Tennessee trades, but Rose still smells foul to MLB

The annual baseball Winter Meetings were held this past week in Nashville at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. Mainly a time for GMs, owners, and MLB executives to talk about the next season of baseball. Topics of discussion include the idea of more netting between the stands and the field to prevent the occasional fan injury from an errant foul or missed ball (or the rare flying bat) and an increase in the domestic violence charges of current, active players (and how to handle them from an executive and union standpoint for consequences and for prevention of such abhorrent behavior of a professional athlete). Other discussions included trades and free agent signings.

The Yankees were no exception. The biggest trade this last week was when the Yankees acquired infielder Starlin Castro from the Cubs in exchange for Adam Warren and a player to be named later. Sorry, Warren fans, but this does say a lot for Warren’s value as Castro is a valued 2nd baseman and a popular player in Chicago. Castro’s addition to the infield does amp up the offensive power and the defensive overall from the regular starters on the dirt.

Also, reliever Justin Wilson is headed to Detroit in exchange for minor league pitchers Chad Green and Luis Cessa.

The Yankees lost two prospects to the Rule 5 Draft last Thursday — pitcher Evan Rutckyj to the Braves and outfielder Jake Cave to the Reds. Cave made an impact last Spring Training and should be a good addition to the Reds’ farm system. The Rule 5 Draft is used by teams to exchange younger players within their minor leagues that would allow teams that cannot play them at the major league level the opportunity to fast-track their career.

And, wrapping up recent transactions, recently released free agent pitcher Domingo German (who selected free agency at the beginning of the month) re-signed with the Yankees to a minor league contract.

Okay, there are two bigger “names” that have been tossed around since October as potential trades (Miller and Gardner), but as of right now, neither are on their way anywhere but Tampa this March. Look, both players are veterans and excellent athletes and in order for Cashman to even look at an offer to trade for them, the other team would have to put on the table the likes of Harper or Trout or Greinke (or their young prospect counterparts). And as of right now, no one is willing to part with someone with that high of value any more than the Yankees are willing to part with what they consider high value prospects (Judge, Severino, and Sanchez, come to mind). So until there’s some deal or announcement, it’s all just talk.

However, there are some holes to fill in the roster to beef up the Yankees before Spring Training. Expect there to be more announcements beginning in the new year. And like every year, there’s always one more last-minute trade or signing before Opening Day.

And if you’re a Carlos Beltran fan, this may be his last year as a professional athlete. Beltran has one more year on his contract with the Yankees, and he is weighing his options but leaning toward making 2016 his final year before hanging up his cleats for good.

Brian Cashman, the elf, rappelled down a building in Connecticut again last week, with Santa (a professional climber) and MLB reporter (and Yogi’s granddaughter) Lindsay Berra (dressed as Mrs. Claus). The annual event thrills children who see it as a “special delivery” and opens the local Christmas season with community performances and a tree lighting ceremony.

In the biggest MLB news of the day, however, the MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has upheld the ban of Pete Rose from all MLB activities. Rose, once one of the best players in MLB history, became synonymous with “cheating” when he was exposed for several gambling scandals toward the end of his career as both a player and a coach. Rose eventually admitted to betting on MLB games while he was an active participant in the league. As a result, Rose was barred from all MLB activities (which spills over into the denial of his election to the Hall of Fame, a very different animal but still along the same vein). Now in his 70s, the former Reds player has petitioned for reinstatement since his first appeal of the charges in 1989.

As it has been over a quarter of a century since the decision to ban Rose, the new commissioner decided to check into the decision and decide whether the decision was to be upheld or if some loophole or mistake made would allow Rose to resume his participation in MLB. However, in a 5-page statement, Manfred explained his reasoning for upholding the original decision to bar Rose from the MLB, which more specifically direct involvement with particular MLB and MiLB organizations. (Manfred acknowledges that Rose is permitted to participate in special ceremonies that have no impact on on-field outcomes nor special associations with a particular team in the MLB system, including the minor leagues.)

