Spring Game 7: NYY vs. PHI — #CCStrong, Baby Bombers alert!

Under more clear blue, sunny skies, fans scattered themselves across Spectrum Field in Clearwater, filling about three-quarters of the Phillies’ Spring home stadium, to watch the Yankees come for another visit. CC Sabathia got his Spring start this year, looking to duplicate (or even exceed) his 2017 success. And boy was today a good day for Sabathia. In his 2 innings, he dominated Phillies’ batters, getting 3 solid strikeouts and set himself up for the eventual win.

Domingo German came on in relief for Sabathia and breezed his way through the 3rd. He threw 3 solid innings with a single issue — a 1-out solo home run in the 4th to get the Phillies on the board. Wade LeBlanc had a bit of an issue in the 6th, giving up a double, a walk, a sacrifice bunt, and an RBI ground out before breezing his way through the 7th unscathed.

Actually, the best inning for Phillies’ batters was the 8th. It was also the worst for reliever Giovanny Gallegos. He gave up a lead-off single and 2 walks to load up the bases, with no outs. A big double scored 2 runs for the Phillies, again with no outs. So the Yankees went to their bullpen and called on the final pitcher of the afternoon Ben Heller for the final 6 outs, which he breezed through.

Meanwhile, the thing that really marked this game (and sent many Phillies fans home early) were the unending home runs by Yankee batters today — well, 5 in total. Miguel Andujar set the pace with a big lead-off 1st pitch solo home run in the 2nd. With 2 outs, Tyler Austin, Romine, and Cave then loaded up the bases, but an early pitching change ended Yankee hopes to add to their lead. That’s okay. Andujar came back in the 3rd and hit a 2-out home run to double the Yankees’ score, and that was his 4th just this Spring.

Then the rest of the team got in on the action. Brandon Drury led-off the 5th with his own solo home run, and Tyler Austin followed suit with a lead-off home run in the 6th. They changed things up a bit in the 7th as Estevan Florial narrowly missed a home run, smacking a long triple before scoring the first non-homer run on Ronald Torreyes’ sacrifice fly. But then it was back to business as usual when Billy McKinney hit a solo home run to cap off the Yankees’ scoring today.

Final score: 6-4 Yankees

Next up: the Yankees host the Braves tomorrow afternoon back at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Masahiro Tanaka is schedule to make his Spring debut, looking to repeat his 2017 Spring excellence and redeem his less-than-stellar 2017 regular season. (And in personal news, it’s supposed to be about 12° cooler for local fans, or back to a more tolerable normal temperature for Spring Training around here.)

Also, if you’re watching the farm system, it’s worth noting that the powers-that-be recently ranked the Yankees farm system and prospects at #6 overall. They were #2 last year but found themselves demoted due to how many prospects found themselves playing in the Bronx last year and no longer considered “prospects” (Frazier, Green, and Montgomery), as well as many who’ve been shipped off to other teams (Fowler, Kaprielian, and Mateo). But there are plenty of really good guys left — Andujar, Florial, and Gleyber Torres jump to mind. In other words, the farm system is so loaded that the future looks really good, regardless of how many players come and go.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 5: NYY vs. TOR — A rather messy way to win a game

I’m not going to lie. There are some games that are just an absolute train wreck. They are definitely more common in Spring Training where it seems more like Little League than professional baseball. And usually, it doesn’t turn out well for one team. But this was certainly a joint effort that somehow ended up in the Yankees’ favor.

The Yankees found their way to visit the Blue Jays’ Spring home in Dunedin (about 30 minutes west of Tampa). Back to being called Dunedin Stadium (and the angels rejoice!), the Yankees were looking to extend their undefeated winning streak this Spring, and it certainly took more than a little effort to get there. Today’s starter Chad Green got off to a great start in his first inning, but then struggled in his second, giving up a 1-out solo home run. A 2-out double was too far, and the Yankees turned to reliever Trevor Lane, who got out of the 2nd and kept the 3rd scoreless.

