Game 108: NYY vs. BOS — The trades, the rivalry, and the Monster

First up: yesterday’s massive trade fiasco…

Okay, I toyed with the idea of writing a separate blog post yesterday just on the trades made, but I felt like my opinions were too hot to make a calm, objective post. Those I actually talked to yesterday certainly got an earful. And I wasn’t just specifically talking about Yankee moves. I think we can officially dub yesterday as the “Game Changer” for far too many games. A few teams certainly ended up winning yesterday, some even guaranteeing themselves a playing spot in October, and some teams pulled some rather confusing moves that either pulled them out of postseason contention or were just rather head-scratching.

The Yankees really didn’t make an Ichiro-sized splash as they did a couple of years ago; no, that was left for a couple of other teams to cannonball into the media circus pool. Instead, they upgraded their infield and added a solid reliever. In the first trade with the rival Red Sox (and tonight’s opponents) since 1997, the Yankees sent infielder Kelly Johnson to Boston in exchange for shortstop (and starting 2nd baseman tonight) Stephen Drew. And with the Diamondbacks, the Yankees acquired infielder Martin Prado for minor league prospect Pete O’Brien and either cash considerations or a player to be named later. Drew will be a free agent following this season, while the Yankees picked up Prado’s contract through 2016. The Yankees also picked up pitcher Esmil Rogers off waivers after he was released from the Blue Jays, adding a new arm to their inconsistent bullpen.

Now, with those three additions, certain players had to be moved around. Scott Sizemore was released from his AAA contract in conjunction with Prado’s addition; Brian Roberts was designated for assignment due to the recent additions of infielders Headley, Drew, and Prado; and as mentioned above, Johnson was traded to Boston. And to make room in the current clubhouse, Zelous Wheeler and Zoilo Almonte were optioned back to AAA.

After all the roster movements and deals and trades, I cannot imagine the amount of work done to maneuver all that, like fitting pieces of a 10,000 piece puzzle into place in 24 hours. The goal for all 30 teams is simple: build a better, stronger team. Some are focused on just getting to October, some on rebuilding for future seasons, and some on just plugging holes in the leaky dam. I love puzzles, but I’m glad I’m not a GM after yesterday.

And the Yankees were in Boston tonight. On a personal note, it’s the first game they’ve played there since I was privileged enough to take a Fenway Park tour back in June, so watching the game was rather fun and special, pulling memories and moments from that day to the forefront of my mind. And so much of me wished I was sitting in the ugly, uncomfortable seats in the Green Monster, cheering on my Yankees in the midst of a sea of red-shirted Bostonians. I grew a new appreciation for the rivalry after that tour, and I almost crave the competition and zeal that both teams and their fans seem to spark in both cities and both parks on such weekends as this one.

It was recent July acquisition Chris Capuano to take the mound for the Yankees tonight. Actually, overall, Capuano did a pretty good job for his first Fenway start. The pressure of the rivalry often can take its toll on newer pitchers to the competition, even if they are veterans. But 98 pitches over 6.1 inning, 8 hits, 4 runs, and 5 strikeouts, keeping some of the bigger Boston bats silent was a decent outing tonight, as it was a bit of a back-and-forth offensive game. In the 3rd, with 1 out, one batter tripled, the next hit a ground-rule double to score the runner, and the next singled home the runner from 2nd. They added another run in the 4th with an RBI single.

In the mean time, the Yankees added their own offense as Carlos Beltran hit a solo home run into the Red Sox bullpen in the 4th, and Beltran’s single in the 6th scored Ellsbury.

In the 7th, with Capuano still going strong, he allowed a runner to single and then advance to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt, thus on the hook for that runner. Shawn Kelley came in to relieve Capuano, but a quick single scored that runner for Boston. Thornton would close out the inning for the Yankees with a 1-pitch double play.

Down 4-2, the Yankees are back up to bat in the 8th inning with a big chance to catch up as the heart of their batting order is due up. Derek Jeter steps up to the plate, likes the first pitch he sees, a 93 mph fastball, and smacks it to the top of the Green Monster over left field. It may be the only time everyone in Fenway was cheering for a Yankee home run.

