The free agency dance begins

I realize that the Yankees had a bit of a deadline with their potential free agents, but Monday seems to have been heavily laden with news for its public. Well, not really complete news, more like the beginning of news.

When looking at potential free agents coming off their roster, a club can make “qualifying offers” to agents they don’t want to let go. It’s usually seen as a sign that says “we’re still interested in you and retaining you even if we’re only offering a year contract to you”. Most players don’t take it and opt to go for bigger, longer contracts (even if it’s with the same club), and by doing so, they actually gift the club with a prime draft pick for the next draft (next July). Last year, Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano were offered qualifying offers, both opted free agency, and both were signed pretty quickly elsewhere (Cleveland and Washington, respectively).

This year, they made offers to Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Hiroki Kuroda. There is a lot of speculation already as to what they’re each going to do, and I’ve been doing my own private speculating. But since I don’t speculate here, you’ll know if I’m right after the player deadline of November 11 to respond to the offer — they will either take it and sign for a year with the Yankees or refuse it and try for a better offer elsewhere. And honestly, I think we’ll be looking at three very different results for these guys.

Now, there were some people who didn’t get qualifying offers from the Yankees — Brendan Ryan, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan. This means that all of these guys are now officially free agents, and their agents are probably busy exploring all options available to their clients. It will be interesting to see where everyone lands, and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees picked up a couple of these guys at least for a year or two.

Almost on the other spectrum of things, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has released its latest ballot and is to be voted on next month by the Veterans’ Committee. There are 12 men on that list that have had a major impact on baseball history, including Joe Torre, Billy Martin, and George Steinbrenner. I think in all Yankee fans’ minds all three should get at least the required 75% votes to walk into Cooperstown next year. The annual players ballot will be released later this month and will include the five players who didn’t make the it last year but had enough vote to carry over for this coming year and a whole slew of really amazing newcomers including former Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina.

Like I said, it’s really just a “beginning of news” kind of day. At first, it sounds like there’s news, but really it’s just  something that could develop into news someday soon. But when I think about it, baseball is always an evolving story. Even when a team wins the World Series, they have to spend the off-season rebuilding and focusing on developing their dynasty. The 2012 Giants, for example, barely made any changes last off-season and ended up holding up the bottom of the NL West in 2013; they figured “why mess with success?” and it backfired big time on them. So, now they’re working on figuring out what went wrong with their 2013 formula and what went right with 2012 and then how they can make 2014 work better for them.

And (not that I ever want to glorify the Yankees’ arch-rivals) then you have the Red Sox who were easily the worst team in 2012, fired their manager, shuffled their roster, picked up some prime guys from all over free agency, and somehow powered their way to the top of the AL and became World Series Champions just a few weeks ago. But now, the Red Sox are going to spend their entire 2014 season defending their title. This is actually good news for the Yankees because unlike almost every other team in the league only the Yankees know what it’s like to establish and maintain a dynasty. Is anyone else hoping 2014 starts a new dynasty?

Go Yankees!

Game 162: NYY vs. HOU — 14th inning fanfare farewell

Today was the last game of the season, and in true Yankee fashion this year, it was anything but normal.

Yankees started their final game with David Huff on the mound, who really did a pretty stellar job, 71 pitches, 5 innings, just 3 hits, 1 run, and 7 strikeouts. That lone run came as an RBI single back in the 1st inning, and the Astros would never cross the plate again for the entire game. Brett Marshall took his turn in the 6th and 7th innings, keeping Huff’s tight game rolling smoothly. Then in the 9th, the Yankees brought in the young Dellin Betances, who really just found his niche and brought the game to a whole new level.

The Yankees weren’t really doing much as far as offense, even with Travis Hafner’s comeback after his stint on the DL and promptly got on base due to being hit by an errant pitch twice. That is until the 8th inning. Eduardo Nunez doubled and scored on Curtis Granderson’s single to tie up the game. And then that’s all she wrote for 6 more innings. Oh sure, there were plenty of opportunities, like in the 9th when David Adams hit a really beautiful triple (his first career triple). Or in the 13th inning, with two men on base with a single and a really bad fielding error on a fielder’s choice, but again, they came up empty.