The Yankees came back in the 4th to advance. Danny Espinosa smacked a 1-out solo home run that bounced off the scoreboard out in left field to tie up the game. Austin Romine followed that up with a solid double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on a wild pitch to put the Yankees in the lead. Briefly. Because reliever David Hale got into his own set of trouble in the bottom of the 4th. With a 1-out walk lingering at 1st, the defense rose to the occasion to get the out at home on a long double. But then a single tied up the game again and a wild pitch moved the runner into scoring position to do so on yet another single to give the Blue Jays the lead again.

After a scoreless 5th inning on both sides, the Yankees tied up the game in the 6th as last night’s hero Miguel Andujar smacked another home run. In the bottom of the 6th,  after a great 5th inning, prospect reliever JP Feyereisen came back out for the 6th, but then he started struggling too, giving up a lead-off walk who promptly scored on a big triple. So the Yankees turned to Raynel Espinal, but even he gave up a 1-out single that scored another Jays’ run.

In the top of the 7th, the Yankees came charging back as Florial tripled and then scored on Shane Robinson’s sacrifice fly. Then Ryan McBroom led-off a big 8th inning with a solo home run that finally tied up the game again. Wade singled, Higashioka walks, and Diaz hit a sacrifice bunt that was mishandled and thus loaded up the bases, with no outs. A wild pitch moved up all the runners, scoring the go ahead run for the Yankees. After an easy ground out, the Blue Jays went back to their bullpen. It didn’t really help. Florial’s walk loaded up the bases again, and Amburgey hit into a ground out that got the runner at home, keeping the bases loaded. It would be Mark Payton’s bases-clearing double that gave the Yankees enough of a lead to breathe again.

They would need it. Reliever Adonis Rosa had a flawless, 3-strikeout 7th inning, but then floundered a bit coming back out for the bottom of the 8th, giving up a lead-off solo homer and a big double. Josh Rogers came on in relief for Rosa to keep the Yankees in the lead, getting a great double play, a single, and a routine ground out to get out of the inning. But even he had trouble when he came back in the 9th, giving up a lead-off single, a 1-out balk, and a long 2-run home run to put the Jays within a single run. Fortunately, Cale Coshow was able to quickly close out the game in 2 outs to preserve the Yankees minuscule lead.

It’s worth noting that the Yankees’ pitchers gave up 14 hits, while the Yankees’ batters only racked up 9 hits. Stats aren’t always the easiest way to determine how good a game went. But in this case, it’s rather indicative of the kind of messy game the fans in Dunedin got to witness today. But since all that matters (in games that don’t really matter) is the win, I’ll take it.

Final score: 9-8 Yankees

Next up: the Yankees are back in Tampa tomorrow afternoon to host the Tigers again. And they’ll be going for 6 straight wins in an undefeated start to maintain that top spot in both the Grapefruit League and American League so far. I know these standings don’t really count for anything, and they don’t reflect any possible outcome for the rest of the season. But we cling to the good that we can while we can, so that’s where we are.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 4: PHI vs. NYY — Last minute power to continue win streak

The win streak continues on this warm late February night in Tampa. The visiting Phillies certainly played better than yesterday, which pushed the Yankees to be better in the end. And it paid off.

Sonny Gray got his first Spring start tonight and had a pretty good 2 innings. Prospect pitcher Chance Adams got roughed up in the 3rd inning, beginning with a lead-off walk that stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on a sacrifice fly. He then gave up a single that stole 2nd and a walk before Sanchez paired with Gregorius to pick off the runner at 2nd.

Jonathan Heller held the Phillies to that lone run in the 4th, despite a couple hits putting runners in scoring position. Ben Heller’s 5th was another challenge, loading up the bases with 2 walks and a single. A 2-out hit-by-pitch walked in another run for the Phillies before getting out of the inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were relatively halted in their offense until that 5th inning. With 2 outs, Drury worked a walk and moved to 2nd when McKinney’s hit into a messy single that was mishandled by the infielder. Tyler Wade then singled to score Drury, as both Wade and McKinney moved into scoring position. But a fly out ended hopes to tie up the game. At least then.

