World Series 2: LAD vs. BOS — Dodgers’ 3-hit chilly stumble

The World Series is headed to the West Coast (where it’s 30+ degrees warmer, by the way) with the Red Sox in a strong lead over the Dodgers. After a chilly night in Fenway, the bats weren’t as loud as previous nights in the park, but it didn’t stop either team from trying their hardest to shift the game their way.

For 9 postseasons in his career, the Red Sox’s starter (formerly with the Rays and Tigers) hasn’t done really well. But this postseason has been quite successful for him, shutting down the Yankees and Astros to get to the point to limiting the Dodgers to just 3 hits in tonight’s game. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ starter certainly limited the damage, but the Red Sox offense were just stronger tonight. In the 2nd, the Red Sox got a 1-out double that scored on a 2-out single to kick off their limited night.

The Dodgers finally found their opportunity in the 4th loading up the bases with 2 singles and a walk. A sacrifice fly scored a run, and a 2-out single scored one more to put the Dodgers in their first lead this series. It didn’t last long, as the Red Sox loaded up the bases themselves in the bottom of the 5th. A walk scored the run that tied up that game and a single scored 2 extra runs to ensure the Red Sox’s eventual victory.

Once both starter were out of the game, their respective bullpens kept the score as is and sent this Series to Los Angeles with the Red Sox firmly in the lead.

Final score: 4-2 Red Sox, Red Sox lead series 2-0

In an interesting note, Jackie Robinson died on this day 46 year ago. He is most remembered as being the first player of color to play MLB professionally. It’s noteworthy that both managers in this World Series are former professional MLB players of color. The Red Sox’s Alex Cora is from Puerto Rico (and later South Florida), and Dave Roberts was born to his African-American dad and his Japanese mother in Japan.

It only took 71 years from when Robinson “broke the color barrier” to having both World Series managers be people of color with careers they can credit to Robinson’s own stellar career. Both managers, by the way, were born in the mid-1970s, thus their entire baseball lives from Little League to pro-ball was an open door for people of all races. And if you just take a passing glance at both rosters, you can see they are diverse in a way most people could only dream of back in 1947.

With one major exception… they’re still all men. Don’t at me. Don’t tell me that women can’t compete with men one day. A League of Their Own and the recent short-lived Fox drama Pitch touched on this issue, as well as the rise of Mo’ne Davis and these five women. A few years ago, the Dodgers had a female athletic trainer and other women are spread around baseball as the next crop of General Managers to scouts, trainers, coaches, and other predominantly male-only jobs at the Park.

Lament about the “good old days” if you want. But I think baseball became a better game when it integrated. I think it can only get better if it continues to evolve to allow the best players to play regardless of race, sex, or any other social division. Only when the world is represented can we truly enjoy the concept of a “World Series”.

Go Yankees!

Game 11: STL vs. NYY — Sometimes, 42 is the answer to everything

It’s all over baseball. That lone reminder that the game we love at one point needed to a game open to everyone or it wasn’t really a game for everyone. It reminds us of the great player who wore it and made that difference, and it reminds Yankee fans of another great player who wore it with the same pride and integrity. Today alone, over 1000 uniformed players, coaches, and managers as well as the usual show of fans wore that great number 42 to honor the late Jackie Robinson and remember his legacy on the sport we love. (And Wikipedia dedicates an entire page to the paradox of the number 42, if you’re interested.)

And on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, CC Sabathia had #42 on his back and specialized Brooklyn Dodger blue and designed cleats on his feet to face the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. And boy, did Sabathia have a great outing today. He threw 97 pitches into the 8th inning, giving up just 3 hits, a walk, and a run, and striking out 6 Cardinals’ batters. His lone run was a 1-out solo home run in the 8th inning on that 97th pitch to his final batter of the afternoon.

