Postponed but still a busy day in the Bronx

Tonight, instead of hosting the Cubs, the Yankees get an extra day off as a line of storms threatens to soak the entire eastern seaboard for most of Tuesday. So they rescheduled the game for a doubleheader of sorts tomorrow, with two separate-admission games the first at 1:05, with Tanaka starting, and the second at the originally scheduled time of 7:05, with Pineda on the mound. All the Jackie Robinson festivities, including honoring Nelson Mandela and (of course the man of the day) Jackie Robinson and everyone wearing #42, will be pushed to the evening game. Basically, it will be baseball all day tomorrow.

Now, Francisco Cervelli’s hamstring strain appears to be worse that initial thoughts, a grade 2 strain, so they placed him on the 60-day DL. Last week, the Yankees recalled Shane Greene from AAA, but now, they have optioned him back to AAA and off the 40-man to make room for the position players they really need. So, they recalled John Ryan Murphy and signed Scott Sizemore to a major league contract, putting both on the 25-man roster. This works for a lot of reasons, but the easiest is having a back-up catcher and a reliable infielder, while both positions seem to be lacking depth with the recent string of injuries.

While preparing for today’s game and ceremonies certainly got postponed, I did come across one fun article in the Wall Street Journal about the nicknames in the clubhouse. If you’ve ever heard Girardi talk about his players, you might notice he uses special nicknames for each guy. Some are obvious – Jeet, Tex, C; some are almost endearing — Gardy, Sori, Phelpsie; some are a little out there — Racoon, Los, Ryno. But they all are something the guys (and those that love inside trivia) certainly have come to love and enjoy.

Also, I’d like to take a moment to recognize those who were lost or injured one year ago in the Boston Marathon bombings. New York is still #BostonStrong with you today as you continue to heal, rebuild, and remember.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 30: PHI vs. NYY — Shutout by the Phillies, despite a pitchers’ display

Tonight, under a clear sky with a severe chill in the air, the Yankees seemed to struggle some against the Philadelphia Phillies, who made the jaunt across the Courtney Campbell Causeway to spend the chilly, windy evening at Steinbrenner Field.

Prior to the game, Girardi announced the starting rotation — Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Tanaka, and Michael Pineda. That left Phelps, Warren, and Nuno in the bullpen for this year, and technically as back-up starters should someone’s “health” not hold up. So tonight, we got a pitchers’ display through the game. The Yankees rotated through their pitching staff, giving 9 different pitchers each an inning.

Adam Warren got the start, keeping the top of the Phillies order from doing much. David Phelps took the 2nd and suffered under 2 fielding errors by Kelly Johnson, first allowing the lead-off batter on base with a bobbled ball. Then, another bobble error allowed the batter to reach safely, while the runner got to 3rd before trying to make it to home and getting tagged out by Johnson on a throw from Gardner (essentially eliminating Johnson’s first error). A single then scored the other runner, and the Phillies were up 1-0.

Vidal Nuno took the 3rd, and with 2 outs, he allowed 2 back-to-back solo home runs. Robertson and Thornton took the 4th and 5th, keeping the Phillies from adding to their 3-0 lead, assisted in part by the great fielding (like a great double play led by Brian Roberts in the 4th and a sliding grab by Ichiro Suzuki to end the 5th). Then Shane Greene’s 6th inning found some trouble. With 1 out, a double scores on a single, and another single scores that runner. And the Phillies went up to 5-0, and Kelley and Herndon’s 7th and 8th kept the Phillies planted there. Matt Daley’s 9th inning put 2 singles on the corners that scored 1 on a sacrifice fly. And the Phillies drove back over the bridge with a final score of 6-0.

Not that the Yankees bats were completely silent. Both the Yankees and the Phillies had 9 hits a piece. The Yankees just couldn’t seem to do more than collect a few hits. Brett Gardner went 3-for-3 in his at-bats, currently maintaining a .333 average for the Spring. Even Jeter, who’s been slow to his offensive game, got one of those 9 hits; Jeter is batting just .128 or 6-for-47. All the usual suspects (Teixeira, Beltran, McCann, Roberts, Ichiro, and Soriano) have been slow to their offensive game. Now, the fortunate part for the team is that their defensive game and their pitching game has been pretty decent most of this Spring, and the “other guys” have made some decent contributions to the score, especially those late in the game.

