Spring Game 18: DET vs. NYY — Falling short is breaking even in first Spring tie

If we were in a relegation league (like European football or soccer), a tie is an acceptable outcome because it still counts for a point. Basically, they run off a points collection system — a win is 3 points, a tie (or draw) is 1 point, and a loss is 0 points. At the end of the season, the bottom 2 teams are relegated to the next level lower and the top 2 teams of that level are promoted. Meanwhile, the four teams with the most points are automatically in the play-offs. (Disclosure: yes, I do also watch the Premier League or the soccer league in the United Kingdom. Sports fans are often diversified in their consumption, and it certainly fills the baseball off-season watching guys in shorts chase around a ball in the sometimes snowy fields around England.)

Anyway, in Spring Training, we don’t get any points for any games. So since the games don’t count and the points don’t matter, a tie is entirely possible. And after today’s game in Tampa, there have been a total of 20 ties so far in Spring Training in both Florida and Arizona. (Note: as of this posting, there are currently 6 in-progress or scheduled games for the rest of today.)

And truthfully, it was kind of the expected outcome on this lazy, cool Tuesday afternoon, under clear blue skies. CC Sabathia was certainly strong in his 4 inning outing today against the visiting Tigers. His lone allowed run was a 1-out solo shot in the 3rd inning, but mostly, Sabathia showed that he is continuing his momentum from his strong last season. From there, the rest of the pitching staff mostly continued that momentum for this game.

Adam Warren, Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, and Chad Green each took an inning and kept the Tigers to their lone run. But then Giovanny Gallegos, who has had a patchy Spring this year, struggled a bit in the 9th. He gave up a lead-off single that moved to 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on a long single. But then he buckled down with consecutive strikeouts and a line drive out to 2nd to escape the inning.

However, up until then, the Yankees were certainly just not hitting off the Tigers’ starting pitcher, a veteran starter formerly from the Nationals’ power-packed pitching staff. But then the relievers held off the Yankees’ hitters for most of the game. The Yankees only got 4 hits off Tigers’ pitchers in today’s game. They just really weren’t hitting well again.

It wasn’t until the 8th inning, when Didi Gregorius hit a lead-off big solo home run to tie up the game at that point. Aaron Hicks followed that with a single and moved to 2nd on a ground out. After Lind and Torres worked walks, the bases were loaded. Shane Robinson hit into a ground out at 2nd, but the Tigers were unable to turn two and Hicks scored. With runners on the corners, Robinson was caught stealing (maybe? those questionable calls resumed throughout today’s game too) and ended the rally.

Once the Tigers tied up the game in the top of the 9th, the Yankees had their last shot in the bottom 9th. Jeff Hendrix worked a lead-off walk, and in the process of stealing 2nd, he ended up all the way at 3rd thanks to a throwing error. Two outs later, Wade worked his own walk and then stole 2nd on defensive indifference, putting both runners in scoring position, but a dribbly ground out ended the inning and the game.

Final score: 2-2 tie

O2W: This one was a bit harder to choose today because we’ve reached the part of the season where the Yankees’ starters play longer in the game, giving the up-and-comers less of a chance to show off their stuff. I make it a point of not choosing a veteran, even one technically under a minor league contract like Adam Lind, who certainly showed off a bit today in his attempt to land a spot on the Opening Day roster. So, when I think back on the game, I was impressed with Jeff Hendrix‘s speed and base-running sharpness in that 9th inning today, certainly threatening the Tigers. He was able to read the situation well and respond to his best advantage. That’s a skill that worth watching at the very least.

Next up: the Yankees head down to Sarasota to face the Orioles tomorrow afternoon, one of the few games they’re not playing at Steinbrenner Field this week. Yankees’ prospect Chance Adams is on tap to start that game.

Roster move: after game, catcher Kyle Higashioka and Gleyber Torres were optioned to AAA Scranton and reassigned to minor league camp. With the addition of Walker to the infield competition, Torres will not be making the starting roster, which is really good for the young infielder. Torres can use his time in Scranton to really hone his skills and get himself ready for a potential mid-season call-up or even the 2019 roster. It worked out well for the likes of Judge and Sanchez (and even Jeter and Pettitte) to have some extra time in the minor leagues, so I believe that will work out well for Torres and many of the other guys that will join him over the next two weeks.

