Game 123: TOR vs. NYY — Remembering what was and hoping for what could be

What a beautiful day at the ball park for memories and a good ball game. Fans turned out in droves to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1998 World Series Championship team, complete with a full cadre of former Yankees (more below) before the Yankees took on the Blue Jays in the second game of this celebration weekend series.

Luis Severino got the start today and needed a strong start to reset himself after a recent rough patch. He threw 100 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, and struck out 8 batters. In fact, he held the Blue Jays scoreless through most of his outing. In the 6th, he gave up a double that ended up at 3rd on a fielding error and then scored on an RBI single.

Severino handled the ball over to Tommy Kahnle, who had a less than ideal outing. After getting one out, he gave up 2 singles that scored one run and then loaded up the bases with a walk and 2 outs. To end that threat the Yankees turned to Jonathan Holder, while Kahnle was responsible for all 3 base runners. Holder gave up a long single that scored all 3 base runners before getting the runner out trying to stretch it into a triple.

Britton and Betances had clean, scoreless innings in the 7th and 8th, respectively. And the Yankees needed it after that messy 6th. So, the Yankees sent out AJ Cole for the 9th inning, but he had a bit of trouble. With 2 outs and runners on the corners, a long double scored just 1 run before he found that 3rd out.

But unlike last night’s rain-shortened game, the Yankee offense started big and stayed big. In the 1st, Gardner led-off with a walk, stole 2nd base 2 outs later, and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ 2-run home run. Torres hit a 1st pitch single to kick off the 2nd and ended up all the way on 3rd thanks to a wild pitch and throwing error. He would later score on Austin Romine’s sacrifice fly.

In the 3rd, Stanton singles and Hicks walked, and then they both scored on a 1-out double by Miguel Andujar. Andujar then moved to 3rd on a throwing error off Torres’ hit and then scored on Greg Bird’s ground out. Giancarlo Stanton hit a nice 2-out solo home run in the 4th, and Andujar followed suit with a 1-out solo homer into the left field seats in the 5th.

Greg Bird led-off the 8th with a solo home run into the right field seats to snap his recent offensive skid. The Yankees then loaded up the bases with a couple singles and a hit by pitch and 1 out. A new Jays’ reliever gave up a walk to Aaron Hicks to walk in the Yankees’ next run. And Gregorius’ sacrifice fly scored Gardner to cap off the Yankees’ runs today.

On a day meant to honor a team that won 114 game in a single season, it’s only fitting the Yankees would win and win big.

Final score: 11-6 Yankees

During the 5th inning, a foul tip hit catcher Austin Romine in the face mask and stunned him a bit. Initially, he stayed in the game, but was replaced by Higashioka when the Yankees took the field in the 6th. Hits like that have been known to cause concussions, so the Yankees were smart to remove him for observation and a full check-up as a precaution. And while Higashioka can absolutely serve as strong back-up for tomorrow’s finale and even into the Miami series, be prepared for Sanchez’s return to be moved up some.

Now, the big focus of today was the celebrations in honor of the 1998 Yankees. Almost all of the favorites from that team showed up for the event, including Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams. Jeter and World Series MVP Brosius sent video messages due to their previous engagements and obligations to other teams (Jeter now owns the Marlins, and Brosius is a coach with the Mariners).

Joe Torre was also on hand to recall that iconic season, throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and spent time with two of his players from that season now serving as YES Network broadcasters Paul O’Neill and David Cone during the regular game. And one of the things Torre said in the broadcast stuck with me.

They were talking about how the 1998 season started out slow and how Torre held a team meeting early on to help the team focus on moving forward. Both former players O’Neill and Cone agreed that Torre never did the hype-man thing some coaches do where they scream and try to drive up that emotion, but rather focus on that he was just disappointed in how they were playing at that point. O’Neill even remarked it was like feeling like you were disappointing your father and how he always felt motivated to go out and be better after a Torre “pep talk”.

