Off Season Update: Holiday Wrap-up

Well, the Astros are the reigning World Champions, much to the city of Houston’s glee. The parade through the streets of Houston, which had been nearly devastated just a few months earlier was a big encouragement to those who are still trying to rebuild their homes and lives after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast in late August.

Winter Meetings begin on Monday, and between the Astros winning Game 7 over the Dodgers and the Winter Meetings on Monday, it’s not exactly been a quiet off-season. Especially for the Yankees.

Awards Season: Almost immediately following the World Series, MLB Universe wraps up its season by handing out all sorts of awards. Mostly, it was Aaron Judge that was up for many of the awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year, but it was a tough year for nearly every category as there was some really outstanding players and plays made this season. You can catch up on all the awards (with extensive coverage and video clips) here. But I’m just going to do a brief Yankee Universe summary.

As expected, the MVPs and Hank Aaron Awards of both the AL and NL went to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, though Judge’s name was tossed about quite a bit for the AL versions of both awards. Judge did snag Rookie of the Year, voted so unanimously, the first Yankee to do so since Jeter in 1996. (Side note: also in the mix for ROTY — breakout starter Jordan Montgomery.) Judge was also awarded the Silver Slugger for right field, something he shared this year with teammate Gary Sanchez, who won it for his catching position. And Judge was also voted on by his fellow players for the Players’ Choice Award of Outstanding AL Rookie.

Now, Esurance sponsors its own array of awards for the season and quite a few Yankees graced the finalists lists. Best Major Leaguer was awarded to Altuve over 9 other finalists including MLB legends like Stanton and Trout as well as (of course) Judge. Severino was nominated for Best Pitcher, but lost to the Indians’ Corey Kluber (who had an outstanding postseason in his own right). Of the 6 finalists for Best Rookie, who else but Aaron Judge became the natural choice. The Astros’ manager AJ Hinch edged out 9 other finalists for Best Manager, including Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman got the same treatment in the Best Executive category as the Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow snagged that one. Other awards include Best Postseason Moment, Best TV/Radio Call, Best Play, Personality of the Year, and Best Fan Catch, none of which unfortunately include any Yankees

Hello, old friend: At the end of October, before the World Series was even complete, the Yankees announced they were parting ways with their long-term manager Joe Girardi, and began the search for their new skipper. With former bench coach Rob Thomson singing on to be the Phillies’ new bench coach and 3rd base coach Joe Espada the Astros’ bench coach, the Yankees ended up narrowing the manager candidates down and included two former Yankee players — Carlos Beltran and Aaron Boone. Just a few days ago, the Yankees announced that they were going with Aaron Boone, known to most Yankee fans as the hero of the 2003 World Series and more recently as a ESPN broadcaster. Boone, who will wear #17, will be thrust back into Yankee Universe in a crucial role, one that could either expose his inexperience as a manager or one that could see him flourish thanks to his extensive baseball knowledge, legacy, and intelligence. Only time will tell.

Big splash denied, big splash made: All 30 MLB clubs were hoping to sign an international sensation, 23-year-old Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, who is known both as a stellar pitcher and as a big power-hitter. The international market has some complex rules about signings, and many assumed that Ohtani would sign with a big name NL team so that he could use both of his famed tools. Almost immediately, most East Coast teams were eliminated, including big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. With most of the chatter leaning towards the Mariners (despite being an AL team), the big surprise was when the Angels (also an AL team) announced their newest acquisition just a few days ago.

But without that possibility, the Yankees started searching for their big splash. Within about 24 hours of word leaking that the Marlins were shopping their superstar Giancarlo Stanton, it was confirmed just today. Former HR Derby champion Stanton would join current HR Derby champion Judge in the Yankees outfield and in Yankee pinstripes for the 2018 season. Details are forthcoming, but it looks like the Yankees will send prospect pitcher Jorge Guzman (the #9 Yankee prospect), prospect shortstop Jose Devers, and Starlin Castro to the Marlins in exchange for Stanton and about $30 million. Castro has 2 years and about $23.7 million left on his current contract.