I know I said I wouldn’t talk about the standings again, but I have to just do a completely objective update, especially as the Yankees haven’t been as strong in recent games as they were earlier this Spring. Currently, the top 4 teams in baseball are the Astros, Cubs, Yankees, and Brewers — two AL and two NL teams, also two Florida and two Arizona teams. The Cubs have 11 wins, 4 losses, and 3 ties in 18 games (average: .733); the Astros have 13 wins, 5 losses, and 2 ties in 20 games (average: .722); the Yankees and Brewers each have 11 wins, 6 losses, and 1 tie in 18 games (average .647). No comment, just basic statistics, and a reminder that the games don’t count and the points don’t matter.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 1: DET vs. NYY — Starting the season with a W, #MSDStrong

Every Spring Training is like a mini-family reunion for those of us who go every year. Like coming home after a long time, there’s lots of hugging, stories, and updates. Unlike last year, not much has changed at Steinbrenner Field in appearances. But as I was walking up to the main gate, I mentioned that baseball, as unpredictable and evolving as it is, is ironically the stable part of my schedule. Apparently, I’m not alone in that as my Yankees “family” echoed my sentiments.

Anyway, baseball is finally back. And the Yankees had to kick-start it with a nice win. Luis Cessa got the start for this afternoon’s home opener against the visiting Tigers. His lead-off single moved to 2nd on a long fly ball and then scored on another single to get Detroit on the board early. But Cessa, proving he could be the first call in a pitching injury situation, came back in the 2nd for a strong, quick 1-2-3 inning. Ben Heller followed up Cessa with his own fairly strong 2 innings. They were followed by Hale for 2 and then Lail, Coshow, and Gallegos each gave an inning for the final third of the game. Collectively, the Yankee pitchers only gave up 6 hits and 3 walks to the Tigers.

Comparatively, the Tigers pitchers also only gave up 6 hits to the Yankees’ stacked power-hitting line-up, but they also walked 7 of them in the process. After a fairly strong starter gave his 2 innings, each reliever took an inning and really kept the Yankees from doing much more than get on base and feel hopeful. However, one reliever decided to buck that trend in the bottom of the 6th after all the starters and stars exited the game.

Tyler Wade led off the inning with a solid double and then ended up at 3rd on a 1-out balk. After Higashiokka worked one of those walks, Espinosa was hit by an errant pitch to load up the bases. Jake Cave hit into a routine ground out that moved up all the runners and scored Wade to tie up the game. Then it would be today’s replacement DH Jorge Saez to single and score 2 more runs to give the Yankees the lead and eventual win.

Final: 3-1 Yankees

And the return of the One To Watch, the minor league player that caught my attention because he did something worth noticing… Today’s One to Watch: Jorge Saez. The 27-year-old catcher served as the replacement designated hitter today, and it paid off. He went 2-for-3 at-bats, with 2 RBIs that made the difference in the game. The Yankees picked him up off waivers from Toronto after the 2016 season. He spent 5 seasons in the Blue Jays’ minor league system and spent most of last year with AA Trenton. But he’s clearly doing something worth noticing — he’s hitting, and hitting well in moments that matter.

The Yankees head down to Bradenton to face the Pirates tomorrow afternoon, so we’re officially underway with the pre-season. Spring has really begun. Baseball is here again.

Before today’s sold-out game, prior to the national anthem, the Yankees hosted a moment of silence for the 17 students and teachers lost in the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Every MLB team and umpires wore the same “SD” ball caps the sports teams of that high school wear. While the agreement was to wear them just before the game, both teams today wore them throughout the game in their honor. The game-worn caps will be autographed and auctioned off for the Broward Education Foundation, the official fund for the victims and survivors. The baseball and softball teams from that high school were also special guests to the Marlins-Cardinals game in Jupiter, Florida (about an hour north of Parkland). Our hearts continue to be with that community as they recover, and we are proud of the brave who are leading the charge and movement for change.

Go Yankees!

Game 67: NYY vs. OAK — Swept away on Father’s Day

On this Father’s Day 2017, I am reminded of my own father who loved this great game of baseball. He was what you would call a fan of the game. I remember sitting with him and my brothers in a dreary stadium by Lake Erie, and even when our team lost yet another one, my dad never thought of them as a “mistake on the lake”. No, he appreciated the strategy and called it a “thinking man’s game”.