Keeping the game tied while the Yankees worked on finding their offense, Betances threw into the 10th and was pulled after the first out, with clear congratulations from Girardi and the entire Yankee team for a job well done. Claiborne finished the rest of the inning, and Phelps took the 11th. Matt Daley took over for the 12th and 13th.

And then the dam broke open in the 14th inning when Mark Reynolds hit a solid solo home run to left-center field. And the score was up to 2-1 Yankees. Two outs later, the Yankees weren’t done yet. Brendan Ryan and Zoilo Almonte single and then score on Eduardo Nunez’s double. Even after a pitching change, JR Murphy singles home Nunez (Murphy’s first career RBI), and the Yankees were leading 5-1.

And to close out the last game of the season, the Yankees got another preview of what it will be like when (hopefully) David Robertson closes out more Yankee wins next year. Robertson gave a solid 1-2-3 14th inning, and the Yankees finished their season with a sweep and a flair.

And while today’s game seemed more like a show of the future, the past looked on from the dugout. Pettitte, Jeter, and Sabathia congregated at one end of the dugout, watching all 14 innings draped over the guard rail. Rivera and Rodriguez chatted up at the other end. And then there was Jayson Nix, still out with his oblique injury, who somehow managed a role usually reserved for veteran or retiring players — manager for the day. That’s right, it was Nix calling the shots for 9 innings, and when the scoreboard rolled over to extra inning, Nix quit and handed the reins back to Girardi. Normally a fun last day job for veterans (last year, the honor went to Jeter, with Rodriguez as his bench coach), this year Rivera and Pettitte declined the honor saying they were “too busy”. From the looks of it, they were having fun being with the guys one last time, which I think is exactly where they wanted to be.

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The Astros farewell gift to Rivera

Prior to tonight’s game, the Astros honored Mariano Rivera with a special ceremony. They presented him with a painting of sorts, thirteen different highlights of his career over the number 42, a very creative gesture. Also at the ceremony were Roger Clemens, a former teammate, and Joe Torre, Rivera’s former manager and current MLB executive.

Torre and Clemens both gave wonderful speeches, honoring Rivera contributions to the Yankees, the entire sport of baseball, and to themselves personally. Torre also gave a special shout out to Pettitte and Jeter, who, with Rivera, he credits with making his job all that much easier. Torre is himself a figure of the “good old days” of Yankee history, but he understands the idea of finding and developing new, fresh talent. Torre was fortunate enough to be the Yankees manager when they were in the process of rebuilding, before anyone thought much of the Core Four. But he believed in their potential, combining that with the experience of the veterans in the clubhouse, and built a dynasty.

There is hope for the Yankees, and don’t let anyone tell you different. Look at who played for the Yankees today, and who made the difference in every aspect of the game — the pitching, the catching, the fielding, the hits — it all adds up for a great futures. And while they aren’t going to be playing October baseball, and have to instead say farewell to two more of the Core Four, maybe saying farewell to this entire rollercoaster year is a good thing. Close the door on that chapter and look forward to all the potential of 2014, some of it may already be lurking in the corners of the clubhouse, just waiting for the opportunity to spread their wings and do something Yankee-like. It could be the next dynasty in the making. You just never know.

Go Yankees!

Game 160: NYY vs. HOU — The expected from the unexpected

The Yankees began their final series of this year in Houston tonight. And after some recent disappointments, it was nice to begin the end with a win. The Astros aren’t really as competitive a team as the Yankees have been playing this month, like most of the AL East teams, but the Yankees aren’t really playing at full steam right now, wrapping up what is essentially a disappointing season. Remember, according to Yankee logic, anything short of a World Series win is considered a “failed season”.

But tonight was a win.

Resting much of their regulars either flirting with or fully on the DL, a reflection of the entire season, the Yankees actually put a lot of the replacement guys on the field tonight, and they did a really good job. Adam Warren was given the start, 64 pitches through 5 innings, just 2 hits and a walk, and 4 strikeouts. With more consistent outings like that, Warren could easily work his way into a more permanent spot in the rotation, or at least long-term bullpen relief.