There was a lot of chatter following the postseason that Rose might become a more permanent MLB feature again as he was one of several former players asked to participate in the FOX broadcasts of the playoffs and World Series games. (Alex Rodriguez also made a splash, albeit in a different light of sorts, in the same broadcasts.) So while it means that he can develop some sort of potential broadcasting career (with prior approval of the commissioner as it relates to indirect and third-party association with MLB), but I’m not sure he’ll be as desired now. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll miss his awful bow ties, brightly-colored pattern jackets, and random off-color stories.

Look, I’m glad Manfed and MLB upheld the decision. I know this gets compared to the PED scandal of the last fifteen years (though the PED problem began about 25 years ago), but this is really a different animal. PEDs haven’t always been explicitly illegal or banned under MLB regulations, so much so that for some time (think the Sosa-McGwire home run race of 1998) it was rather encouraged. MLB pitcher (and former Yankee) David Aardsma expressed similar opinions and is obviously relieved to see the MLB continue to uphold important points of integrity and keep the game clean in all aspects.

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Stay safe and count the days to Spring Training! Single game tickets go on sale in early January, but season tickets are still available. See you there!

2015 ALWC: HOU vs. NYY — Bittersweet shutout of the postseason

Bittersweet. For some reason, this was the word that was going through my head even before the game in the final moments between the opening ceremonies, the national anthem, and Tino Martinez’s ceremonial first pitch and the time when the boys in pinstripes would take the field for what would be the final time in 2015. Bittersweet. I don’t know why. It just seemed like the right emotion.

And I blame Bud Selig. A few years ago, former MLB Commissioner Selig decided that the league could use one more playoff game and created the one-off Wild Card game. So technically then, according to the previous way of doing things, the Yankees would be the ones facing the Royals in the ALDS later this week. To be fair though, I’ve respected the hardworking Astros since the beginning of the season, and they deserve to be in the postseason. But I was counting on them being the AL West leaders and not facing the Yankees for this one-off game.

It was a rather electric atmosphere in the Bronx leading up to that first pitch by Tanaka. Fans trying to get in before first pitch found themselves stuck in huge pedestrian traffic as Gate 6 was temporarily closed due to a medical emergency with a fan. People in line took to social media to vent their frustrations about their nearly an hour wait to get into the park. To be fair, it’s the playoffs, and the gates open early for things like batting practice. Even at a regular game (especially during special promotional gift nights like those silly bobbleheads), lines getting in at just before game time are rather packed.

Even still, it was a sell-out crowd with 50,113 fans crowding into the stadium, making it the largest attendance this season. And for the first few innings, most people were on their feet and cheering at everything from a nifty fly out to a 2-strike pitch count to a great double play. But then the game looked less and less in the Yankees favor, but still the people lingered, hoping for Yogi’s famous saying to come to fruition. It wasn’t going happen though. Final game for the pinstripes ended with a near-silent crowd brokenhearted.

Whittled down to 25 men, many veteran Yankees (like Betances) made their postseason debut tonight, and eight rookies appeared on the roster — Mitchell, Pazos, Severino, Sanchez, Bird, Refsnyder, Heathcott, and Noel (Bird and Refsnyder also started tonight’s game at 1st and 2nd, respectively).

Masahiro Tanaka was pegged to start tonight’s game, going head-to-head with an easy Cy Young contender this year, the Astros’ ace (Dallas Keuchel). And honestly, with a couple of perfectly placed pitches, the two pitchers were rather evenly matched tonight. Tanaka went 5 innings, throwing 83 pitches, giving up 4 hits, 2 runs, and 3 walks, and striking out 3 Houston batters. On the other side of things, Keuchel struck out 7 Yankees batters in his 6 innings, though in all fairness, the strike zone after the first 2 innings was rather generous for the Astros pitching as it was back in June when the Astros were last in the Bronx (with the same home plate umpire and same Astros starter, by the way). Tanaka’s runs allowed were both 1st pitch lead-off home runs in the 2nd and the 4th innings.

