Game 119: TB vs. NYY — Happ in charge & Romine’s power drive

Rain seems to be the biggest foe of baseball this season. But tonight’s game was only held off by a 21 minute delay at the beginning of the game to dry out the field a bit before the Yankees and Rays began their opening game of this mid-week series.

JA Happ got the start tonight and threw a pretty good game to earn his 3rd win as a Yankee and 13th win overall this season. Happ threw 106 pitches in his 7 scoreless innings, gave up just 1 hits and 4 walks, and struck out 4 Rays batters. Happ is certainly finding his stride as a Yankee and fitting in very nicely to the Yankees rotation.

The Yankees batters faced the odd Rays pitching pattern again. The “starter” only threw just 1 inning before his primary reliever threw 5 innings. Normally, the longest pitcher starts the game and then relievers piece together an inning or two to finish out the game. Now, the Rays were the one of the first teams to use the extreme fielding shifts and now doing this strange pitching pattern, so maybe it will catch on too.

Anyway, it’s not like it worked out well. The Yankees dinged into the Rays’ “starter” in the 1st inning. With 1 out, Stanton doubled and then advanced to 3rd on a pick-off throwing error and then scored easily on Aaron Hicks’ single. The Yankees then loaded up the bases with Gregorius’ single and Bird’s walk, but a ground out ended the early threat.

The long-term reliever (I guess) actually held off the Yankees for much of his 5 innings, pitching into the 6th. However, in the 5th, the Yankees found a small hole to capitalize on from an unlikely suspect. Walker led-off with a walk, and then Austin Romine liked the first pitch and plopped it into the right field seats for a 2-run home run to give the Yankees’ lead some cushion.

Under the Rays’ final reliever, the Yankees found one more chance to add a run in the 8th. With 2 outs, Andujar doubled and was pinch-run by Robinson. Robinson then scored on Greg Bird’s double to cap off the Yankees’ night.

Dellin Betances came out for the 8th inning, and the Rays’ lead-off batter took his first pitch into the visitors’ dugout for a solo home run to get the Rays on the board. But then Betances breezed through a quick 3 outs. And Aroldis Chapman only needed 9 pitches to earn his 31st save to close out the game.

Final score: 4-1 Yankees

There is quite a bit of conversation in regards to this year’s Rookie of the Year candidate. And it should both please and not really surprise any in Yankee Universe that both Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. While Torres has pretty much always been in the conversation due to the pre-set expectations as a prospect, the biggest standout and surprise is the rise of Andujar.

Andujar has been a consistent force for the Yankees, virtually taking up the starter’s role at 3rd and being quite the power hitter at the plate, with the team’s highest batting average and doubles. Torres, of course, made the All-Star team as the back-up 2nd baseman (finishing 2nd in voting behind a veteran superstar infielder), a huge honor for his rookie year, but Andujar was in the mix for his position, finishing 3rd behind 2 big star players for other teams. That’s how valuable these players are.

Both are great candidates for Rookie of the Year, but voting and awards season is still so far off and there’s still quite a bit of baseball yet to play. Though it would be something to have another Yankee rank so high in this category. Sanchez was 2nd in 2016, Judge won the honor last year, and both Torres and Andujar are up for it in 2018.

I’ve said it for a few years now. The Yankee farm system is really good, and it’s given me hope for the future of the franchise. And if they keep churning out these kinds of players, Yankee Universe shouldn’t be worried either.

Go Yankees!

Game 115: TEX vs. NYY — Less than ideal pitching halt late power surge

Masahiro Tanaka’s streak was broken in tonight’s game by a strange power surge by the Rangers. Before Tanaka’s outing tonight, he was floating on a 14-game win streak of games he started since April 17, some were ultimate “no-decisions” as they were won later in the game, but he still had 9 W’s in his statistics.

Tanaka threw 96 pitches through 5 innings, gave up 6 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs, and struck out just 2 batters. Actually, he held off the Rangers for the first third of the game. Things began to crumble in the 4th with a lead-off single that scored on a 2-run home run and a 1-out solo homer to give the Rangers the lead. And in the 5th, with 1 out and runners on the corners, a long double scored both runners to pad their lead.

AJ Cole didn’t have a great outing either. With 2 outs in the 6th, a walk and a double both scored on a single and throwing error. Another single scored that runner. And a 1-out solo shot in the 7th added another run for the Rangers.