Okay, what that means and leaves wide open for the Yankees to answer questions this off-season. First, removing Castro from 2nd leaves a wide open space for perhaps Ronald Torreyes to play more frequently, especially as he was clearly one of the more reliable and consistent defenders and hitters (basically the ideal bench/utility player) for the last 2 seasons. However, there are several prospects that could earn the everyday position in Spring Training including the much talked about Gleyber Torres.

The Yankees now have 6 potential outfielders — Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge, Stanton, Hicks, and C. Frazier. Frazier will likely spend time in AAA once again, which leaves either Gardner or Ellsbury (mostly due to age, unfortunately) as the prime potential for a trade. However, Ellsbury has a no-trade clause in his contract, one that he could easily waive if asked or volunteer to be traded on his own if he so desires. A lot of that usually depends on who’s asking. That prevents players from being traded into a clubhouse or organization they don’t like. If I was a player, there are definitely certain clubs I would avoid like the plague, or take a pay cut to play with a better team.

Also, the Yankees are dealing with 8 arbitration-eligible players and 10 with less than 3 years on their contracts, most notably Headley, Robertson, and Gardner, who are all on their final year of their deals. Arbitration-eligible means that the Yankees will extend an offer (a proposed salary) to keep them on their roster, and the player either accepts it or counter offers and it goes to arbitration for the mediator to pick the correct number. Basically, it’s a negotiation tool, and this off-season, the Yankees will have to negotiate with Betances, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Romine, Shreve, and Warren. Unless they trade them, of course.

Again, the Winter Meetings start on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (a.k.a. Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin Resorts, for anyone not familiar with Central Florida geography). Winter Meetings are when representatives from all the MLB clubs and their minor league teams, as well as MLB executives, meet up for about four days and do business face-to-face. So, there’s going to be trades, discussions, executive meetings to discuss baseball operations and potential alterations to rule of play. Often scouts, owners, general managers, international visitors, job-seekers, and trade show exhibitors will also be milling around the meetings. In other words, we can expect more news to come out of this next week’s meetings. And I was going to wait until after that to post, just in case the Yankees make another big splash, which they could as they still need to shore up the starting rotation. But today’s news was too big to pass up.

But barring a big splash, I hope everyone has a good holiday season as we close out this 2017 and hope for a really wonderful 2018. I mean, it really looks like 2018 could be the year we finally celebrate #28.

Go Yankees!

World Series 3: LAD vs. HOU — Once again, home field advantage reigns supreme

The Astros just commanded the Dodgers in this third game of the World Series. While the Dodgers do have a pretty great pitching staff, the 1-2 punch of the Astros’ pitchers tonight was the ultimate downfall for the Dodgers’ offense that usually can take out any bullpen. The Astros’ starter McCullers threw 87 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 4 hits, 4 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out just 3 batters. While his lone replacement Peacock threw 53 pitches beginning with closing up the 6th inning and then through the next 3, only giving up a walk and striking out 4 batters in the process — a long 11-out save.

Dodgers’ pitchers had trouble from the start, their starter Darvish only threw into the 2nd inning, racking up 49 pitches, mostly in that 2nd inning. After giving up just a hit in the 1st inning, Darvish just crumbled in the 2nd — a solo home run, a double, a walk, an RBI single, another RBI single, finally an out (a line drive), a sacrifice fly to score another run, and a double. And that was it for the Dodgers’ starter with less than 2 innings.

The Dodgers’ bullpen did a better job of keeping the Astros from multiplying because the Dodgers’ bullpen is pretty good. In the 5th, with 2 outs, the Astros singled and then scored on a single and throwing error (thus an unearned run).

Meanwhile, the Dodgers fought back as much as possible in this uphill battle to break through McCullers’ pitching. In the 3rd, after that messy 2nd inning, the Dodgers worked 3 consecutive walks to load up the bases. Then the next batter ground into a double play that still scored one run for the Dodgers to get them on the board. But they weren’t given many opportunities again until the 6th inning. A lead-off walk moved to 3rd on a double, and after a strikeout, the Astros’ starter McCullers was done. And it was onto Peacock, who at first had some issues with command to finish out the 6th. A ground out scored one runner, moving the other to 3rd, who promptly scored on a wild pitch. But then Peacock found his momentum and just pushed through the rest of the game, effectively shutting down the Dodgers’ lineup.

