Game 84: ATL vs. NYY — #CCStrong + 3 homers = #HappyIndependenceDay

America is celebrating its birthday today, and the sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium (and at stadiums all over this country) did so in the most American way — watching a great baseball game with family and friends. Another strong game by the Yankees helped conclude this series against the Braves and this final home stand before the All-Star Break.

CC Sabathia threw 103 pitches in his 6 strong innings, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs and striking out 5 Atlanta batters along the way to earning his 6th win. In fact, Sabathia held the Braves scoreless through most of the game. In the 5th, with 1 out and runners on the corners, a ground out scored the Braves’ first run. And a 2-out solo home run in the 6th scored the other. Green, Betances, and Holder closed out the final third of the game and kept the Braves to those 2 runs.

The Yankee batters felt at liberty (pun intended) to show off why they’re one of the most talked about teams in baseball right now (at least in the positive way). In the 2nd, Gregorius hit a 1-out double and scored on Greg Bird’s 2-out single to kick things off. Walker led-off the 3rd with a single, and Hicks worked a 2-out walk. They both then scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s big 3-run home run.

Kyle Higashioka continued to make a splash with his 3rd MLB hit becoming his 3rd home run, a 4th inning 2-out solo shot into (where else with him?) the left field seats. And in the 7th, with 1 out, Aaron Judge capped off Yankee scoring with a 1-out solo home run, his 24th on the season.

Final score: 6-2 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1 (and the home stand 4-2)

Next up: after an off-day/travel day tomorrow, the Yankees will play a 3-game weekend series against the Blue Jays before heading down to Baltimore. There, they begin with a doubleheader, the first game a make-up from a rain out in May. After 4 games, they travel to Cleveland for a 4-game weekend series against the Indians before the All-Star Break. (Did you vote for your favorites yet? Time’s up tomorrow at midnight.)

And there has been some discussion about Gleyber Torres. Torres recently confided that his right hip flexor has bothered him for some time and just “lived with it”. He was noticeably absent from Tuesday’s game after feeling hurt following Monday’s game. Then, after being pulled from today’s game in the 4th inning and taking time for extra warm-up stretches, as a precaution (and in case it’s something worse), the Yankees will send him for an MRI. Fingers crossed it’s just a little overuse that a couple of days rest will heal.

Finally, the Yankees honor two legendary figures in their Universe born today — former owner George Steinbrenner would have been 88 today, and long-time radio broadcaster John Sterling celebrated his 80th birthday. His former partner and current YES Network broadcaster (and friend) Michael Kay honored him in a very John Sterling kind of way, with a special “home run call”. Happy birthday to them and to America today!

Go Yankees!

Game 83: ATL vs. NYY — Loading up the runs early help Yankees win

Domingo German got the start for the Yankees’ middle game against the visiting Braves, threw 82 pitches into the 5th inning, gave up 6 hits, 3 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out 6 Atlanta batters. And actually, most of those offensive feats by the Braves didn’t happen until the 5th inning when German gave up a lead-off walk. Then 1 out later, a 2-run home run, a solo home run, and 2 singles.

Cole came in to load up the bases and get out of that jam with 2 solid strikeouts before breezing his way through the 6th inning. Adam Warren’s 7th inning was the exact opposite. With 1 out and a runner on 1st, he gave up a long 2-run home run. Giancarlo Stanton gave it his all and really tried hard to make that catch, but he dented the right field wall instead. No concussion, just a dent.

Warren got the first out of the 8th before Shreve finished off the rest of the inning with relative ease (and just 8 pitches). Chapman joined the fun with a quick 14-pitch 9th inning (8 of those were over 100 mph).

But the Yankees got on the board first. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Stanton singled and then scored with Aaron Hicks’ 2-run home run. Then with 2 outs in the 2nd, Kyle Higashioka got in on the fun with a solo home run into left field (his sweet spot, apparently).

In the 3rd, the Yankees loaded the bases with walks to Judge, Hicks, and Andujar. So with 2 outs, Brandon Drury worked another walk and forced in Judge. The Braves opted to end their starter’s night right there, but their reliever promptly gave up a walk to Higashioka to score Hicks.

Brett Gardner led-off the 4th with a double, moved to 3rd on Judge’s single, and 2 outs later, scored on a wild pitch. And later, in the 8th, with 2 outs and Judge on 2nd, Giancarlo Stanton’s big 2-run home run. Not a bad way to bounce back after denting the back wall in the 7th.

Final score: 8-5 Yankees

Last few days to vote for the All-Star Game starters… go vote!

Go Yankees!

Game 81: BOS vs. NYY — 6 homers for the Bronx Bombers

We’re officially at the physical half-way point in the season. And after tonight’s game, the Yankees are tied with tonight’s opponents. Though, after this crazy weekend series, it’s kind of hard to believe either team is atop anything. However, tonight, it seemed to swing in favor of the Yankees. By a lot. And it followed the same pattern — stronger starting pitcher, major offense, huge win.

The Yankees sent in their ace pitcher to close out this series against the Red Sox. Luis Severino threw another great game, 99 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up just 2 hits and 3 walks, striking out 6 batters, and keeping the Red Sox completely scoreless.