In the meantime, the Yankees’ offense decided to make their dent in the 4th inning. With one out, Cano singled, Soriano walked, so that Mark Reynold’s nice single scored Cano. Both Soriano and Reynolds then advanced on a throwing error, a bounced relay throw to home plate, missing Cano’s slide. Then David Adams reminded the Yankees why they liked him in the first place earlier this year with a solid double in the right field corner, scoring Soriano and Reynolds. And the Yankees were up 3-0.

So David Phelps came on in the 6th and back in the 7th, but with two outs and two runners on base, they opted for a pitching change. And they went to someone with a less consistent year — Joba Chamberlain. A double immediately scores 2 runs for Houston. Then he allows a bases loaded situation before the Yankees defense got him out of the jam. Preston Claiborne gets his 8th inning, and in for the save is David Robertson (get used to that, people). Houston fans weren’t all that happy to see Robertson, even to the point of booing his entry (way to stay classy, Texas!), but Rivera wasn’t available because (despite the rumors) he’s not Superman. So it’s Robertson that takes the save on the 3-2 win tonight.

Also there was a bit of a disputed play in the 6th inning. Alfonso Soriano hits a long ball off the back wall in left field, which is awarded a double, but the play is immediately disputed. Was their fan interference? Yes, but would it have a home run hitting the top of the wall if not for the interference? Not according to the umpires after a replay. A home run would have been nice padding to the Yankees’ lead because that double came out to nothing, due to some easy outs the other batters in the inning hit into.

And JR Murphy and David Adams worked a really nice out in the 8th, when they caught the runner trying to steal 2nd for the final out of that inning. So many great things added up and gave Warren the win, rightfully so.

And in between innings, the Astros presented former teammate Andy Pettitte with a framed numbered jersey (#21) from his time with their team. Yankees fans like to pretend that Pettitte’s Astro years didn’t exist, but instead were more like an extended sabbatical for the Houston-area resident. Pettitte will start the game tomorrow, and I can imagine many of his fellow Texans, family, and friends will be there cheering him on, despite loyalties, saying goodbye to him on his final MLB career start.

These are sad days, so the minor things to celebrate are extra special — Warren’s start, the continued strong display defense, Adams’ double, and of course the win. I have a feeling this will continue to be a bittersweet weekend.

Go Yankees!

Game 156: SF vs. NYY — Mariano Rivera Day

I should make a list of all the days I don’t want to write about, but they easily include things like retirements, major game losses, and final farewells. I’m not a reporter, so I don’t have my objectivity to hide behind. But my opinions and emotions aren’t always easily expressed on such a blog. I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to this day for a lot of personal reasons, but the main one was I just didn’t want this “era of good feelings” (so to speak) to end.

Declaring today “Mariano Rivera Day” was like asking for every living Yankee great to descend on Yankee Stadium. And boy, did they ever. Former Yankees Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Jeff Nelson, David Cone, John Wetteland, and Jorge Posada were on hand to say their public farewells. Also present were former Yankees manager Joe Torre, former trainer Gene Monahan, and former GM Gene Monahan. All these amazing men were announced on the field prior to the game today. And then Robinson Cano escorted Jackie Robinson’s widow Rachel and daughter Sharon onto the field to continue to honor Robinson’s impact and legacy as carried on by and through Rivera’s career and uniform number, which they retired in Monument Park just before the ceremony began. It was Derek Jeter who was privileged to escort Rivera’s wife Clara and the Riveras’ three sons Mariano, Jafet, and Jaziel.

There was a wonderful video montage of memories and thank you’s from Rivera’s teammates. And in between innings, the Yankees scoreboard played recorded messages from former teammates like Nick Swisher, Yankee rivals like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and other sports figures like NFL players Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez. It really seemed like everyone came out to say good-bye.