But Torre went on to say: “I always wanted to end it on a positive message. I always thought of baseball as 162 [games]. It’s a game of life. You live it every day. And if you start getting too pumped up, it’s not going to last. You can’t maintain that.” So, as we agree with Mr. Torre about this comparison of life and baseball, it’s good to remember old Aesop’s fable and remember that while it’s fun to be the hyper rabbit, it’s the consistency and persistence of the turtle that ends up successful at the mission.

Go Yankees!

Game 21: MIN vs. NYY — #TanakaTime & some Bronx Bombers

The Yankees continue to dominate this home stand. Masahiro Tanaka got the start in the opening game of this week’s 4-game series against the visiting Twins. Tanaka had a stellar outing, throwing 91 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up just 3 hits, 2 walks, and a run, and striking out 5 batters. And once again, the lone run scored in Tanaka’s weakest inning. In the 5th, with 2 outs, a batter was hit by a pitch, moved to 2nd on a single, and then scored on another single.

Chad Green came on to finish Tanaka’s 7th inning. After 2 outs and a walk by Tanaka, Green walked the next batter before getting that 3rd out. David Hale got the final 2 innings of the evening, keeping the Twins to that lone allowed run.

Meanwhile, the Yankee pounced on the Twins’ pitchers early and often. In the 1st, Gardner led-off with a walk and stole 2nd. Two outs later, Stanton worked a walk, and then they both scored on Gary Sanchez’s double. Sanchez then scored on Aaron Hicks’ single to give the Yankees a big early lead. Miguel Andujar added another run to that lead with a lead-off solo home run in the 2nd inning.

The Twins’ starter got a bit roughed up in those first two innings, but got things under control until the 5th inning. With 2 outs, Giancarlo Stanton hit a solo home run deep into the left field bleachers. That would be it for the Twins’ starter (after 106 pitches). His reliever got out of that inning, and kept the Yankees away in the 6th. But after giving up a double to Judge in the 7th, he was replaced. Judge quickly scored on Stanton’s 1-out single, and after Hicks’ 2-out walk, Tyler Austin hit a long double to score both Stanton and Hicks.

But the Yankees weren’t done yet, and the 8th inning reliever was clearly having a bad day. Gleyber Torres led-off with his first major league hit, a single up the middle. The bases were quickly loaded with walks to Gardner and Judge. And Didi Gregorius smacked a huge grand slam to push the Yankees into double-digit scoring. After Stanton singled and then was forced out on Sanchez’s grounder, the Twins decided they had enough.

So they called on their center fielder to pitch. Yes, they had a position player pitch. (Are they saving their bullpen for the rest of the series?) He got his first batter (Hicks) to pop up and get a fairly easy out at 2nd (Sanchez). Tyler Austin saw the first pitch and smacked it into the visitor’s bullpen for a 2-run home run before a grounder ended the inning. (By the way, the position player pitcher only threw 5 pitches to get out of the inning, in contrast to the actual reliever who threw 29 to get a single out.)

Final score: 14-1 Yankees

This year is the 20th anniversary of the perfect game thrown by former Yankees’ starter David Wells. (The actual anniversary will be May 17.) In honor of this event, Wells threw out the 1st pitch (and it’s clearly been 20 years) and the stadium gave away commemorative David Wells bobbleheads. It’s worth noting that a certain young New Yorker was seated with the Bleacher Creatures to personally witness the game. Saving his $7 ticket stub, that young man eventually became a Yankees All-Star reliever — Dellin Betances.

Trivia bits: Jorge Posada was the catcher for David Wells perfect game, the opposing team were the Minnesota Twins, future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor was the Twins’ DH, Bernie Williams went 3-for-3 with 3 runs scored and a solo homer in the 4th (1 of 4 runs scored that day), Wells threw a total of 120 pitches (79 strikes and 41 balls) and got 11 strikeouts, and it was “Beanie Baby Day” at the stadium (because it was 1998).

Go Yankees!

Game 73: TEX vs. NYY — Falling just short on Old Timers’ Day

Well, it was clear which game today Nature preferred. One was played under warm, sunny skies, the other with the looming threat of nearby storms that never really materialized. And it certainly was a sign of how both games turned out.