Of course, he did have a favorite team, but he actually just loved the game no matter who was playing. He always told us that when he watched the players, he was reminded they all were once little leaguers with big dreams. Maybe he identified as such because he also once had big dreams of playing ball.

When my dad was growing up in the first part of the 20th century, baseball was the sport to play. Summer afternoons saw neighborhood kids gathered in a local park with tattered gloves and old bats to play a game just for the fun of it. At home or even in local stores, fans gathered around the radio, listening to games from Cleveland or Chicago or New York. This love of baseball resulted in friendships that lasted a lifetime.

My dad’s love of the game connected our family together. On Father’s Day, there is usually a ballgame playing somewhere, and while many of us now root for different teams, it is my dad’s love for the game that gave us this gift of connection over this shared interest in baseball.

And there was, of course, a baseball game today, as the Yankees closed out their road trip with this final game in Oakland against the Athletics. The Yankees were looking at winning one in the “Bright Side of the Bay” (which it clearly wasn’t for the Yankees this weekend). And Luis Cessa got the start this Father’s Day afternoon, throwing 73 pitches in his 4 innings, giving up 5 hits, a walk, and 4 runs, striking out just 4 Oakland batters.

All of Oakland’s runs were scored in the 3rd inning, clearly Cessa’s weakest time today (he gave up 4 of his 5 hits in that inning alone). With 1 out, a single and double put runners in scoring position so that they could on another double to get the A’s on the board. Then another player hit a 2-out 2-run home run to double their score and push them into the lead.

Other than that lone inning, Cessa had a pretty good outing, despite setting himself up for the loss. He handed the game over to Chad Green, whose 5th and 6th innings continued that same pattern of keeping the A’s from doing much. Tyler Clippard’s 7th was nearly flawless, but it would be recently reinstated Aroldis Chapman sailed through his 8th inning with just 8 pitches. (Talk about a comeback!)

Now, the Yankees weren’t exactly shut out or sitting on their laurels through this game. In fact, they struck first when Matt Holliday fired a solo home run to lead off the 2nd inning. Gardner led-off the 3rd with a double and then scored on Aaron Judge’s 1-out single.

Didi Gregorius smacked a long ball to the right field seats, just to the left of the foul pole. The umpires called it a home run, but just to cover their bases, the umpires called for a review themselves to make sure the ball really was a home run. It was, and the Yankees were within a run of the Athletics after their big 3rd inning.

But the A’s starter did a pretty decent job of fending of any potential Yankee rallies into the 7th inning and the bullpen (surprisingly for this team) just breezed through the final 8 outs and shut the Yankees down in order.

Final score: 4-3 Athletics, Athletics sweep series 4-0 (Yankees’ West Coast road trip: 1-6)

Roster moves: The Yankees sent Kyle Higashioka back to AAA Scranton to make room for Aroldis Chapman, who is now back from his rehab assignment and off the disabled list.

The Yankees took a few moments to honor their dads and reflect on what this day means to them, as so many of them are now fathers themselves. Manager Joe Girardi shared his insights. Gary Sanchez was recently featured in a special article, talking about how the birth of his daughter Sarah changed him as a man and as a player. He sees becoming a father as a turning point in his life, a sentiment I believe most fathers would echo.

And so, on this day that honors so many fathers, I am remembering my dad with thankfulness for introducing me to this wonderful game of baseball. I wish I could be sitting with him today cheering on the team, eating peanuts, and keeping the box score. I will always remember how he had a way of using baseball to teach us life lessons when watching a game, that character counts, that integrity and honesty and loyalty are to be valued. By his example, I learned to support the whole team, not just individual players. To find the positive in even a negative situation. That there’s always another day and another game. To always hope. And above all, to never give up.

My dad remembered the one year his team did win the World Series when he was a boy (hint: it was 1948) and almost saw it happen again in his lifetime (about 10 years before he passed away). But even in his later years, he was ever the fan, even wearing a team cap when he watched a game on TV, hopeful that this might be “the year”.

Which brings me to this year. In 2017, there is a very real chance that could be “the year” for the Yankees. (Despite the current outcome of this road trip!) That elusive #28 is a real possibility. But no matter how the season ends, we’ll still remember that there’s always the hope for “the year” — as if we just know it’s an eventuality. And with the Yankees, we know from experience that it really is.