Actually, Jeter got a standing ovation for every at-bat he had tonight from the entirety of the Boston crowd. Sure, there’s always a contingent of Yankee fans at Boston games, but they weren’t cheering the loudest for Jeter tonight. I could always tell when Jeter was walking up to bat and when he did something good on the field because the crowd would cheer as if he were Pedroia or Ortiz or one of the Boston stars. It was surprising and amusing and amazing all at the same time.

Adam Warren pitched 12 pitches in the 8th inning, keeping the Red Sox from adding to their 4-3 lead. But lack of offense in the 9th ended up handing the Red Sox the win tonight.

The Yankees have two more games at Fenway this weekend. Then Boston will come back to the Bronx at the beginning of next month, and the Yankees will be back in Boston to close out the regular season at the end of September. There’s nothing like a Yankees-Red Sox game, so if you can, there’s still 8 more chances to catch one this season.

Go Yankees!

Game 96: CIN vs. NYY — 9 strikeouts & a big win on a cloudy day

Before today’s game against the Reds, they presented Derek Jeter with their contribution to his “Not a Farewell Tour”. Reds’ GM and their All-Star 3rd baseman Frazier gifted Jeter with framed autographed jersey from two previous shortstops and captains. Down the center of the frame were special photos taken the day that Jeter was named the Yankees captain, which happened to take place while the Yankees were in Cincinnati playing the Reds in 2003.

The reason Frazier was chosen to be part of today’s ceremonies is because 16 years ago, 12-year old Frazier was part of the Little League World Series Championship team, and in recognition of his accomplishment, he was chosen to go to the 1998 All-Star Game and stand next to none other than 24-year old Derek Jeter.

Today, Brandon McCarthy got his first home start with the Yankees and proved himself to be worth the effort, grabbing today’s win. Over his 6 innings, he threw 99 pitches, allowed 6 hits and 1 run, and struck out an impressive 9 batters. That sole run, the only run the Reds would score all day, was a solo home run in the 5th inning.

Warren, Kelley, and Thornton split the last 3 innings and kept the Reds hitless and scoreless for the rest of the game, adding 4 more strikeouts to the collective total.

On the other side of the plate, the Yankees found their swing and kept swinging. In the 2nd, Carlos Beltran smacked a 2-out solo home run. In the 3rd, Brian Roberts reached on a fielding error and ended up at 2nd when the outfielder couldn’t control the ball; he would score on Brett Gardner’s single. In the 5th, Roberts at 3rd and Johnson at 2nd, Gardner’s sacrifice fly scored Roberts and Jeter’s single scored Johnson. Then in the 6th, bases loaded with McCann, Beltran, and Roberts, Kelly Johnson singled and scored both McCann and Beltran. Gardner’s sacrifice fly scored Roberts.

And so the final score was 7-1 Yankees. A nice win on a cloudy day in the Bronx. Not a terrible way to spend a Saturday, and I have to say I’m liking that they’re starting the second half off in the win column.

Go Yankees!

 

Game 78: BOS vs. NYY — Nuno’s shutout backed by home runs

Girardi spent his pre-game press conference defending his decision to start Vidal Nuno tonight. Honestly, I agreed with him prior to the game that he can basically play whomever he wants, giving the media requested Tanaka another day to wait for his start (Saturday). And I have to say his decision paid off. So maybe all those critics will stop their own message board managing and focus on their own jobs instead.

Nuno was practically flawless in tonight’s series opener against the Red Sox. 91 pitches over 5.2 innings, allowing just 2 hits, no runs, and 2 walks, striking out 5. Starting to run a little low on steam, Nuno gave up a 2-out walk in the 6th inning, so they opted for Dellin Betances for that last out of the 6th and push through the 7th. Warren and Thornton each took an inning to finish off the game, but the damage was done and tone was set. It was always going to be Nuno’s game to win and the Yankees came through for him.