After a really fun Old Timers’ Day (more after the recap), the Yankees closed out this homestand and the weekend series against the Rangers, though this homestand has been anything less than stellar. Michael Pineda got the start this afternoon, and just struggled right out of the gate, taking his time to settle in and find that groove that he normally sails through in most of his outings. Pineda lasted just 4 innings, throwing 71 pitches, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and 7 runs, striking out just 4 batters.

In the 1st, a lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on an RBI single. A 2-run home run gave the Rangers a strong early lead. Then with 2 outs and 2 runners on base with a single and walk, a big home run scored 3 more runs for the Rangers. And to cap off their scoring, the Rangers sent one more homer into the stands, a 2-out solo home run in the 4th.

After Pineda, the bullpen certainly had a better job of keeping the Rangers in line. Webb’s 5th set things back on the right course, despite getting into a bit of trouble himself, though he came out of it without giving up more runs to the Rangers. Green’s 2 innings were nearly flawless. And closing out the final bit of the game was the tag team duo of Betances and Chapman, the latter wowing the lingering crowd with his 3 consecutive strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense had a hard time breaking through the Rangers’ starter, only managing a few hits until the 5th inning (the starter’s final inning of the game). Williams led-off with a single. Then 2 outs later, Romine technically struck out on a wild pitch, but made it safely to base, moving Williams to 2nd. Aaron Judge broke the zeroes on the scoreboard as his single scored the Yankees’ first run of the afternoon — Williams. Then it was Gary Sanchez’s 3 run home run that got the Yankees back into this game and fighting.

Under a new reliever in the 7th, the Yankees struck again. Ronald Torreyes led-off with a solid home run into the 1st row of the left field seats. Two outs later, Judge and Sanchez both worked walks before the Rangers called on a new reliever. Didi Gregorius promptly singled home Judge, but Sanchez was thrown out trying to get to 3rd on the throw.

Despite their best efforts, especially getting runners in scoring position, the Yankees fell just short in their last-minute attempts at a rally.

Final score: 7-6 Yankees, Rangers win series 2-1.

Unfortunately, there is also an extensive injury list: Aaron Hicks came out of the game after the 4th inning (moving Williams from right to center field, 1st baseman Tyler Austin to right field, and adding Austin Romine in the game at 1st base). Hicks started feeling a tightness in his right oblique, and after an MRI during the game, Hicks said he’s headed for the Disabled List, which could see him out for 3-4 weeks.

Now, Starlin Castro was out of today’s game due to injury to right wrist (a lingering injury he sustained about six weeks ago). Other than rest, Castro has undergone a cortisone shot as part of his recovery. And Matt Holliday had allergic reaction to something he ate in Oakland last weekend and is still suffering from fatigue that can linger after a bad allergic reaction

So with Jacoby Ellsbury still working with AAA Scranton until he is cleared and recalled, local Ellsbury fans might be sooner now due to Hicks’ injury. Especially if the hot offense he’s been showing in Scranton can translate well here.

Okay, so it was basically one of the coolest (ironically) days at Yankee Stadium. Today, the Yankees hosted their 71st annual Old Timers’ Day. The Yankees spent time introducing each honored guest, mostly former players and a few former coaches. Plus, the wives of some legends who are no longer with us represented their famed spouses well. It was a delightful ceremony only capped off by a highly amusing and enjoyable exhibition game between former legends on the “Bombers” or the “Clippers”. The Clippers won 2-1, thanks to younger “Old Timers” like Tino Martinez, first-timer Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams and a bit of a boost from Reggie Jackson.

Other former teammates of Jackson from the 1977 team were entertaining (I’m looking at you, Sparky Lyle) , and pondered their 40 years since that iconic championship run, something they’ll be celebrating and remembering later this year. Plus, they honored Tim Raines, who briefly played with the Yankees (during their championship years, 1996-1998) and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this July, gifting him with 2 seats from the old stadium Raines actually played ball in years ago.