In that spirit, in what was probably the worst kept secret in baseball history, the Yankees had Metallica, in town for a concert last night, in center field, playing the famous “Enter Sandman” as Rivera jogged in from the outfield to the waiting crowd on the infield grass. The Giants presented Rivera with a watercolor painting of an appearance in San Francisco and a Willie Mays autographed guitar, specially co-designed by Metallica. And to compliment that, Metallica presented Rivera a decked-out speaker cabinet.

Then it was the Yankees turn to present their gifts — a $100,000 check to the Mariano Rivera Foundation, a replica of his retired Monument Park number, and a Waterford crystal statue of his exact glove directly from the Steinbrenner family. And Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi carried out a specially crafted baseball bat rocking chair, commissioned by the entire team; Rivera promptly gave it a go right on the infield. Rivera’s assumed man cave is almost now complete with what can only be described as the most eclectic version of Number 42 memorabilia that you can possibly imagine. But I’m guessing he wouldn’t change a thing.

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Mariano Rivera & Andy Pettitte
via sportsrant.com

But what really made the event worth the entire day was when Rivera himself took a microphone and began his formal farewell to the crowd. He began, as a man of faith and family would, by thanking God and publicly praising his wife, sons, and parents. He also thanked his teammates old and new as his extended family and the Robinson family for the privilege of continuing Jackie’s legacy. In addition to thanking the fans in the stadium and those all over the world, he singled out those in his native Panama, who supported him and his dream of a career in baseball since he was a poor kid playing with a cardboard mitt, with a special moment in Spanish. And then he uttered the words that echo in every ball park across the globe from sandlots to professional stadiums, “Play Ball!”

And let us not forget that it was also a little bit of Andy Pettitte Day, who pitched 7 innings (and one batter in the 8th) like vintage Andy Pettitte — sharp, tight, consistent. He retired 16 of the first 17 batters he faced (with one walk) in what was looking like a no-hitter for a while, right up until the 6th inning. A solo home run broke that no-hitting bid. And it was a lead-off double in the 8th (only the second hit he allowed) that had him pulled after his 104 pitch outing. Seriously, anyone who tries to say that Pettitte did anything but be amazing today will have to take it up with about 50,000 Yankee fans who gave what will probably be their last standing ovation as Pettitte slowly walked that long walk to the dugout on what would be a crushing loss to him and his team. (Is it ironic that a “crushing loss” in September means a one-run game?)

David Robertson took the mound to grab one out before allowing an RBI double so that the Giants jumped to a 2-1 lead (That one run from the Yankees was courtesy of the 3rd inning solo home run into the Giants’ bullpen from Mark Reynolds). And maybe as courtesy to the fans on today, Girardi opted to go to Rivera for 5 outs, which he did with his usual panache.

The Yankees, stuck with that sole run from early in the game, made every effort in the bottom of the 8th to do something spectacular. Rodriguez singles and is replaced by pinch-runner Almonte, probably due to Rodriguez’s recent string of leg issues and the need for a faster runner around the bases. Cano doubles, moving Almonte to 3rd. Soriano’s at-bat turned into a fielder’s choice with Almonte getting tagged out at home trying to score. And it was on Nunez’s single that Cano tried to tie up the game but was brutally tagged out at home as well. Cano seemed to be okay, limping slightly, but this late in the season, there’s no more room on the DL short of “broken” or worse.

The Yankees’ offense just didn’t spark today after a 49 minute delay at the beginning with all the ceremony, and that’s part of why I didn’t want to write today’s story. It’s bittersweet in so many ways, and I’m just not okay with that.

Go Yankees!

Game 153: NYY vs. TOR — Creative defense without the “Diva Factor”

Some days, this job is cake — there are bit stories to include, everything works out right for a great game, and I’m feeling inspired and creative. Some days, this job is challenging — there’s a ton of stories to have to talk about, a ridiculously eventful game, and I’m feeling inspired and creative. And some days, it’s more of a chore — there’s nothing to talk about, a mundane game, and that spark of creativity and inspiration is muddled by life and personal exhaustion. Let’s just say, today was one of those days, and you’ll have to figure out which one I mean.

