Spring Games 22 & 23: NYY vs. BAL & NYY vs. PHI — Double away victories, perhaps with some good luck

I don’t often look at the standings during Spring Training (or early in the regular season) because it never gives you an accurate picture of what the real season will look like. But I happened to see them today in passing. The Yankees are currently sitting atop the Grapefruit League standings, 1.5 games ahead of the Nationals. It’s worth noting the Yankees are also well in the lead over the Cactus League.

But as we’ve said in previous years, the standings in Spring mean nothing. It’s a very long season, and there’s far too many variables (like injuries, trades, hit streaks, and dry spells) that affect where teams land for October baseball. So, Yankee fans, feel happy about today but cautiously optimistic about 7 months from now.

The Yankees played another split squad day, but this time was unique as both squads played in away games. One group traveled about an hour south to Sarasota to visit the Orioles, and the other about 20 minutes west to Clearwater to see the Phillies. And both teams got a little “lucky” on this cloudy Sunday holiday.

Game 1: Yankees at Orioles
Jonathan Loaisiga got the start for the Yankees here and helped set a solid, strong pattern that would earn him the eventual win for the afternoon with 3 great scoreless innings. David Hale continued his momentum in his 3 innings, only allowing the Orioles on the board in his final inning.

So, in the 6th, with 1 out and a runner on 1st, a double moved the runner to 3rd to score on an easy ground out. Yankees’ reliever Hutchison sailed through the 7th but gave up a lead-off solo shot in the 8th. A 1-out single later scored on a 2-out single to give the Orioles just one more run for the afternoon. And Brothers closed out the game with a quick, scoreless 9th.

The Yankees once again got on the board early and first. In the 1st, Kyle Holder led-off the game with a single but was forced out at 2nd on Andujar’s fielder’s choice (again, another delayed, unsuccessful double play attempt). This means that Luke Voit’s big homer up the middle became a 2-run home run. Miguel Andujar led-off the 3rd with a solo home run into the left field seats, and Zack Zehner imitated him with a lead-off solo home run of his own, also to left field, in the 4th.

After the Orioles chipped some off their lead, the Yankees didn’t get another chance until the 9th to find an insurance run. Burns worked a 1-out walk, stole 2nd, and then scored on Holder’s 2-out double.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Game 2: Yankees at Phillies
Meanwhile, in Clearwater, the Yankees had a bit more of a battle to the finish today, with a scoreless game for most of the first half of the afternoon. The Yankees finally found their moment in the 5th inning. Lipka led-off with a bunt single, stole 2nd, and easily scored on Trey Amburgey’s big triple to get the Yankees on the board first.

James Paxton got the start, throwing into the 5th inning, but finding trouble there. He gave up a lead-off walk, and the next batter made it to 1st on a strikeout-wild pitch. With those 2 runners on, Chad Green came on to try to shut down the advancing Phillies. But he promptly gave up a single that scored the tying run. Another single put another runner on base, so both runners scored on a triple to give the home team the lead. A great fielder’s choice got the lead runner out at home on the next play.

It would be Dellin Betances to right the ship for the Yankees, kicking off the momentum with a flawless 6th inning. Kahnle, Coulombe, and Anderson Severino (no relation) each took a scoreless inning to help give the Yankees a chance to regain the lead.

So, in the 6th, Greg Bird led-off with a big solo home run, and Gleyber Torres followed suit with a 1-out solo home run to tie up the game. In the 7th, with 1 out, LeMahieu made it safely on a throwing error and then scored as part of Troy Tulowitzki’s 2-run home run to give the Yankees the lead again.

But the hits kept coming. In the 8th, Tyler Wade led-off with single, moved to 2nd on Olivares’ single, and later scored on Cabrera’s 2-out single. Castillo’s single scored Olivares, officially sealing another Yankees’ win this afternoon.

Final score: 7-3 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will play another away game. This time, they travel to Kissimmee, about an hour east, to visit the Braves’ Spring home tomorrow night. It will be the last season the Braves have their Spring Training on Disney World property as their new home in Sarasota will officially open next year. However, they are scheduled to play an inaugural game against the Rays on March 24 before the 2019 season begins.