It just doesn’t always go the way you want it. And on a cold night in Tampa, when your team is down 6-0 and you’re praying for a quick bottom of the 9th inning while the batter keeps fouling off balls into the left field seats, you kind of become pretty aware that it’s not going to go the way you want. Certainly, there were some circumstances and influences that affected the game, but none of those can be spun positively as midnight approaches, so they are left unwritten (though certainly not unspoken).

My one to watch today would be Scott Sizemore, who not only had a great bare-handed play at 3rd in the 7th, but also got a solid single in his one at-bat and currently sports a .294 batting average. Sizemore is not on the 40-man roster (yet), but his display this Spring could definitely change things. He’s really continuing to show he’s worth their last-minute signing (even if it was just a minor league deal) and most definitely could be worth more to the Yankees.

Tomorrow, the Yankees make their own jaunt across the Tampa Bay to play the Blue Jays in Dunedin (the city just north of Clearwater, where the Phillies are based). And I just looked at my calendar — just 4 games left in Spring (2 away, 2 home), and I’m very sad to see this Spring fade into the history books. I was told once that true fans aren’t the ones who show up at those slow August games, but the ones that show up for March games and stay through October. My two favorite seasons are Spring and Fall, the two seasons that bookend baseball season. It’s too late to get too sentimental, but while most people love summer baseball (don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun), it’s the pre- and post-season that make all the difference.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 28: NYY vs. MIN — A replay, a save, and a streak

Today’s game at the Twins’ Spring home felt like a game we might see come this regular season. It wasn’t just pitching or hitting, but rather a combination of all of them for both team trying to claw their way to the win. Fortunately, for Yankee fans, it came out the way we’re always hoping, and today’s win pushed their winning streak up to 7-in-a-row.

Masahiro Tanaka got a chance to pitch to another AL team (note: Girardi has scheduled his outings so that they never coincide with AL East, keeping his pitching at least with a small element of surprise). Tanaka went just 5.2 innings, book-ending his outing with a total of 3 allowed runs, but just 5 hits and a walk, and 6 strikeouts. In the 1st, he allowed a lead-off double to score on a ground out, putting the Twins up 1-0 for a few innings. And then in the 6th, he really seemed to lose some steam, allowing a single, a hit-by-pitch, RBI double, and RBI groundout. So Lewis came on to get that last out of that inning. Tanaka will probably develop into a tighter pitcher as he learns how good of an infield the regular starters can be, something that Andy Pettitte really came to rely on.

Meanwhile, the Yankees fell into a scoring pattern beginning in the 4th inning. With 1 out, Eduardo Nunez singled, Kelly Johnson singled, and Francisco Cervelli got hit by a pitch to load the bases. On a wild pitch, Nunez scored the first Yankee run, which Scott Sizemore added to with his 2-run single. Sizemore ended up scoring on Zelous Wheeler’s double.

Going into the 7th, the Yankees were ahead 4-3, so before even knowing that they needed an insurance run, they got one. Zoilo Almonte doubled and scored on Herrara’s single later in the inning. So Herndon and Greene took the 7th and 8th for the Yankees, ensuring the Yankee lead remained. That left the 9th and the save opportunity for Yoshinori Tateyama, and except for a solo home run, shut down any real hope of a Twins’ last minute rally. So the Yankees won 5-4.

 

And we finally got some good “instant replay” action. In the 3rd, the Twins tried to steal 2nd, something Cervelli saw and threw to a waiting Dean Anna at 2nd who swept down and applied the tag. But the umpire initially called him safe, Girardi decided to test the system. And boy, did it pay off. After a quick review, they heard what anyone with eyes on the screen at home saw — the runner was out. (Warning: the media covering the game are Twins-based, so they don’t really understand why or how the runner was out. So much for unbiased media!)

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I really don’t miss the screaming managers. I was a little concerned about how the replay thing worked in a real game, and honestly, I’m still a little confused on the exact rules of how managers can use their “challenges”. But I’m already liking the transition. I know it won’t always go the Yankee way, but I think it’s going to clear up a lot of the “close calls” that fans argue over for years and years.

I mean, how many people still argue over the Yogi Berra-Jackie Robinson play at home in the 1955 World Series? Every team has a story that instant replay could clear up. And while they might be so ingrained in fans’ psyches that you couldn’t ever imagine a world without them, there’s still a lot of other things for fans to argue about with their rivals. Legacies, championships, history, and favorite players top the list and none of those could ever be affected by instant replay.

(For the record, Robinson was out; sorry, Dodger fans.)