So, thanks, Dad.

Go Yankees!

Game 65: NYY vs. OAK — A bumpy ride in “Bump City”

Oakland was dubbed “Bump City” after author John Krich’s 1979 book Bump City: Winners and Losers in Oakland about the history of the city, known mainly for its pictures by Dorothea Lange from the collection of the Oakland Museum. But no one from Oakland really knows that and are not a huge fan of said nickname. But it fits my purposes, especially with the way this road trip is going.

Luis Severino had a pretty good outing except a single inning. And thanks to that, he threw 109 pitches in just 6 innings, overall giving up 4 hits, 4 walks, and 4 runs, striking out 6 Oakland batters.

In the 2nd, Severino faced all 9 batters in the Oakland lineup as he struggled his way through the inning. He gave up consecutive walks before getting a strikeout, and then a double scored the first A’s run. A ground out scored another run, but initially the runner was called safe at 1st. The Yankees challenged, and it was overturned for the 2nd out of the inning. And it was back to the game for a single to score yet another run. Another single moved runners to the corners, and another single scored the 4th run of the inning.

So, the Yankees had a bit of catching up to do. In the 3rd, with 2 outs and runners on the corners, Aaron Judge hit his 23rd home run of the season, a 3-run shot to the right field seats to put the Yankees a whole lot closer to the A’s lead.

And in the 5th, Torreyes hit a 1-out double and then scored on Mason Williams’ single to tie up the game. Williams ended up at 2nd on the throw, but Oakland challenged him being safe at 2nd. The call was upheld after a rather long review. Despite the Yankees loading up the bases with a couple of walks, they weren’t able capitalize on it then and break the tie.

Until Chris Carter led-off the 6th with a solo home run, that is, straight up the middle of the O.Co (Oakland Coliseum). And in the 7th, Judge hit a 1-out triple and then scored on Starlin Castro’s single for an insurance run.

So, with a 2-run lead, Chasen Shreve took over for Severino. Shreve had his own issues. With 1 out, he gave up a walk and a single to put runners on the corners, and a sacrifice fly scored the lead runner to put the Athletics within 1 run. Jonathan Holder had a worse time in the 8th, loading up the bases with a walk, a ground-rule double, and an intentional walk before a single scored both the tying and winning runs for the A’s. The final play was a double play, but was originally just a fielder’s choice until the Yankees continued their streak of challenge-and-overturn in their favor.

Final score: 7-6 Athletics

Injury news: (and boy, is it a doozy lately!)
The Yankees officially placed CC Sabathia on 10-day DL, retroactive to June 14, due to his strained left hamstring. Adam Warren is also now on the 10-day DL with right shoulder inflammation. On day-to-day are Aaron Hicks (with achilles tendon soreness) and Gary Sanchez (with groin tightness).

And in roster maneuvers:
The Yankees reassigned Aroldis Chapman to AA Trenton to continue his rehab assignment. He is hoping to be activated and rejoin the team in Oakland by Sunday’s game. (Fingers crossed!) The Yankees also optioned pitchers Ronald Herrera to AA Trenton and Gallegos to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, recalling relievers Domingo German and Luis Cessa from AAA Scranton. They also recalled Mason Williams and Kyle Higashioka from AAA Scranton to fill in for Hicks and Sanchez, respectively. (I hope they got a group rate on the Scranton to Oakland flight!)

Two more games in Oakland this weekend (and they’re not late-night games for us East Coasters!), and the Yankees are looking to right the ship again. For a bit there tonight, it looked like the Yankees would pull through and win it once again. But that West Coast drain kicked in and just flipped the story on them. Time to take control of that story and change the narrative.

Go Yankees!

Game 27: NYY vs. CHC — Windy, chilly afternoon game with Clutch Gardner

So, it was 45° at the first pitch this afternoon at Wrigley, with 25 mph winds (and up to 35 mph wind gusts) bringing the wind chill down to around 37°. Yes, the calendar may read May 5, but Chicago clearly hasn’t gotten that memo yet. Sure, the skies cleared to a beautiful, crisp, clear blue, but the Chicago fans packed Wrigley in a sold-out crowd as the Yankees came in for the rare Friday afternoon game to kick off their weekend series there.