{Media links: highlights of the Old Timers’ Game — Mickey Rivers’ catch (he’s still got it!), starter Sparky Lyle’s amusing tumble trying to field a soft grounder, Tino Martinez’s single scoring Bernie Williams’ dramatic slide, Lee Mazzilli’s RBI double and his own score on an error.}

Basically, despite the actual game falling short and the looming potential storm that never quite came into existence, the fun of the morning wasn’t really lost. If anything, it gave loyal, long-term Yankee fans the chance to compare the stars of yesterday with the stars of tomorrow. And while everyone certainly seemed to have an opinion, the reality is that of the legends of yesterday are actually a mixed bag of success stories. Some of them you know (like the ones I mentioned), but others are in the “yeah, I sorta remember that guy” (but you really don’t). And some of both of those categories certainly had their mixed reactions in their own playing days.

You just never know who’s going to be a “somebody everyone knows” and “somebody I think I used to know” at one of these games in the (not-so-very-distant) future. Some of those great players today were on teams when the Yankees were just terrible, despite being really great players. Which unfortunately, often makes them rather forgettable sometimes. And then today there was still Don Larsen or Whitey Ford or Joe Torre — legends today who were part of what made the Yankees’ one of the most successful franchises, the dynasty moments in Yankee history. (All 3 got pretty extensive standing ovations, by the way.)

Go Yankees!

It’s almost Spring…

Well, now that the other major American sport has taken its bow, it’s time to focus on the real American pastime. And before you’re wondering, I write a blog about the New York Yankees, which team could I possibly back in the big game last night — the team that plays in Boston or the one that doesn’t?

Anyway, just a couple of days ago, the Yankees posted pictures of their staff loading up all their equipment, loading it onto the truck, and sending it on its way down to Tampa. Many on the current roster and invitees (including quite a few of the Baby Bombers on the top 100 prospects list) are showing up at the minor league complex for early workouts. Tickets to games are being purchased, renovations at the field are almost done, and the countdown in down to mere days. Yes, Yankee Universe, it’s almost Spring Training.

The Yankees have wrapped up the last few weeks of their off-season in many ways. Last month, Chance Adams, Starlin Castro, Clint Frazier, Chase Headley, Matt Holliday, James Kaprielian, CC Sabathia, Gary Sanchez, Justus Sheffield, and Gleyber Torres helped out with the Yankees first ever “Winter Warm-up“, an event designed to introduce new players to New York and its legacy and community with the help of some of the veterans. This included surprising a life-long fan with VIP tickets; touring the City and Yankee Stadium; holding a live-streamed town hall for fans; visiting a senior center, an elementary school, a senior community event, and cancer center; calling season ticket holders personally; and surprising Bronx residents joining them for lunch at a local restaurant.

At a special awards banquet in January, quite a few Yankees were recognized for their contributions in baseball this past season. Last year’s “Warriors Three” (or No-Runs DMC, as some rogue reporters seems to believe they should be dubbed), Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were recognized by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with the “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke Award” for their outstanding teamwork this year. What is especially significant is that this three-headed monster was split in July when Chapman went to the Cubs (and got a ring) and Miller went to the Indians (and almost got a ring, settling for the AL MVP instead). Betances took over the closing role to finish the season but is more than willing to slide back to set-up man after the Yankees resigned Chapman in December. The local writers’ group also honored other Yankees at that dinner. Chase Headley received the “Good Guy Award” and Mark Teixeira shared the Slocum Award for Long and Meritorious Service with Boston’s David Ortiz, in addition to a number of other awards given across baseball.

Overlapping Spring Training once again is the World Baseball Classic. As of this posting, only two Yankees have committed to play for the WBC. Didi Gregorius will play for the Dutch team, which is scheduled to start its games March 7 in Seoul against South Korea, Taipei, and Israel. Dellin Betances has committed to play for the Dominican Republic, which starts its games March 9 in Miami against Canada, the United States, and Columbia. There was talk that Sanchez might join Betances on the reigning championship team, but the closer to Spring Training, the less likely the chances. Masahiro Tanaka was offered a spot on the Japanese team, but opted for Spring Training to get back in the momentum of being a Yankee and come out stronger than last year.