But Sabathia was set-up for the win today thanks in part to the help of Adam Warren who sailed through the rest of the 8th with just 11 pitches for those last 2 outs. Tyler Clippard made things interesting in the 9th, however. He gave up a 1-out home run, then after his 2nd strikeout, gave up a single and a walk (much to the dismay of the standing crowd) before getting his 3rd strikeout, a big swinging K to end the game, inning, and threat and earn his 1st save of the season.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were faced with a mixed bag with the Cardinals’ starter. He threw a whopping 118 pitches into the 6th inning against the Yankees, and while they only got 4 hits off him, they also got a weird mix of 8 total walks and 11 total strikeouts.

In the 1st inning, the starter gave up consecutive walks to Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks, a passed ball moved the runners up, and with 2 outs, a wild pitch allowed the speedy Gardner to high-tail it home to score the Yankees first run. Despite loading up the bases with 2 more walks, the Yankees couldn’t add to it then as a strikeout (the 3rd of the inning) ended their threat.

Then in the 6th, the Yankees made their move. Torreyes led-off with a double, though it wasn’t looking like it as a trio of players converged in the short outfield to watch the ball drop between them. Torreyes kicked it up and slid around the tag at 2nd and made it safely (though the Cardinals’ questioned the play initially). Gardner then moved him to 3rd before Torreyes then scored on a really messy play — Hicks hit into a little grounder back to the pitcher, but then he overthrew it to home so Torreyes easily scored. Hicks ended up at 2nd thanks to a late (and off-center) throw to try to get him out there. Hicks would go on to then score on Chris Carter’s single.

Final score: 3-2 Yankees (yes, the Yankees are on a 6-game win streak right now; no, I don’t believe in jinxes today)

Injury news: Matt Holliday was originally scheduled to be the DH today, but due to some “lower back stiffness”, the Yankees opted for Chris Carter as today’s DH.

And while I never feel like I can do justice to the legacy of Jackie Robinson, everyone definitely makes their best effort to say what it means to them every year. Girardi used his pre-game press conference, Sabathia used the Player’s Tribune twitter account, and players used their own social media to honor the man. MLB also found some clips from Robinson’s first MLB game 70 years ago today about 15 miles away from where the Yankees played today. (Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was just east of Prospect Park for those familiar with Brooklyn or want to google it.)

Either way, the game looks like it does today because of amazing men like Jackie Robinson and those who paved the way for his MLB career to be possible. I think of Negro League greats like Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and more; I think of the executives like Branch Rickey, coaches like Leo Durocher, and players like Pee Wee Reese who stood by their decision to integrate in the face of literal death threats and boycotts; I think of fans who truly wanted the best players for their teams, without caring if they were (in Durocher’s sanitized words) “yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a…zebra.” And I think of the countless kids who grew up believing that they too could finally play professional baseball regardless of their skin color.

Every team is now filled with former kids with a simple dream — to play ball. And because of #42, that dream became true for them. How many kids are going to sleep tonight with the same dream that might be realized in just a few short years?

Thank you, Jackie, for your courage to make the impossible possible and showing the world what excellence and integrity looks like.

Go Yankees!

Game 9: SEA vs. NYY — #42 in hearts and on backs

Happy April 15th or in the baseball world… Happy Jackie Robinson Day! Around the league, every single player, coach, and manager donned a single number to honor the man who helped make both baseball and this country more reflective of the American culture. Before Rosa Parks just wanted to rest her feet, before Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, before the Acts and Amendments changed history and validated humans as equals regardless of skin color, athletes were breaking boundaries and making the world stand up and take notice — Jessie Owens, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson — these few stood for the many who were so spectacular at their chosen field that the world could no longer ignore their existence and paved the way for the larger Civil Rights movement that fought for total equality.

And it wasn’t just a black and white issue. Robinson’s impact on baseball opened doors for other minorities previously ignored or excluded from participating — Jewish, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian players as well as players from across the globe (even from places like Australia and India). Baseball is played around the world by people of all nationalities and races, even by women (perhaps the next boundary to be broken) at the semi-professional level.

So everyone takes one day a year to honor the man for whom we wouldn’t have players like tonight’s starter Luis Severino (or Sabathia or Tanaka or Ellsbury or Gregorius or Beltran or Castro or a good majority of the Yankees roster). (Also, Commissioner Rob Manfred stopped by the Stadium tonight to discuss the impact of Robinson on baseball and America in general.)

