Game 84: NYY vs. NYM — German’s strong return

The Yankees continue their march to being the best. While still 4 games behind 1st place Dodgers for all of MLB, the Yankees easily sit atop the AL, 6 1/2 games above the Rays in the AL East, 2 games above AL Central leader Twins, and 1 1/2 games above the AL West leader Astros. At least if my math is right tonight, but the Yankees’ average is better than every other team in the AL.

Domingo German is back with the team, and his start tonight was exactly where the Yankees need him to be in the second game of this 2-game mini-series at the Mets. He threw 80 pitches in 6 innings, gave up 5 hits and just 1 run, and struck out 6 Mets batters to earn the eventual win.

His lone allowed run (and the only run by the home team all night) was a 1st pitch solo home run in the 1st. After that first pitch, German held the game strong for the remainder of his outing, setting an easy pattern for the final third of the game. Green held the game strong through the 7th and 8th inning, and Cortes close out the game with a great 18-pitch 9th inning.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got off to a good start. DJ LeMahieu doubled to lead off the game and then immediately scored on Aaron Judge’s double. Two outs later, Judge scored on Gleyber Torres’ single. In the 6th, Didi Gregorius hit a 1-out solo home run, and after a pitching change, Gio Urshela followed that up with a solo home run of his own.

Finally, LeMahieu led-off the 7th with a double. After 2 outs and a walk to Hicks, LeMahieu scored on Torres’ single to cap off the Yankees’ extra (albeit unnecessary) insurance runs.

Final score: 5-1 Yankees, Yankees and Mets split the series 1-1

Next up: The Yankees hop a plane and head to Yankee Stadium South, sorry, Tropicana Field in the Tampa Bay area to face the Rays for a 4-game series to close out the official first half of the season. The All-Star Break begins Monday, and following the Home Run Derby on Monday and the All-Star Game on Tuesday, they have two extra days off before starting Part Two of the season. They’ll host a long homestand, with the Blue Jays, Rays, and Rockies.

Roster moves: Before tonight’s game, the Yankees activated Domingo German from the 10-day injured list after his hip injury early last month. To make room, they optioned reliever Stephen Tarpley back to AAA Scranton.

“The Machine” is making waves beyond Yankee Universe. After receiving on of the coveted All-Star starter spots, DJ LeMahieu continued showing off and earned the honor of being June’s AL Player of the Month. Certainly well-deserved, LeMahieu is one of the many cogs in this truly amazing team, and I, for one, am glad more people beyond regular fans to recognize this.

Yankee Universe Bits: So, the greatness of the Yankees apparently extends beyond the big league guys. There are 9 minor league teams that are part of the Yankees’ farm system. (Quick reference: AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders; AA Trenton Thunder; Advanced-A Tampa Tarpons; Class-A Charleston RiverDogs; Short-A Staten Island Yankees; Rookie Leagues Pulaski Yankees, Gulf Coast League Yankees East, and Gulf Coast League Yankees West; and International League Dominican Summer League Yankees)

In a game played by the DSL Yankees and the DSL Twins today, the Yankees basically blew the old minor league record of runs scored in a single game (33) by setting a new one by scoring 38 runs. And you thought the craziness in the first game in London was something!

Go Yankees!

Hall of Fame near miss & other random off-season moments

After several months of speculation and journalists openly sharing their votes, the Baseball Writers Association of America released the much-anticipated results of the annual Hall of Fame election. In December, the Veterans Committee selected 4-time World Series pitcher Jack Norris (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays) and his 1984 Tigers’ teammate, 6-time All-Star shortstop and 1984 World Series MVP, Alan Trammel. Joining them, the BBWAA announced newest inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero, all well-deserved honorees.

Elected with 97.2% of the vote, Jones spent his entire 19 year career with the Braves at 3rd base and became a fixture in the Atlanta area. He was part of the 1995, 1996, and 1999 World Series teams, winning a ring with the Hall of Fame worthy 1995 team against the Indians. (Jones joins other 1995 Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox (HOF class of 2014) and John Smoltz (class of 2015) at Cooperstown.) Jones also earned the NL MVP Award in 1999 and was an 8-time All-Star.

{Worth reminding my primary audience here: the Braves team in 1996 and 1999 faced and lost to the last dynasty of the Yankees. It was 6 games in the 1996 series, before they were swept in the 1999 series by the unstoppable Yankees that year.}

On the other side of that World Series was a noted 1st baseman and fellow 2018 inductee Jim Thome (89.8% of the votes). Thome spent his 22 year career primarily with the Indians (1991-2002, 2011), helping them reach the 1995 and 1997 World Series but failed to get a ring (losing to the Braves and Marlins, respectively). Over the course of his career, he was a 5-time All-Star and led the National League with 47 home runs in his 2003 season with the Phillies. Thome also won the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award for his outstanding contributions both on the field and off.

Reliever Hoffman (79.9%) spent the bulk of his 18 year with the Padres (1993-2008), including the year they met the Yankees in the World Series in 1998. The Yankees swept them in 4 games (again, part of that unstoppable dynasty era). But Hoffman still made quite the impact in his career as a 7-time All-Star and leading the NL in saves both in 1998 (with 53) and in 2006 (with 46).