In a single day last month, the baseball world lost two of its members in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic. Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, 25, was a key part of the Royals’ 2014 World Series attempt and their 2015 World Series win, even earning Rookie of the Year in 2014. Former third baseman Andy Marte, 33, was originally signed by the Braves in 2005 before spending the bulk of his career with the Indians and most recently the 2014 season with the Diamondbacks and a team in South Korea. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families and friends as they mourn their loved ones.

I wish I could tell you the Yankees had some good news about the Hall of Fame results, but it was not to be this year. Instead, the BBWAA (the same guys who recognized Teixeira, Betances, and Headley) decided that just three former players would make it to Cooperstown this year — Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The trio are the only three who made the cut-off at 75% of the earned votes. Most Yankee fans will probably only remember two names — Mike Mussina (holding on for another year at 51.8% of the vote) and Jorge Posada (who failed to get the minimum 5% voting needed to stay on the ballot next year at 3.8%).

Bagwell spent all 15 seasons (1991-2005) with the Astros, as their star first baseman. Raines is predominantly known as the left fielder of the Expos (1979-1990, 2001), but he also spent some of his 23 seasons with the White Sox, Athletics, Marlins, Orioles, and Yankees. Raines spent his time with the Yankees during the start of the most recent dynasty, 1996-1998, even earning a 1996 World Series ring for his postseason contributions. Rodriguez spent the majority of his 21 seasons with the Rangers (1991-2002, 2009), eventually spending time with the Marlins, Tigers, Astros, Nationals, and Yankees. Rodriguez may be the most familiar to current Yankee fans as he spent the latter half of the 2008 season in pinstripes as back-up catcher. As expected, neither of the former Yankees will be donning a Yankee insignia on their monument plaque in the Hall of Fame, which will be honored and unveiled on July 30.

Okay, so here’s important Spring dates to remember: February 14 — pitchers and catchers report to camp (8 days away); February 15 — pitcher and catchers work out day, Steinbrenner Field open to public if you want to watch the work outs (9 days); February 18 — full squad reporting day (12 days); February 19 — full squad work out day (13 days); February 24 — Spring Training home opener vs. Phillies (18 days); April 2 — Season Opener at the Rays (55 days); and April 10 — Home opener vs. the Rays (62 days).

Yes, it’s almost Spring…

Go Yankees!

All the latest updates, farewells, outreaches, and honors… it’s been a busy 5 weeks!

Between the Cubs’ victory parade, postseason awards, Thanksgiving, Winter Meetings, and now the approaching week filled with Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year, the Yankees have been everything but quiet and stagnant. Some years, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s job seems to just sit back and watch other teams do the postseason dance that is somewhere between an elegant waltz and a fire-sale at times. But not this year.

Cashman has been busy, even making some pretty big moves. First, in the middle of last month, he traded catcher Brian McCann (and cash considerations) to the Astros for a pair of young pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. Sorry, McCann fans, but McCann wasn’t exactly ready to be a once-a-week player with Gary Sanchez taking a much larger (and well-deserved role). This was a good move for everybody.

Earlier this week, as part of the Winter Meetings (hosted at the beautiful Gaylord Resort, just south of D.C.), Cashman also made a play for two big players. First, he signed Matt Holliday, a veteran outfielder who is slated to primarily fill the position previously occupied by Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran (outfielder/designated hitter). Holliday, a 7-time All-Star, began his career with the Rockies, spending 5 seasons there and making a name for himself, before finding a nice home with the Cardinals for the last 7 1/2 seasons, being a crucial part of their 2011 World Series championship. Holliday seems very excited to be playing in New York, which isn’t really surprising as he wore #7 in St. Louis for Mickey Mantle. You know, David Ortiz said once last season that there are two kinds of players — those who were born to play with the Yankees and those born to play against them (Ortiz being the latter).

Another big pick-up was the deal made when the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year, $86 million deal. Yes, Chapman fans, two of the Warriors Three will be back in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. This time, with Chapman’s shiny World Series ring glaring and pushing the Yankees to give him another one. A physical exam is still pending the finality of this contract, but things look good for the closer to return to Yankee pinstripes for the next five seasons.