Starter Hiroki Kuroda went 102 pitches over 6 full innings, giving up 8 hits, 3 runs, 4 walks, and 7 strikeouts. Those 3 runs came courtesy of an RBI double and sacrifice groundout in the 3rd and a solo home run in the 6th. It was just in the 3rd inning, that it seems like Kuroda had a hard time with control, but the rest of the game he was his usual reliable self. And with just those 3 runs, the Yankees might have been able to pull themselves together and at least make an effort for the win. But things rarely work out like you predict.

So they opt to send in Joba Chamberlain in the 7th. But Chamberlain isn’t the pitcher he was when he debuted in Toronto 6 years ago. He walked a batter, allowed a single, and then gave up a whopper 3-run home run. And suddenly, the Blue Jays had pulled ahead with their 6 runs. In comes Cabral to get the first two outs and Daley for the last one in the 7th. And it was David Phelps to the rescue in the 8th, who easily gave one of the best appearances with his 13 pitch, 1-2-3 inning. This was a sign to me and most other analysts that the recently rehabbed Phelps is about ready to resume his long-term, even starting duties again.

Offensively, the Yankees were limited to half Toronto’s hits (5 for New York) and just two runs. Curtis Granderson struck first with a solo home run in the 6th. And in a last-ditch effort at a rally in the top of the 9th, with 1 out, Rodriguez walks, Cano singles, and Soriano walks to load the bases. On the third pitcher of the inning, Vernon Wells grounds out, but scores Rodriguez. And the Yankees are down 6-2, which they immediately concede the game on the very next out.

The Yankee defense was again something admirable, and tonight they got a little creative. Right in the 1st inning, a batter hits a slow grounder up to Kuroda, who throws it home to Stewart to get the runner going home. But the runner isn’t near home plate, so backs up back to 3rd in a rundown, which Stewart flips to Reynolds for the play. The runner dodges the tag from Reynolds, but here’s the problem: the other runner is already at 3rd base. We got 2 runners at 3rd. The initial runner isn’t on the base any more and is tagged out by Reynolds, and Reynolds also tags the new runner out, even though he’s on 3rd looking safe. Here’s why it’s a double play: once the first runner is back at his original base, the new runner must vacate back to his last base and since he was off his appointed base, he was still in play and could legally be tagged out. Nice effort by Reynolds just tagging everyone. (I’m kind of surprised the 3rd base coach didn’t get in on the action because of how close he was in all the fuss.) Just your average 1-2-5-5 double play.

And I think we can safely say the Mark Reynolds may just be the defensive MVP of the game because of his creative way to get an out (above) in the 1st, and for his own initiated double play in the 2nd. Reynolds may go quickly hot and cold in the batter’s box, but his defense is consistent and fits in with the natural flow of the field. For only being with the team a very short time, I know I’m impressed with how Reynolds seems to be carving his own niche in the team.

I know that many people believe that if you’re a professional, you should be able to play with anyone. And while that should be true, it’s not something I see very often exhibited. For how it’s not done well, watch any All-Star Game. All the players are super professional, used to their positions, used to playing at a high level, but there’s always one team that just doesn’t work as a team. Why? The “Diva Factor”. At this level, the lack of good teamwork isn’t usually poor training, but one or two “bad eggs” who prance around like divas — stereotypically, this would be either the overpaid assumed star or the young rookie hotshot. And even as I write this, I’m thinking of some players (and thus some teams) that fit both.

In other news (and I promise you this isn’t related to my previous paragraph), the Red Sox have officially clinched the AL East, and the Dodgers the NL West. I know I have some friends and family who will be very happy with that news. Most other races are pretty close to being concluded, being as we only have 9 games left to play this season. But there’s some really interesting things happening  in the AL Wild Card and the NL Central and Wild Card races. If it was so easy for those top 10 teams to grab their postseason places, it would make September the most boring month is baseball. And instead, it’s most fascinating that Opening Week. There’s nothing like September Baseball…

Except maybe October Baseball…

Go Yankees!