Guerrero (92.9%) spent his 16 year career in the outfield, the bulk of which first with the Expos (1996-2003) and then with the Angels (2004-2009). He also got a shot at the World Series with the 2010 Rangers, but they fell to the Giants that year. Guerrero was a 9-time All-Star and 2004 AL MVP. He also polishes his well-earned 8 Silver Slugger Awards in his trophy case as part of his career accomplishments.

Falling just short of the 75% of the votes needed included Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, getting 63.5% . Any player receiving less than 5% of the votes are automatically dropped from the ballot the following year (including former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui). However, those above 5% and less than 75% move on to hope for another year including Mussina, Roger Clemens (57.3%), Gary Sheffield (11.1%), and Andruw Jones (7.3%). Mussina keeps missing the mark, while Clemens battles the rumors of his past PED use, similar to Giants legend Barry Bonds (who fell short at 56.4%).

It is also worth noting that there were 422 submitted ballots, including 1 left intentionally blank (because where would the fun be in someone getting elected with 100% of the votes). Of those, only 12 ballots didn’t elect Jones, which is why he only got 97% of the vote. Notably, there was also one voter that only voted for Indians alumni (Thome and Omar Vizquel). And if you’re feeling a weird flashback to high school elections for prom court or student council, you’re 100% on track. Some people use their vote to make a point (the blank ballot or all Indians ballot), some to play favorites (a few intentionally anti-Yankee alumni), and some thought through the process of such an honor and chose players that rightfully deserve legacy status. I have mixed feelings every year — I agree every time with who will be feted in July, but I am always irked by who “falls short” due to those who vote in the first two categories.

No, I don’t have a vote. But I do have an opinion.

In lighter news, and back to focusing on Yankees, the off-season has been pretty good for the boys. They’ve been working out, having fun on the practice fields, and enjoying fan art. Meanwhile, the biggest end of season trend last year was Gary the “Thumbs Down” Guy, a Mets fan who flashed the “thumbs down” during a Todd Frazier home run at the special game at CitiField in September. It became a huge meme and thing for the Yankees to do during something amazing and gave New Yorker Gary Dunaier his 15 minutes of fame (or rather 4 months and counting). Frazier and Dunaier finally met earlier this week at an event on Staten Island.

Legend-in-the-making and video game cover guy Aaron Judge got to practice his swing (and bat flip) in a motion-capture suit. He will premier on the cover of MLB The Show 2018 and show off his home run swing for Play Station come March 27 (or March 23 for pre-orders). I’m sure video game players are eagerly awaiting the chance to be the 2017 Rookie of the Year, but I’m just looking forward to the real live player in Spring Training next month.

In Yankees’ Minor League news: The Yankees AA team, the Trenton Thunder, will honor its 25th anniversary this year by playing every Friday game as the “Trenton Pork Rolls“, starting May 18. I swear this is not a “fake” story. Apparently, it’s a local thing, the pork roll, and I’m sure it’s delicious (albeit not very Kosher). And sadly, that is not the weirdest name (and this doesn’t include the Jumbo Shrimp and the Baby Cakes) of a minor league team in the system. And fortunately, it’s only on Fridays. (But what a thing to have on your resume!)

Meanwhile, the Advanced-A Yankees affiliate (and current Steinbrenner Field residents), the Tampa Yankees, made the announcement last month that they would begin the 2018 season with their own name change — the Tampa Tarpons. The Tarpons were a team for about 3 decades in the middle of last century, though baseball has been played in Tampa for over 100 years, including extensively hosting Spring Training. Locally, the tarpon is a large fish, popular with sports fisherman and found off the Gulf Coast, and a neighboring local city is Tarpon Springs. So the Tampa Tarpons found something steeped in local tradition and lore.

The 2018 season is rapidly approaching. 20 days until pitchers and catchers report (Feb. 13). 30 days until the first Spring Training game (Feb. 23 against the Tigers). 65 days until the first game of the season (March 29 in Toronto). And 69 days until the home opener (April 2 against the Rays).

But who’s counting?

Go Yankees!

Game 150: NYY vs. TB — 16 strikeouts to snap skid

Well, it took a trip down south to stop the Yankees recent skid in the standings. On the opening night against the Rays for this mid-week series, the Yankees came out strong offensively and from the mound.

Michael Pineda got the start and commanded the game once again. He threw 98 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 5 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, striking out a whopping 11 Rays’ batters. The runs came in the bottom of the 3rd, with 2 outs (strikeouts, of course) and 2 runners on base with singles, a really nice triple scored both runners to get the Rays on the board before striking out the next batter to get out of the inning. That is pretty strong pitching.

In the 6th, with 1 out, Pineda was done for the night. Tommy Layne threw a 4-pitch strike out to get the next out, and then it was on to the reliable Luis Severino. Severino entered the game for a 12-pitch 4-out outing to carry the Yankees through the 7th inning and set him up for the eventual win. Tyler Clippard actually gave up a hit, a triple, in his 8th inning, and despite a wild pitch that allowed that run to score, he powered through, adding a couple more strikeouts of his own. And for the 9th inning, the Yankees called on Dellin Betances, who needed a clean outing to reset himself. He got it and his 12th save tonight — 3-up, 3-down.