Chad Green’s 8th also faced troubles. With 1 out and runners on the corners again, a double scored both runs to cap off the Rangers’ night. Zach Britton easily had the best outing from the Yankees’ pitching staff tonight, throwing a scoreless 9th, the first scoreless inning for the Rangers since the 3rd inning.

The Yankees spent half the game being held off by the Rangers’ starter. It wasn’t until the 5th that Brett Gardner broke through with a nice 1-out solo home run into the Yankees’ bullpen to finally get the Yankees on the board. In the 6th, Stanton worked a 1-out walk, and Gregorius hit a 2-out single. Miguel Andujar hit a ground-rule double to score Stanton, and Luke Voit got his first Yankee RBI with a single that scored Gregorius and Andujar.

A new pitcher got the Rangers out of the inning, but then gave up a lead-off home run to Austin Romine. And in the 8th (with another new pitcher), Gregorius and Andujar singled and later moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. They both scored on Romine’s single to inch the Yankees closer. But a new reliever closed out the rally and the final reliever closed out the game with 2 strikeouts and a pop-up, and the Yankees ran out of outs to stage another one.

Final score: 12-7 Rangers

And in amusing news (because we really need it after tonight’s game): a eagle-eyed Yankee fan caught last night’s winning pitcher JA Happ taking the subway home after the game. Fellow New Yorkers were certainly appreciative of the little things that matter to daily train riders — his bag was down and out of the way of people, he kept to himself (no man-spreading), and he blended into the crowd seamlessly. The picture the fan caught was probably Happ looking up at the map to affirm how many more stops until the one he takes.

So, welcome to New York, JA! It looks like you’re right at home both on the field and on the subway.

And to be fair, lots of Yankee players do take the train to work if they live in the City. Many of those with families live outside the City and thus drive into work like nearly everyone else does every day. And as someone who takes the subway a lot whenever I’m in the City, I’m a little confused as to why this is news. But after thinking about it I figured out two things I think help players feel comfortable taking public transportation in the City.

First, in this day and age, when baseball stars are less about personalities and more about their performance (as we talked about in previous posts), your average person is more concerned if they’re going to make it to work on time than whether the guy next to them is a celebrity pro-athlete.

And second, there are a lot of celebrities who live in the City and it’s basically a live set, so seeing celebrities (or people who sort of look like someone who could be famous) is a frequent occasion, and again, people are more concerned about their own daily lives than bugging someone who might be famous on the train.

So, perhaps, it’s big news outside of the City for people who don’t always take the train. Who don’t know what a commonality this is for New Yorkers (to both use the subway and see celebs frequently). Or non-Yankee or baseball fans who won’t know or care who last night’s starting pitcher was. I think there’s more news to be had about the MTA’s archaic signal system and the occassional rodent carrying pizza around the tracks.

Go Yankees!

Game 114: TEX vs. NYY — Bombers return to the Bronx

In this first game of the home stand and this weekend series against the Rangers, the Yankees found their swing by scoring all their runs tonight courtesy of the home run. JA Happ is back after his stint on the DL to start tonight’s game and do a pretty good job of it.

He threw 94 pitches in 6 innings, gave up 4 hits, a walk, and 3 runs, and struck out 9 Texas batters. A 2-out solo homer in the 4th got the Rangers on the board. And in the 5th, a walk and single scored on a solid double to edge them closer to the Yankees’ lead.

The Yankees offense kicked off again in the 1st, putting them in an early lead they never surrendered thanks to that signature home run ball. Gregorius worked a 2-out walk and then scored as part of Aaron Hicks’ 20th home run, a big 2-run shot into the right field seats.

In the 4th, with 1 out and a walk to Bird, Miguel Andujar hit a 2-run home run to double their score, and Neil Walker followed him up with a solo home run for a great back-to-back show for the home town crowd. Giancarlo Stanton’s 1-out solo home run in the 5th, and Walker’s 1-out solo home run (yes, his 2nd of the night) in the 6th capped off the Yankees’ night.

Happ handed the lead over to the bullpen for Robertson, Betances, and Chapman to close out the game with an inning a piece. All three doing their job well, especially Betances’ 8-pitch 8th. Yankee pitchers combined for a solid 13 strikeouts against Rangers batters.

Final score: 7-3 Yankees

Roster moves: In anticipation of tonight’s game, the Yankees sent prospect pitcher Chance Adams back to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room for JA Happ as they activated him off the DL following his stint with hand, foot, and mouth disease.

After a rather popular special event last year, MLB is hosting league-wide Player’s Weekend once again this year. Scheduled for the last weekend of this month, August 24-26), players will don personalized gear and have specially chosen nicknames on their jerseys.

