yankees, Yankees win series 3-1

Not a bad way to end a road trip.

Next up: The Yankees head home to face the Indians this weekend (their 2017 ALDS foes), and then after an off day on Monday, they will host the Red Sox and Athletics for 3 games each through next weekend to complete this 9-game home stand. Momentum is everything, and the Yankees will need it to get through this home stand as both their first 2 opponents are sitting at the top of their respective divisions.

I’m not much for standings this early in the seasons, but it’s worth noting that the Yankees are 5 games ahead of the Indians and just 1.5 games behind the Red Sox in the AL. (And a game ahead of the Astros now, if you’re wondering where all the leaders land on the chart.) But I’ll warn everyone a simple thing — this means so much of nothing. We’ve watched just 31 games this season. That means there’s 131 games left to play (about 81% of the season left). A whole lot can change between now and the September call-up, and there’s always a dark horse that comes out of nowhere and surprises the world with this just outstanding performance later in the season.

So, hold on to something, we’ve got a long way to go.

Go Yankees!

Game 30: NYY vs. HOU — #SevySharp + Stanton power = a complete shutout

If anyone doesn’t understand why Luis Severino is ace material, clearly they haven’t seen him pitch like he did tonight in Houston. Severino’s Twitter hashtag (at least for me) is #SevySharp because he throws games like this with enough frequency that it warrants attention. He threw 110 pitches in a full 9 shutout innings, giving up 5 hits and a walk, and striking out 10 Houston batters along the way.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Astros have a really good rotation, something they used strategically through last year’s postseason for their clear advantage. Their starter tonight is easily one of the best pitchers in the AL, if not baseball entirely, but the Yankee batters really let into him tonight, forcing his pitch count high early on. Plus, the Yankees have never hit a home run off their starter.

Until tonight.

And offensively, the Yankees relied on Giancarlo Stanton for some deep power to push them over into the win column tonight. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Gregorius singled and then scored on Stanton’s big 2-run home run into the right field seats. Then Stanton added to the score with a 1-out solo shot into the left field seats in the 4th.

Stanton’s next at-bat was a strikeout in the 6th, the only time tonight he’d not get on base. Then in the 8th, the Astros decided to open their bullpen. Hicks led-off with a double, and after an out, stole 3rd. After a strikeout, it would be Stanton with an RBI double to score Hicks. After Sanchez walked, the Astros called on a new reliever who did better at keeping the Yankees from adding to their lead through the next 4 outs of the game.

Final score: 4-0 Yankees

And if you’re following with math here, that makes Stanton responsible for every single run scored tonight. He actually had the best average tonight — going 3-for-4 with 2 runs scored and those 4 RBIs. That certainly helped his batting average overall this season, which has been hovering in the low .200s, up to .240 by the end of the game. For some comparison, Gregorius (who was just awarded Player of the Month) is batting .330 and Judge is batting .312.

Okay, injury news: Jordan Montgomery will officially be out for 6-8 weeks due to a left elbow flexor strain. That leaves a bit of a hole in the rotation, especially with Cessa still on the DL with his oblique injury and no return set yet. So the Yankees are looking at last night’s long-term reliever to fill the gap, or perhaps he gets a shot at it. Domingo German could really rise to the occasion or at least provide some strong first few innings (he went 4 scoreless last night) and then relying on the bullpen for a strong finish.

To fill this gap, the Yankees re-signed reliever David Hale from AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to rejoin the bullpen. I don’t expect this to be the end of this conversation or roster maneuver as they find a system that works in the meantime.

Also, they moved Jacoby Ellsbury to the 60-day DL due to his left hip soreness, which effectively removes him off the 40-man roster. They needed a spot for Clint Frazier, who was officially reinstated from the 7-day concussion DL today and options to AAA Scranton. While much longer than the “7-days”, Frazier’s rehab is complete, and more importantly, his concussions are behind him. And while the Yankees certainly have a pretty good working outfield right now in Gardner, Hicks, Judge, and Stanton. Frazier is now ready to go if needed.

And following the play at the end of the 8th inning, Tyler Austin was in a bit of pain coming off the field, wincing a bit and clutching his lower right back. But after the game, Austin revealed he jammed his hip a bit on the play, and with some rest tonight, he should be ready to play tomorrow. Those little tweaks and pinches sometimes just come with the game, being an aggressive athlete and all. It’s when they don’t go away that’s the issue.

Final game in Houston is tomorrow afternoon (1:10 pm CST), for that special Thursday matinée due to travel schedules. It works out well for both teams, as the Yankees will head back to the Bronx for their next home stand, and the Astros are headed out to Arizona. But the Yankees are also hoping for a good plane ride on a second series win this road trip. Finger crossed.

Go Yankees!

Game 29: NYY vs. HOU — #ElGary ends pitching duel

This series was never going to be “boring baseball”. At least not for those who understand the game. And tonight’s home pitcher, a veteran the Yankees have faced consistently for years (previously with the Tigers until middle of last year), was just on point for most of the game. He kept the Yankees to just 3 hits for his entire 8 innings and struck out an impressive 14 Yankees along the way. It was ridiculous, really.