Honestly, the Dodgers were outplayed. And the Astros worked their way into the lead in the Series.

Final score: 5-3 Astros, Astros lead series 2-1

And in Yankee Universe news: the Yankees are looking for a new manager. Thursday morning, news started leaking out and then confirmed that the Yankees opted to go a new direction with their manager. So, after 10 years at the helm, including the championship 2009 season, Joe Girardi parted ways with the Yankees. Many current and former Yankees and various people around baseball took to social media to share their memories of Girardi and wish him well in his next venture. He will certainly be missed. I mean, to borrow a popular phrase, “it’s not what you want”.

Also, Rawlings unveiled its 2017 Gold Glove nominees, and the Yankees grace the field, well the left and right ones at least. Both Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge earned nods for their defensive performance this year. I mean, who can forget the sliding, jumping, dramatic catches on both sides of the outfield? They are constantly highlight reel worthy, and absolutely deserve every accolade. Gardner won last year, and the last time 2 Yankees won was in 2012 (Teixeira and Cano for playing 1st and 2nd, respectively). As we close out the season, more awards will be announced to close out the year, and we can absolutely expect more Yankee names as part of their announcements.

Go Yankees!

Game 127: SEA vs. NYY — Extra innings letdown, disciplined, down but not out

Players Weekend officially kicked off for the Yankees back at home against the visiting Mariners, and the Yankees enjoyed their specialized cleats, gloves, and baseball gear down to the fun creative colors and designs of their own making (like showing off the artistic talents of “Sir Didi”, Didi Gregorius. On the back, the Yankees donned fun nicknames like “Dub”, “The ToddFather”, “All-Starlin”, “The Missile”, and “All Rise”. A patch on their sleeve allowed players to write in who inspires them or who helped them become the players and men they are today, and many rightfully thanked their families.

CC “Dub” Sabathia got the start today, and despite another pretty good outing, the Yankees offense failed to give him much run support tonight. “Dub” threw 94 pitches in his 7 innings, gave up 5 hits, a walk, and a run, striking out 6 Seattle batters. That lone run was a 1-out solo home run to get the Mariners on the board.

Now, the Yankees’ offense did hit the Mariners’ starter hard in that they racked up his pitch count up to 99 pitches in the 5th inning, though they couldn’t find any runs in the process. In fact, the Yankees didn’t get on the board until they faced a former Yankee in the 8th inning. Aaron “All Rise” Judge worked a 1-out walk and then scored on Didi “Sire Didi” Gregorius’ double and a fielding error. The Yankees then loaded up the bases on a fielder’s choice and 2 walks, but then a new reliever struck out the final batter and ended the Yankees’ rally hopes.

Meanwhile, Chad “Greeny” Green continued his strong show as a middle reliever, breezing through the 8th inning in just 8 pitches. “D-Dawg” Betances’ 9th inning allowed quite the threat of Seattle offense, but he was able to get out of the game thanks in part to the stellar Yankees’ defense.

So when the Yankee didn’t manage to break the tie in the bottom of the 9th, the game went into extra innings. “D-Rob” Robertson kept things rolling with a scoreless 10th inning, and things were looking up for Aroldis “The Missile” Chapman in the 11th, quickly getting 2 outs. His 3rd batter slammed a big solo home run up the middle to break the tie.

Being the home team, the Yankees got a chance in the bottom of the inning to come back and make a final effort to win. With a new Mariners’ reliever and 2 outs, Brett “Gardner” Gardner worked a walk and then stole 2nd. Originally called out, the Yankees challenged and called for a replay, where it was very easily overturned. And the game continued on. That is until the final batter struck out and ended the game.

Final score: 2-1 Mariners, in 11 innings

Roster moves: before tonight’s game, the Yankees activated Starlin Castro from the 10-day DL, and optioned Tyler Wade back to AAA Scranton.