Finally, a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate!

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 20: BOS vs. NYY — A rivalry rout

No joke. It was crazy hot today in Tampa. The weather just can’t make up its mind this Spring, but as all my friends elsewhere keep reminding me, at least there’s no snow. Just lots of sweaty, sunburnt people packed into the stadium to enjoy a Friday afternoon of baseball.

Of course, this was no ordinary game. The Yankees hosted their annual Spring rivalry game against the Red Sox. As we all know, there’s nothing ordinary about a rivalry game. And today was no exception. The Yankees dominated from the start thanks to a great pattern set by today’s starter Domingo German, who threw a strong, scoreless 4 innings.

Chapman got to face one batter in the 5th, a warm-up act of sort for Holder to close out the rest of the inning. Adam Ottavino got into the only jam of the afternoon in the 6th. He gave up 3 consecutive singles to load up the bases, with no outs. But then the next batter hit into a standard double play that scored just one run, and a ground out got the Yankees out of the inning, removing the only Red Sox threat of the afternoon.

Tarpley and Reeves closed out the final third of the game, returning to the strong dominance the Yankees seemed to maintain all afternoon. Because the Red Sox seemed to have a really off-day, with some just sloppy pitching and plays. In fact, of the ridiculous number of runs the Yankees scored today, only half of them were earned.

In the 2nd, the Yankees began their eventual rout of their long-time rivals by loading up the bases with singles to Andujar and Sanchez and a walk to Bird. Then with 1 out, DJ LeMahieu reached safely due to a bad fielding error, which allowed Andujar to score. Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly scored Sanchez, leaving runners on the corners. Once the Red Sox pulled their starter, Aaron Judge smacked a solid 3-run home run to give the Yankees a healthy lead.

All the switch-outs and pinch-runners began in the 4th due to the length of the game at this point and the Yankees’ big lead. So with 1 out in the 4th, Tulowitzki worked a walk and replaced by Wade, who then scored on LeMahieu’s double. He was replaced by Holder, who moved to 3rd on Gardner’s single (replaced by Burns) and scored on Trey Amburgey’s sacrifice fly.

It was Stanton’s double that moved runners into scoring position (including his pinch-runner Lipka). Luke Voit’s big double then scored both Burns and Lipka. After a pitching change, Miguel Andujar singled home Voit to officially put the Yankees in double digits.

In the 5th, Bird led-off by getting to base due to a missed catch error. Wade’s single and Holder’s walk loaded up the bases. Burns hit into a grounder that finally snapped the Red Sox into good defense, getting Bird out at home. But then Amburgey’s single scored Wade, Matt Lipka hit into a fielder’s choice to score Holder, and Chris Gittens’ single scored Amburgey.

But the Yankees wanted one more. Gittens hit a 1-out double and later scored on Ryan Lavarnway’s 2-out double to add another exclamation point to the Yankees’ score today.

Final score: 14-1 Yankees

One to Watch: Chris Gittens kept jumping out to me this afternoon. In addition to his solid defense at 1st, he certainly contributed to the Yankees’ offense today in the latter half of the game. Not that they needed it, as Gittens was one of so many hits and runs scored today. But that position is key to any team’s defense, and he did so well. Gittens was signed by the Yankees in 2014 and seen most recently in Advanced-A Tampa and AA Trenton last year in between hip injuries. But he worked well today.

Next up: The Yankees host the Blue Jays tomorrow afternoon in Tampa.

History trivia: Amateur games of the sport were played from early days in America, brought over from European settlers that evolved from a combination of the children’s game of rounders and the still popular cricket. About 15 years before the Civil War, the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club was formed to help form actual rules like the shape of the field and what constituted an out.

More clubs were formed, playing ball games against each other as rules continued to be ironed out and regulations (like barring players of color and most immigrants by 1867). But it was still just a sport played by club members for fun (or “for sport”), much like people might play racquetball at today’s athletic clubs.