Yankees reliever Brian Keller held the Phillies to a scoreless 2 inning for the 6th and 7th innings. It gave the Yankees offense a chance to catch up in the 7th. With 2 outs, Drury hit a long triple and was pinch-run by minor leaguer Payton who promptly scored and tied up the game when pinch-hitter Miguel Andujar hit a solid double. Then in the 8th, with 1 out and Kratz and Austin on base with walks, pinch-hitter Jorge Saez singled to score Kratz. Austin was right on his tail on the way in, being encouraged home by the 3rd base coach, but the ball arrived home right between Kratz and Austin’s scoring and Austin was tagged out. But it was enough to give the Yankees the lead.

So all they needed was three outs and their win streak could continue. But since when do they make it easy? Yankees reliever Cody Carroll threw a great 8th inning and was looking at continuing that momentum in the 9th. And with 2 quick outs, things were looking up. But a checked swing was ruled a ball (and the entire crowd voiced their displeasure at the umpires), and it wasn’t more than a minute later that the batter hit a long fly ball that bounced off the top of the right field wall. It was called a home run, and just like that, the game was tied.

Into the bottom of the 9th, the game went, with all the hopes and expectations of the lingering crowd. With 2 quick outs, many of the fans were consoling themselves that a tie is still not a loss, comparing how in regulation leagues a draw is still awarded a point (a win is 3 points and a loss is 0 points). But then one nearby Yankee fan remarked that if anyone was going to do something it was going to be Andujar. And boy, did he ever, smacking a big home run right over the left field fence for a beautiful walk-off win.

Final score: 4-3 Yankees

One to Watch: Got to give it to Miguel Andujar tonight. He went 2-for-2, with that home run, plus another RBI, thus responsible for half of the Yankees’ score tonight. Plus, he’s always a great defender. That 3rd base job, or at least, platooning there is looking more and more likely if he can keep playing like he did tonight.

Injury news: in Saturday’s game against the Pirates, Clint Frazier ran into the left field wall (which was really just a chain link fence) rather hard and was later diagnosed with a mild concussion. He is doing better today, but he will be out a few more days and be watched carefully. With the rise of CTE in other sports and its direct link to concussions, athletes and their teams take even slight concussions seriously and proceed with caution. Take all the time you need. I think anyone would prefer a completely healthy athlete to a partially healed one. (Especially their mothers and wives!)

Next up: Yankees head back across the Bay, this time to play the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: No broadcast tonight means no video highlights for the blog. Sorry!}

One more sleep until baseball…

I’ve been contemplative all day really. When you write a daily blog that revolves around a single thing, your life is pretty much built around that. Like when you grow up, your entire world is built around the school schedule. You know when your vacation days are, you known when exams will be so you know when you will need to pull all-nighters, you structure your days, your life around one stable thing. And it works.

That’s me and baseball. The season technically starts tomorrow with the first Spring Training game against the Tigers (more on that in a moment). And the last baseball game was November 1, Game 7 of the World Series when the Astros defeated the Dodgers to become champions last year. For the average fan, they catch a random game some time between March and September, maybe use a mobile app a few times a week to see where their team currently sits in the standings. But my life pretty much revolves around the baseball season, which means from the first pitch of Spring Training to the final out of the World Series, I’m locked in. I take my blog with me on vacations (even to Europe a few years ago), I write after weddings and birthday parties (sometimes late into the night or early the next morning), I’m pretty much always on my phone (thanks to Twitter and my own mobile apps).

I know it’s sometimes confusing to my friends and family that I’m not always present or available during the season. I’m not quite a journalist, though because I went to school for journalism, my approach is often more sports writer than your average blogger. But I’ve found something that works. I get to appreciate the game from the fan’s perspective, recap it for those who don’t watch every game, and then talk about the state of the game and the team how I see it. My approach, my perspective, my appreciation, even my opinions have evolved over this blog, as they should, as we should grow in ourselves and expand our worldview.

I started this blog five years ago on a whim, just to see if I could do it for a season, and honestly, hoping I could follow one team through to winning the World Series. In the last five seasons, I’ve seen big retirements, big signings, and thousands of little moments that matter even more. I’ve made memories at stadiums all over the country, friends from all over the world, and discovered that the sport we love is so much more than the game we see on the field.