Now, as a result of yesterday’s melee in Motor City, MLB examined all the footage and finalized the discipline for the ruckus. The primary instigator, the Tigers’ DH Cabrera was suspended for 7 games for inciting the initial incident and specifically for picking a fight with Austin Romine. Romine was given a 2-game suspension for fighting and throwing punches, and likewise, Gary Sanchez was given a 4-game suspension. The Tigers’ pitcher Wilson was suspended for 4 games for intentionally hitting Todd Frazier after warnings had been issued (and honestly, for also showing no remorse for doing so, showing he completely intended to be nasty). As protocol, Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus automatically received a 1-game suspension for his pitcher doing this. All five also were fined undisclosed amounts.

Also fined were other key players in the mess — Joe Girardi, bench coach Rob Thomson, Brett Gardner, and Tommy Kahnle, as well as Detroit infielder Iglesias. Two Yankee rookies made the mistake of entering the field while not on active roster (on the DL), Garrett Cooper and Clint Frazier, and also received fines for violating that rule. (A clear “rookie mistake”, but one your only have to make once to learn.)

All players are appealing their suspensions and will continue to play on until their appeal is heard. If the suspensions are upheld, the Yankees have no clear catcher. Third string catcher Kyle Higashioka is not expected to come off the DL of his own until September 1st. So there is talk about staggering the suspensions so they’re not out a catcher in the mean time.

So, with the postseason in flux, this is certainly the last thing the Yankees wanted to be dealing with. And there are players making wild accusations against certain other Yankee stars, but fortunately, in the era of video footage on every angle, the truth is pretty easy to discover and prove as simple malarkey.

Go Yankees!

Game 126: NYY vs. DET — Hitsville USA lives up to its name, in the worst way

Wow, that was a mess. Not exactly the way you want to close out a series, a lovely afternoon in Detroit. Basically, it was a rather complicated series of brawls in between playing a few innings of baseball.

So let’s talk about the baseball part first. Jaime Garcia got the start today, throwing 75 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs (just 2 earned runs), and striking out just 2 Detroit batters. In the 1st inning, Garcia gave up a 2-out solo home run to get the Tigers on the board.

In the 4th, a lead-off double moved to 3rd on a line out, and then scored on a single. The lead-off batter in the 5th reached on a fielding error and moved to 3rd on a double. That would be the end of Garcia’s outing, with both runners in scoring position.

And it was on to Adam Warren, who struck out his first batter and then got himself into trouble. After a sacrifice fly scored the lead run and moved the other guy to 3rd, he loaded up the bases with consecutive walks. A single scored yet another run, and a ground-rule double scored one more.

So it was on to Tommy Kahnle to find that elusive 3rd out of the 5th inning with a nice strikeout.

Backing up a moment, the Yankees weren’t exactly being bowled over by the Tigers today. In the 2nd, Judge led-off with a single, advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Chase Headley’s single to tie up the game. Gary Sanchez’s big lead-off home run in the 4th moved the Yankees into the lead.

In the 5th, Torreyes led-off the inning by reaching base on a fielding error. He then moved to 2nd on a ground out and ended up at 3rd on Gardner’s single, and then scored on Aaron Hicks’ sacrifice fly. The next batter was Gary Sanchez who was hit by a pitch quite inside, which was a tad scary for a moment, but he was okay in the end.

And that brings us to the 6th inning.

So, Kahnle is on the mound and throws behind the batter, a certain star from the Tigers, who promptly started chattering with catcher Austin Romine. Until suddenly, he shoved Romine and started swinging punches at the Yankees’ catcher. Benches cleared, people were literally pinned to the ground to keep them from fighting, it was just an absolute mess all over the field.

Now, leading up to this, manager Joe Girardi actually came up to argue with the home plate umpire that Sanchez could have been seriously hurt, and the umpires didn’t give a warning or anything, as per the usual procedure. Now, had a warning been issued after Sanchez was hit or even after Kahnle threw behind (though I’m not 100% sure it was intentional, and I will absolutely admit when a pitcher does something stupid like that). But no warnings, so it escalated and just got worse from there.

Anyway, so Girardi was the first to get tossed from the game for sticking up for his catcher (or DH today), but then after the melee at the plate, the Yankees also lost Kahnle and Romine. Romine’s ejection I thought was particularly stupid, as Romine didn’t do anything except get the brunt of the anger from the Tigers’ designated hitter, who also saw the exit at that point.

