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 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 5: PIT vs. NYY — Battle to a win under sunny skies

To counter the last two days of games, today’s weather decided to remind fans why Florida is called the “Sunshine State”, clearing the skies of clouds and bringing the sun out in full force. And I’ll admit more than a few people went home with a little too much sun.

For the first time this Spring, the Yankees weren’t the ones to score first in a game. Instead, JA Happ stumbled a bit in his Spring debut, giving up 3 runs in his outing and not making it out of the 2nd inning. In the 1st, a 1-out solo home run got the Pirates on the board. Then with 1 out in the 2nd, a single scored as part of a 2-run home run. That was it for Happ, handing the ball over to Stephen Tarpley who got out of the inning without further damage.

Adam Ottavino continues to have struggles this Spring with today’s 3rd inning. With 2 outs and runners in scoring position, a big double scored both runners. Zack Britton’s 4th inning righted the ship with a near perfect outing for the veteran closer. Cortes had a decent 5 outs, but it was Jonathan Holder’s 4-out outing that earned him the eventual win, despite a 1-out solo homer given up by Rosa in the 9th.

Despite being down early, the Yankees were never out of this one and eventually overpowered the Pirates to the win. In the bottom of the 1st, with 1 out, Judge doubled and Stanton walked, and they both scored on Troy Tulowitzski’s big 3-run home run. Three consecutive walks loaded the bases in the 2nd, and after a pitching change, Aaron Judge hit into a double play that still scored lead runner Wade.

It would be Tyler Wade who tied up the game in the 4th with a lead-off solo home run. And once the game was tied up again, the Yankees found momentum in the 7th. With 2 outs and 2 runners on base, LJ Mazzilli’s double scored both runners to edge the Yankees into the lead.

Then in the 8th, Trey Amburgey hit a big ground-rule double that bounced into the Yankees’ bullpen in right field foul territory. He later scored on Thairo Estrada’s single as the Yankees’ insurance run.

Final score: 8-6 Yankees

One to Watch: Trey Amburgey. In a game filled with stellar plays by the younger players, it would be that final at-bat that sealed the deal for me. Add in a ridiculous sliding catch in right field in the top half of the 8th to save a hit (and add a highlight to his player reel) and Amburgey’s fourth Spring Training continues to impress, showing growth worth watching in the young outfielder who spent all of last year with AAA Scranton.

Next up: the Yankees host their first night game of 2019 when the Orioles come to visit Steinbrenner Field tomorrow night. For those of us who sweated through the sunshine today, a night game could not come at a better time in this schedule.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: minimal video available unfortunately. There was no broadcast of the game, so only one highlight from stadium cameras used for replay was released for use.}

Spring Game 20: PIT vs. NYY — #ElGary is back and it’s awesome

Apparently, the local schools are on Spring Break this week, which could explain why there was a nearly sold-out crowd for a lazy Thursday afternoon at the park against the Pirates. I mean, the Pirates only play their Spring home games about an hour south, so their fans could certainly make the trek northward for a game on a good day. Regardless of the reason, the fans certainly saw an entertaining game.

Sonny Gray got the start this afternoon, throwing 3 innings with a few mixed results. In the 1st, he gave up a lead-off walk who scored on a 2-out 2-run home run to get the Pirates on the board first. In the 3rd, a 1-out double moved to 3rd on a passed ball and then scored on a ground out to add one more run for the visitors. Adam Warren got 2 outs in the 4th before handing things over to Tommy Kahnle to complete the inning and throw through the 5th.

Dellin Betances got his chance in the 6th. He gave up a lead-off single who stole 2nd and moved to 3rd on a strikeout. A 2-out 2-run home run added a bit more for the Pirates’ score. But it is worth noting that all 3 of Betances’ outs were strong strikeouts. Chasen Shreve and Ben Heller split the final 3 innings, adding 2 more strikeouts of their own. In total, Yankee pitchers struck out 12 Pittsburgh batters.