The Yankees were looking to continue their strong season so far, facing off the reigning World Champion Cubs today, behind Michael Pineda on the mound. Pineda threw 90 pitches in his strong 6 innings, giving up just 3 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and striking out 6 batters. The runs scored were simply solo home runs in the bookend innings of his outing today — a 1-out solo shot in the 1st and a lead-off solo homer in the 6th. In fact, the other allowed hit and walk were in that 6th inning. This means that Pineda held the Cubs off the bases for the majority of his outing.

The Yankees bullpen continued that strength and upped it to include a scoreless final third of the game. Shreve, Holder, and Chapman each took an inning to make sure the Cubs weren’t going to add any more to their score.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were given many opportunities, 8 hits and 2 walks from the starter and his first 2 relievers, but they were unable to turn any of those into viable runs (though they certainly gave it their best shot). It wasn’t until the 9th inning that the Yankees saw their clear path to victory.

With 1 out, Headley singled and ended up at 2nd on a wild pitch. After a strikeout, Ellbury came on to pinch-hit and worked a walk. So it would be down to Brett Gardner — an out meant the Cubs shut them out, while a hit could mean the Yankees get on the board. Of course, there was another option that no one thought of. And Gardner picked door #3 — a big 3-run home run into the upper seats in right field to give the Yankees a slim lead.

And that would be enough thanks to former Cub closer Aroldis Chapman’s great 9th inning (despite a fielding error to kick off the inning), earning his 7th save of the season on a foul tip strikeout that no one realized was an out for a few seconds.

Final score: 3-2 Yankees.

Before the game, former Cubs pitchers Adam Warren and Aroldis Chapman were presented with their 2016 Championship rings. And Cubs fans proved that they don’t forget their former stars, giving Starlin Castro a standing ovation on his first at-bat.

Fun fact about this particular trio: Warren was with the Yankees a very long time, but the Yankees traded him to the Cubs to get long-term Cub Castro to fill the much-needed 2nd base slot before the 2016 season. Chapman was signed in the same off-season. Then at the trade deadline, the Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs for a few players (including Warren). And then of course, they got Chapman back after his stint in Cubs’ pinstripes at the World Series. All former Cubs and proud of their contributions that led to their championship last year, but now hoping to translate that into some Yankee championships.

And in roster moves: as expected, the Yankees activated Gary Sanchez from the DL and sent back-up catcher Kyle Higashioka to AAA Scranton. Sanchez didn’t have much success in the batter’s box today, but his time behind the plate was certainly part of why the Yankees found victory today. Higashioka never did find his first major league hit, so perhaps time back with the RailRiders can help him find that swing again so when he does hit the Bronx again, he’ll be swinging for the fences.

Go Yankees!

Game 8: TB vs. NYY — Rookie strong debut start & a 3-inning rally

It was almost a rain delay in the Bronx today. The Rays were forced to cancel their on-field batting practice before the game so that the grounds crew could put a tarp on the field just in time for the heavens to open up and dump quite the shower on Yankee Stadium. Perhaps in part because of the weather (and perpetual overcast skies) and partly because it was a mid-week day game, the stands felt a little empty (and a bit wet in places) at about 70% capacity today, which is still more than the average Rays home game attendance.

Plus, the Yankees decided to start their recent call-up, young pitcher Jordan Montgomery, in his MLB debut, a new role he not only embraced but succeeded quite well. Paired with another recent call-up, catcher Kyle Higashioka, they teamed up to really show an outstanding battery against the Rays in today’s middle game of the homestand opening series. Montogomery threw 89 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up 5 hits, 3 runs (only 2 earned), and 2 walks, and striking out an impressive 7 batters.

In the 1st inning, Montgomery got 2 quick strikeouts before walking a batter and then giving up a 2-run home run into the left field seats to get the Rays on the board. Then he settled in and powered through the next three innings before allowing a lead-off double in the 5th, and after another 2 strikeouts, his day was done. A rather successful debut.

Bryan Mitchell came on in relief, and his first batter gave the crowd some drama. After reaching safely on a fielding error, the runner scored from 2nd, but then the batter tried to make it to 2nd and was thrown out there thanks to the sharp throw by right fielder Judge and Kozman keeping the tag on the runner who came off the bag as part of the play. However, the umpires originally ruled him safe. On a Yankees’ challenge, the call was eventually overturned and the inning was over.