Game 151: NYY vs. TOR — Dueling pitchers stall Yankee hopes

It’s amazing to me how similar the two starters were from today’s game — both were men, late in their careers, played most of those careers in New York and Texas, family men, honorable men of faith from southern states, and recognized as some of the better pitchers in the league on a long-term scale. It was an interesting match-up even before the game began, and it turned into an interesting match up once the game got up and running.

Andy Pettitte took the mound tonight for the Yankees and really gave a pretty good outing for the season, throwing 110 pitches over 6.2 innings. He gave up 6 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, and 5 strikeouts. And he still walks home with the loss. That home run came courtesy of a long solo home run in the 4th inning. Exiting in the 7th, he ceded the mound to Shawn Kelley, who promptly gave up his own solo home run before grabbing that final out. David Robertson closed the door on the Blue Jays and kept them at those two runs for the game.

The Yankees had plenty of chances offensively to make a move, but never capitalized on opportunities, even with bases loaded and runners in prime scoring position. Dickey (Toronto’s pitcher) is a really good pitcher, with some really hard struggles this season, but he was really sharp and on his game tonight. And the Yankees’ lack of offensive spark is proof enough for that.

But the Yankees defense was actually on point tonight. They kept runners from scoring at all possible costs, and made those daring sliding catches on Toronto’s turf (and you long-term readers know how I feel about artificial turf). Brendan Ryan made two amazingly strong throws in tonight’s game — one to get the runner out at 1st in the 2nd inning and another to get the runner trying to score at home in the 8th. Curtis Granderson’s sliding grab in the 5th left the announcers and all of Twitter abuzz. And Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay made the most interesting out of the game, with Reynolds throwing all the way past 3rd base in foul territory to Overbay who caught it in the base path and tagged the runner jogging into 1st.

I love watching the Yankees play defense. I always have. It’s usually a little rough in Spring Training, at the beginning of the season, or when you throw a new player in the mix, but once they hit that “team” flow, it’s like watching magic happen. And while defense doesn’t win games, it certainly helps keep games to lower scores, like tonight’s 2-0 loss to Toronto.

Today was Roberto Clemente Day across MLB. I featured him yesterday on this blog, and if you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to read up on him. He was an inspiration as to what it means to be a baseball player. He fit my personal criteria for what a good ball player is — ability, teamwork, and integrity. And I love that his accomplishments both on and off the field are recognized and honored and set as an example for all the young players and their fans.

I also want to take a moment and honor those who were lost or injured in the Navy Yard shooting yesterday. You and your families are in our thoughts and prayers. I also would like to honor those first responders, investigators, and all those who were there to help limit the devastation and immediately help those hurting. I can only hope that with more people like that, taking up a Clemente-like attitude of giving and help to those who need it desperately, we will someday soon see less of these tragedies.

Go Yankees!

Game 150: NYY vs. BOS — Swept away & honoring Mo

Reporters aren’t supposed to play favorites, but bloggers aren’t limited to those restrictions. This means that by the nature of this blog I can be opinionated and play favorites and set my own standards of conduct, while I’m simply limited to basic codes of ethics and morals from my personal life. And if you’ve been a long-term reader of my blog, you know that I try my best to stay positive, not bash other people or teams, and honor the legacy of the Yankees as this season continues to unfold.

One of my favorite parts of this season is the prolonged goodbye to Mariano Rivera, as each visit to stadiums around the country is marked by a special series of events to send off the great closer in style. Gifts have included a gold record of “Enter Sandman” (his walk-out music), a sandcastle, a beach bicycle, a broken bat rocking chair, and thousands of dollars of donations to his charities that support the impoverished in his native land of Panama and the community and church he now calls home in New York.