That could certainly seem like a huge blow to the Yankees’ attempts to turn the game in their favor. But with the Yankees, you just never know. In the bottom of the 1st, down 2-0 already, Gardner led-off with a walk and then scored on Aaron Judge’s big double to get on the board. In the 3rd, with 2 outs, Judge worked a walk, and Stanton was hit by the next pitcher to get on base. So it would be Gary Sanchez’s big 3-run home run into the stands in right field to push the Yankees into the lead.

In the 4th, the Yankees loaded the bases with 1 out, 2 walks, and a fielding error. Then Aaron Judge worked another walk to walk in a run (Bird). After another new pitcher, Giancarlo Stanton hit into a little ground out that moved up all the runners and scored Tyler Wade. So it would be Gary Sanchez again, this time with a double to score both runners (Gardner and Judge) to really push the Yankees deep into the lead. Tyler Austin added an exclamation point to the scoreboard with his 8th inning lead-off solo shot.

Final score: 9-5 Yankees

One to Watch: easy today again — Tyler Wade. He’s got it all really. But he certainly shines at defense at 2nd base, perfectly in sync with his right infield partner Greg Bird in fielding those grounders and setting each other up for successful defense. Wade is something to watch on a lot of levels, but he’s certainly proving his worth to the organization in general and this team in particular.

Next up: the Yankees continue their hosting duties this week as the reigning World Series champions, the Astros, come visit tomorrow night (6:35 pm EST start time). Jordan Montgomery is to start the game, and fireworks are to end it.

Before the game, Chance Adams was optioned to AAA Scranton and sent to minor league camp. Adams, the Yankees’ #2 prospect certainly got roughed up this Spring, so it gives him something to work on this season, work out the kinks, challenge himself further, and prepare for a potential breakout in 2019.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 2: NYY vs. PIT — Late power brings first away win

For their first away game of the season, the Yankees hopped their bus and traveled about an hour south to Bradenton to visit the Spring home of the Pirates. On this beautiful, warm sunny Saturday afternoon in Florida, the crowd packed the stadium to watch the Yankees clearly outplay the home team.

Domingo German got a bit of a shaky but scoreless start in his 2 innings before handing things over to Adam Warren. Reliever Dillon Tate got his 2 innings next, having a bit of a rough 5th inning. He gave up a single but then the Yankees worked together to catch the runner stealing 2nd. After another out, Tate gave up a perfect pitch that became a perfect home run to get the Pirates on the board. Prospect reliever JP Feyereisen showed off his skills in 2 perfect innings, setting himself up for the win. And Jonathan Holder closed out the game with his inning, keeping the Pirates from adding to their lone run.

Meanwhile, the Pirates got a bit roughed up by the Yankees hitters, giving up 11 total hits and 5 walks, despite striking out 11 batters along the way. The Yankees actually got on the board first in the 4th. With 1 out, Espinosa and Torreyes each walked, and the Pirates introduced a new pitcher. Another out later, Erik Kratz hit a solid single that scored Espinosa. After another hit batter loaded the bases, the Yankees hopes for advancing were crushed with a strikeout.

With the game tied, the Yankees found their footing again in the 9th inning. Peterson led-off with a walk, followed by Andujar’s single. So it would be Billy McKinney to smack the Yankees first home run this season — a big 3-run home run to give the Yankees a nice lead and eventual win.

Final score: 4-1 Yankees

Injury news: During his second at-bat in his Yankee debut, infielder Brandon Drury was hit on his hand in the 3rd inning. A bit scary at first, Drury remained in the game and had some basic treatment, but x-rays were deemed unnecessary. Drury, a recent acquisition, recently with the Diamondbacks, is a potential starter for 3rd base in the race to Opening Day. And his 3 seasons in Arizona certainly put him towards the lead in that race.

And Yankees prospect Thairo Estrada is still dealing with his recovery after being injured in the off-season. Estrada and his wife were out to dinner in his hometown in Venezuela when two teenage boys approached them and demanded all his cash or phone, neither which Estrada was not carrying. After searching his pockets, there was a loud bang and the boys ran off. It wasn’t until a medical follow-up later that Estrada realized he’d been shot and needed surgery to repair the wound, unfortunately leaving the bullet lodged in his hip as a permanent reminder of his ordeal. His home country is currently in the middle of a severe political and economic crisis, something Estrada carries with him as he continues his rehab for the season. He will miss Spring Training this year and hopes to start just a few weeks into the regular season (likely with AA Trenton as he was in the 2017 season).

