Game 160: NYY vs. BOS — A win is still a win, no matter who’s playing

Before I get into tonight’s game, I have to confess I’m rather proud of myself. Unlike last year, I didn’t mess up the game numbers in the titles of the blog posts once. I was actually afraid as we were winding down that I’d end Sunday’s game on Game 161 or 163 or something. But nope, humble brag here — consistency is my friend this year. At least on my game numbering.

A joke I heard repeated by multiple sources in many variations went something like: tonight’s game was the meeting of the Scranton and Pawtucket clubs but at big league prices in a game that doesn’t matter for either club. It’s a little insulting on so many levels, and while there were not as many “big names” on the rosters of either the Yankees or the Red Sox, it’s still guys signed to major league contracts to play major league baseball. And no matter how many cheers and chants and the occasional booing for not seeing a specific player pinch hit, those players played a good game, and it ended up being a Yankee win. So how exactly can we fault the selected starters tonight?

Chris Capuano took the start at Fenway tonight, throwing 91 pitches over his 6.2 innings, allowing just 4 hits and 1 run, striking out 5 Boston batters. In the 2nd, with 2 outs and a runner on 2nd, that runner scored on a deep single to put Boston up 1-0 early.

But the Yankees, even in enemy territory, don’t put up with Boston leads very well. In the 3rd, with 1 out, recently signed Perez struck out but reached 1st on a passed ball; he then advanced to 2nd on another passed ball and scored on Francisco Cervelli’s single to tie up the game. Cervelli later scored on John Ryan Murphy’s ground out. Then in the 6th, Murphy on base with a lead-off double, advanced to 3rd on Romine’s single, and scored on Zelous Wheeler’s sacrifice fly.

So when Capuano came back for the 7th inning, the Yankees were leading 3-1. After getting a quick 2 outs, the Yankees opted for Shawn Kelley, who promptly gave up a solo home run before getting out of the inning. It was 3-2 Yankees.

Adam Warren’s flawless 8th and David Robertson’s great 9th kept the Yankees in the lead, hand-delivering the win to the Yankees. And maybe it doesn’t count to qualify for postseason any more, but a win is still a win.

Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are essentially finished for the season, with the powers that be not wanting to further injure two of the players they invested a lot of money in pre-season. And at this point, healthy players are always a preferred option, especially if their replacements are doing as well as they did tonight.

I think the natural tendencies for most athletes is to just push past the pain and go for it, even to the point of neglecting all long-term care. But the wise course of action is always to take a break, heal completely, and come back stronger and healthier and raring to go and redeem whatever lost time spent on the bench.

Go Yankees!

Game 156: BAL vs. NYY — A 1-hit shutout, the new guy, & the veterans

Sometimes in a game, there are one or two guys to talk about. Sometimes there are none (and I hate writing those posts). But sometimes, it’s a whole lot of guys. And honestly, at the end of the day, I’d always rather talk about the team than single out individuals. Because individuals are great, but people on their own don’t win ball games. Teams win ball games.

I mean, it would be unfair to talk about how great tonight’s starter was without mentioning what a great defense was behind him. And if we’re nitpicking here, he could be the best pitcher in the world, but if the team doesn’t hit, they can’t win the game. I think fans love their stars; it’s why specific jersey numbers sell and certain names are chanted and cheered with reverence, but even the guys represented by those numbers all over fans’ backs at a game will tell you that they can’t do it alone. Tonight’s game against the Orioles was proof that the Yankees are a team, and the standout players are many and function to help each other win ball games.

Michael Pineda got the start tonight and proceeded to just dominate the Orioles. He threw 106 pitches over 7.1 innings (yes, just 5 out shy of a complete game), struck out 8 Baltimore batters, and gave up just 1 hit and 1 walk. That means the Orioles were only ever on base twice when Pineda was on the mound (another walk by a reliever was allowed in the 9th to give them a 3rd base runner total). But they couldn’t do much with it. Not with Pineda pitching like… well, Pineda. And not with the Yankee defense at their best as they were tonight. (Like Stephen Drew with 2 outstanding defensive plays tonight — a diving stop in the 1st and a nice grab in the 8th.)