Go Yankees!

Spring Games 16 & 17: NYY vs. PHI & BAL vs. NYY — Splitting the difference

The Yankees were on split-squad duty today, a portion of the team heading across the Courtney Campbell Causeway to play the Phillies and the rest at home hosting the Orioles.

The Phillies’ starter threw 5 perfect innings, really getting to the Yankee batters. Ivan Nova took the mound for the Yankees and really just couldn’t pull through. Over his 5 innings, Nova allowed 9 hits and 3 runs, but still struck out 6 batters. The main damage hit in the 3rd. A single, a single, an RBI single, another RBI single, a double play still scored the 3rd run, a single, and a double that ended in an out with the quick reflexes of Flores in left, Solarte at short, and Cervelli at home to get the runner at home from scoring a fourth run.

Scott Sizemore was the first Yankee to get a hit with a single in the sixth inning, but the Yankees waited until the 7th to score a run. Jacoby Ellsbury smacked a long lead-off solo home run to put the Yankees on the board. Then Teixeira walked; Johnson doubled, ending up at 3rd when the Phillies got Teixeira’s pinch-runner out at home; and then Francisco Cervelli singles and scores Johnson’s pinch-runner for the Yankees’ 2nd (and last run) of the game.

Following Nova, Greene and Mitchell each took an inning and kept the Phillies from adding to their score. But then, Preston Claiborne’s partial 8th inning was unexpected and disappointing. A single, a single, an RBI double, and a 2-RBI double added 3 more runs to the Phillies’ lead before a double play, and Montgomery coming in to get the third out.

But the damage was done in Clearwater. The Phillies won 6-2 over the Yankees.

Meanwhile in Tampa, the Yankees seemed to have a much better day on this unseasonably (but much appreciated) cooler day.

Michael Pineda got the start for today’s game, pitching for 2.2 innings. He allowed just 3 hits and 1 walk, striking out 5 Oriole batters before Robertson came in for the last out of the 3rd — his usual strikeout magic. Thornton came on in the 4th to allow a single and get an out, before Billings replaced him for 2.2 innings and definitely did better than his last relief outing, keeping the Orioles nested (bad pun, I know). Leroux took the 7th and 8th. Cabral was on the 9th, allowing a hit and a walk, but striking out 3 for all 3 of his outs.

Now, on the flip side the field, the Yankees made most of the dent in the first 2 innings. In the 1st, Brett Gardner got a lead-off single, advanced to 2nd on Jeter’s ground out, and then easily scored on Carlos Beltran’s single. Then McCann and Soriano walks to load the bases, but they couldn’t make it happen beyond that. In the 2nd, Zolio Almonte doubled and then scored on Brett Gardner’s ground-rule double. Then Derek Jeter reached on a fielder’s choice as the pitcher overthrew to 3rd to try to get Gardner out, but instead, Gardner scored and Jeter ended up at 2nd. The next two batters left him stranded there. But the Yankees were up 3-0, going into the 3rd.

In the 5th, Brian McCann walked for the second time, advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then scored on Alfonso Soriano’s single. 4-0 Yankees. For insurance (not that they needed it), in the 8th, Zelous Wheeler walked, moved to 3rd on Corban Joseph’s single, and scored on Adonis Garcia’s single. Then with Joseph at 3rd, Gil grounds into a double play and Joseph scores the 6th and final Yankee run.

So the Yankees split the results today between their opponents. But this is the week for split squad days, with a good portion of the team headed down for the exhibition games in Panama this weekend, while the rest of the team here on a Saturday away game and Sunday home game. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the team, and for those of us who write about it, it’s going to be a very busy weekend.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 12: NYY vs. HOU — 15 runs flip-flop through the score

15 runs crossed the plate in Kissimmee between the Yankees and the Astros. In what is clearly one of the best weekends already this Spring (serious, can we bottle up today’s weather and save it forever?), a clear, cool day played host to some very interesting plays and a 3 hour, 15 minute game of baseball.

Ivan Nova started things off for the Yankees, but had a rather rough time of it today. He allowed 8 hits and 3 runs in his 4 innings, but also got 5 strikeouts. Right in the 1st inning, back-to-back singles put runners on the corner that scored on a really nice double, putting the Astros in the lead quickly 2-0. Plus Cervelli’s quick reflexes threw out a runner at 2nd, trying to score on a strikeout in the bottom of that inning.