The Yankees were able to get on base and set up some good opportunities for their batters to do something, anything really. But like so frequently these last few weeks, leaving their players stranded on the bases continued to be a pattern tonight as well. When fans at the stadium realized this, it was getting harder to stir the fans into a frenzy only to be disappointed once again.

Reliever Justin Wilson came on for Tanaka in the 6th and threw into the 7th, getting a good 4 outs and keeping the Astros from adding to their lead. Dellin Betances came on in the 7th and promptly walked his first batter. That runner stole 2nd and then scored on an RBI single to give the Astros their 3rd and final run of the evening. Betances buckled down through the 8th inning, and save that allowed run, he threw a decent game, including 4 (of his 5) outs as strikeouts.

Though Andrew Miller clearly had the best inning — 11 pitches in the 9th, including 2 strikeouts. As everyone crossed their fingers for a last-minute rally at the bottom of the 9th. It was not to be, as the Yankees went down in order — 2 strikeouts and a ground out to end the game.

Final score in the Bronx: 3-0 Astros, Astros advance to the ALDS to face the Royals.

My postseason predictions: I’m 0-for-1 so far this October. Still have Pirates over Cubs for tomorrow night. And I’ve picked out my Division Series teams. The hardest part about picking out my teams for the postseason is deciding which teams I want to win over which teams probably will win (basically, do I admit I could be very wrong?). Okay, maybe that’s not the hardest part — that would easily be rooting for a team that isn’t the Yankees.

Oh well, what a sad way to end 2015 for the Yankees. What’s that word again? Bittersweet. Yes, very bittersweet evening. And like I said on Twitter, see those boys next year at Spring Training.

Is it March yet?

Go Yankees!

Game 162: NYY vs. BAL — Ending the season on mixed notes

Well, good news and bad news — good news, the Yankees have home team advantage for the Wild Card game this Tuesday; bad news, the Yankees end their regular season on a loss and a sweep.

All 30 teams played their final game of the regular season at the 3:00 pm EST hour (except a doubleheader in Atlanta due to the mess that is the hurricane in neighboring South Carolina), but it would be the Yankees-Orioles game that lingered on longer than all the rest. And the AL had lots of things riding on these games to determine final postseason standings, while the NL had 2 simple stipulations. (I’ll talk more about the results after the game recap.)

To be perfectly fair, neither team really had a great pitching day. Between the Yankees and the Orioles, their pitching staffs gave up a total of 22 hits, 13 runs, and 11 walks between their 14 total pitchers. Plus neither starter made it very far into the game for starters and both accumulated high pitch counts.

For the Yankees, Michael Pineda threw 83 pitches in just 3.2 innings, gave up 6 hits, no walks (one of the few to not walk a batter), and 4 runs, striking out 5 Baltimore batters. In the 1st, with 2 outs and 2 runners in scoring position, a long single scored the first 2 runs for the Orioles. Then in the 4th inning, a lead-off double scored on a 2-out single as Pineda’s day came to a close and the rotation of the Yankees’ bullpen began for the last time this regular season.

Chris Capuano came on to finish off the 4th inning but instead loaded the bases with a double and an intentional walk. A single then scored 2 more runners, but the inning was quickly over when the batter tried to make it to 2nd on the throw and was tagged out. The Orioles challenged the call, but the call on the field was upheld, and the inning was over.

In the 5th inning, Bryan Mitchell came on in relief. With a lead-off walk on base, a 2-run home run added to the Orioles’ easy lead. After just getting 1 out and walking another batter, James Pazos came on to get out of the inning with 2 strikeouts. Pazos threw to 2 more batters in the 6th inning before handing the ball over to Andrew Bailey to close out that inning and keep the Orioles from adding to their lead.