Aroldis Chapman came on to close out the 6th inning once tempers cooled a bit, and baseball was back on the program. Back to the top of the 7th, Torreyes and Ellsbury worked consecutive walks, and the Tigers’ starter was done for his outing. Brett Gardner’s single scored Torreyes and moved Ellsbury to 3rd. Ellsbury then scored on Hicks’ sacrifice fly, and the Tigers went back to their bullpen again. Gary Sanchez’s single scored Gardner to tie up the game again.

So, after a little 7th inning stretch, Dellin Betances came on. And promptly hit the batter with a wild pitch to the helmet. While that can certainly be jarring and scary, it was in no way intentional. Seriously, the game is tied, the last thing the Yankees want is a base runner to give the Tigers any chance to retake the lead.

And with tempers simmering just below the surface, brawl #2 was on. And that was followed by more ejections — Dellin Betances and bench coach (and acting manager) Rob Thomson, neither of whom agreed with the ejections. Seriously, Betances is sometimes just sloppy. He’s not that kind of pitcher to “get revenge” or whatever old-school belief that excuses hot-headed players when they “go after” or intentionally harm another player.

So it would be David Robertson to pitch for the Yankees. And despite hitting the first batter, the benches stayed filled. He loaded the bases with a walk and then gave up a 3-run double to give the Tigers the lead. Two strikeouts and an intentional walk later, Robertson got out of the inning with a ground out to 2nd.

In the top of the 8th, the Yankees were back up at bat, and the new Tigers’ reliever decided it would be fun to plunk Todd Frazier. So the reliever was ejected as was the Tigers’ manager who tried arguing his case against the ejection. (On a side note, that reliever ended up being on track for the win due to when all the Tigers’ winning runs were scored, which doesn’t seem right. If you get disciplined, you shouldn’t be rewarded in a statistic. Sometimes, the ethical side of the rules don’t line up with the technicalities of the game.)

In the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees called on Caleb Smith to close out their game. He gave up a 1-out solo home run to add an extra run to the Tigers’ lead at that point. And after another out, a single tried to stretch it into a double and got tagged out at 2nd because of the sharp arm of Gardner and quick reflexes of Torreyes at 2nd. A Tigers’ challenge was denied as the call was upheld on review.

A fairly quick 9th inning closed out the rather messy 4+hour game in Hitsville USA (or Detroit for the rest of America). And I can’t say many people were sad to see the game over and done and in the books. Not really one for the memory pages.

Final score: 10-6 Tigers, Yankees win series 2-1

Also, it was Brett Gardner’s birthday. Happy birthday, Gardner! Congrats on not being one of the eight people ejected from today’s game.

The Yankees head back to the Bronx to host the Mariners for Players’ Weekend. Yeah, I’m ready to move on from today.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: had some internet issues that would not fully load the videos, thus allowing me to link them correctly. I will try again when I clear up the issues. Not that anyone should be in a rush to watch the mess that was today’s game… I’d certainly rather forget it.}

Game 92: NYY vs. MIN — Even a plague of moths can’t stop a Yankee win tonight

On this day in Yankee history in 1999, David Cone became the 3rd Yankee pitcher and 16th MLB player to throw a perfect game. Cone threw just 88 pitches to the visiting Montreal Expos’ lineup, striking out 10 of them. There was a 33-minute rain delay in the middle of the 3rd inning, but it didn’t seem to affect Cone’s momentum in the slightest. The Yankees went on to win the game 6-0. Cone’s catcher that day was current manager Joe Girardi. And the manager of the Yankees then, Joe Torre, was also celebrating his birthday. So, happy anniversary on the game and happy birthday, Mr. Torre!

For tonight’s game against the Twins, the Yankees called on Luis Cessa to start, but Cessa had a bit of trouble tonight. He threw 76 pitches into the 4th inning, gave up 4 hits, 4 walks, and 3 runs, striking out just 2 batters. Right in the 1st, he loaded up the bases with 2 walks and a hit-by-pitch and 2 outs, he walked another batter to get the Twins on the board early, but then got out of the jam with the first of his 2 strikeouts.