The Yankees are back home tonight hosting the Mariners for the weekend. It’s the beginning of a 9-game (over 10 days) home stand.

Brett Gardner got the runs started tonight in the bottom of the 1st with a 1-out solo home run off the facade of the 2nd deck right field seats. Unfortunately, it was the start of the runs scored, and the only one to be scored all night by a Yankee. The Yankees had a bit of a problem (something that echoed of 2015) — getting guys on base but leaving them stranded there (24 total left stranded on the base paths).

But the Mariners didn’t seem to have that problem. At first, Severino kept the Mariners scoreless for the first third of the game, but then got himself into some trouble. In the 4th, a 1-out double scored on a solid single by a certain former Yankee (who still gets booed in the Bronx, by the way) to tie up the game. Then after a sloppy error, Gregorius made up for it by getting a rather snazzy unassisted double play to end the inning — a line drive and flip around to tag out said former Yankee.

In the 5th, a lead-off single made it possible for the Mariners to jump ahead quickly when the next batter hit a 2-run home run. And in the 6th, Severino really got into some trouble. With a lead-off walk and single, the next batter ground to 3rd, where Headley tagged out the lead runner in an almost fielder’s choice. Despite a big strikeout, a single scored a run and put runners on the corners. So that was it for Severino — 87 pitches into the 6th inning, 8 hits and a walk, with just 2 strikeouts (rather unusual for Severino overall).

And it was onto Kirby Yates for relief. He promptly walked his first batter to load up the bases before getting a much-needed strikeout. So Yates came back in the 7th inning, where his lead-off batter singled, stole 2nd, and moved to 3rd on a ground out. He was responsible for this runner when he handed the ball over to today’s call-up Tyler Olson (more below). Olson’s first batter hit a sacrifice fly that scored that runner, but Olson closed the door with a quick pop up.

Olson’s 8th and 9th also featured a similar pattern. A lead-off double in the 8th moved to 3rd on a ground out and scored on a 2-out single. And a 1-out walk in the 9th scored on a solid RBI double to close out the Mariners’ scoring.

When I look at the final line on both pitching staff, the thing that sticks out at me isn’t the 12 allowed hits by Yankee pitchers or the fact they only got the Mariners to strikeout 3 times all night. No, it’s that the Mariners’ pitching staff gave up 7 walks to the Yankees and none of those resulted in runs (thanks in part to the 10 collective strike outs).

Not that the Yankees will be looking forward to tomorrow’s game, as the Mariners’ ace (or “King”) is set to start tomorrow afternoon. Said King is always a problem for the Yankees’ batters. It’s going to be an interesting weekend.

Final score: 7-1 Mariners.

Fire up the Scranton Shuttle! The Yankees called reliever Tyler Olson up (and played him in tonight’s game) and sent reliever Luis Cessa down to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. When I think of this rather even exchange, I’m reminded of another sport that does such things within actual games — soccer (or football for you fellow Premier League fans). Within a single game, they do one play down and one player up to exchange a defender or midfielder for fresh legs. And like in baseball, sometimes that exchange works out well (like suddenly scoring the winning goal) and sometimes it doesn’t (they literally contribute nothing). It’s always a gamble.

But then that’s just part of the game. And a very good game at that.

Go Yankees!

Games 14 & 15: CHC vs. NYY — Doubleheader shutout sweep

67 years ago yesterday, Jackie Robinson played in his first MLB game, officially breaking the color barrier and changing the landscape of baseball forever. Recently, MLB has seen a recent downturn in black players on starting rosters and have hosted diversity seminars to brainstorm ways to increase the diversity in the league. There is definitely a presence of Hispanic players in the league, and of course the increase of Asian players seems dripping with a ridiculous amount of international press coverage. But with college scholarships, larger signing bonuses, and societal expectations leading African-American potential players toward other professional sports (football and basketball jump to mind), there has been a steady decline in baseball, which is a shame because we all know baseball is so much better than every other sport.