Branden Pinder continued such a trend through the 7th inning, as did Justin Wilson for the first batter in the 8th inning. Andrew Miller then walked one batter and got an out for his turn in the 8th. And Caleb Cotham was called on to finish the game off for the Yankees, though not before giving up a 2-run home run (to the same guy who did so earlier in the game). To give him credit, that particular batter is quite the power hitter, ending the season with a whopping 47 home runs after today’s game.

The Yankees weren’t exactly quiet on their side of things. Like I said, this wasn’t exactly the greatest pitching game. In the 2nd, Bird led-off with a ground-rule double, moved to 3rd on one ground out, and then scored on Dustin Ackley’s ground out. Then in the 6th, Ackley hit a 1-out single and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ triple. This forced the Orioles’ starter out of the game after 103 pitches in less than 6 inning. And in the 7th, with 1 out and Beltran and McCann on base with singles, Greg Bird’s single scored Beltran. After a pitching change then loaded the bases on Headley’s walk, Ackley ground into a force out, which scored McCann. But that would be it for the Yankees’ offense today.

Final score in Baltimore: 9-4 Orioles, Orioles sweep Yankees this weekend 3-0.

And we have postseason final news.

  • Wild Card Games: On Tuesday, the Astros will play the Yankees in the Bronx for the AL Wild Card. On Wednesday, the Cubs (yes, Back to the Future fans, your 30 year old dreams have a chance to come true!) will play the Pirates in Pittsburgh for the NL Wild Card.
  • Division Series: Beginning Thursday, the best of 5 ALDS will start with the Rangers (the AL West champs) at the Blue Jays (the AL East champs) and the winner of the Yankees-Astros WC game at the Royals (the AL Central champs and highest seed in the AL); and starting Friday, the NLDS will be the Mets (the NL East champs) at the Dodgers (the NL West champs) and the winner of the Cubs-Pirates WC game at the Cardinals (the NL Central and highest seed in the NL). (This best-of-5 series runs 2 home, 2 away, and 1 home, if necessary.)
  • Championship Series: the best of 7 ALCS will then be the winners of the Rangers-Blue Jays against the ALWC-Royals (if the Royals win their LDS, they maintain home-field advantage in the LCS), starting Friday, October 16; the NLCS will be the winners of the Mets-Dodgers against the NLWC-Cardinals (if the Cardinals win their LDS, they maintain home-field advantage in the LCS), beginning Saturday, October 17. (This best-of-7 series runs 2 home, 3 away, and 2 home, if necessary.)
  • World Series: as usual, the NL Champion will play the AL Champion (at the AL home field, as a result of the All-Star Game) in a best of 7 series beginning Tuesday, October 27. (This series also runs 2 home, 3 away, and 2 home, if necessary, which also means we could have November baseball unless there is a sweep this year.)

I will be making my predictions as usual before each series. So here’s my Wild Card predictions:

  • NLWC: Pirates over Cubs
  • ALWC: Yankees over Astros

I have many reasons other than the obvious bias of one selection, but I think the teams I selected have been postseason contenders for longer and more consistent this season. And while both the Cubs and the Astros have truly fantastic starting pitchers, they don’t have that overall aspect (all parts of the team — offense, defense, starting pitching, bullpen, and base-running) that could make them last through the competitiveness of the postseason. And really, that’s what you want, a long, strongly competitive postseason.

And to those haters who doubt the longevity and validity of the Wild Cards, I want to remind you that last year’s World Series was played by two Wild Card teams — the Royals and the Giants. Like I’ve said before, it’s still anyone’s game to win, anyone’s championship to claim.

Go Yankees!

Game 158: BOS vs. NYY — “Almost doesn’t count”

Call it a speed bump or added hurdle or slight detour. Call it “it’s not what you want” a la Girardi in far too many press conferences. Call it whatever makes you feel better, but it’s just disappointment. And yet, the Yankees aren’t out of it. (Also, for tonight’s post’s title opine, a small nod to a CD I wore out in college and to accurately portray my feelings this late Wednesday evening.)