Next up: The Yankees head across the Bay to play the Phillies tomorrow afternoon.

Go Yankees!

{Note: Sometimes, Spring Training games are not televised so there are no great highlights and clips to add to my post, which unfortunately always comes on games when something great happens (like McKinney’s homer).}

{Second note: I decided to only do the “One to Watch” for home games. I’m always looking for ways to evolve and make each season different, so this will be one of them. It’s almost always a hard category because these prospects are so good.}

Game 18: NYY vs. PIT — Just barely dropping the rubber match in Pittsburgh

Not exactly the best way to end the Yankees’ time in the “City of Bridges“, but it really was pretty close and not without its opportunities. It’s probably the only game this series that felt both tight and that it could go either way at any point.

The Yankees sent rookie Jordan Montgomery to the mound to start the finale against the Pirates in today’s rubber match. Montgomery threw another pretty great game, throwing 92 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, and struck out 5 Pirates batters.

In the 1st, Montgomery immediately got into trouble by loading the bases with a walk and 2 singles (and no outs), but then he got a well-placed strikeout and a sacrifice fly scored the Pirates’ first run before getting out of the inning with a pop-up out. And a 1-out walk in the 3rd scored on a solid double to double the Pirates’ score.

And because those were lone runs allowed under Montgomery (and also the game), it was really a pretty good outing and game overall for the Yankees’ defense. Bryan Mitchell got into a base-loaded and no-outs situation in the 7th, but then got out of the inning without the Pirates adding to their score. Mitchell then sailed through the 8th inning in just 8 pitches.

Meanwhile, the Yankees faced an old teammate making his first start against his old team and really just knew how to keep the Yankees from doing much on the bases and as far as runs, with just 4 hits and a walk in his 7 innings. The only great shot the Yankees got was Jacoby Ellsbury’s lead-off solo home run in the 7th.

Then the Yankees had several opportunities in the last 2 innings, including loading the bases in the 9th, but they never did much to capitalize on those opportunities to tie up or push ahead in the game.

Final score: 2-1 Pirates, Pirates win series 2-1.

The Pirates wore their alternate Sunday uniform, a throwback to their championship style 38 years ago. It’s always weird to have alternate uniforms because the Yankees have just 2 uniforms — home and away. (Yes, there is a Spring Training jersey top as well.) So, the Yankees could potentially play a 3-game series against a single opponent and have the opponent wear a different uniform in each game.

According to MLB.com: In 2016, “The Pirates unveil a new Sunday alternate uniform, a replica of the iconic 1979 World Champion Pirates uniform. The gold v-neck pullover jersey is accompanied by black pants, designed with two gold stripes running down the outside of each leg. The uniform is completed with a Pirates pillbox cap, designed with three gold stripes and the classic Pirates gold “P.” The new alternate uniform replaces the team’s early 1970’s-era inspired Sunday alternate, a mustard gold cap and a pullover style jersey that was introduced during the 2013 season.”

I don’t mind honoring the past with uniforms every once in awhile, like for a special game honoring a team legend or milestone or something. But I don’t like it when teams just get colorful for the sake of being different. There are some pretty terrible alternate uniforms out there, and every year when they release a new one, I am forever thankful the Yankees stick to the tried and true two that work and have led them to 27 Championship. (Not that uniform colors and styles have anything to do with championships, but you got to believe somewhere someone’s drawing that weird connection for no reason other than to fill internet space.)

Now it’s onto Boston to face the Red Sox in their first rivalry series of the season. Any series against Boston are always interesting, even when one or both teams are having a terrible year. It’s like the 2004 ALCS all over again every single game. And honestly, Fenway is a beautiful park, a tribute to the legacy and history of the game. So, it’s especially great when the Yankees win (or even better when they sweep) there, and that’s my hopes for this week.