So, on this day (March 15) in 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional baseball team, facing mostly amateur and semi-professional teams and clubs. An actual league was formed two years later and lasted four years, leading many modern scholars to question its inclusion as a legitimate league in baseball history. The National League (that grew to be the one we still have today) formed in 1876, and the American League became an official league in 1901. (In that same year, the club formed known as the Orioles, later the Highlanders, and then the Yankees.)

In other words, Happy 150th Birthday, Major League Baseball. You don’t look a day over 135.

Go Yankees!

Postscript: Our deepest sympathies to those dealing with the aftermath of the violence in New Zealand. These instances are always disturbing and far too frequent. Camaraderie through outlets like sports and entertainment is often a key to healing. May we continue to push for peace, unity, and celebration of our individuality as we process, heal, and strive for better once again.  May their memories be a blessing.

Spring Game 19: NYY vs. TOR — Once again… another day, another draw

In addition to missing the ready available video highlights (and even being able to watch games I don’t attend in person), I’m starting to miss games where there’s a legitimate winner. And this is saying a lot as someone who also follows professional soccer (where most regular season games can end in a draw) and as someone who repeatedly reminds readers that these Spring games “don’t count” for anything but a big warm-up for the big guys and a month-long audition for the younger ones.

But it’s another beautiful Florida day as the Yankees trekked across Tampa Bay to visit the Blue Jays’ Spring home in Dunedin (about 20 miles or 40 minutes west of Tampa). Luis Cessa was dominant in his 4 innings this afternoon, setting a good pace that was matched mostly by the rest of the Yankee pitchers, but also by the Blue Jays. In fact, Yankee pitchers held off the home team until the 7th inning. Coulombe gave up a 1-out double that moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a single.

So, the Yankees’ offense actually held the lead for most of the game, getting on the board in the 4th. Gleyber Torres led-off with a single and ended up on 3rd on Troy Tulowitzki’s single. Miguel Andujar hit into a ground out, but Torres was able to score the Yankees’ lone run of the day. After the Blue Jays tied things up, neither team was able to crack their opponents’ strong pitching today.

Final score: 1-1 tie

Next up: The Big Game of the Spring — the Yankees will host the Red Sox. Of course, they’ve already played each other to open the Spring, but this time, they’re in Tampa. It’s sure to be a good game as usual and hopefully not another tie.

Some interesting news came out from MLB headquarters. They released some new rules to that will be implemented in 2019 and 2020. Coming this year will include changes to the fan voting for the All-Star Game (a graduated process), how much money the winner of the Home Run Derby makes (from $525,000 to $1,000,000), tightening the pace of play with shorter inning breaks, reduction of mound visits during a game, and trade deadline and waivers.

Next season will see the biggest changes. Rosters will increase to 26 regular players, which will “expand” to 28 in September, effectively eliminating the big “September Call-ups”. Other changes include further clarification of the roster, an increase of minimum days on the Disabled List, and a minimum number of batters a single pitcher must face (save injury or end of inning).

Yes, I have some opinions, but I’ll reserve them until we see them in play on a regular basis to see if they legitimately help improve the game or just hamper with unnecessary regulations. The changes to the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby won’t hit until the summer, but the more immediate changes to increase the pace of play (inning breaks and mound visits) seem more likely to aid the game than hinder it.

We’ll see it all in action shortly. So I’ll save my judgments until then.

And while it’s a beautiful day in Florida, our hearts are with those facing the messy snow storm in the middle of the country. Summer is coming. I promise. Take evidence in the fact that baseball season is already underway, and the “boys of summer” are itching to play in all those outdoor stadiums currently buried under feet of snow and battered by high winds. Stay safe.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: No broadcast, no video to include. It was a slow day for highlights anyway.}

Spring Games 15 & 16: NYY vs. DET & PIT vs. NYY — A draw and a win on a sunny Sunday

Another split squad series, another sunny and hot afternoon, another set of mixed results. At least today’s results leaned positive for the Yankees.

Game 1: Yankees at Detroit
Some of the Yankees traveled about 40 minutes east to visit the Tigers again in Lakeland and honestly battled their way through the afternoon in an oddly evenly-matched game. Nestor Cortes got the started and pitched his way into the 3rd inning, only giving up a lead-off solo home run in the 2nd.