Maybe the constant chatter about all these “magic numbers” and the fact that there’s a grand total of 4 games left of the 2015 regular season, but the high hopes of securing the postseason with a win and a few added stipulations has been the topic of conversation for every game since Monday. A comment on my news feed read: “The 2015 Yankees are pulling off the rare combination of exceeding expectations and being a huge disappointment.” That about sums up these last few games for me too.

Anyway, Masahiro Tanaka was back on the mound tonight. And while he admittedly seemed a bit rusty, he still threw a pretty decent game. Most of the damage was once again in the first inning, but overall, Tanaka threw 95 pitches in his 5 innings, giving up 5 hits, 4 runs, and a walk, striking out 3 Boston batters. After 2 outs in the 1st inning, a single and a walk set-up a big 3-run home run to put the Red Sox on top early. Then in the 3rd, a ground-rule double scored on an RBI single to give the Red Sox a solid lead over the Yankees.

Fortunately, that didn’t last long. The Yankees got one back in the 2nd inning. Young and Bird on base with 2 outs, Rob Refsnyder’s ground-rule double (the very “in thing” this game apparently as there were 4 total in this game) scored Young. Then in the 5th inning, Ellsbury led off with a double and moved to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then after a 1-out walk to Alex Rodriguez, Ellsbury scored on Carlos Beltran’s ground-rule double (told ya).  Rodriguez then scored on Brian McCann’s ground out, and Beltran tied up the game on Chris Young’s RBI single. The Yankees loaded up the bases with 2 consecutive walks after this, but a fly out ended a potential to jump ahead and set the pattern that would be come all to familiar tonight.

Rodriguez, however, did push the Yankees ahead with a 2-out solo home run into those left field seats he favors for such things. So it was the bullpen’s job to protect that. And because it was that kind of night, they did not do so well in that area. Justin Wilson’s 6th inning was nearly perfect, and he got the first 2 outs of the 7th before the Yankees opted for Dellin Betances. This might have been a mistake as he promptly gave up a solo home run to tie up the game again, and Betances was now on the hook for a blown save. Betances bounced back to give the Yankees a quick 1-2-3 8th inning before it was on to Andrew Miller for the 9th inning and the 10th.

Miller’s stats were impressive tonight, spreading his 38 pitches over his 2 innings and striking out 3 batters. Miller is certainly returning to form and should be really impressive in this postseason. Andrew Bailey started off the 11th inning, also known in Yankee Universe tonight as the “inning of doom”. (Maybe that’s too melodramatic, but it’s late and they lost so bear with me here.) With 1 out and runners on the corners, an RBI single gave the Red Sox back the lead and kept runners on those corners. It was on to Chasen Shreve in hopes he’s found whatever timing has been off for him lately. It was not to be. A sacrifice bunt scored another run before a 2-run home run pushed Boston into solid win territory. Caleb Cotham came in to finish off the inning in 2 pitches.

And the Yankees were looking at the wrong end of the 11th inning, with no last-minute rally in their veins.

However, I do need to point out something here about the oddities that are statistics sometimes. Technically, the Yankees bullpen pitched better to the Boston batters — nearly matching on hits (13 Boston hits to 12 New York), the Red Sox pitchers gave up 11 walks (not a typo) and just 6 strikeouts, while the Yankees only allowed 2 walks and struck out 8 batters. The Yankees loaded the bases several times but constantly left players stranded on base to end an inning (15 total players left on base in the game). The offense was simply not taking the scoring opportunities when they were literally right in front of them. That’s why the game went into extra innings, and that’s why the Yankees didn’t win this game.

Final score: 9-5 in 11 innings, Red Sox (technically, the Red Sox have already won the series)

Quick note about these last four games… now, the Yankees have one more home game, tomorrow night against the Red Sox, before traveling down for the weekend in Baltimore. However, there is some potential weather hazards that could hamper said games. There’s supposed to be a storm sweeping through the tri-state area tomorrow night, and there’s this Category 3 hurricane over the Bahamas right now that should head straight up the coast this weekend, potentially making landfall sometime between Sunday and Monday. We’re running out of time for make-up games, so it’s going to be interesting to see how these next few days turn out.