Cashman’s focus was clearly on building up the bullpen as most of the roster moves these last 5 weeks. So try to keep up: Branden Pinder was originally designated for assignment early in November, but then was outrighted to AAA Scranton, so we’ll be seeing Pinder again; Joe Mantiply (after being claimed off waivers from the Tigers), Nick Rumbelow, and Nathan Eovaldi were designated for assignment and then released all three of them just before Thanksgiving; James Pazos was traded to the Mariners for reliever Zack Littell; Dustin Ackley was released; Jacob Lindgren elected free agency; and the Yankees then filled a bunch of holes on their roster with minor leaguers Jorge Mateo and Yefrey Ramirez (from the Single-A Tampa Yankees), Ronald Herrera and Miguel Andujar (from AA Trenton),  and Dietrich Enns and Giovanny Gallegos (from AAA Scranton).

But it didn’t stop there. In coordination with the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees moved some minor leaguers around and said some goodbyes. The Brewers claimed reliever Caleb Smith, the Red catcher Luis Torrens, reliever Tyler Jones went to Arizona, and the Pirates got reliever Tyler Webb. The Yankees themselves picked up a few minor leaguers, catcher Jorge Saez (Blue Jays) and reliever Colten Brewer (Pirates).

All the postseason awards have been doled out, and the Yankees got… two. And nothing went to our Rookie of the Year, Gary Sanchez. No, the big Yankee winner this postseason was Brett Gardner, who took home both the Gold Glove and Defensive Player of the Year for doing the outstanding job we’re used to seeing out there in left field.

However, there are a few alumni honors come next month. BBWAA vote for the Class of 2017, with any new inductees to be announced next month. Several former Yankees grace the ballot this year, none more so than Jorge Posada (the first of the Core Four to reach such an honor). However, the chances everyone seems to hold for Posada (and the few other Yankees alums) seem rather slim, especially as the voters seem to be rather stringent in their voting, less nostalgic as your average baseball fan and more strategic in their selection parameters.

Also selected for Hall of Fame honors this year are current Braves’ president John Schuerholz and former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, both elected by the Today’s Game Committee. Other familiar faces on this ballot, who failed to make the cut this year, include former manager and player Lou Pinella, former players Albert Belle, Orel Hershiser, and Mark McGwire, and former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Debates as to which of these deserve to be in Cooperstown rage on.

Two other awards honored journalists for outstanding writing and broadcasting — the late Bill King, known for his coverage of San Francisco sports, distinctive facial hair, and his catchphrase “Holy Toledo!”, and veteran journalist Claire Smith, who became the first woman to receive the honor. Neither will be officially in the Hall of Fame, but will be part of a permanent exhibit to honor such journalist excellence and contribution to the game. I mean, without them, our knowledge of the game would not be what it is today, even with direct information like social media. It would certainly make my job a lot harder!

And speaking of Yankee alumni, the Yankees announced that they will be officially retiring the number 2 in honor of Derek Jeter on before the game on Sunday, May 14. Rather fitting really, with the extensive knowledge of how close Jeter is with his family, Jeter’s long-sacred number will become the 22nd one the Yankees send to Monument Park, and with that move, all the single digits (save a zero) are officially removed from jersey circulation. Single game tickets are not directly available yet (though they feature prominently on the secondary online marketplaces), though season tickets and multi-game ticket packages are available.

This week, in Tampa, the Yankees foundation hosted their holiday celebration, led by Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal with special guests Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, and Nick & Joanna Swisher. Hundreds of local children were treated to the Yankees 28th Annual Holiday Concert, complete with gifts and carol singing, in preparation for the holidays. The Yankees also hosted other local community outreaches in New York for the holidays including a Thanksgiving food drive and giving back to the children and families of the Bronx with a great goodie bag full of both basic necessities and special gifts.

Looking ahead, many players have already committed to playing for various teams around the world in the World Baseball Classic this March. The Yankees only current representative is Dellin Betances, who agreed to play for the reigning champions, the Dominican Republic, alongside former teammate Cano. Other former Yankees who will play in the WBC include Martin for Canada and Beltran for Puerto Rico. Betances, who was also recently married, will be an outstanding contribution to any team. Also, a big congratulations to Dellin and Janisa Betances!