Now, on the eve of my sixth (!) season following the Yankees, I’ve never been more hopeful for this team. The roster is different, younger, and catching the eye of the talking heads (and actually in a good way). The fans in general are cautiously optimistic after last year, and I don’t blame them. And while the real season starts in about a month, baseball’s warm-up season begins tomorrow afternoon.

I don’t think I really understood the value of Spring Training until I started this blog. But now, I think I look forward to it more than any other time of year. I’ve been watching the likes of Aaron Judge and many prospects now on other organizations’ 40-man rosters. As much as everyone wanted to see Judge so much earlier, watching Spring Training proved both his potential but also that he needed another season or two working out the quirks. Now, he’s the reigning Home Run Derby champion, All-Star, Silver Slugger, and Rookie of the Year. Had they brought him up before he was ready, awards would not be there, and he would have had to work out all the quirks on a much bigger stage. How the “talking heads” would have loved discussing that!

But the value of Spring Training was understanding why the minor league system works. That very same system that brought all of the Core Four into the last dynasty, and the same system that is filled with prospects like Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, and Miguel Andujar, all of which have a very real chance to see the big leagues this year (maybe even the starting roster). The beauty of Spring Training is being able to see the random players in the organization that might be the next something special.

Or maybe they’re the star quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson. Wilson was acquired in a trade earlier this month from the Rangers and will be assigned to AA Trenton during the season. Wilson, who grew up playing baseball and football, was drafted by the Rockies in 2010 and spends his NFL off-season (which is now, of course) playing minor league ball, now with the Yankees this season. He posted on his social media today that he’s on his way to spend time in camp in Tampa, though as he’s not on the roster or not an official non-roster invitee, he won’t be playing any games at Steinbrenner Field. He’ll instead spend his time at minor league camp joined progressively by all those non-roster invitees and players on the roster that won’t be on the Opening Day roster.

So, it’s one more sleep until baseball…

And it’s all just beginning… once again…

Go Yankees!

Game 148: BAL vs. NYY — Monty keeps up the momentum

The Yankees continue their drive towards the postseason with momentum. This is the one part of the schedule that is clearly working in the Yankees’ favor. Yesterday’s win was Joe Girardi’s 900th win as the manager of the Yankees, joining the likes of the legendary Joe Torre and Casey Stengel. And that is certainly helping that aforementioned momentum.

Jordan Montgomery had a much better outing than any other one in the recent month, setting himself up for the first win since July. He threw 95 pitches in his 6 innings, gave up 4 hits and a walk, and struck out 6 batters, all while keeping the Orioles completely scoreless. Kahnle and Heller continued that scoreless streak through the next two innings.

Chasen Shreve found some trouble in the 9th inning. He gave up a 1-out walk that scored on a 2-run home run before loading up the bases with 3 consecutive walks on 2 outs. Giovanni Gallegos came on to stop the anti-momentum of Shreve, which was odd enough in itself. He unfortunately promptly balked to move all the runners up that also scored another run for the Orioles. But then he got a strikeout to close out the game.

Meanwhile, the Yankees pressed into the Orioles’ pitching staff enough to force their starter out of the game in just the 4th inning. In the 3rd, with 2 outs, Headley and Judge worked walks and then were part of Didi Gregorius’ 3-run home run into the right field seats to get the Yankees on the board. Then in the 4th, Ellsbury doubled and Todd Frazier walked, so Greg Bird’s 5th homer of the season became a 3-run home run to double the Yankees’ lead. And that would be it for the O’s starter.

In the 5th, with 1 out, Gregorius singled, moved to 2nd on Castro’s hit-by-pitch, and then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. And with a new pitcher in the 7th, Gregorius led off with a single and then scored as part of Todd Frazier’s 2-out 2-run home run up the middle to cap off the Yankees’ big offense tonight. (And the “thumbs-down” thing is still a thing apparently.)