But it wasn’t that the Yankees’ pitching staff wasn’t keeping up. It’s just that the Astros’ starter was on a whole other level tonight. Jordan Montgomery got the start for the Yankees and breezed his way through the Astros’ lineup in just 7 pitches in that 1st inning. But then, he didn’t come back for the 2nd. He was done as he was having some tightness in his throwing elbow. That is never a good sign. (More after the recap.)

In his place, the Yankees sent in Domingo German, who really picked up Montgomery’s momentum and powered through the next 4 innings, keeping the Astros from doing anything worth mentioning. Green needed just 9 pitches in the 6th, and Betances got 3 great strikeouts in the 7th to keep the Astros’ scoreless. David Robertson got 2 quick outs, gave up a single (to last year’s MVP), and then got out of the inning.

The Yankee batters just needed the starter out of the game to make a difference. So after 105 pitches, the Astros thought they were safe enough to turn to their bullpen. They weren’t. Judge led-off the 9th with a single and ended up at 3rd on Gregorius’ double. Then with 1 out, Gary Sanchez saw the first pitch and smacked it deep to center field for a 3-run home run to break up the scoreless scoreboard.

Aaron Hicks followed that with a single and the Astros went back to their bullpen. With a new pitcher, Hicks took advantage of their lack of defense at this point. He stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on Andujar’s ground out, and then slid into home on a wild pitch. Chapman came in for the final half of the 9th inning and just powered through with 3 consecutive strikeouts to hand the Yankees the victory.

Final score: 4-0 Yankees

So, Jordan Montgomery will be headed back to New York to be seen by the team’s doctor and hopefully get a better diagnosis before his turn to pitch comes around again (which is later this weekend in the Bronx). Worst case scenario is the beginnings of an injury that could lead to surgery, like Tommy John surgery. Best case would be a small tweak in the elbow and with some rest he’s good to go next weekend. It’s probably somewhere in between, as usual.

Because if he needs to go on the DL and thus miss his next start, the Yankees will need to look at their starters or long-term relievers to potentially fill that role. Immediately, German is clearly putting up a good case for himself after tonight’s performance. The Yankees also have AJ Cole on their 25-man roster. In AAA, they have 3 — Josh Rogers, David Hale (who is back with a new minor league contract after being DFA’d last week), and Chance Adams. (By the way, no way are they reaching down to AA Trenton to grab star prospect Justus Sheffield, despite how good he’s been this season there.)

Okay, 2 games in Houston down, 2 more to go. “Boring baseball”? Yeah, not in Houston this week.

Go Yankees!

Game 28: NYY vs. HOU — Streak snapped at 9

Of course most of the conversation leading up to this series would be a “rematch of the ALCS” because it is a match-up of last year’s teams from the ALCS. It’s just not 2017 any more. Thought try telling the Astros’ starter that.

Sonny Gray got the start for this first game of this series in Houston. And he actually had a pretty stellar start — throwing 97 pitches in 6 innings, giving up 4 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs, and striking out 4 batters. In the 1st, Gray gave up a lead-off single and then balked and advanced the runner to 2nd. That runner scored 2 ground outs later.

In the 4th, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a walk and then scored on a double. The next batter hit into a fielder’s choice that the Yankees defense quickly used to get the out at home. A walk loaded the bases, but then a well-placed strikeout and line drive ended the Astros’ threat.

In fact, other than those 2 innings, Gray kept things really clean and the Astros from doing much at all. Unfortunately, the Yankees faced a similar starter from the Astros, who held a no-hitter until Romine singled in the 6th inning. Even then, they weren’t able to do much off him, only getting 2 hits, 2 walks, and a single run.

In the 8th, with 2 outs, Torres doubled on the Astros’ starter’s 102nd pitch. The Astros went to their bullpen, and the Yankees sent in a pinch-hitter. Judge, who had a regular day-off today, came in and worked a walk, but that was it for that reliever. A new one came in and promptly gave up a single to Brett Gardner that also scored Torres. But that would be the Yankees’ best opportunity all night.

Betances and Holder each threw a great inning against the Astros, joining the long list of pretty good pitchers from both sides that took the mound tonight. Neither team was really hitting all that much, and it was always going to be a close game. It just fell towards the home town team tonight.

Final score: 2-1 Astros

Yes, that means the Yankees win streak ended at 9 games. But what a great run. The next streak is just around the corner. And they’ll have 3 more chances to pick it up again in Houston.

And thanks in part to that winning streak, MLB recognized Didi Gregorius as the Player of the Week, his first such honor. With a batting average like .357, 10 RBIs, and 7 runs scored, it’s really no wonder. Of those 10 RBIs, 4 of them were big home runs. Yankee fans have known Gregorius is a key part of this Yankee lineup (as well as in the clubhouse) for 3 years now, so it’s nice to see other people recognize his talent and impact.

And if you’re wondering about some injury updates: Brandon Drury is continuing his rehab with AAA Scranton. His migraines seem to be handled as he is clearly making his mark as part of the team. He may be ready to rejoin the team once they return to New York. Clint Frazier was promoted to AAA Scranton today after having four successful rehab games with Advanced-A Tampa. His concussion seems to be healed and he’s looking forward to a regular season with his team.

And Tyler Austin’s suspension is over after tonight’s game, so he will be reactivated for tomorrow’s game.

Go Yankees!