The Yankees weren’t going to sit on that very long and answered with their own 2 runs in the 2nd. Dean Anna singled and then scored when Scott Sizemore ended up at 2nd on a throwing error. Then Sizemore tied up the game on Mason Williams’ double. So in the bottom of that inning, we dealt with our first replay review. After a single, the next Astros’ batter tried to bunt and make it to 1st, which is initially called out; the Astros’ appealed, the play was reviewed, and the call upheld. It did look like Nunez (who was covering first on the bunt) had to make an extra stretch for the bag, but he clearly tagged it before the runner did. The next batter singles home that first runner, and the Astros are up 3-2.

But the back-and-forth continues into the 3rd inning. Mark Teixeira, continuing to show signs of his pre-injury self, doubled, and then Kelly Johnson smacked a solid 2-run home run into the palm trees behind the right field fence. So the score flipped in the Yankees’ favor 4-3. (The bottom of the 3rd was Nova’s strongest inning, facing just 3 batters, striking out 2 of them.)

And we flip-flop the score again in the 5th, with Manny Banuelos pitching, his Spring debut and his first outing since his surgery and rehab began 2 years ago. The Astros batters seemed to like his pitching, though. A double and a walk set the stage for a 3-run homer, and the Astros were suddenly up 6-4. Two outs later, Chase Whitley replaced Banuelos (who was overall pretty glad to be back on the mound for real, despite the outcome) and got that last out in the 5th. Lucky for Whitley, the Yankees came storming back in the 6th, so he walked home (or rather rode the bus home) with the win today.

Loading the bases quickly in the 6th, with no outs, Anna singles, Sizemore walks, and Almonte singles. Williams’ sacrifice fly scored Anna (score: 6-5 Astros). Then Brett Gardner singled, scoring Sizemore and Almonte, and because of a really terrible throwing error (the center fielder somehow threw the ball into the Astros’ dugout), Gardner ended up at 3rd (score: 7-6 Yankees). But they left him stranded there. Cabral pitched the bottom of the 6th cleanly, keeping that lead.

But the Yankees weren’t done yet. In the 7th, with one out, Romine and Solarte each singled and ended up at the corners. Romine scored on Zelous Wheeler’s bloop single (8-6 Yankees). Then Ramon Flores only reached safely on a fielder’s choice, and Solarte scored the final Yankees run (9-6 Yankees), and I still can’t figure out why the Astros didn’t try for the play at home first. (No, really, someone needs to explain why they kept throwing the ball around without tagging a base or a runner.)

Cabral walked a batter in the 7th before Herndon finished the inning. Lewis took the 8th and continued keeping that Yankee lead safe, and despite allowing a double and a single in the 9th, Chris Leroux ended up with a save because of a nice double play between Corban Joseph (at 1st) and Yangervis Solarte (at 2nd), both of whom are proving to be really fun to watch play baseball.

So the Yankees hit the beginning of rush hour traffic outside Orlando (fortunately, as it’s Saturday, it was more Disney traffic than actually city traffic) with a win today — 9-6 Yankees. Seriously though, 15 runs is a lot of runs in one game. But a win is good news, no matter how it happens. It’s already shaping up to be a pretty great Spring, and I guess I’m hoping that translates as a good omen for a great 2014. Fingers crossed for #28 this October. It’s a long season, but it’s going to be something special.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 8: BAL vs. NYY — Winning streak “shattered”

Before tonight’s game, the Yankees observed a moment of silence for the late Monica Barlow, who worked for PR for the Orioles until she passed away last weekend from her long battle with cancer. It was appropriately coincidental that tonight’s game against the Orioles was sponsored by “Delete Blood Cancer”, an organization for blood cancer research.

And then David Phelps started his 2.2 innings, albeit a little shaky, but a pretty good start overall. He allowed 5 total hits and a run. In the 3rd, he allowed a lead-off triple that scored easily on a groundout. Thorton finished the 3rd inning for Phelps, followed by Gordon for an inning and Leroux for 2, keeping the Orioles bats pretty silent.

In the mean time, the Yankees hit early in the game in the 2nd inning. With 2 outs, Francisco Cervelli hits the first home run in Steinbrenner Field this Spring. Then the Yankees hit back-to-back singles, so Yangervis Solarte can single home Brendan Ryan. So going into the 7th inning, the Yankees were up 2-1, thanks in part to some pretty good pitching from the Yankees bullpen tonight and a pretty great infield via the Brendan Ryan (shortstop), Brian Roberts (2nd base), and Russ Canzler (1st base).