Mandela-Robinson
(at L) Nelson Mandela at Yankee Stadium in 1990, (at R) Jackie Robinson playing baseball, honored for their courage and conviction today and forever in Monument Park (photo via cbsnewyork.com)

Now, last year, on Jackie Robinson Day (and heightened by the release of his Hollywood biopic 42), I thought about how so many players wouldn’t have a career without that day almost seven decades ago, not just the black players but also those of Hispanic, Asian, or mixed heritage. And that got me thinking about the current roster for the Yankees. In fact, their entire starting rotation has benefited from this anniversary — Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Tanaka, and Pineda, arguably one of the best starting rotations in the entire league. Also on the Yankees are players of all sorts of backgrounds and ethnicities to back up their amazing starters. And to me, that reminds me of the very city they play in — New York is a ridiculous melting pot of ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity.

So, in the very city (or rather neighboring borough) that broke the barrier that prevented anyone from playing the greatest sport in the world, we have a wonderfully diverse team that is set on continuing the tradition for excellence in athletics, something Robinson himself certainly sought during his time in New York (albeit in Brooklyn).

In addition to celebrating Robinson tonight before the second game of the doubleheader, the Yankees honored the late Nelson Mandela, who visited New York and Yankee Stadium in 1990, shortly after he was released from serving 27 years in a South African prison for fighting for his country’s civil rights. Tonight, the Yankees unveiled a plaque to celebrate his life and work to help break the barrier in his country and support those around the world who sought to do the same. Robinson’s widow and daughter and Mandela’s grandson were present for the pre-game ceremony.

But today in the Bronx, it was quite chilly for the doubleheader against the Cubs (I’m thinking the players are more than a little anxious to leave the 40-something degree weather for the weekend series in sunny Florida). Because of the storm front yesterday that brought some late spring ice and snow to the area and the chilly temperatures, yesterday’s postponed game was played this afternoon. And it was Masahiro Tanaka‘s turn to dazzle the crowd once again with 107 pitches, 8 innings, just 2 hits (wimpy little bunts), and a walk. But what was spectacular was the 10 solid strikeouts, which set a record for Yankee pitchers at 28 in his first 3 games. No, he was something to watch again, and it just stunned the Cubs. Shawn Kelley came in for the save in the 9th, getting his 4th.

Carlos Beltran got the offense going with his fourth home run of the year right in the 1st inning. In the 4th, with bases loaded, Dean Anna hit a nice sacrifice fly to score a sliding McCann, who got in just under the tag. Gardner, on base with a ground-rule double in the 5th, scored on Ellsbury’s groundout, which came with its own bit of drama. Apparently, it should have been called a “catcher’s interference“, but because a run scored, the Yankees opted to take the out to allow the run to score (and only former catcher Girardi seemed to know and understand this part of the rule); had they gone with the interference call, Ellsbury would be on 1st, but Gardner couldn’t score on that play. It was more important for the run to score than an out to be called.

And so the Yankees sat at 3-0 for the first game.

Of course, the game was not without a little drama. The Cubs challenged two calls. The first one was a bunt in the 2nd inning that was initially called out, but replays and the umpires did confirm the Cubs challenge and overturned it. (It became one of the hits Tanaka “allowed”.) Then in the 7th, a short hopper deflected off Tanaka, which Anna grabbed on the infield grass and tossed to 1st to get the out. The Cubs challenged it, but replays and the umpires denied the challenge, and the out stood as called.

Game over, stadium cleaned, dinner break, pre-game ceremonies to honor Robinson and Mandela, and it was play ball part 2.

This time, Michael Pineda took the mound for his 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and a walk to the Cubs. Phelps, Thornton, and Warren (who would get the save) finished the last 3 innings to keep the Cubs scoreless. Unlike last time, there was no drama with Pineda, but the nail-biting 9th certainly threatened the Yankees lead and made the entire crowd (or whoever was left in tonight’s windy cold stands) groan, then cheer, then groan, then finally cheer.

Now, for the evening game, the Yankees racked up the hits with a total of 12 against the Cubs’ pitchers. But out of that, they only cobbled together 2 runs — a Gardner RBI single in the 4th and a Sizemore RBI single in the 5th. And that put the Yankees solidly at 2-0 for the second shutout of the day, and sweep of the Cubs during their 2-game stint in the Bronx.