On the flip side, the Yankees certainly racked up the runs in tonight’s game. In the 1st inning, Jeter and Ellsbury on base with a single and double, respectively, Mark Teixeira’s sacrifice fly easily scored Jeter for the Yankees’ first run. Then in the 4th, McCann on base and 2 outs, Kelly Johnson hits a 2-run home run just before Brett Gardner backs that up with his own addition — a solo home run. The Yankees are suddenly up 4-0. So just to be sure they have the game, Teixeira is on base with a single in the 8th when Brian McCann hits his own 2-run home run into the 2nd deck in right field to push the Yankees up to a 6-0 lead and eventual victory.

And that was it, folks. Short and sweet. And for a Red Sox-Yankees game, it was also rather short and sweet. Usually this rivalry can push what’s an average of just under 3 hours a game to at least 3 1/2 hours per game. But no, thanks to Nuno’s quick pace set early on, the game sat at 2 hours, 42 minutes, actually less than the average MLB game of 2 hours, 58 minutes. Actually, it’s usually the pace of the starters that affect the pace and overall time of the game. It has much less to do with how the offense is or whether there was any challenges or arguing (though all of that certainly contributes). The majority of the length of the game depends almost entirely on the pacing of the pitchers — how long they take to set-up, communicate and signal with their catcher, play the pick-off-the-runner game, actually deliver the pitch, receive it back, fiddle around in the dirt, and then settle back in again.

It’s something I noticed especially this year in Spring Training. Some games would just seem to linger on forever, while others (or at least part of others) would seem to fly right by. It’s really all about the pitching. People have been complaining for years and there’s been talk that MLB wants to cut down on the game times (I won’t start my opinion and response today), it’s really a simple solution — teach pitchers not to linger between actual pitches. Some pitchers need a breather to refocus between pitches, while others should probably just keep on throwing. And really either way it’s understandable, if not altering per the season or even every game. But it’s really all about the pacing overall.

Every pitcher will develop his own sense of pattern and timing. For which I truly appreciate and understand the desire to personalize one’s career. But for all of our sake, can we stop the lingering/loitering in between pitches? It frustrates a batter wanting to just hit the ball. It frustrates your defense trying to anticipate where a ball could be hit. And it certainly frustrates the fans who want the edge-of-your-seat kind of action or they’ll start heading for their third beers and fourth pretzels or (God forbid) start the wave.

Go Yankees!

Game 75: NYY vs. TOR — Whitley’s first loss

Chase Whitley has been riding high on his own personal win streak, racking up a total of 3 MLB wins for his career and for this season. But today, the Blue Jays made sure they put a stop to it. In just 3.1 innings, Whitley threw 87 pitches, allowing 11 hits, 8 runs, and 3 walks, striking out just 2. While an RBI single in the 1st put Toronto in the lead 1-0 should have been still okay for the Yankees to overcome.

But the 2nd inning was just painful to watch. Three back-t0-back singles loaded the bases. A force out scored one run and put runners on the corners, then a single scored another run, keeping runners at the corners. They would then score on a 3-run home run. A batter singled, advanced on a wild pitch, advanced again on a ground out, and then scored on a double before the 10th Toronto batter finally got that elusive 3rd out of the inning. The Yankees were down 7-0 by the end of the 2nd inning.

A minor dent in the scoreboard came in the top of the 4th when Mark Teixeira hit a 2-out solo home run. (7-1 Toronto) After yesterday’s hit-by-pitch scare, Teixeira showed up with barely a bruise on his foot. I think everyone (but the pitcher who gave up tonight’s home run to him) breathed a sigh of relief that there was nothing serious that would cause more delays in Teixeira’s season.

Whitley came back in the 4th inning after a rather innocuous 3rd, but after walking the first two batters, they went to the bullpen for David Huff. Huff would allow a single to push the score to 8-1 Toronto, but had a relatively mundane 3.2 innings. After the 4th inning single (and RBI), he held off the Jays with no more hits or runs, even striking out 3 batters. Shawn Kelley’s 8th inning had him giving up one single, but striking out 3 batters to get out of the inning unscathed.

Unfortunately, the damage was done too early, and tonight’s game seemed to be the continuance of the Yankees recent offensive struggle. They attempted a small mini-rally (that had the 2nd inning had a different outcome, could have won them the game). Cervelli led off the inning with a walk, Beltran singled, and Yangervis Solarte’s single scored Cervelli. Then Kelly Johnson’s double scored Beltran. The Yankees ran out of outs, but the score ended up not as devastating at 8-3 Toronto.