Despite the score, the Yankees needed to exercise their power-relievers and thus gave Robertson, Betances, and Chapman the chance to get the final 8 outs of the game. Robertson and Betances kept things tight and scoreless, without allowing a base runner.  Aroldis Chapman came into the game in the 9th with 1 out and had a bit of trouble, giving up a double, a single, and a ground out that scored the Red Sox’s lone run of the game. Another grounder ended the game and Chapman’s struggles.

Meanwhile, the Yankees faced an old foe as the Red Sox’s starter (the same pitcher who gave up Jeter and Rodriguez’s 3000th hits, while he was with different teams) who the Yankees seem to know how to hit regardless of the opposing team. His fate was set in the 1st inning. With 1 out, Aaron Judge kicked off tonight’s big night with a solo home run up the middle. Then Stanton singled and Gregorius’ double put runners in scoring position, and they both scored as part of Gleyber Torres’ big 3-run home run.

In the 2nd, with 1 out, Gardner singled and then scored with Aaron Hicks’ 2-run home run. Kyle Higashioka led-off the 4th with his 1st major league hit, a huge solo home run into the 2nd deck of the left field seats. And yes, there was a John Sterling home run call. And yes, the Yankees gave him a temporary silent treatment in the dugout, on Sabathia’s suggestion, before hounding him with their congratulations.

Anyway, then after an out, Aaron Hicks hit his 2nd home run of the night, a nice solo shot into Monument Park. That would be the end of the Red Sox starter’s night, but the first reliever had some issues. Judge singled, and Stanton double to move both runners to scoring position. Didi Gregorius hit a long sacrifice fly to score Judge.

After that, the reliever settled into some momentum for the next 2 innings, and his replacement had a solid 7th inning. But the 8th inning reliever had trouble, starting with Aaron Hicks hitting his 3rd (!) home run of the night to lead off the inning. Judge then walked, moved to 2nd on Drury’s single, and then scored on Neil Walker’s single to cap things off for the Yankees tonight.

Final score: 11-1 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1

Next up: the Yankees will host the Braves starting tomorrow night for 3 games for the final home stand before the All-Star Break. But before the break, they’ll hit the road to face the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Indians.

And a small bit of trivia regarding tonight’s game: Aaron Hicks’ 3-home run game puts him in some pretty good company. Before tonight, Lou Gehrig (in 1927) and Mark Teixeira (in 2010) are the only Yankees to have 3-home run games against the Red Sox. And further, only Hicks and Teixeira did so from both sides of the plate as switch hitters. So much for all that talk from online trolls about how the Yankees should trade Hicks earlier this year…

Go Yankees!

 

Game 76: NYY vs. PHI — Some “Brotherly Love” for a rookie pitcher, a fan, and a “rookie” batter

The Yankees began their series in the City of Brotherly Love and showed some love to their fans in the area in many ways. Aaron Judge played catch with a fan in the right field seats, later commenting on the good arm on the kid. Plus, their rookie pitcher threw a scoreless 5 innings.

Jonathan Loaisiga threw 86 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up just 1 hit and 2 walks, and struck out 8 Phillies batters. In other words, he had another great night from the mound and earned his 2nd win in as many starts. David Robertson took over for him in the 6th and continued into the 7th with some trouble. He gave up a lead-off walk that moved to 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on a 1-out single.

After another strikeout, the Yankees turned to Dellin Betances, who closed out the 7th with a strong strikeout, walked 2 players in the 8th, and still got his 3 outs unscathed. Aroldis Chapman got out of Betances’ 8th inning jam. And after 2 solid strikeouts in the 9th, he gave up a solo home run before getting a final strikeout to earn his 23rd save.

The Yankees got on the board early. In the 2nd, Bird led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then scored on Gleyber Torres’ double. Later, Aaron Judge hit a great 2-out solo home run in the 5th to double the Yankees’ lead.

And in the 8th, the Yankees loaded up the bases with Gardner’s single, Judge’s walk, and Gregorius’ single. And with no outs, the Phillies changed pitchers again. But he promptly gave up a long single to Giancarlo Stanton. Both Gardner and Judge scored, and then on an off-center throw, Gregorius and Stanton ended up in scoring position. But then the Phillies found their defense and got out without further injury.

Final score: 4-2 Yankees

It’s also worth conversing about the pitchers who hit during tonight’s game because it’s an NL park and it’s always awkward to watch AL pitchers try to hit. Loaisiga, of course, got the most at-bats (2), but struck out both times. But then, because of the rotation, Dellin Betances got an at-bat in the 8th inning — he struck out in 3 pitches, 1 called strike, 2 swinging strike. I know it probably shouldn’t be, but between waving his bat like Gary Sheffield and just swinging away, it was hilarious.

If anyone wants to know how I feel about the designated hitter, just know that I was born after 1973 (when the DH was formally introduced), was raised on AL teams, and just watched a reliever swat away at perfect strikes that most teenagers would hit in batting cages.

Roster moves: Like I said yesterday, the Yankees announced today that Gary Sanchez will be placed on the 10-day disabled list with right groin strain. Technically, he will be out for 3-4 weeks, so he might miss most of next month, which would include the All-Star Game should he be voted or selected to attend.

They also opted outfielder Clint Frazier back to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In those two spots, they recalled catcher Kyle Higashioka and reliever Giovanny Gallegos. Higashioka makes sense, as Romine will need some back-up as he slides into Sanchez’s starting position. But based on recent usage of the bullpen and the health of the outfield, the Frazier-Gallegos exchange makes sense.

Go Yankees!

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!