Okay, here’s the final math on those “magic numbers”: basically, if the Yankees can somehow win tomorrow night’s game (and please, God, make that happen), they’re in the postseason as the Wild Card (Toronto officially claimed the AL East title with their near-blowout of the Orioles). If they don’t, then it’s a waiting game on many other potential wild card teams to lose their games tomorrow. It’s just kind of really messy, this postseason math business.

Go Yankees!

Game 155: CHW vs. NYY — Loaded bases & double plays show off Yankee versatility

The magic number is 3. There are 7 games left, 4 when the Red Sox come to town and 3 in Baltimore. You do the math. In today’s finale against the White Sox, the Yankees needed to continue their push in a very successful way, including winning (and not splitting) the 4-game series. They did.

Luis Severino took the mound to start this afternoon’s game and promptly threw a very good game for the rookie pitcher, earning his 5th win of his very short season. In his 6 innings, Severino threw 99 pitches, giving up 5 hits, 1 walk, and no runs, striking out 2 Chicago batters. Yes, Severino kept the White Sox from scoring any runs, giving the Yankees’ offense a chance to do something awesome.

In fact, the only run the White Sox scored was under Justin Wilson’s watch, a very big 1-out solo home run in the 7th inning. But then with Dellin Betances’ scoreless 8th inning and Bryan Mitchell’s flawless 11-pitch 9th inning, the White Sox didn’t stand a chance with the Yankees’ pitching today.

So that made it possible for the Yankees to really hit into Chicago’s pitching staff. In the 1st, the Yankees loaded the bases with Ellsbury’s walk and 2 errors to allow Gardner and Beltran to reach base safely. Ellsbury then easily scored on Brian McCann’s sacrifice fly.

Dustin Ackley’s lead-off home run in the 6th started the Yankees’ push into solid win territory. Two outs later, the bases were loaded with 2 singles and a walk, and a passed ball scored lead runner Slade Heathcott, moving everyone up a base. Another walk loaded the bases again, but a pitching change (getting the White Sox starter out of the game with 121 pitches in less than 6 full innings) and the inning was over with a strikeout.

That’s okay, the Yankees weren’t done with their run-scoring. In the 7th, Greg Bird led-off with a ground-rule double, then despite 2 consecutive strikeouts, they loaded the bases again with a walk and a single. So Jacoby Ellsbury’s single scored Bird.

And in the 8th inning, the Yankees capped off their runs scored with a bit of a rally, removing them from a save situation (hence no Miller in the 9th). Beltran led-off with a single and was pinch-run by the speedy Rico Noel. Noel ended up a 3rd on a throwing error on a pick-off attempt and later scored on a 1-out single by Greg Bird. Bird moved to 3rd on Headley’s double, and the bases were once again loaded with a walk (the ultimate trend of the afternoon) so Bird could score on Slade Heathcott’s sacrifice fly.

And I can’t talk about this game and not mention the ridiculous double plays the Yankees’ defense showed off today. There were 4 by the Yankees — a 1st inning standard DP, a strikeout-throw out in the 2nd inning, a 5th inning choreographic defense, and then a 6th inning repeat of the first one.

Final score in the Bronx: 6-1 Yankees, Yankees win the series 3-1.

Next up… the Sox change from White to Red as Boston arrives in town for a 4-game final series in the Bronx. Again, the Yankees will end this season in Baltimore over the weekend. It’s rather hard to believe that the season’s almost over. Wasn’t it just Spring Training like yesterday?

But no, my calendar reminds me it’s almost October. So the postseason is right around the corner, and basically unless the world implodes, it looks like we’ll have Yankees in October baseball once again. And all is right with the world.