And while that 9th inning is further proof that the Yankees certainly don’t give up, it’s still a rough loss. And I kind of feel bad for the young starter. I mean, I know he was bound to lose a game at some point (even Tanaka has 2 losses under his belt this year), but to lose it based on a really poor performance on a single inning really must hit hard. But then, it’s a game of failure. The best batters fail to get on base 7 of 10 times at bat. The best pitchers still give up home runs from time to time or blow saves at crucial moments. It’s not “if” you fail, but “when”. And more importantly, it’s what you do when that happens.

Diva players blame everyone or everything else. Bad players accept defeat and sink into oblivion. Good players take the responsibility for their part in the failure and try to do better next time. But great players learn from their mistakes and press on toward mastering those weaknesses that lent to their failure until they become their greatest strengths. Donning the pinstripes for a long period of time means you sign up to be a great player. And if they’d prefer to be just good, they’ll usually find themselves in another uniform.

Call it character-building or passionate drive or competitiveness. Call it whatever you need to call it. But it’s still the same thing. The odd part of the story is that, contrary to a popular saying, failure is an option. You don’t have to like it (I know I don’t), but it’s not going anywhere as long as we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. Failure is inevitable in baseball as in life. But it’s always about what you do when you fail — blame-shift, stay down, get up, or be better. I choose Option D.

Go Yankees!

Game 71: TOR vs. NYY — Sweeping the Jays

David Phelps is on a roll. His last outing last weekend was a huge improvement over some of most of his performances this year, but tonight’s game just upped the ante for him. He threw 115 pitches (a season high) over his 7 innings, allowing 6 hits, 2 runs, and 2 walks and striking out 7 Toronto batters. The runs scored in the 3rd inning as part of a 2-run home run, on a ball that lingered a little too high for a power-hitter. It was the Blue Jays short-lived effort to tie up the game. Short-lived being the optimum term.

See, the Yankees decided to just collect their own small ball runs right from the 1st inning. There, Gardner on 3rd with a double and advancing on a single, scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s sacrifice fly. Another sacrifice fly, this one  by Kelly Johnson, in the 2nd scored Beltran. So when the Jays tied it up with their big home run, the Yankees did what they do and jumped back in the lead in the bottom of the 3rd by continuing their run-scoring pattern — with Carlos Beltran’s sac fly scoring Ellsbury. And Beltran’s ground-rule double in the 5th scored Ellsbury.

In the 6th, Brian Roberts singled, stole 2nd, stole 3rd, and then scored on Jeter’s ground out. Continuing, the Yankees have the bases loaded in the 7th, and the Blue Jays gift the Yankees with a walked-in run scored with a walk to Solarte. So the Yankees are up 6-2 going into the top of the 8th.

The Yankees opt to relieve an exhausted, but still quite brilliant tonight, Phelps, sending for Shawn Kelley. With 1 out, Kelley allowed a walk and then repeated his predecessor of the evening by giving up a 2-run home run. The Yankees are still in the lead 6-4, but clinging to that lead. After another out was challenged and upheld, Matt Thornton was pulled in for the last out of that inning. Thornton would continue his efforts in the 9th before he too was replaced by Adam Warren to close out the game and earn his 3rd save of the season.

A solid sweep of the current 1st place in the AL East division Toronto Blue Jays was amazing and certainly helped the Yankees not just in their division race, but in their overall standing and competitiveness in the league. That All-Star break is approaching fast, and I’ve already started talking with friends and baseball fans about patterns, trends, competition, division predictions, etc. Nothing I’d ever put down for you, lovely readers, because I’m not writing that kind of blog. I’d rather discuss the tangible and the now and the what has been and the positive where my words have a sense of permanence on this magical space of the endless internet, and save my what ifs and opinions and (often unrealistic or vaguely naïve) hopes where words disappear the moment they pass through your lips.