As far as everything else, there’s still 63 days until Pitchers and Catchers report for Spring Training. So there’s a lot of time left for the Yankees to do something else, despite reports that they’re pretty much done with big moves this off-season. That statement, however, doesn’t preclude any minor “tweaking”, and you must know by now they love their “tweaking”. Enjoy your holiday season!

Go Yankees!

Game 92: BAL vs. NYY — 105? Time for a winning streak

After a bit of a stifling weekend and mixed results within the stadium (and no, I’m not talking about the craze that’s taken over as a hybrid of a particular video game, though I’m told there are several “creatures” in the Bronx that aren’t cheering loudly from the bleachers), the Bronx was blessed with a cooler evening tonight for the start of a 4-game series with the Baltimore Orioles. Yankee fans were treated to stellar pitching and a win against the first place team in the AL East that is hopefully the start of a much needed winning streak for the Yankees.

Taking strong command of the mound tonight, Yankee starter Ivan Nova pitched 6 complete innings, threw 97 pitches, gave up only 4 hits and a home run (the only run allowed for Baltimore). For the last three innings, the 31,102 fans packing the stands were once again treated to terrific pitching to close the game and shut down Baltimore. Top of the seventh, Dellin Betances threw 20 pitches for 2 strikeouts, allowing 1 walk and no runs. Andrew Miller took the helm in the eighth, giving up 1 hit but no runs with 12 pitches, inducing a fairly nifty double play. Top of the ninth with the Yankees ahead by 2, Aroldis Chapman calmly took the mound, throwing his fireballs to four batters, walking one but allowing no runs to earn the save. This powerful pitching trio for New York is a joy and a wonder for Yankee fans to witness. Hoping management has no plans for splitting up these “Warriors Three”.

The Yankees worked their defense and offense well tonight. In the top of the second, Jacoby Ellsbury snagged a fly ball for an out at the center field fence. In the fourth, Headley and Castro coordinated to get the out in a rundown. Headley and Refsnyder played their corners well, keeping potential runs off first base. That double play in the 8th under Miller was swiftly executed by Gregorius to Castro to Refsnyder that kept another potential run off base.  In fact, the entire Yankee infield tonight played strong and confident, determined to keep Baltimore from scoring. And the outfield was busy running down all those “almost home runs” from the team leading in home runs this year.

The New York offense had 7 hits, scoring twice with a home run in the 2nd by Alex Rodriguez (his 9th of the year) and a sacrifice fly in the 3rd by Brian McCann that scored Gardner. New York took the lead and never let it go. Beltran had 3 hits in 4 at bats tonight, including a double that tied him with Willie Mayes on the all-time doubles list; basically, every hit for Beltran is some milestone these days. The Yankees attempted several scoring opportunities, especially later in the game, but couldn’t seem to get anything else past the Orioles’ pitching and defense. (There is a reason they’re in 1st in the AL East.)

Of course, all most people could talk about were Chapman’s rocket balls. He hit 105 mph on the radar gun for just the second time in MLB history. And he’s the only person to do this ever, let alone do this twice. In fact, he throws so hard that MLB stats for this year have a “Chapman” filter. He throws the fastest balls in the league, but when they throw up who’s throwing the fastest, they never list him except as a caveat — as in: all these pitchers throw super hard, but as we’re all aware that Chapman literally owns all the top pitches ever this season, we’re going to feature all the guys except him to show what’s going on beyond the Yankees’ 9th inning.

Anyway, Chapman gave the Yankees their second win in a row, and I, for one, am hoping this continues a nice winning streak for the Yankees.

Final score: 2-1, Yankees.

On this day in Yankee history: On July 18, 1999, with Joe Girardi catching, David Cone threw the third perfect game in team history against the Montreal Expos at the old Yankee Stadium. Check out this vintage video of all 27 outs to relive it, or (maybe) to see it for the first time. Cone’s game occurred on “Yogi Berra Day” with Don Larsen and Yogi Berra in the stands (after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch) to witness and perhaps to relive a little of their own perfect game versus the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series (the first in team history, but also the only postseason perfect game in MLB history). In May of 1998, the second Yankee perfect game (vs the Twins) was thrown by David Wells, with Jorge Posada catching.