Teams generally have very strict rules about what colors and designs players can wear on an ordinary day, diverging only for special events like the All-Star Game, exhibition games, and those games in honor of Mothers and Fathers Days (though only pink and blue accents allowed for those). And if a team does have a name on its jersey, it’s only the last name (and sometimes a first initial or suffix to clarify in the case of more popular names).

In addition to all these fun things, there’s a patch on every sleeve where players write who inspired them to honor those special people in their lives. Fans can purchase special jerseys and hats and later game-worn jerseys to help support the charitable cause of the weekend — to support the “evolution” of baseball players, from Little League and Youth Baseball all the way up to Major League Baseball.

Play ball… and Go Yankees!

Game 111: NYY vs. CHW — A shutout gem from Lynn to reset the Yankees

Perhaps it was a mix of things — Lynn’s sharp pitching, the sloppy defense by the White Sox, or sheer desperation of the Yankees to pull themselves out of this skid — but things worked in the Yankees’ favor tonight (finally) after having some recent issues where they just weren’t looking like the 2018 Yankees we’ve seen most of this season.

Still rather new to the Yankees, veteran starter Lance Lynn proved his trade was worth it with a really great outing in tonight’s opener in Chicago. Lynn threw 108 pitches into the 8th inning, giving up just 2 hits and a walk, and striking out 9 White Sox batters. After a single allowed in the 1st, he got 19 consecutive outs before giving up a single in the 8th. He and the Yankee defense refused to let the White Sox do much of anything tonight.

After a standing ovation from a healthy contingency of Yankee fans in the stands on the Chicago’s south side, Lynn would cede the game to AJ Cole. Cole held the White Sox to their scoreless game through his 5 outs to close out the game.

The Yankee bats, meanwhile, took a bit to wake up. But then they were back to form. In the 4th, with 1 out, Stanton doubled and moved to 3rd on Gregorius’ double. He scored on Aaron Hicks’ single, and Gregorius then scored on Gleyber Torres’ single.

Later in the 5th, with 1 out, Higashioka and Gardner each singled to put them on the corners. A wild pitch had Kyle Higashioka scoring the next run, and Didi Gregorius’ single saw the speedy Brett Gardner rushing all the way home from 2nd to just beat the tag at home.

And to cap off the night, Gleyber Torres hit a 1-out solo home run in the 8th, and after Andujar worked a 2-out walk, he would score as part of Neil Walker’s big 2-run home run to solidify the Yankees’ big night.

Final score: 7-0 Yankees

It looks like starter JA Happ will be able to return for his scheduled start on Thursday when the Yankees return to the Bronx to face the Rangers. Happ has been dealing with the effects of hand, foot, and mouth disease, which is initially highly contagious and consists mostly of a bad rash and feeling feverish and generally terrible for about 7-10 days. Not exactly ideal for the kind of exertion one needs to pitch in a professional baseball game.

And Aaron Judge is doing some basic baseball activities with the team during the pre-game warm-ups in Chicago. He is traveling with the team while resting his chip-fractured wrist. He has yet to swing a bat because it’s still a broken bone that causes some pain and discomfort.

Initially, he was given a rough estimate of 3 weeks when he got his diagnosis (July 26), which would be August 16. But I think most people agree that we’d rather he be at 100% than risk a recurrence or be only at half his potential. Fortunately, with a break, it’s easier to tell when it’s healed, in that there’s no more break. It’s why sprains and strains are harder to gauge — there’s not definitive sign for healing that’s consistent with every person. Injuries still stink either way.

Go Yankees!

Game 108: NYY vs. BOS — Against an ace performance, just 1-run

After last night’s crazy game, the Yankees were looking to tonight’s game for at least a little normalcy. And it was, but it wasn’t in their favor.

Luis Severino struggled a bit at the beginning of his outing tonight but later found his momentum and helped keep the Red Sox from doing too much damage against the Yankees. Severino threw a season-high 115 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 7 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs, and struck out just 2 Boston batters.

In the bottom of the 1st, with 1 out, he gave up a ground-rule double that scored as part of a 2-run home run (if you’ve been following this series, it’s the same guy as last night). A 2-out walk stole 2nd and then scored on an RBI single to give the Red Sox an early lead. With 2 outs in the 5th, he gave up a double that scored on a single to cap off Boston’s offense. Robertson and Kahnle swept through the final 7 outs, cleanly and efficiently.