Go Yankees!

Game 17: NYY vs. PIT — Finding some power in the ‘Burgh

On this day in Yankees history, in 1903, the Highlanders played their very first game as a franchise against the Washington Senators, losing 3-1. The Senators would go on to have a terrible season, and the Highlanders actually had a winning season, but came short of the Boston Americans by 17 games. (Coincidentally, the Americans ended up beating the Pirates in the World Series that year.) The Senators moved west and became the Minnesota Twins in 1961. The Americans became Red Sox in 1908. And the Highlanders eventually became the Yankees in 1913.

Just a bit of fun trivia for you to kick off your Saturday…

Anyway, the Yankees are in Pittsburgh for their weekend series, and played the middle game of their series this afternoon on this cool April afternoon in Pennsylvania. Michael Pineda got the start and actually threw a decent outing over all, throwing 73 pitches in his 5 innings, giving up 5 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, striking out 6 batters.

In the 1st, the Pirates started the run-scoring today with a 2-out solo home run and then got another with a 1-out solo shot in the 4th. In the 5th, with 1 out, Pineda loaded the bases with 2 singles and a walk before a sacrifice fly scored another run for the Pirates.

Now, the Yankees had yet to get on the board at this point. But they certainly made up for it, starting in the 6th, sending up 10 batters in that inning alone. Ellsbury led-off with a single, Hicks walked, and they both moved up on a ground out. Then Starlin Castro got the Yankees on the board with a big 3-run home run to tie up the game. Judge’s double ended the Pirates’ starter’s afternoon. So, after Bird was hit by a pitch and Romine singled, the bases were loaded for Ronald Torreyes (having a stellar day, including 4 solid hits), who promptly doubled and broke the tie by scoring 2 more runs for the Yankees.

So, the Yankees were up, and it was time for the Yankees’ bullpen to take over. But they kind of stumbled out of the gate in the bottom of the 6th. Jonathan Holder got 2 outs, but then gave up a double that scored on a single to edge the Pirates closer. Tyler Clippard also had trouble finding that final out of the inning. After a hit-by-pitch, a single scored one more Pirates’ run to tie up the game again before Clippard got that final out of the inning, a strikeout.

The rest of the Yankees’ bullpen had a much cleaner time of the game. Clippard got the first out of the 7th before Betances sailed through the rest of it in just 8 pitches. Mitchell had the best outing, throwing just 9 pitches in the 8th inning, and Chapman’s 9th closed out the game for the Yankees’ pitching staff today.

So, the Yankees found their opportunity to break the tied game in the 8th inning. With 2 outs, Romine started things by capitalizing on a fielding error and reaching base safely. Torreyes joined him on the base path with a single. Then pinch-hitter Chris Carter hit a big 3-run home run into the Yankees’ bullpen to break the tie. Jacoby Ellsbury then started the whole thing all over again when he hit the ball deep into center field and made it all the way to 3rd on a messy fielding error.

So the Pirates made some defensive changes and a pitching change. That didn’t stop the Yankees. A messy wild pitch scored Ellsbury, then Hicks hit a nice ground-rule double and scored on Chase Headley’s double to cap off the Yankees’ 8th inning rally. Aaron Judge wanted in on the action and led-off the 9th inning with a monster solo home run deep into the left field seats (traveling 457 feet) as a final flourish of the Yankees’ runs today.

Final score: 11-5 Yankees.

It should be noted that while the Yankees scored 11 runs on the scoreboard, only 6 of them were considered “earned”, meaning that due to the sloppy defense of the Pirates, they gave up an extra 5 runs (or all of the runs scored in the 8th inning). Every team has days they wish they didn’t make that one mistake. But the Pirates had more than one today, and it cost them the game.

Well, it’s onto the rubber match tomorrow afternoon in Pittsburgh before the Yankees leave Steel City and head back to the East Coast for a mid-week rivalry series at Fenway. It’s worth noting that the AL East is pretty tight in its rankings (except for the Blue Jays) right now, but we’ve only had 17 games and the first month’s not over yet. It’s a long season, as the saying goes…

Go Yankees!