Shawn Kelley came on to get the last 2 outs of the 8th inning and the first batter of the 9th, striking out two of the three batters he faced. He was replaced by lefty Rich Hill for the 2nd out of the 9th, and then David Phelps for the last. Phelps threw just 1 pitch to get the last batter to fly out to right field to end the game. Really good pitching all around. I know some people were complaining about Girardi using 3 different pitchers to get the 3 outs in the 9th. But when you have a bloated roster like they do in September, why not use everyone you can? It’s not like it was a save or tight game at that point.

I should probably mention that the Yankees did a pretty good offensive job today. I mean, not as good as some teams are doing around the league. I have to give some credit to the AL East Division champions (yes, they already secured that title and a spot in October baseball); they must have something that afforded them that title. I don’t know where it was tonight, and I’m really okay with never seeing it at all this week in the Bronx. (Seriously, Baltimore, you got your title already, so any kind of half-way effort you want to put into games is okay with me and about a half-million Yankees fans.)

Anyway, it was the bottom of the 3rd inning, Ichiro on base because of a fielding error, when recent call-up Jose Pirela made his major league debut and tripled to score Ichiro for the Yankees first run. Derek Jeter would later ground out and score Pirela. So in the first inning of his at-bat, Pirela tripled, got an RBI, and scored a run; and that was just the beginning of his night.

In the 5th inning, with 2 outs, Pirela singled and moved to 2nd on Gardner’s walk, and then he and Gardner scored Jeter’s double. In total, Pirela went 2-for-3 in his debut, with an RBI and 2 runs scored; not bad for his first game. And if we’re talking individual stats, it would be worth mentioning that Jeter was responsible for knocking in 3 of the Yankees’ runs tonight, defying most critics once again. And because a 4-0 game just isn’t quite enough, leave it to Chase Headley to hit a solo home run straight into the netting above Monument Park beyond center field to make the game 5-0 Yankees.

And there they sat. 5-0. A win, well-earned by good pitching and good defense and good batting and just by being a team. It’s those kinds of games I can get behind, the kind to celebrate and use as an example. Not bad for a Monday evening in the chilly Bronx on this last day of summer. (Yes, folks, tomorrow is the autumnal equinox.) Sad as it will be to say goodbye to this season, I can’t say I’m not ready for the fall. But isn’t that the way of things anyway? Keep moving forward, anticipating adventures and legends and traditions yet to come, even yet to be born. It’s what keeps hope alive — forward. What is that old Sinatra song? “The best is yet to come…” Bring it!

Go Yankees!

Game 152: TOR vs. NYY — A walk-off error after flawless Greene outing

They say beggars can’t be choosers. And when you’re still clinging to whatever shred of hope in the Wild Card race with only 10 games left in the season, you’ll take any win, whenever, however, wherever, whatever.

Let me start with Shane Greene, who gave the Yankees one of his best outings this year tonight against the visiting Blue Jays. Honestly, his opposing starter was a former Cy Young award winner, who still at almost 40 is a dynamic pitcher known for his nasty knuckle ball. But it was all Greene tonight, who threw 105 pitches in his 6.2 innings, giving up 3 hits, 2 walks, and no runs, and striking out 6 Toronto batters. The only reason Greene’s pitch count was so high was because the Blue Jay batters insisted on fouling off so many balls, but they certainly had trouble making them fair without grounding or flying out.

After Greene put two runners on in the 7th with 2 outs, Dellin Betances came on in relief, threw 4 pitches, and got that last batter out.

But before this, the Yankees’ decided to hand-wrap a win for the rookie starter. In the 5th, Chase Headley on base with a walk and 2 outs, it was Stephen Drew’s double that scored Headley and put the Yankees on the board. And then in the 6th inning, it would be Derek Jeter to hit his 4th home run of the season into the left field seats, his first home run in Yankee Stadium this year.

The Yankees were nicely up 2-0 over the Blue Jays after 7 innings of play — Greene on the hook for the win, and the Yankees clinging to the possibilities of another victory.