That should have been enough for the Yankees to fight back and make at least a concerted attempt to match the Red Sox. But the Yankee batters were up against a pitcher having a terrific game, eventually throwing a complete 9 innings with just 86 pitches and only giving up a single hit — a lead-off solo home run into the Green Monster seats to Miguel Andujar in the 3rd.

There was seemingly nothing the Yankees could do off the Red Sox pitcher tonight. Which certainly made for a quick game, just 2 hours and 15 minutes. It was just not going to be the Yankees’ night because of his performance.

Final score 4-1 Red Sox

Roster moves: The greatest story of tonight’s roster moves was that Tommy Kahnle, tonight’s 8th inning pitcher, was in upstate New York this morning (after the RailRiders game yesterday in Rochester) when he got the call to head to Boston rather than follow the team back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He made it at some point before he threw his 13 pitches tonight in his away greys.

To make room for him, the Yankees optioned Luis Cessa back to Scranton. And with JA Happ out with hand, foot, and mouth disease for the next week or so, the Yankees will be calling up prospect pitcher Chance Adams to start tomorrow’s game in Happ’s stead. Seeing as great pitchers like Sabathia and Severino have had less than ideal outings (though honestly not terrible) against the Red Sox, perhaps a change in the rotation could help press the reset button, so to speak, for the Yankees in this weekend series.

This reminds me of my preferred version of the famed quote misattributed to Einstein: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” In other words, if things aren’t working, change is the best option. Change is usually the best option. It prevents boredom and complacency and predictability, instead inviting creativity and adventure and surprise. And isn’t that worth the risk?

Go Yankees!

Game 105: BAL vs. NYY — Andujar’s power backs #TanakaTime

With all the flurry about the trade deadline (and some very busy social media feeds), it’s almost hard to remember that there’s still games to be played and won. Like this micro-series against Baltimore. Masahiro Tanaka threw 105 pitches in his 6 scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits and 2 walks, and striking out 8 batters to set him up to earn the win tonight.

The Yankees backed his great outing with some well-placed moments of offense. Gardner led-off the 1st inning with a walk, moved to 2nd on Gregorius’ walk, and then scored the Yankees’ first run of the night on Gleyber Torres’ single. In the 3rd, Gardner led-off once again, this time with a single, stole 2nd, ended up at 3rd when Stanton hit into a fielding error, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ single.

Then in the 5th, the Orioles’ starter quickly loaded the bases by hitting Stanton with a pitch and giving up a single to Gregorius and a walk to Hicks. With 1 out, Greg Bird’s sacrifice fly scored Stanton, and then Miguel Andujar smacked a big 3-run home run into the left field seats, the difference maker in tonight’s game.

Following Tanaka’s outing, the Yankees turned to their bullpen to close out the game. AJ Cole had a clean 7th but then had trouble in the 8th inning, giving up a single, a walk, and a 2-run double before finally getting an out. So the Yankees turned to Dellin Betances. Unfortunately, a passed ball made things more complicated as the runner went to 3rd as Higashioka recovered and threw it down to 3rd but then a missed catch error allowed that runner to score another run for the O’s. Chapman wrapped things up with a quick 13-pitch 9th inning, his 29th save.

Final score: 6-3 Yankees

JA Happ has a mild case of “foot, hand and mouth disease“, which is basically a highly contagious rash accompanied by fever, sore throat, and feeling gross. The Yankees are still counting on Happ to make his start on Saturday due to the “mild” part of that diagnosis, as a standard case usually takes about 10 days to clear up. However, Cessa is prepared to be recalled as his replacement, if necessary.

The Yankees have made some key trades already leading up to the deadline (5pm earlier today, July 31). But over the last couple of days, including yesterday’s off-day, there was just a few more. Late Sunday night, the Yankees traded minor league pitcher Caleb Frare to the White Sox for Future Considerations and signed 16-year-old international free agent and Cuban pitcher Osiel Rodriguez, currently the #10 prospect on the international market.

Two other big trades moved some things for the Yankees. They got veteran pitcher Lance Lynn (who was previously with the Cardinals) from the Twins in exchange for infielder Tyler Austin and minor league pitcher Luis Rijo. And Adam Warren is on his way to Seattle in a trade for Future Considerations.

Essentially, the Yankees acquired about $3.75 million for “Future Considerations”, or money to sign free agents off the international market. This is clearly a sign the Yankees are investing in their future player development program more than some high-priced one-off players. It’s also a sign that they’re pretty happy with the way most of the roster looks like right now, despite having starting players like Sanchez, Judge, and even Montgomery on the DL currently.