Two amusing plays tonight: Alfonso Soriano made a long run into the side wall to catch a fly ball in the 6th that some grabby fans tried to reach over and take out of play, but Soriano grabbed it first and made the out with flair and panache that can only be described as “Sori-style”. And in the 3rd, Derek Jeter hit what should have easily been a groundout, but the 2nd baseman literally let the ball pass between his legs and slowly roll into the shallow infield; Jeter jogs his way all the way to 2nd, before anyone even laid hands (or glove) on the ball.

Okay, Scott Sizemore is looking more and more like a great grab for the Yankees, who went 2-for-3 at bat and made some very good defensive plays at 3rd. But with all the newer talent on the roster, it certainly seems like quite an upgrade (Solarte, Sizemore, Tanaka, Pineda, Johnson, and Beltran, just to name a few). Everyone (even those just “filling in”) seems to be contributing far and above expectations, and that gives me an early (and fairly solid) hope for October.

And on Jackie Robinson Day, it’s good to see a tradition of excellence continue in such full force.

Go Yankees!

Postponed but still a busy day in the Bronx

Tonight, instead of hosting the Cubs, the Yankees get an extra day off as a line of storms threatens to soak the entire eastern seaboard for most of Tuesday. So they rescheduled the game for a doubleheader of sorts tomorrow, with two separate-admission games the first at 1:05, with Tanaka starting, and the second at the originally scheduled time of 7:05, with Pineda on the mound. All the Jackie Robinson festivities, including honoring Nelson Mandela and (of course the man of the day) Jackie Robinson and everyone wearing #42, will be pushed to the evening game. Basically, it will be baseball all day tomorrow.

Now, Francisco Cervelli’s hamstring strain appears to be worse that initial thoughts, a grade 2 strain, so they placed him on the 60-day DL. Last week, the Yankees recalled Shane Greene from AAA, but now, they have optioned him back to AAA and off the 40-man to make room for the position players they really need. So, they recalled John Ryan Murphy and signed Scott Sizemore to a major league contract, putting both on the 25-man roster. This works for a lot of reasons, but the easiest is having a back-up catcher and a reliable infielder, while both positions seem to be lacking depth with the recent string of injuries.

While preparing for today’s game and ceremonies certainly got postponed, I did come across one fun article in the Wall Street Journal about the nicknames in the clubhouse. If you’ve ever heard Girardi talk about his players, you might notice he uses special nicknames for each guy. Some are obvious – Jeet, Tex, C; some are almost endearing — Gardy, Sori, Phelpsie; some are a little out there — Racoon, Los, Ryno. But they all are something the guys (and those that love inside trivia) certainly have come to love and enjoy.

Also, I’d like to take a moment to recognize those who were lost or injured one year ago in the Boston Marathon bombings. New York is still #BostonStrong with you today as you continue to heal, rebuild, and remember.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 28: NYY vs. MIN — A replay, a save, and a streak

Today’s game at the Twins’ Spring home felt like a game we might see come this regular season. It wasn’t just pitching or hitting, but rather a combination of all of them for both team trying to claw their way to the win. Fortunately, for Yankee fans, it came out the way we’re always hoping, and today’s win pushed their winning streak up to 7-in-a-row.

Masahiro Tanaka got a chance to pitch to another AL team (note: Girardi has scheduled his outings so that they never coincide with AL East, keeping his pitching at least with a small element of surprise). Tanaka went just 5.2 innings, book-ending his outing with a total of 3 allowed runs, but just 5 hits and a walk, and 6 strikeouts. In the 1st, he allowed a lead-off double to score on a ground out, putting the Twins up 1-0 for a few innings. And then in the 6th, he really seemed to lose some steam, allowing a single, a hit-by-pitch, RBI double, and RBI groundout. So Lewis came on to get that last out of that inning. Tanaka will probably develop into a tighter pitcher as he learns how good of an infield the regular starters can be, something that Andy Pettitte really came to rely on.