Now some great tangible, positive news: HOPE Week continued today on a high note, of sorts. Former Yankee outfielder, still a fan favorite, and quite the accomplished musician Bernie Williams helped out with today’s honorees — a group called Musicians on Call, who sends out volunteers to put on musical performances to hospitals and their patients. Over the last 15 years, they have sent hundreds of musicians to visit and play for over 400,000 patients over the New York area. Today, the Yankees and Williams partnered with Musicians on Call at New York Presbyterian. Other Yankees included Carlos Beltran, Vidal Nuno, David Robertson, Adam Warren, and Chase Whitley. The Yankees presented Musicians on Call with a $10,000 donation to continue their work of spreading a little cheer and the gift of music to the city’s healing citizens and invited volunteers to sing the national anthem before tonight’s game.

I’m listening to music as I write this as usual, and it occurs to me how much music is so much a part of the our lives. You can’t even play a sport like baseball without people singing before the game (“The Star Spangled Banner”) or after the game (“New York New York”) or at the 7th inning (“God Bless America”) or during players’ walk-ups or those ditties the stadium throws out in the inning breaks for people to dance and sing along with. Music is everywhere all the time. It’s in our elevators and retails stores, on the car radios, plugged into my ears right now, as part of the movie soundtrack I watched earlier today, the song you sing in the shower. Music is powerful. It brings life and joy and rhythm and order to a world that could so easily spin into chaos and (perhaps even worst) silence. I applaud people who can and do take music to people who need to feel that good and positive like music when their world may be filled with too much negative.

Go Yankees!

Game 66: NYY vs. OAK — An offensive shut-out victory & Phelps in fine form

I always giggle a little when I use the word “offensive”, especially in a title. It’s weird that our English language is so limited that we have words that share meanings, where in other languages they have separate words that more accurate delineate between what words actually mean. I suppose there are some people who would find any Yankees win an offense (I’m talking to you, Red Sox fans). But then I am forced to give credit to the offense when they are doing a spectacular job, like they did tonight.

Or maybe I’m just a little loopy from the late night games throwing off my sleep schedule. So I apologize for my ramblings on the Yankees offensive offense. But it was a nice game to see the Yankees do something a little amazing, especially against a team that is one of the best in the standings right now.

It was David Phelps to take the start tonight against the Athletics. Now, Phelps hasn’t been really as good as he was last season so far this year. But tonight, he seemed to rediscover what made him a starting candidate in Spring Training and why he is in the current rotation. In his 102 pitches over 6.2 innings, he gave up just 2 hits the entire game and walked 3 Oakland players, striking out 4. For awhile, he was running a no-hitter, but certainly a 2-hitter is just phenomenal.

Dellin Betances continued the trend of him being awesome finishing the 7th for Phelps and maintaining his own personal no-hitter in the 8th. The Yankees opted for Jose Ramirez for the 9th, who jumped on the Betances band-wagon and kept the Oakland to those 2 hits under Phelps and absolutely no runs scored. A total shut-out.

Now, to be a shut-out, the Yankees had to be offensively offensive. And that they did right from the beginning. In the 1st inning, Gardner and Jeter on base with back-to-back singles, Gardner scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single and Jeter on Mark Teixeira’s sacrifice fly. Then in the 2nd, Roberts scored on a Brett Gardner single.

The Yankees sat at that 3-0 score as Oakland’s starter seemed to settle down and remember how to pitch. But he seemed to exhaust early and forced the team into the bullpen, so when a new reliever came on in the 8th, the Yankees pounced again. 2 men on base and 2 outs and everything broke loose. Ichiro Suzuki singled home Teixeira to get the ball rolling. Then Brian Roberts hit a solid single that easily scored McCann, and that’s where the play should have ended. But it didn’t. The outfielder threw home and the catcher couldn’t handle the ball, so Ichiro scored all the way from 1st base and Roberts ended up at 2nd on the throw. Kelly Johnson’s single then scored Roberts and pushed the score to 7-0 Yankees.