Mitchell continued on and sailed through the 6th inning flawlessly. Clippard’s 7th continued that pattern, adding 2 more strikeouts to today’s total. Tommy Layne had a spot of trouble in the 8th. His lead-off single was out on a fielder’s choice at 2nd, and after a strike out, a passed ball moved the runner to scoring position. He then scored on a nice double to give the Rays just one more run today. In the next inning, Holder allowed 2 runners with just 1 out, so Chapman came on to finish the 9th, shutting down 2 batters in just 9 pitches.

Meanwhile, the Yankees actually struggled a bit against the Rays’ starter, only giving up 2 hits and 3 walks during his tenure on the mound, into the 5th inning. It would be that inning that the Yankees seemed to find their opening, Headley led-off with a single, Judge worked a walk, and Higashioka reached on a messy fielding error to load the bases with no outs. Two outs later, Aaron Hicks worked a walk to score Headley, and that was the end of the Rays’ starter’s day, with the bases loaded.

The new pitcher threw a wild pitch that moved all the runners up, scoring Judge, before walking Holliday to load up the bases again. But a pop-up ended the 5th inning rally. So the Yankees came back in the 6th to do it again. Castro and Headley led-off with consecutive singles, and Aaron Judge’s single scored Castro. After Higashioka bunted into a force out at 2nd, putting runners in the corners, the Rays went back to their bullpen.

Then, pinch-hitter Brett Gardner hit a dribbler back to the pitcher who had a bad throwing error to 1st, though it scored Headley. But in the process, Gardner collided with the 1st baseman. Both also crashed to the ground, and Gardner crawled to 1st to re-tag it. But both were injured and in pain on the ground. Both also left the game. (More on this below.) Pinch-runner Torreyes came on for Gardner.

Jacoby Ellsbury singled home Higashioka, and this put runners on the corners. After another pitching change, Torreyes then scored on Hicks’ ground out. But the Yankees weren’t done yet. Carter’s lead-off single in the 7th helped solidify the lead when Aaron Judge hit a monster 2-run home run into Monument Park. Someone commented that the scary part of that homer was that Judge didn’t even get all of it.

It’s also worth noting that the Yankee pitchers got the Rays to strike out 11 times, while Rays pitchers only had 1 strikeout today. And of the 12 runs scored, only 7 were officially earned, mostly because of the Rays’ sloppy defense in the latter half of the game, though only 3 total errors were recorded (2 for the Rays, 1 for the Yankees).

Final score: 8-4 Yankees.

Roster moves: to sign today’s starter Jordan Montgomery to the active roster, the Yankees needed to move someone on the 40-man (after moving Shreve to AAA yesterday), so they designated pitcher Johnny Barbato for assignment. Montogmery’s parents were, of course, proudly watching in the stands today for their son’s MLB debut.

Injury news: prospect pitcher James Kaprielian was sent to LA for tests due to his elbow soreness. He was given a few options. He can continue to rest and rehab or consider surgery (yes, the Tommy John kind, which would have an 18-month rehab timeline). As rehab hasn’t been successful thus far, the surgery is being strongly considered. To be fair, they aren’t as quick to rush to surgery lately. I think that’s why they are giving him the non-surgical option as well. In other words, surgery isn’t necessary, but definitely recommended. But as it’s his career and his body, he can choose how to deal with the injury and create a healing timetable based on that decision.

Now, Brett Gardner is injured, and while it won’t cause him to be put on the DL, he is considered day-to-day. He sustained a bruised jaw and strained neck due to the collision in the 6th inning (described above). His partner in this tumble (the Rays’ infielder Weeks) also will be day-to-day with neck and shoulder soreness. No concussion, and no immediate concern, but I imagine Gardner will need a few days to ice that jaw and stretch out his neck. And I’m guessing some soft foods at the Homecoming Dinner later tonight. Skip the steak, bring on the cheesecake.

Go Yankees!

Game 6: NYY vs. BAL — 15 walks & late inning wonders

Another beautiful afternoon for baseball in Baltimore, with the Orioles looking for a sweep, and the Yankees looking to stop that from happening. You never want to lose, but going into your home opener with a 1-5 record so far (and 4-game losing streak) wouldn’t exactly be ideal for the start of your season. So they needed to rely on everything and everyone to flip the storyline the O’s were hoping to come out of this weekend with.