But then pitcher Chase Whitley took the mound and really struggled to find command of the ball, earning today’s loss. So the 7th inning served up a single, a hit by pitch, an RBI single (to tie up the game), a walk to load the bases, a strike out (finally), an RBI ground out to push the Orioles ahead, and a fly out to get out of the inning. The Yankees could never fight back after that, even with pretty good pitching by Cabral and tonight’s closer Preston Claiborne. And so the Orioles broke the Yankees win streak, as the Yankees fell 3-2 to Baltimore.

I should mention that I was really fond of Claiborne’s pitching last year, and I remembered why tonight. Even though he allowed a hit, he was able to pitch his way around that and get out of the inning pretty quickly. With continued success like tonight’s game, Claiborne could find his way into a nice cushy spot in the bullpen, even maybe some 8th inning time as the Set-Up Man for presumed closer Robertson (or the Robertson to Robertson’s Rivera).

Okay, players to watch: Scott Sizemore, who, from 2nd base, pulled off a neat double play in the 8th, scooping the ball in play, tagging the runner down as he began his slide, and firing it to 1st for the out; Sizemore mentioned that wearing #24 would be big shoes to fill, but I’m already loving his defensive prowess. And Mason Williams, who had a sweet dive in shallow right-center field for a fly ball out in the 9th.

And as usual, Steinbrenner Field was filled with enjoyable surprises. Before the game, Canzler’s BP included a line drive to Brendan Ryan’s hand. No permanent damage, but Ryan’s palm was showing signs of a deep bruise before game time. And in the 3rd inning, Brian Roberts hit a nice solid foul ball over the heads of the fans and right smack into one of the office windows above the suites, leaving quite a mark and shattered bits of window in what I’m guessing was pretty shatter-proof glass. Apparently, it was one of the Boss’ old office windows (now his son and co-chairman Hank’s office), so in a way, it was like involving him in the game once again. And in that vein, some of the Yankee bigwigs were in the house tonight, including another co-chairperson Jennifer Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman. There’s certainly never a dull moment in Yankee Universe.

Go Yankees!

First day of Spring, at least in Tampa

9:45 am. It was the time posted for all Spring Training invitees, roster and non-roster, to be suited up and ready to go. They took the field shortly thereafter to a throng of media, photographers, reporters, autograph seekers, and fans.

I guess we can really consider today as the first day of Spring Training because almost everyone (Alfonso Soriano is sick with the flu and excused so as to not spread it to everyone else in the clubhouse) showed up, put on their pinstriped pants and numbered jersey, and began to work as a team. Derek Jeter’s retirement parade officially began today with over 1000 fans packing the stands to glimpse the Captain in action.

Familiar faces also took to the field, albeit in a different context. Hideki Matsui enjoyed being on the “special instructor” side of things almost as much as he did being back in Yankee colors. Girardi assumes Matsui will definitely play a key role in encouraging someone who idolized him growing up — Masahiro Tanaka, who has been taken under the wing of fellow Japanese starter Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda asked the younger right-hander to be his throwing partner last week.

Donning #24 this year is Scott Sizemore who is hoping to earn a roster spot. He mentioned that wearing this number might mean “big shoes to fill”, but I think some Yankee fans who might have felt abandoned by a former #24 might be glad to have a new someone to root for. Of course, long-term Yankee fans still hold #24 as belonging to Tino Martinez. But until it’s retired, that number will float around until it finds someone to take into history.

Actually, the main part of the full-squad work-out day is for all the players to connect with each other and get to know one another more than just a name and a story. Gardner gets to meet his new fellow outfielders Beltran and Ellsbury. The plethora of utility infielders get to know each other and imagine what an infield will look like with a new rotating player at 2nd and 3rd, plus a shortstop understudy (as it were). Pitchers gnawing for a bullpen spot will be joshing around the pitching area with the hopeful catchers.

And that’s what matters more than anything else at the end of the day — the team dynamics. Teams win games, teams win championships. Sure, they won’t all get along with everyone else, but there is something for building a friendship base and camaraderie within the clubhouse that is a strong bond. That bond will spill out to the field and allow for the players to work together, trusting each other, and anticipating  both needs and actions. And when you have a team that’s so tight and so together, you get a World Series Championship.

So bring on the great bonds of friendship, the team spirit, the clubhouse camaraderie… we want that 28th Championship.

Go Yankees!