Also, Yankees On Demand produced a great video on the evolution of Brett Gardner as an athlete, from underdog college player to a Yankees leader on and off the field. If you didn’t admire Gardner before, well, I have no idea why you’re reading this blog because you’re clearly not a Yankee fan. But this video may clarify why Gardner is definitely one of the great Yankees, a good guy and a great player in every way.

Go Yankees!

Game 154: CHW vs. NYY — Two innings can define a game

The Yankees have had some trouble lately in areas where they used to be pretty strong, the effect of a very long season, I suppose. But today, the Yankees actually played fairly well (and also very well) in those recently weak areas.

Adam Warren got the start in the late afternoon game against the White Sox. Since coming back from the bullpen to filling in for some injured starters, Warren has certainly struggled to find his footing as a starter once again, where he used to be rather reliable. And the first inning seemed to continue that struggle for him — a lead-off single stole 2nd and then scored on an RBI single before he got out of the inning, mainly thanks to a great double play. After that inning, Warren became the old Warren and just let into the White Sox. Overall, Warren threw 88 pitches in his 6 innings, gave up 3 hits (all in the 1st inning), 3 walks, and that lone run (again in the 1st inning), striking out 4 Chicago batters.

With an early lead, the Chicago starter was cruising along rather well until his final inning — the 6th inning, when the Yankees just started getting to the exhausted pitcher. Ellsbury led-off with a single and stole 2nd base. Chase Headley hit a monster ground-rule double into center field that scored Ellsbury to tie up the game. This was followed by Alex Rodriguez hitting a ground-rule double to score Headley to give the Yankees the lead.

And there they sat as the bullpens opened. The Yankees 7-8-9 relievers were basically flawless, getting three consecutive 1-2-3 innings from Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller. And I’m not going to say that I miss the dramatic tension some of those relievers have pitched through recently. Nope, I like the clean, swift innings like from this afternoon’s game.

Final score: 2-1 Yankees.

More teams seal up their postseason dreams every day. The other New York team had their own champagne celebration today in Cincinnati as their win today clinched the NL East. Other teams on their way to October baseball include the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs (one will be the NL Central champ, the other 2 the NL Wild Card teams); the Royals are the AL Central champions; and the Blue Jays are guaranteed a postseason, but with the Yankees breathing down the necks still (yeah!), they aren’t the champions of the AL East.

And for Flashback, um, Saturday: two years ago, Mariano Rivera threw his last pitch as a professional athlete in Yankee Stadium before saying farewell to the fans and the game. And yet, like I said yesterday, this 2015 team is still in a better postseason position than the 2013 team. The Yankees haven’t had a solid chance at the postseason since the 2012 season, so before I started this blog. It would nice to write about the postseason that actually involves the team I’m following as players on the field rather than joining me on the proverbial couch watching the games on television.

Go Yankees!

Game 152: CHW vs. NYY — There’s no place like home…

The Yankees are back home for their final home stand of 2015 — 4 games this weekend against the White Sox, then 4 games next week against the Red Sox. (So lots of Sox this home stand… never mind.) All before a final weekend series in Baltimore. Yes, we’re that close to the postseason, and according to the newly released postseason schedule, it looks like we could be playing November baseball if the World Series isn’t a total sweep.

The Yankees faced the White Sox’s best pitcher, a starter considered by many to be one of the better pitchers in the AL, even Cy Young material. Fortunately for the Yankees, they didn’t let that sit over them and just chipped away at his pitching when they could. In the 3rd, Ellsbury was hit by a pitch and then stole 2nd base.

Okay, so then Headley hit the ball up the middle in what should be a quick single, except it wasn’t and the whole world went crazy. Ellsbury was heading back to 2nd to tag up, thinking a shallow single meant he needed to stay on 2nd or they could catch him in a rundown or something, or induce a double play. But on his way back, he bumped into a middle infielder who was going for the catch, and even though the fielder made the catch, the umpire ruled Ellsbury out for “interfering” with the play. In the end, it was ruled a “fielder’s choice” (sorry about the feed, it’s Chicago’s and it’s leaning toward their bias) with Headley safe at 1st, Ellsbury standing on 2nd confused but out, and Girardi arguing the call (and rightly so!).