CC Sabathia got the start today and had a pretty good outing, despite being in the negative once he left the mound. In his 6 innings, Sabthia threw 98 pitches, gave up 6 hits and 4 walks (something he clearly needs to work on this season), struck out just 3 batters, and allowed 3 runs (though just 2 earned). But overall, he actually had a better outing that the Orioles’ starter.

In the 2nd, with runners on the corners and no outs, the next batter hits into a fielder’s choice as the Orioles’ first run scored of the afternoon. Then again with 2 runners on base, a single scored the second run, before Sabathia worked his way out of the inning. A lead-off single in the 5th moved to 2nd on a passed ball, advanced to 3rd on a fly out, and then scored on a single to cap off the Orioles’ runs today.

Actually, the Yankee bullpen grabbed a hold of the necessity of a win and just showed off their dominance we remember from the Rays’ series earlier this week. Clippard, Betances, and Chapman each took an inning in the final third of the game and just sailed through the Orioles’ roster, adding 5 strikeouts between them. Chapman included some 101mph pitches in today’s show just for good measure as the shadows on the field helped mask his delivery and thus fool the batters.

The Yankees’ offense seemed oddly stymied by the Orioles’ starter though they had plenty of opportunities to do something. They certainly worked his pitch count, getting him up to 100 pitches in just 5 innings, but the weird stat today was the 7 allowed walks in those 5 innings. In fact, despite the Yankees loading up the bases and getting runners in scoring position (thanks to those walks) several times, they didn’t even have their first hit until Hicks’ single in the 5th.

It wasn’t until the bullpen opened that the Yankees started dinging into the scoreboard. Up until today, the Orioles’ bullpen was so strong it had yet to allow a run to score this year. Not anymore. The Yankees made sure of that.

In the 6th, with 2 outs, Judge and Romine hit consecutive singles and then scored when RBI-leader Ronald Torreyes smacked a big triple to get the Yankees on the board. Then Aaron Judge tied up the game in one fell swoop with a big solo home run into the left field seats.

But it would be the 9th inning when the Yankees really made the difference. With a seasoned reliever known for quick outs on the mound, the Yankees quickly discovered he was having an off-day and took advantage of it. Holliday led-off with a walk (his 5th of the game, by the way) and was then pinch-run by Ellsbury, who promptly stole 2nd base. Carter then worked a walk, and Starlin Castro hit a nice single up the middle to score Ellsbury for the go-ahead run.

So they made some quick changes, sending the speedier Kozma in to run for Carter as Headley worked a walk to load the bases. Judge hit into a ground out, but all the runners were still able to move up, including Kozma to score the insurance run the Yankees were looking for. Then Austin Romine hit a long sacrifice fly which easily scored Castro, but on a bad throwing error, Headley took advantage and came speeding on home for a bonus run. Torreyes’ singled (for another big offensive day for him, going 3-for-5 today) and the Orioles finally pulled their closer for another reliever who got an easy ground out to end the wild inning.

In total, both pitching staffs allowed 15 walks (11 to Yankee batters). That says either two things happened today — the pitching was just not as good as it should’ve been or the strike zone was miniscule. I’m compelled by the 16 total strikeouts (8 per team) to think it wasn’t the latter, but that certainly doesn’t bode well for the Orioles’ pitching today.

On the other hand, that certainly turned out well for the Yankees, so I’m not complaining that much.

Final score: 7-3 Yankees, Orioles win series 2-1.

In light of Gary Sanchez’s questionable timetable right now, the Yankees made a call in for a back-up catcher. Kyle Higashioka was at dinner, picking at the food on his plate, disappointed after a bad game against the Toronto affiliate in Buffalo that afternoon, when he got the call to get himself to Baltimore. In mere moments, his whole life changed. This was his first major league call-up, so he stopped to pay his check, tip his waiter well, and then just drove straight from Buffalo to Baltimore (a 6 hour and 350 mile trip) right away. He made it into the team hotel about 2am and was suited up, ready to play for his team this morning.

And now, he’ll be on the field during introductions tomorrow afternoon in pinstripes, the number 38 on his back, as Yankee fans cheer their 2017 team before the home opener against the Rays. A dream come true for Higashioka and a number of other young players that will join him along that 1st base line tomorrow.

There’s nothing like Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.

Go Yankees!