A 1-out solo home run in the 3rd doubled their score. And in the 4th, a 1-out double scored on a big triple. After 1 more out, the Yankees opted to go to their bullpen and call on Chasen Shreve. And once they opened that bullpen door, it was one of the best things they did for the team. Shreve closed out the 4th and got through the 5th scoreless, albeit a bit of a jam.

Warren’s beautiful 6th and 7th innings continued the momentum and set up the final two relievers — Betances who found some 8th inning drama but got out unscathed, and Chapman’s 16-pitch 9th inning for his 10th save of the season.

Now, that could be bad, but the Yankees were hitting quite a bit tonight — 13 total hits off the Twins’ pitching staff, 8 of those alone off the starter. The Yankees did all of their big damage in the middle of the game. In the 4th, Judge led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Gregorius’ single, then to 3rd on a fielder’s choice, and scored on Chase Headley’s single to get the Yankees on the board. (Judge’s productive offense tonight clearly negates whatever silly “home run derby jinx” the online trolls seem bent on believing.)

Still down in the 5th, the Yankees decided to grab the lead and not let go. Torreyes led-off with a single and ended up on 3rd after Gardner’s ground-rule double. Then Gary Sanchez (another victim of those online “derby jinx” trolls) hit a big double that scored both Torreyes and Gardner. That ended the Twins’ starter’s night. Aaron Judge’s single scored Sanchez, and then he scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ solid 1-out 2-run home run to ensure the Yankees’ lead and eventual victory tonight.

Final score: 6-3 Yankees.

Also, about the 6th inning of tonight’s game, Target Field was seemingly invaded by thousands of moths. It was almost like a Biblical plague, but with floating white, non-biting things, almost like big, thick snow flakes in appearance, in the air. I thought they were paper or debris on the field and in the air at first, but was later corrected when I could see their buzzing wings in close-up shots. Fortunately, it was nowhere near as bad as the infamous “midges game” back in 2007.

Roster moves: before the game, the Yankees optioned Bryan Mitchell back to AAA Scranton, recalling tonight’s starter Luis Cessa.

Injury updates: Greg Bird and Michael Pineda had their scheduled surgeries today to repair their injuries. Bird released a post-op statement, stating his intention to get back in the game as soon as he possibly can. Here’s hoping for their quick return to full health.

Go Yankees!

Game 43: KC vs. NYY — Consistency & perseverance, and also some home runs

Consistency is really the key to any major accomplishment or achievement. Anyone can be good at something for a moment or two, but it takes commitment and training and excellence to be consistently good at something. And when you’re consistent, you will games and championships. Of course, being human means that you’re going to have an off-night every now and then. (To the other extreme, it also means that there are things you will be consistently terrible at — like me with fishing or geometry proofs back in school or having patience with tourists who walk slowly 4-across on narrow city sidewalks and don’t understand why you’d possibly want to pass them at a quicker pace.)

But I digress… once again, it was like home run city at Yankee Stadium. Though with a different outcome. Jordan Montgomery got a chance to show off his young pitching arm through the most of his outing tonight against the visiting Royals. He only gave up 1 hit in his first 19 outs (6.1 innings). His 2nd hit was a solo home run in the 7th to get the Royals on the board. Another out later, Montgomery called it a night after 98 pitches, overall a good outing, with 6 total strikeouts and no walks allowed.

But the usually sharp bullpen, well, wasn’t so much tonight. Adam Warren came on to finish the 7th inning, but promptly gave up a single and then a 2-run home run before getting the 3rd out. Jonathan Holder is normally a sure thing and came out in the 8th only to give up a solo home run, a strikeout, and a hit-by-pitch. It was on to Chasen Shreve, and even he wasn’t helping with a 2-run home run to the first batter before getting the 2 outs to finally get out of the 8th inning.

Bryan Mitchell finally got things back on track with an 11-pitch, flawless 9th inning, but it was really too late to do much to dampen the Royals’ solid lead over the Yankees at that point. Especially as the Royals’ pitching staff kept things stifled for the Yankee hitters, allowing base runners at times but with minimal scoring, which held their offense jump ahead and stay ahead.