Then when Rodriguez was walked, 2 runners were on base so that Carlos Beltran’s 3-run home run pushed the Yankees into the lead, with enough cushion to outlast the White Sox. And a very nice souvenir for the kid who caught that ball in left field. It should be noted the stadium went from booing the umpires and lots of residual grumbling on the whole Ellsbury “interference” to exploding into loud cheers on the home run. Talk about your mood swings in a single inning, though rightly so on both cases in my mind.

Michael Pineda got the start tonight in the opener against the visiting White Sox. And while it wasn’t his greatest outing, it was still rather well-done for this late in the season. Pineda threw 89 pitches over his 6 innings, giving up 8 hits but no walks and just 1 run, striking out 6 Chicago batters. That run came in the 6th inning as a lead-off solo home run. But that was it under Pineda’s watch.

Justin Wilson struggled a bit through his 7th inning after getting 2 quick outs. He then gave up a walk and a single to put runners on the corners. So going to Dellin Betances should have made things easier, but Betances’ flair for the dramatic lately pushed Yankee Universe to the edge of their seats. He promptly gave up a walk to load the bases and then another walk to walk in the White Sox’s 2nd run before getting a strikeout. His 8th inning was more Betances-like, save a single, but he’s got to get that dramatic tension out of his system before the postseason and find his pattern of just plowing them down.

Andrew Miller’s 9th inning was something of a quick end to the game and his 35th save. — 10 pitches, a single, and 2 strikeouts to finish off the White Sox and keep them from tying up the game (or something worse like getting the lead and winning the game).

Final score: 3-2 Yankees.

There’s a lot of talk about the “ghosts of Yankee Stadium” somehow lingering and occasionally helping the current players when they need a little something extra, like the old Angels in the Outfield movies or something. But I don’t really believe all that. I do believe that the energy of Yankee Stadium and its fans and its rich history and legacy is palpable. And when you have a real competitive drive, a real incentive, a real passion, it’s almost tangible. It’s everything they make movies about — all the dreams and the blood, sweat, and tears of Yankees past and present that make it somehow possible when it shouldn’t be. And yet, when you marry all that with a team that actually is pretty good, at home, in front of their home fans, it becomes more than just a possibility — it’s reality.

With the loss of a legend still fresh in the minds of so many in Yankee Universe, the memorials for Yogi Berra continued today. My twitter feed seemed split between the Pope’s visit to the US and tributes to Yogi Berra from all over the sports and entertainment world. A fan tribute outside Gate 4 of Yankee Stadium had flowers splayed out to form the number 8, with a picture and some flowers and other tributes. The Yankees sectioned off the tribute for fans to observe and add to it as they wanted. The Yankees also placed a memorial wreath by Yogi Berra’s plaque in Monument Park.

Before the game, the Yankees honored Berra with a tribute video. Then during a moment of silence 4 Yankee catchers (the catchers being Girardi, McCann, Romine, and Sanchez; Murphy was warming up Pineda in the bullpen) took a memorial display, flowers in the shape of an 8, out to where the catcher plays and leaving it there for all the pre-game ceremonies — the naval color guard, “Taps” on the bugle by a naval officer, and a beautiful rendition of our national anthem by a naval officer. (The naval presence was due to Berra’s service in World War II in the navy, including being part of the D-Day invasion as a gunner — a true hero in every sense of the word.) The Yankees also acknowledged the service of one of Berra’s grandsons, Nicholas, who is currently serving in Turkey with the US Army; his older sister is MLB reporter Lindsay Berra.

Also, today would have been Carmen Berra’s 87th birthday, but I’d like to think she’s having a rather lovely reunion celebration with her husband of 65 years on this earth.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Berra family and their friends as they continue to heal and miss baseball’s “First Couple”.

Go Yankees!