Then the Yankees and Tigers kept the game close for most of the game, thanks to the great defense and pitching on both sides. The Yankees didn’t find their breakthrough until the 7th. Voit led-off with a walk and was pinch-run by Brandon Wagner. Miguel Andujar then hit a big double, and Wagner made an effort to score the Yankees’ first run. But a great relay got him out at home, with Andujar making it to 3rd on the throw. He was then pinch-run by Cabrera, who finally scored a Yankees’ run on Ryan Lavarnway’s single.

Another out later, the Yankees loaded up the bases with 2 walks. But a pitching change and a pop-up ended their attempt to break the tie. But Brandon Wagner broke it in the 8th with a 2-out solo home run, and the Yankees had their lead for the first time all afternoon in Lakeland.

It didn’t last long. In the bottom of the 8th, Danny Farquhar came out for the Yankees to try to protect the lead. A lead-off single was quickly caught stealing 2nd for his first out, and after another out, he loaded up the bases with 3 consecutive walks. David Hale came on in relief and promptly walked in the tying and final run.

Final score: 2-2 tie

Game 2: Pirates at Yankees
Meanwhile, back home in Tampa, the Yankees battled the visiting Pirates for the afternoon. JA Happ got the start at Steinbrenner Field, pitching 4 innings and struggling a bit in the middle. In the 2nd, with 1 out and runners on the corners with singles, a sacrifice fly scored the Pirates’ first run. And back-to-back solo home runs in the 3rd gave the Pirates a solid lead.

The Yankees finally found their offense in the 4th. They loaded up the bases with walks to 3 power-hitters — Judge, Stanton, and Bird. Gleyber Torres was then walked to scored Judge for the Yankees’ first run of the day in Tampa. With a new pitcher, Troy Tulowitzki ground into a double play, but it still scored Stanton and moved Bird to 3rd. Clint Frazier’s single then scored Bird to tie up the game in a single inning. Then in the 5th, Gio Urshela led-off with a solo home run to put the Yankees in the lead.

Adam Ottavino’s 5th inning was just filthy stuff, catching the eye of both fellow Yankees and their opponents. It was very much a “blink and you miss it” kind of inning, with the new Yankees just getting 3 straight strikeouts. Chapman followed that up with a solid 6th inning of his own, and things were looking up for the Yankees as they tried to gain some further momentum.

But Dellin Betances had a bit of a struggle in his 7th inning. He gave up a lead-off triple, due in part to some sun-influenced defensive issues. A single then scored that runner to tie the game up again. After a solid strikeout, he walked 2 batters to load up the batters. Jonathan Holder came in to try to save the inning, giving up a sacrifice fly that put the Pirates back on top.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees weren’t going to let this game go just yet. Jackson led-off with a single and then scored on Zack Zehner’s monster 2-run home run over the left field concourse to get the lead back to the home team. Tommy Kahnle’s final 4 outs closed out the game and protected the Yankees’ lead.

Final score: 6-5 Yankees

One to watch: I’m going to give today’s honor to Gio Urshela, who’s really been rising in recognition this Spring. And today, in addition to being the Yankees’ starting 3rd baseman, he also hit that great home run in the 5th to put the Yankees in their first lead of the afternoon. He was traded to the Yankees late last year after stints with the Indians and Blue Jays, playing in the big leagues with both previous teams. He’s not really been on anyone’s radar, but he could potentially be some great back-up for the infield should problems arise this season.

Next up: after an off-day tomorrow (Monday), the Yankees will take on the Orioles at home Tuesday night. There’s 15 scheduled games left, just a little more than halfway through the Spring, or about 2 weeks.