Most notable in the Yankees offense is the 12 total hits they managed to accumulate over the course of the game. I find it interesting in the land where “Moneyball” was made famous that it was the Yankees, the team that was used as the sort of villains in the story, that clearly out-hit and out-scored the sort of heroes of the story. Well, I guess that just keeps the legend of the Evil Empire going strong. But they only “boo you if you’re good”, right? Must be doing something right…

Go Yankees!

Game 54: MIN vs. NYY — Rollercoaster game, rollercoaster weather

Cloudy, sunny, cloud, rainy, downpour, cloudy, sunny, game over. No, seriously. There’s an old joke that if you don’t like the weather, just hang around for five minutes and it will change. Today at Yankee Stadium, this was the case. In fact, it rained so hard in the 8th inning, they rushed out the tarp and had about 30 minutes of a rain delay. But it seemed to work out well for the Yankees today, and not so much for the Twins.

Of course, the Twins had to face Masahiro Tanaka, so that could be part of their problem. In 8 innings, he threw 106 pitches, allowed just 4 hits, 2 walks, and a run (which was unearned), striking out 9 batters. That’s right, the only reason the Twins even got a run and led the game for a bit was due to the first of 3 errors the Yankees made. (Yes, sloppy fielding.) The lead-off batter in the 1st reached 1st on a fielding error by Johnson, advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch, got to 3rd on a ground out, and scored on a 2-out single. But thanks to Tanaka’s magic on the mound, the Twins threats of anything always landed flat.

In the mean time, the Yankees tied up the game in the 4th with a pretty sweet solo home run by Yangervis Solarte. They sat there for a bit, as the Twins also fought off the Yankees attempts to turn their outrageous number of hits (they would go on to hit 12 total in the game) into something more.

And then the 8th inning hit. The skies turned grey again and some drizzle started appearing on things like batting helmets and the infield. With 1 out, Jacoby Ellsbury singled and then stole 2nd and promptly advanced to 3rd on a throwing error. Brian Roberts walked, putting runners at the corners. Then Brian McCann’s double scored Ellsbury, and Soriano was intentionally walked to load the bases. And that’s when the heavens opened up and started making a muddy mess of the field.

Thirty minutes and the skies cleared. The grounds crew (seriously, the hardest working guys in baseball) dried and redid the whole field. A new Twins pitcher on the mound, and the game resumed. The Twins re-took the field, Roberts at 3rd, McCann at 2nd, and Ichiro (pinch-running for Soriano) at 1st, just 1 out. A quick pop out became 2 outs. And Kelly Johnson’s single scored Roberts, and put the Yankees up 3-1.

(If you’re interesting the difference before and after the rain delay, watch McCann’s double and then Johnson’s single above.)

Under clear, sunny skies that fill the space above New York after a rain shower, David Robertson came on in the 9th to ensure the Yankees kept that lead. And though he wrestled a tad, he was able to grab that save and slam the door. The Yankees taking today’s game in a rollercoaster kind of way, and forcing tomorrow’s game to be a “rubber match” (or the deciding game in a odd-number of games series).

Mark Teixeira played a bit today but was removed early on with stiffness and soreness in his right wrist (the one he injured and had surgery on last year). I know he was hoping to push through it, and even received cortisone injections to help with the swelling and speed up the recovery. This could simply be overuse as he’s been quite a force lately, especially offensively, so this forced rest could certainly help him regain the needed strength and power the Yankees need in the line-up and in the field.

Also, Michael Pineda has experienced a setback in his recovery process. He has been nursing and rehabbing a back injury, but a recent MRI showed inflammation in that injured spot. He is shutdown, which means he will cease all rehab activities until healing has progressed. They are still hoping he will return soon, but a June comeback is now looking less likely as a post-All Star Break seems more probable.

The Yankees hosted the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation to encourage early detection for men over 40. Early detection is key to help improve survival rates in cancer rates. For more information, check out the foundation’s website. Also, you can participate in the Home Run pledge. For every home run hit in MLB from June 9 to June 16 (Father’s Day), your pledged donation will go to help cancer research or you can submit a one-time donation. This is a great way to show your support and love for the important men in your life, like say aging baseball players. Former Yankees manager and Hall of Famer inductee this year Joe Torre is a prostate cancer survivor because of organizations like this.

Go Yankees!