This idea is similar to a conversation that I had recently about the look of baseball. With the retirement of the most recent crop of super stars (like Jeter, Rodriguez, Ortiz, Beltran, and Ichiro), there doesn’t seem to be a focus so much on the individual stars. Sure, everyone knows Trout, Harper and Judge, but they don’t have the kind of celebrity and clout that their recent predecessors have. This is, of course, a hugely complex issue involving the rise of social media, the increase of trades, and the lack of some organizations’ player development programs.

But I’m okay with that. It gets people back to the game itself. Sure, the Trout-Harper-Judge trifecta sell shirts and specialized merchandise, but people are going to games because they love the sport. It may make name-recognition harder for fans outside a home town, but it has a refreshing side-effect.

Rarely now do I hear that so-called fans are just at a game for a particular player, something you’d hear frequently during the height of the previous celebrity era. (Though they might still go donning that jersey and get rather upset when you tell them he wasn’t a particularly good player in comparison to his current replacement.) Now, people just love a team or even the game in general. That will create true baseball fans and not just people who “stan” a certain ball player.

Go ahead and ask a fan in the stands (especially a kid) next game who their favorite current player is. I bet they’ll name a few local guys, maybe even a couple on another team. But ask them who their favorite team is. It’s a no-doubter.

Go Yankees!

Game 104: KC vs. NYY — Oh, Happ-y Day!

The Yankees sold out their 20th home game this season, despite being against a non-division rival and one of the worst teams in MLB right now. But it was a lovely Sunday mid-summer afternoon, a perfect day for America’s pastime, for the finale game of this long weekend series between the Yankees and the visiting Royals.

JA Happ got his first start as a Yankee, becoming the first pitcher to pitch for both the Blue Jays and the Yankees in a single season since David Cone in 1995, and we all know how that trade worked out. Happ had a great outing in his Yankee debut, throwing 96 pitches in his 6 innings, gave up just 3 hits, a walk, and 1 run, and struck out just 2 Kansas City batters. His lone allowed run was a 2-out solo home run in the 6th.

But the Yankee offense gave Happ a good cushion for his start today too. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Gregorius worked a walk and ended up at 2nd on a pick-off error. He then scored as part of Aaron Hicks 2-run home run to put the Yankees in the lead early. Hicks later led-off the 4th with a double and scored on Miguel Andujar’s 2-out single.

Then in the 5th, Gardner and Stanton hit consecutive singles, ending the Royals’ starter’s afternoon. With a new reliever, a ground out moved them both to scoring position, and Hicks’ walk loaded the bases. Gleyber Torres hit into a strange play, hitting the ball to the 2nd baseman who looked like he tagged Hicks on the way to 2nd before throwing out Torres at 1st for a double play.

However, the Yankees challenged the tag on Hicks, and rightly so, the play was overturned from a double play to a standard grounder to 1st. So, with 2 outs, Gardner scored and runners (Stanton and Hicks) were in scoring position. Only Stanton would then score on Greg Bird’s single. Then in the 6th, Walker was hit by a pitch, ended up at 3rd on Romine’s double, and then scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s sacrifice fly.

With the Yankees’ solid lead, and Happ’s great start (only 1 allowed run), the Yankees bullpen needed to keep the Royals from advancing. But it wasn’t that easy. Chad Green gave up a lead-off solo homer in the 7th, and David Robertson did the same in the 8th. But Chapman’s clean 9th inning gave him his 28th save of the season.

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

Next up: The Yankees have that rare off-day tomorrow (Monday) before hosting a micro-series, 2 games against the Orioles. They then hit the road for a Sox road trip — 4 games at Fenway with the Red Sox and 3 games in Chicago at the White Sox. The Yankees then host a long 11-game home stand.

And it’s official. The Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 is part of the legends represented in Cooperstown after today’s induction ceremony. This year’s class featured Jack Morris and Alan Trammel, both of the Tigers and voted by the Modern Era Baseball Committee; plus regular inductees Chipper Jones (Braves), Jim Thome (Indians), Trevor Hoffman (Padres), and Vladimir Guerrero (Expos/Angels). Guerrero chose to wear the Angels’ cap in his plaque, becoming the first player to wear an Angels’ cap in the Hall.

Congrats to this year’s inductees! And for your information, notable former Yankees up for voting in the next few years include Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte (2019), Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi (2020), Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (2022), and Carlos Beltran and Ichiro Suzuki (2023). I would think quite a few of those names will be voted into the Hall within these next few years.

Go Yankees!