The biggest downfall for Yankee pitchers tonight, which fortunately didn’t go against them that much, was the 8 total allowed walks. That stat has to improve as against another team that would take advantage of that, that could be quite detrimental to the Yankees’ hopes for October baseball.

Final score: 9-3 Yankees

Roster moves: before today’s game, the Yankees recalled reliever Jonathan Holder (who pitched rather well again this afternoon) and infielder Miguel Andujar from AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Andujar made his MLB debut today late in the game as a DH substitute, and for his first MLB at-bat, he grounded out. That first hit is coming.

Postseason prep: well, the Red Sox won their marathon game last night against the Rays in the 15th inning, after getting 7 runs in that final inning to beat the home team 13-6. That kept the Red Sox 3 games ahead of the Yankees, and after tonight’s win against the Rays, they remain that 3 games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East. Again, it’s still very much “Go, Rays!” this weekend, while the Yankees need a final win tomorrow to sweep the Orioles and head into their final 2 weeks of the season with that winning momentum.

Go Yankees!

Game 79: NYY vs. HOU — Sometimes not even a Grand Slam can save a game

It’s a Saturday night in Houston, and things were looking up for the Yankees thanks to a strong start by rookie pitcher Jordan Montgomery. Actually, neither team got on the board until the second half of the game, leaving both teams battling it out for most of the game.

Montgomery threw 87 pitches into the 6th inning, giving up just 5 hits, a walk, and 3 runs, striking out 4 Houston batters. So in the 5th, Montgomery gave up his only walk, a lead-off walk that scored as part of a 2-run home run to get the Astros on the board. Then in the bottom of the 6th, he gave up a 1-out solo home run. After a double kept the Astros alive, Montgomery handed the game over to Chad Green.

Green promptly struck out the final 2 batters of the 6th and then breezed his way through the 7th inning to keep the Yankees in the lead. Green set things up for the Yankees to keep working and clear the way for the final innings for the closing duo.

As Montgomery and Green were clearing the way defensively, the Yankees offense finally kicked in, much like they did last night, in the 6th inning. Clint Frazier got his first MLB hit, a double, to lead off the inning. (More on him later.) Frazier moved to 3rd on Gardner’s single. With 2 runners on base, the Astros’ starter’s night was done. Which turned out to be a great thing for the Yankees.

Ellsbury worked a walk to load up the bases, and Gary Sanchez’s single scored Fraizer (his first MLB run-scored). With the bases still loaded, it would be Didi Gregorius to hit his 10th home run of the season, a monster grand slam (his first of his career) to give the Yankees a nice lead over the Astros.

Then after an out (the first one of the inning), Torreyes singled and the Astros went to a new pitcher, as Torreyes worked his way around the bases, stealing both 2nd and 3rd before a strikeout left him stranded. In the 7th, Clint Frazier added one more run for the Yankees with a lead-off solo home run deep into the left field seats. His first MLB home run, his second MLB hit (and of the night).

And things were good for the Yankees, but then it all got sticky in the 8th inning. Dellin Betances, on the mound now, had some trouble getting those necessary 3 outs. After a strikeout, he gave up a walk who then stole 2nd and 3rd before scoring on a ground out. A solo home run put the Astros within a run of the Yankees’ lead. Betances then gave up a walk and then tried to pick that runner off 1st, but a missed catch error allowed him to get to 2nd base and then steal 3rd. After another walk, the Yankees called in Aroldis Chapman for what should be a 4-out save.

It really didn’t turn out that way after Chapman gave up a 2-RBI double that gave the Astros the lead. And the Yankees didn’t do much in the 9th inning to make a comeback. After 2 outs, Gardner singled and ended up getting caught trying to stretch it into a double, which ended the game in a single tag.

Final score: 7-6 Astros

Roster moves: The Yankees transferred Dustin Fowler from the 10-day to the 60-day disabled list, as he continues to recover from his emergency knee surgery. They also optioned Miguel Andujar back to AAA Scranton (I hope he’s getting airline miles for all this travel back and forth). And they selected the contract of Clint Frazier AAA Scranton.