And a big happy Birthday to Joe Torre, a man of many talents indeed — MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, 9-time All-Star, Hall of Fame Manager, Player, Rookie of the Year, MVP, Gold Glove Winner, broadcaster, and the list goes on. Baseball as we know it would not be the same without Joe Torre. Baseball fans everywhere are grateful for his passion for the game and his many contributions to baseball from nearly every angle — player, manager, executive. (Next stop: owner?) Thank you, Joe, and may this be the happiest of birthdays and the best of years.

Go Yankees!

The off-season scramble begins

It’s been 10 days since the Royals won the World Series and officially threw all of baseball into the off-season. Congratulations again to Kansas City and the Royals organization on their amazing season and championship. Nearly 800,000 blue-clad Royals fans (in an area of over 2,000,000 residents) crowded part of downtown Kansas City a little over a week ago to cheer on their new hometown heroes for the Royals’ victory parade. When teams win big, it often creates new fans, but whether they retain those recently acquired will all depend on if they can continue their recent winning streak of the last two seasons. But with the free agent market just now starting to break out, next year’s Royals may be shades of 2005 (56 wins-106 losses, last place in AL) or it could be like 2015 (95 wins-85 losses, 1st place in AL).

That’s what makes the off-season trades and acquisitions so interesting — it shakes up every team, and a shake-up can be just as very good as it can be very bad. It’s always a gamble because while the numbers may work in your favor, the team chemistry may not work. Or unpredictable unknowns like injuries and personal issues can alter a potential superstar.

While the team’s GMs are in their annual meetings in South Florida (enjoying the perpetual heat that is Florida in November, I’m guessing), they are already busy making all sorts of deals. A GM’s job is never done. Today, the Yankees announced two such trades. Infielder Jose Pirela is headed to San Diego this Spring (via their Arizona Spring Training) in exchange for pitching prospect Ronald Herrera. And (this one will break a few hearts I know) catcher John Ryan Murphy is headed to Minnesota in exchange for switch-hitting outfielder Aaron Hicks. Both of these deals do make some business sense — the Yankees need an influx of new pitchers in their farm system, and they really have a plethora of really good catchers ready for the big leagues (behind starting catcher McCann, there’s still Romine and Sanchez). What this means for some of the free agents in the Yankees’ system (like OF Young and IF Drew) is still up for conversation and the rumors of dealing current Yankee favorites are of course always circulating.

Last week, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, and pitchers Chris Capuano, Andrew Bailey, and Sergio Santos elected free agency. The Yankees could of course sign them back to the team, but a free agent means they are officially on the market for a good deal and their Spring is still undetermined. The Yankees also released pitcher Chris Martin and activated outfielder Mason Williams and pitchers Domingo German, Jacob Lindgren, and Chase Whitley from the DL. And now with today’s moves, the Yankees are proving to the MLB market that they are back in business and ready to deal.

Also last week, for their participation and activism, former Yankees Jorge Posada and Paul O’Neill along with current Yankee Alex Rodriguez were honored at the Lou Gehrig Awards Benefit which raised money for research and care programs for those suffering from ALS. Another Yankee alumni David Cone was on hand to emcee the live auction of baseball memorabilia.

And just yesterday, the Yankees hosted their annual USO care package drive at Yankee Stadium. Girardi and Cone, along with hundreds of volunteers stuffed care packages for veterans serving abroad — small tokens of “home”, as it were. This is one of several events the Yankees do each year to give back to their community and one of several big ways to honor veterans. It’s two of my favorite things about the Yankees — their generosity (like HOPE Week) and their patriotism (like “God Bless America” at every home game without fail).

In that respect, may I just say that we not only honor and remember those who served and currently serve our country, but those across the globe dedicated to preserving and fighting for peace in this world. “Thank you” never quite feels like enough, but know that we cherish you (and your families) for your commitment and sacrifice this Veterans Day and remember the great dreams of Armistice Day today and every day.

Go Yankees!