In Yankee Universe news: Babe Ruth’s last living daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, died Saturday at the age of 102. Ruth adopted Julia when he married her mother in 1929, but she remained an avid fan of Ruth’s original team, the Red Sox, being a frequent fan in the stands up until a few years ago. Our thoughts and condolences are with her son, two grandchildren, and four great grandchildren at this time.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: Neither game today was broadcast, so there was minimal video highlights to share. Apologies, fans!}

Spring Game 12: NYY vs. PHI — Good pitching makes all the difference

In contrast to yesterday’s game, the Yankees certainly found their pitching dominance to shut out the Phillies at their home field this afternoon. Led by two off-season veteran acquisitions, the Yankees proved that being good on paper can translate to being good in reality. Add in some decent offense, and it was a beautiful day for Yankees baseball. Even if they were in Clearwater (rather than at home across the Bay in Tampa).

James Paxton (also known as “Big Maple” thanks to his Canadian roots and giant maple leaf arm tattoo) got the start today and powered his way into the 4th inning, setting the scoreless and strikeout momentum for the rest of the pitching staff today. He handed the ball over to reliever Adam Ottavino who plowed through 5 outs with 3 amazing strikeouts.

With recent and lingering injuries, especially with the pitching staff, it’s rather reassuring to have some of the new guys come out and stay strong. A sigh of relief, perhaps, as they sort out how to deal with those pesky injuries and cope with the hole they leave in the roster and state of play.

Relievers Holder, Farquhar, and Hale split the final half of the game and kept the Phillies scoreless through the end of the afternoon. In total, Yankee pitchers got 12 strikeouts off Phillies’ batters.

Of course, Phillies’ pitchers weren’t exactly going easy on the visiting Yankees (including 13 strikeouts). But the Yankee batters found their moments. In the 4th, Miguel Andujar led-off with a single and moved to 2nd on Voit’s walk. Two outs and a new pitcher later, a wild pitch moved the runners to scoring position, and another one scored Andujar to give the Yankees their first run.

The Yankees loaded up the bases as Andujar led-off the 6th with another single, Voit walked again, and Bird worked a 1-out walk. Clint Frazier’s sacrifice fly scored Andujar. But it was Estevan Florial’s solid 3-run home run that had everyone talking this afternoon. One comparison was made in the moment to the likes of Reggie Jackson, who happened to be sitting in the dugout today.

Mike Ford led-off the 8th with a solo home run for just one more run for the Yankees today. Unnecessary for the win, but a solid continuation of the great day and win for the Yankees.

Final score: 6-0 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will host the Tigers tomorrow night back in Tampa.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 7: NYY vs. PIT — Triumphant return in afternoon loss

April 20, 2018. Just a random Friday in Chicago. But it would be a day that would change reliever Danny Farquhar’s life forever. After a brief stint on the mound, Farquhar made his way to the dugout feeling a little off before just collapsing. He was rushed to the hospital where they found that he was suffering from a sudden brain hemorrhage and operated immediately. He went through two weeks of intensive care in hopes that he would even walk out of the hospital.

But he did. He even threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the White Sox’s game on June 1. Despite his slow and miraculous recovery, his 2018 was over, and his baseball career looked hopeless. But for a man given a second chance at life, “it ain’t over ’til it’s over“. And in January, the Yankees decided to take a chance and invite the veteran reliever to a minor league contract and as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. The Yankees believed in him, so maybe, just maybe, the impossible could be possible.

Today, the Yankees traveled about 40 minutes south to Bradenton to visit the Pirates on this sunny Saturday afternoon. And the Yankees once again stuck first in the 1st. Tulowitzki hit a 1-out double and then scored on Miguel Andujar’s double to give the Yankees the early lead.

In the 2nd, Florial led-off with a double and then scored on Thairo Estrada’s single and a throwing error. Then in the 3rd, Frazier worked a 2-out double, stole 3rd, and then easily scored on Estevan Florial’s double, though he was tagged out trying to stretch it into a triple.

Starter Luis Cessa had a pretty good outing this afternoon until the 3rd inning. A lead-off double scored on a single, but then he got a great double play. A double threatened again, but Cessa found his momentum again and got a great strikeout to close out his outing.

Cessa handed the game over to Danny Farquhar. And while the game certainly didn’t have a fairy tale ending, it certainly felt like one. Farquhar is still scraping off the rust and his 4th inning showed it. He gave up a double and a 1-out walk that scored on a single and error. After another walk, another single scored the lead runner.