Clint Frazier found out yesterday about his call-up, making a phone call to his family who then traveled to Houston (from their home in Georgia) to watch their son make a pretty great debut, despite the Yankees’ late loss. Who knows how long Frazier will be in pinstripes with the big guys, but like a few of his other Scranton teammates, he can cling to a stellar debut and help contribute his small part to the 2017 season.

Go Yankees!

Game 78: NYY vs. HOU — A “Gardy Party”

I think my favorite tweet about tonight’s game was the Yankees’ “Everyone’s invited to a Gardy party!” It’s a terrible attempt at a pun, of course, thanks in part to Yankees’ radio announcer John Sterling and his infamous old-school radio calls. But it was certainly a nice wrap up for the offense that was Brett Gardner tonight in the opening game against the Astros.

Of course, Gardner’s push had huge support thanks to starter Michael Pineda, who threw 91 pitches in 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, no walks, and 3 runs (only 2 earned), and striking out 3 Houston batters. In the 1st, a lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a sacrifice fly to give the Astros an early lead. With 1 out and 2 runners in scoring position in the 4th, a ground out scored the first and a single scored the second to give the Astros a nice lead over the Yankees.

Recently called-up Bryan Mitchell came on for the final third of the game for the Yankees, giving them the kind of solid, consistent long-term relief they’ve been needing for a few weeks. He threw just 30 pitches in 3 innings and still managed to give up a run, in his middle inning, the 8th. A lead-off double ended up at 3rd on a fielding error and then scored on a ground out.

And that wouldn’t be good enough if the Astros were playing like one of the best teams in baseball (as they are), but the Yankees seemed to remember that they’re also one of the best teams in baseball. And it would be Brett Gardner (of course) to start the whole thing for the Yankees with a lead-off double in the 3rd and then scoring on Didi Gregorius’ 2-out double to tie up the game, at that point.

Down 3-1, the Yankees began their rally and eventual rout in the 6th inning. Gregorius led-off with a single and moved to 2nd on Romine’s 1-out walk. The Astros’ starter was done, but the bullpen wasn’t any better. Ronald Torreyes’ single scored Gregorius and then after another strikeout, the rally began. Chris Carter single scored Romine, Gardner’s single scored Torreyes (to finally put the Yankees in the lead), and Jacoby Ellsbury’s single scored Carter as an error moved runners into scoring position. Aaron Judge’s walk was on a wild pitch that scored Gardner. That ended the 6th inning run rally as a new reliever found the final out of the inning.

But it would be the 7th inning that would leave everyone talking. The Yankees loaded up the bases with singles to Headley and Romine and a walk to Torreyes. Wade hit into a ground out that the Astros kicked into defensive gear and got the best out at home. A new reliever got a strikeout but then got Gardner to work up a full count before he sent a 82 mph slider into the right field seats for a home run, his 3rd career grand slam to ensure a Yankees victory tonight.

To add just a pinch more, the Yankees took advantage of the Astros sending in a position player to close out the game in the 9th. Torreyes and Wade each worked a walk. Carter’s double scored Torreyes, Gardner’s sacrifice fly score Wade, and Ellsbury’s ground out scored Carter before the position player reliever got home run leader Aaron Judge to fly out to end the inning and set up the Yankees for the big win.

Final score: 13-4 Yankees.

Roster moves: Before tonight’s game, the Yankees put Dustin Fowler on the 10-day disabled list with his ruptured right patellar tendon injury (more below) and optioned reliever Ronald Herrera back to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In their place, the Yankees recalled tonight’s long closer Bryan Mitchell and the hero rookie from two days ago Miguel Andujar from AAA Scranton.

A few hours before tonight’s game, the Yankees all crowded into Girardi’s office to Facetime with their injured teammate Dustin Fowler in a Chicago hospital. Fowler will be discharged from the hospital and sent to New York to begin his roughly 6 months of recovery. It’s a bit shorter than a torn ACL, but a knee injury, regardless of how intense, is never an easy road to recovery. Fowler deserves a chance to show what a great player he can be in the big leagues, and at this point, it looks like maybe next year he gets that chance.

Go Yankees!