On the flip side of things, the Yankees capitalized on a few of their 10 allowed hits in just a couple innings. In the 4th, with 2 outs, Mark Teixeira hit a solid solo home run deep to the left field seats to get the Yankees on the board. And in the 7th, with the Rays’ starter now out of the game, Torreyes led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Williams’ 1-out single, and then scored on Brett Gardner’s single. Gardner stole 2nd (because he’s Gardner) to put runners in scoring position. And score they did on Gary Sanchez (because who else?) hit a big 3-run home run to give the Yankees a secure lead.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Roster news: Aaron Hicks was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list, in the lineup tonight, batting 2nd (and getting a nice hit) and playing right field. With all the recent injuries and moves, it’s nice to see a familiar face come back.

The Yankees announced this weekend that they will honor Mark Teixeira in a pre-game ceremony before the last game of the season, October 2, before the Yankees take on the Orioles. Teixeira, as you know, will retire at the end of this season, and his daily presence on the field, in the clubhouse, and in Yankee Universe will be missed. Though his more immediate plans aren’t public, I imagine spending time with family will be top priority. But I don’t think the Yankees (or for that matter, baseball in general) has seen the last of Mark Teixeira.

Awards season update: So, Gary Sanchez is currently up for the Esurance Best Rookie award this year, and Rob Refsnyder is a nominee for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. For Sanchez, you can vote and vote again here to add fuel to the conversation about the young rookie who very much deserves the honors that await him.

Refsnyder’s award goes to a player shows his generosity and community by giving back to his local community in some way. Refsnyder’s chosen charity, A Kid’s Place, is an organization provides stability and care for children removed from homes due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment and is based in the Tampa Bay area. Refsnyder joins 5 other finalists, including former Yankees players Granderson (“Grand Kids“) and Robertson (“High Socks for Hope“). It’s quite the company of philanthropists, and while none of these guys do this for the accolades, it’s very cool how many people are recipients of the amazing generosity of such good guys.

For the end of the year awards, you can currently vote in 4 categories for your favorite players (Best Major Leaguer, Best Hitter, Best Pitcher, and Best Rookie) until November 11th. Other categories will be added during and following the postseason (Best Defensive Player, Manager, Executive, Social Media Personality, Postseason Performer, Offensive Play, Defensive Play, Moment, Single-Game Performance, Social Media Post, Fan Catch, Interview, Broadcast Call, Player-Fan Interaction, and Trending Topic).

And it’s official! The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are the AAA champions. The RailRiders beat the El Paso Chihuahuas (the AAA team of the Padres) at the championship game in Memphis tonight, with a final score of 3-1, thanks to a big 1st inning 3-run home run by Chris Parmelee. For that, Parmelee was awarded the game’s MVP award. With so many current (and former) Yankees that contributed to the RailRiders’ outstanding season and just fabulous postseason of their own, Yankee Universe has much to be excited about both today and for the future.

Go Yankees!

Gearing up for Spring

I guess it’s time for me to switch to gearing up for Spring Training. Pitchers and Catchers report tomorrow, though like many of the “Sidewalk Crew” are reporting, various position players have already begun their workouts at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

The Yankees have invited 84 guys (including their 40-man roster) to Spring Training this year. This fact makes me think of a few times in my life when I’ve been on both sides of that coin (of course, never as a Spring Training invitee, but nonetheless) — the newbie and the veteran. I think it’s more fun for the veterans because they know what to expect, they’ve been through the process, and they can encourage/mentor some of the young guys without the pressure of trying to make the team (with the minor exception of the starting catcher’s match we seem to have developing).

But I would think being the newbie has its perks as well, especially if they’ve yet to make their major league debut. You can take advantage of the veteran’s knowledge of the game and team and their fluidity on the field, make connections with some of the guys you perhaps idolized growing up, and get the chance to really cement your identity both as a player and as a potential teammate. The guys who are coming into Spring Training as established contract players, but new to the team, get a chance to prove themselves worthy of the pinstripes and to reinvent themselves, in a sense.

As fans, we get the chance to watch the hopefuls and perhaps see the next great generation of Yankees take the field for a game or two with our current great Yankees. Growing up in Florida, we saw a ton of minor league games. But now, I wish I’d saved the programs from those days to see if we saw any of today’s stars or even Cooperstown inductees. Players get traded all the time; so being drafted by and playing with the Dunedin Blue Jays in the minor leagues, a player could then end up with the Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, or just maybe the New York Yankees before his career is over. I guess I’ll never know for sure…

And I suppose that’s what I like most about Spring Training — keeping an eye out for the ones that (like I said yesterday) marry the statistical talent with the natural instinct. I have my eye on a crop of younger players currently on Major League rosters that I think can possibly be Cooperstown material (staying clean and healthy is always critical), and for the next 15 years or so, I look forward to watching them develop into the baseball player I know they can be and just maybe a future Yankee great or two.

Go Yankees!