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Mariano Rivera thanks Fenway
via Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

But tonight, I have to say that the Boston Red Sox really set the bar high. Before the game, they invited the Boston Cello Quartet to play the national anthem and then a strings rendition of “Enter Sandman”. Then a sort of “tribute video” was played on the big screen, featuring members of the 2004 Red Sox team that “thanked” Rivera for blowing the save in the ALCS that allowed the Red Sox to advance to win the World Series and how gracious Rivera was on the 2005 Opening Day ceremony when the teams faced off again. Then, four key Boston players presented Rivera with gifts — a painting of Rivera on the 2005 Opening Day, the signed (by the entire Red Sox roster) #42 placard used on the manual scoreboard whenever Rivera pitches, a blue 1934 Fenway Park #42 seat, and the pitching rubber from the visiting bullpen. And the owners presented Rivera with another check for his charity. This was, by far, the most creative and thoughtful gifts Rivera has received on his farewell tour. And unless Toronto and Houston can top this, it will be the best.

(Again, I’m feeling free with my opinions tonight. And due to the result of the series this weekend, I’m feeling the need to focus on good things wherever I can find them.)

So there was a game, and it wasn’t good, at least from a Yankees’ perspective. Starting pitcher Ivan Nova wasn’t really on his game tonight. He bookended his outing with innings that certainly weren’t reflective of the pitcher Nova is, which was more reflected in the middle innings of tonight. In the first inning, Nova threw 29 pitches, allowing 4 hits and 3 runs (an RBI single and a 2-run home run).

The 4th inning was… interesting (though my internal thesaurus doesn’t work this late at night, so I’m sure that’s not the accurate word for the 4th inning). A Red Sox batter walked, and the next guy grounded into a force out, which should have been an easy double play but the runner threw his hand up to block the ball and knocked down Mark Reynolds’ throw to 1st base. It should have been ruled interference, but the umpires believed he just made a mistake (something I’m sure replay would clear up for them next year, as it did for most everyone watching the game). Later in the 4th, with runners at the corners, another odd play happened when the Yankees somehow allowed the runner to steal home, which might have been ruled a wild pitch or a catcher’s error in most cases, but Red Sox-Yankee games are never normal.

Nova continued into the 5th inning, which may have been a mistake, but with a thin bullpen, the options are quite limited, especially so early in the game. So instead, a walk, a ground-rule double, and an intentional walk load the bases with no outs, and when Nova hits a batter, he walks in another run for Boston. Time to roll the dice with the bullpen. Adam Warren turned out to be a good option for the 5th, getting 2 strikeouts and a line out to retire 3 straight batters, with the bases loaded, I might add.

But then Warren gets in trouble himself in the 6th, a double, an out, and a walk prompt an RBI single. So they go to Cabral, who allows an RBI single. Chamberlain gets the reins next to shut down the last two outs of the 6th and the first out of the 7th. Newly acquired Mike Zagurski gets his first opportunity to pitch as a Yankee, gets an out, a single, and hit by pitch before they opt for David Phelps, who is making his first outing since coming off the DL recently. Phelps, however, still a little rusty, gives up a 2-RBI double before grabbing that elusive third out of the 7th. It’s Dellin Betances, in a vast improvement of his last outing, who throws a perfect 8th inning, complete with 2 strike outs.

And if you’ve been keeping up with the math, Boston ends their game with 9 runs. The Yankees respond with 2 of their own. Yes, just two, and they too bookend the game. In the 1st inning, Curtis Granderson walks and advances all the way to 3rd on a really poor throw to pick him off 1st base. On Alex Rodriguez’s groundout, Granderson scores the first Yankee run. And in the 9th inning, Overbay walks and is out on a force out from Reynolds. Reynolds advances to 2nd and scores on Ichiro Suzuki’s single. Two runs, and that’s all they wrote in Boston tonight, as the Red Sox sweep the Yankees for this series.

Tonight’s loss officially eliminates the Yankees from the AL East division title, something I doubt they thought they had a chance at since they entered September. There are six teams within 4 games of the AL Wild Cards — Texas, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Baltimore, New York, and Kansas City. September just got interesting. Just 12 games left to play, it’s still anyone’s game. And despite what you might hear on popular sports channels, the Yankees are still in it to win it all and baseball season (and its postseason) still has 6 weeks of games left to play, so those other sports games can wait their turn. People, it just got interesting.

Go Yankees!