Meanwhile, the Yankees fell into a scoring pattern beginning in the 4th inning. With 1 out, Eduardo Nunez singled, Kelly Johnson singled, and Francisco Cervelli got hit by a pitch to load the bases. On a wild pitch, Nunez scored the first Yankee run, which Scott Sizemore added to with his 2-run single. Sizemore ended up scoring on Zelous Wheeler’s double.

Going into the 7th, the Yankees were ahead 4-3, so before even knowing that they needed an insurance run, they got one. Zoilo Almonte doubled and scored on Herrara’s single later in the inning. So Herndon and Greene took the 7th and 8th for the Yankees, ensuring the Yankee lead remained. That left the 9th and the save opportunity for Yoshinori Tateyama, and except for a solo home run, shut down any real hope of a Twins’ last minute rally. So the Yankees won 5-4.

 

And we finally got some good “instant replay” action. In the 3rd, the Twins tried to steal 2nd, something Cervelli saw and threw to a waiting Dean Anna at 2nd who swept down and applied the tag. But the umpire initially called him safe, Girardi decided to test the system. And boy, did it pay off. After a quick review, they heard what anyone with eyes on the screen at home saw — the runner was out. (Warning: the media covering the game are Twins-based, so they don’t really understand why or how the runner was out. So much for unbiased media!)

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I really don’t miss the screaming managers. I was a little concerned about how the replay thing worked in a real game, and honestly, I’m still a little confused on the exact rules of how managers can use their “challenges”. But I’m already liking the transition. I know it won’t always go the Yankee way, but I think it’s going to clear up a lot of the “close calls” that fans argue over for years and years.

I mean, how many people still argue over the Yogi Berra-Jackie Robinson play at home in the 1955 World Series? Every team has a story that instant replay could clear up. And while they might be so ingrained in fans’ psyches that you couldn’t ever imagine a world without them, there’s still a lot of other things for fans to argue about with their rivals. Legacies, championships, history, and favorite players top the list and none of those could ever be affected by instant replay.

(For the record, Robinson was out; sorry, Dodger fans.)

Go Yankees!

Happy 95th Birthday, #42!

Today would have been Jackie Robinson’s 95th birthday. We still feel his impact and grace in baseball, from the kids playing street ball and dreaming to the professional hitting his way to Cooperstown. The color barrier went further than just racial integration, but really helped usher in nationwide Civil Rights. And that led other minorities to find a voice where they were so often silenced or simply ignored. Thank you, Jackie! Happy Birthday!

And as we close out January, I can’t help but get a little nostalgic. Just a year ago, this blog was barely an idea; the future of the 2013 Yankees was still very much in doubt; and the “will he/won’t he” rumors were persistent for a certain great closer. And here’s what happened: I started this blog (and all you gracious readers keep it relevant and moving forward); despite everyone’s doubting, the 2013 Yankees, though plagued by way too many injuries and thin replacements, still managed to be a legitimate contender for the postseason right up until the very end; and Mariano Rivera went on the world’s greatest farewell tour and went out sobbing into Pettitte and Jeter’s shoulders, savoring every cheer, every pitch, every moment.

So I guess, now as I look forward to this year’s Spring Training, I can only imagine what I will be writing about in January 2015. But then, unless I want to be like those silly magazines that publish their “educated” estimates only to end up being laughably wrong, I’ll stick to my own personal hopes. Of course, I’ll have a better idea after watching how Spring starts flowing together.

I know what I’d like to see, and I’m okay balancing that with realistic expectations. But like the saying goes, I’d rather be an optimist and wrong, than a pessimist and right. And after a life time of watching baseball (from little league to MLB), I know one thing is totally true — there are no absolutes because truly anything is possible. The unexpected MVP could be some kid no one’s heard of outside of some small town; or it could be that aging superstar of days past that suddenly sparks alive for that last surge of greatness; or maybe it’s exactly who everyone expects it to be. You just never know.

And in that vein, I’m closing out January with a simple wish, one I believe the legendary #42 (and also our favorite #42) would like — a safe, healthy, and really fantastic season full of surprises, greatness, and a whole lot of fun from a bunch of guys lucky enough to play this kids’ game for their jobs.

Go Yankees! (Onto #28!)