Stephen Tarpley tried to stem Farquhar’s mess, but stumbled a bit by giving up a deep 2-out triple to score both of Farquhar’s remaining runners and ultimately gave the loss to the recovered pitcher. Harvey had better luck with his 2 outs, as did David Hale in his first bit. But after 2 out sin the 7th, he gave up 3 consecutive doubles to score 2 more Pirates’ runs that eventually gave them the insurance run they’d need today. Diehal and Lail closed out the day with near perfect 4 outs among them.

The Yankees did attempt to chip away at the Pirates’ lead. In the 6th, Clint Frazier led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Trey Amburgey’s ground out. And in their last attempt to rally, the Yankees found some momentum in the 9th.

With 1 out, Park singled, Castillo singled, Mike Ford singled home Park, and Cabrera’s single loaded the bases. After a pitching change, Ryan Lavarnway’s solid single scored both Castillo and Ford. But two outs later, the Yankees had fallen just a run shy of the home team.

Final score: 8-7 Pirates

Next up: the Yankees play their first split squad game of the season. Part of the team will travel to Dunedin to face the Blue Jays, and part of the team will stay in Tampa to host the Tigers.

And yes, it looks like another warm, sunny weekend day for baseball. For an easy comparison as to why they do Spring Training in Florida (and Arizona), look no further than the snow my friends and family woke up to in New York today. It’s March, but it’s clearly still winter. What does that silly Groundhog know? Nothing. It’s not actually Spring until March 20th anyway because of the whole vernal equinox thing.

We know different here in Florida.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: again, no broadcast means almost no highlights to include in today’s post. Sorry. More regular broadcasts begin tomorrow, so there will be more highlights available.}

Spring Game 4: NYY vs. DET — More rain shortens rough game

The same front that washed out yesterday’s game continues to bring further bands of rain through the area and ended up shortening today’s game. And part of me thinks this might have been a relief for the Yankees, who were just getting roughed up today.

The Yankees traveled about 40 minutes east to visit the Tigers’ Spring home field in Lakeland, and things started like they have for the last 3 games — with the Yankees hitting first and hard. Hicks led-off the game with a double, and Voit worked a 1-out walk. Miguel Andujar hit a baby grounder, but a throwing error only allowed the Tigers to get the out at 2nd as Hicks spend his way home to score the first run. Torres then singled, and Greg Bird hit a big 3-run home run to give the Yankees a nice early lead.

But today’s starter Chance Adams just couldn’t find his pitches and didn’t even make it out of the first inning. He gave up a walk and single that both scored on a double. A double and triple easily scored 2 more runs before Adams finally got an out, an easy ground out. Brady Lail struggled a bit to get out of the inning, when a single scored Adams’ final runner, but then a beautiful double play closed the exhausting inning.

After an easier 2nd, Domingo Acevedo found his own set of struggles in the 3rd inning. With 2 outs, he loaded up the bases with a single, walk, and hit-by-pitch before giving up a walk to easily score the lead runner. The next batter promptly smacked a big grand slam to ensure the Yankees were overwhelmed by the home team today.

Despite starting the game with blue, sunny skies, the storm front crept its way across the area and clouded up the previous beautiful vista. And then it started raining. A bit too hard. So they brought out the tarp in the 6th inning and delayed the game for 16 minutes.

The rain cleared, and play resumed amid a bit of a drizzle. But as Kyle Holder led off the 7th with a solid hit, the rain worsened. Teams headed to their dugouts, as fans scurried to the nearest coverage. It just wasn’t going to happen. The game was mercifully called.

Final score: 10-4 Tigers, in 7 innings (thanks to Holder’s lone at-bat)

Next up: the Yankees play host again, this time to the Pirates. And the weather report reads about 10% chance of rain, but a bit humid as that aforementioned front settles over the area. In other words, there’ll be a game, but it’s going to be that typical Florida weather.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: no broadcast means no media clips to include in today’s post. Not that there’s much outside the first half-inning to remember for the Yankees.}