The Yankees had 12 base runners tonight, but only 2 runs scored — a 1-out solo home run by Aaron Hicks in the 4th and a 2-out solo home run in the 5th by Chris Carter. But they had opportunities, like the bases loaded in the 5th, but they never seemed to capitalize on any “small-ball” chances (scoring made on hits, walks, and sacrifice flies, usually).

Final score: 6-2 Royals.

Before the game tonight, the Yankees held a moment of silence for victims and families of last night’s tragic explosion in Manchester. The stadium then played “God Save the Queen” in their honor. Many Yankee fans abroad, especially those in the UK and its territories applauded the Yankees’ tribute and were touched by the gesture of global solidarity.

HOPE Week continues. For Day 2, the Yankees chose to recognize Amy Palmiero-Winters and her foundation, “Amy’s One Step Ahead Foundation”. Despite losing much of her left leg in a motorcycle accident years ago, Palmiero-Winters became a world-class distance runner, winning a national award for being the top amateur athlete. She also turned her experience into an inspirational message and foundation to help others with disabilities, giving them opportunities to show off their athleticism in unique ways.

Today, Joe Girardi, Jacoby Ellsbury, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Gary Sanchez, Ronald Torreyes, and Adam Warren showed up at the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame at the Armory in Washington Heights to meet some of the kids that benefit from Palmiero-Winter’s foundation. They even ran racing drills together and showed the Yankee volunteers a thing or two about true athleticism, you know, one athlete to another.

Palmiero-Winter and her daughter also threw out the ceremonial 1st pitches. Palmiero-Winter also received a 10,000 donation from the Yankees to the foundation to continue their great work in the community, specifically to help one of the kids in her foundation get a new prosthetic leg tomorrow (literally!). Amy’s perseverance is now helping others excel and is living proof of the message of HOPE Week.

Go Yankees!

Game 40: NYY vs. TB — And they say baseball’s a boring game…

I blame the Hawaiian shirts. Unless you are a man of a certain age or going to a theme party, there is absolutely no reason for Hawaiian shirts to exist or to be an acceptable marketing tool to fans for a Saturday afternoon game. I don’t care that it’s Florida, but this isn’t Key West in 1977. You aren’t Elvis Presley or Jimmy Buffett. And I really need something to blame.

Of course, the drama with the home plate umpire should be enough. It’s certainly enough to warrant a nearly four hour afternoon game in St. Petersburg today, the middle game against the Rays this weekend. The Yankees were looking for Masahiro Tanaka to give them a good base to get a win today. But it was not to be. Tanaka got really roughed up from the start, throwing into the only the 4th inning with 76 pitches, giving up 9 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs, striking out 4 batters. It’s hard to believe this is the same Tanaka from Spring Training.

Tanaka gave up a lead-off home run in the 1st inning to set the tone for his outing (and the game, really).  In the 2nd, with 2 outs and 2 runners on base, a double scored the lead runner before Tanaka intentionally walked the next batter. And then the runner at 2nd dangled too far off base and reminded the world why April saw the phrase “You don’t run on Gary!” become popular. He ran on Gary, and he got out. A 1-out solo home run in the 3rd added another notch to the Rays’ score.

But it would be the 4th inning that really sealed the deal for the game. The lead-off batter doubled, and the next batter struck out on a wild pitch that allowed him to reach base safely (thus negating the out). A 3-run home run (by the same guy that led-off the game for the Rays with a homer) really cemented the Rays’ lead. Two singles and runners on the corners later, Tanaka was done for the afternoon.

In came Tommy Layne. Layne walked the first batter and loaded the bases, but then the infield got some great defense in with consecutive line-outs up the middle and a force out at 2nd to get out of the jam. That’s called teamwork.

Before we get to the heart of the drama today, the Yankee weren’t exactly sitting back watching the Rays tally up these runs without adding some of their own. Aaron Judge kicked off the 2nd inning with his 15th home run of the season into the right field seats to initially tie up the game. Then in the 4th, with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, Chase Headley’s double scored both Castro and Judge to tie up the game again. And in the 5th, Gary Sanchez hit a big 2-out solo home run up the middle to tack on another run for the Yankees. Matt Holliday was hit by a pitch but then the Rays got the 3rd out of the inning to halt any attempt to rally.

And then came the now infamous bottom of the 5th inning. A lead-off single and fly out seemed rather innocuous to start this inning. But then Layne hit the next batter, throwing a bit high actually. (more later) A single score the lead runner, and that was it for Layne. Giovanni Gallegos got the opportunity to try, but promptly loaded the bases with a walk. A single then scored 2 of the runners, so pitching coach Larry Rothschild made a visit out to the mound to check on his pitcher. Sometime between saying his bit to Gallegos and before hitting the baseline, the home plate umpire decided to eject Rothschild. (again more later)

Joe Girardi was just as confused as I was on that decision and came out to question the call. And in the process, he too joined Rothschild in the clubhouse for the rest of the game. But not before Girardi took a page out of old Yankees manager Billy Martin and actually physically walked over to home plate and covered up the base with dirt. Then Gallegos walked the next batter and loaded up the bases again before getting a well-placed strikeout and a force out at 2nd to get out of his own jam.

The Yankees came up to bat at the top of the 6th inning, and the drama continued. Aaron Judge was promptly hit by a pitch on the left side, which is where you hit someone if you intend to hit them. The home plate umpire immediately ejected the Rays’ starter, and this may be the only ejection I actually agreed with tonight. A former Yankee came on to give up a double to Ellsbury to put runners in scoring position. Judge then scored on Chase Headley’s ground out, but then breezed through the next 8 outs of the Yankees. The Yankees got a baserunner in the 9th, a walk, but the Rays pitching found favor at the plate and ended the Yankees’ hopes for a comeback.

The Yankees’ pitching began to take a turn for the better as Gallegos got 2 outs in the 6th before Chasen Shreve breezed his way through 4 outs, 3 of them solid strikeouts. Jonathan Holder’s beautiful 9th inning continued his momentum and solidifying him for being a key aspect of the Yankees bullpen.

Final score: 9-5 Rays.

Okay, so let’s talk about the drama and all the ejections. So, unfortunately, the batter Layne hit in the 5th that seemed to kickstart this whole mess was the same batter that already hit 2 homers off Tanaka, so the Rays’ announcers jumped to the conclusion this was on purpose. Which I guess I could understand, but like I said before, when pitchers intentionally throw at batters, they don’t throw at their heads (unless they’re major jerks). But one could argue for the fact that the Rays’ starter already hit Matt Holliday in the 4th, and thus this was revenge.

I just have a huge problem with that entire line of logic because Layne isn’t the kind of guy that would do that, especially like that. Why would a pitcher risk getting a batter on base when they need to shut them down quickly to get back in the game for a comeback?

Now, the pitcher hitting Judge? That was no doubt in anyone’s mind as on-purpose.

I had a researcher do some work for me during the game, and apparently, the home plate umpire is known for two things — ejecting people without justifiable cause and for antagonizing players and coaches to justify said ejection. Rothschild came from the mound and made an off-the-cuff remark about the umpire missing a few pitches. Ejected.

So, Girardi rightly came out to ask why Rothschild was ejected because it didn’t seem directly clear. And just because Girardi deigned to ask a question, he was immediately tossed from the game too. And, like Girardi said later, if he was going to get tossed, he was going to get his money’s worth. Hence, the redecoration of the home plate.

And I’m not just saying this because of how the drama played out. I’ve supported or condemned ejections and intent balls from both sides of the game, and sometimes the Yankees deserve the ejection or I know they hit a batter on purpose. I call it like I see it. I don’t always agree with the choices, and I’m not a big fan of intentionally hitting a batter ever (even a showboating diva). But I will be honest about what I see. And tonight was just a mess on all fronts.

It’s one of those days I’m glad just to put in the books and turn the page, hoping for something better. And there has to be something better. Perhaps even less dramatic. But it struck me as amusing how everyone seems to think baseball is boring. Clearly, they’ve never witnessed a game like today. Baseball is most definitely not boring.

Go Yankees!