That didn’t last long… Shawn Kelley’s 8th inning kind of blew that out of the water. With 2 outs and a runner on base with a single, a Toronto batter smacked a big 2-run home run to tie up the game. It was like the air got sucked out of the Bronx.

David Robertson kept things status quo in the 9th, allowing the chance for the Yankees to redeem themselves in the bottom of the 9th — that last-minute rally and dream. Leading off the inning, Richardson, in to pinch-run for Young after his single, stole 2nd, and ended up at 3rd on Gardner’s sacrifice bunt. And then it all just came together. Headley reached 1st on a fielding error (it went through the 1st baseman’s legs into right field), which allowed Richardson to jog the 90 feet home and score the winning walk-off run.

It would be 3-2 Yankees, with Headley showered in Gatorade. (Speaking of Gatorade, there is a very touching ad to add to the “not-a-farewell-tour” events of Jeter by his long-standing endorser; I’m sorry if the song gets stuck in your head like it’s been in mine all day. (Article 1 on the adArticle 2 on the ad.)

I was talking with someone today about all the chatter I keep hearing about the “low-scoring” team that is the 2014 Yankees. And really, I’m kind of tired of this. Yes, they haven’t scored a lot of runs this year; that is reality. But reality also says that they are still in the Wild Card race and sitting nicely above .500, in 2nd place in the AL East. So what’s the chatter all about?

Now if “low-scoring” equated to being last in the league, then I might see the point in chatting about it or at least giving it some consideration. But it clearly doesn’t. Yes, the Yankees are “low-scoring”, yet they’re still in the Wild Card race. Why? Because it’s never about how many runs you score in a season that ultimate dictates if you are the best. It’s always about how many wins you have. Most wins equal postseason, not the most runs. So you can score a million runs in a season, but it won’t guarantee you a playoff spot unless you win most of your games.

If I’m being honest, it does help to score a lot of runs because the team with the most runs at the end of a game wins that game. But so what if you hit 13 home runs if the other guys hit 14 and win the game… it just means their pitching was as lousy as yours. But they still won, and you still lost. It seems like wasted chatter to talk about overall statistics that ultimately don’t equate postseason guarantees.

So if we’re going to waste our time chatting about statistics, let’s talk about statistics that actually matter. Like the fact that the Yankees won tonight.

Go Yankees!

Game 149: NYY vs. TB — 208 minutes of offensive unproductivity

Apparently, tonight’s game in Tampa was the longest 1-0 game ever played at 208 minutes (or if you’re not so good with the math, that’s 3 hours and 28 minutes). And believe me, it very much felt like a 3 1/2 hour game. But I’ve discovered that games at the Trop often feel this way, among other interesting stadium-related peccadilloes, a sentiment that seemed to be echoed by a pre-game press conference Jeter dodging questions about what he liked best about playing at the Trop. (For all you Rays fans out there: I do have some say in this; I grew up in the Tampa area before they created the franchise and have frequented the area and the stadium in the years since. Still hasn’t changed my mind.)

I wish I could say it was a pitching duel, because that’s what the numbers seem to line up with. But let’s face it: the Yankees and the Rays are the least run-producing teams in the AL, so a no-run game through the 9th inning doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. Chris Capuano started for the Yankees and went 101 pitches over 6 innings, allowing just 2 hits, striking out 4 Rays batters, but giving up 4 walks. Don’t get me wrong on my previous statements, Capuano did an excellent job tonight, and kept the Rays from doing anything at all, which they can do from time to time.

On the other side of things, the Yankees certainly made the Rays’ starter work hard, taking him 113 pitches into the 7th inning, but they couldn’t cobble a run of their 6 hits and a walk off him.

Adam Warren took the 7th and 8th, keeping the Rays scoreless and hitless over his tenure. It would be Shawn Kelley to struggle his way through the 9th inning. Two singles and two outs, the Yankees were looking for one out to get out of the inning, but a walk loaded bases and set the 13,000-ish Tampa (though really, there were a lot of Yankee fans in that mix) on edge and cheering. A single easily scored that 1 walk-off run the Rays needed for victory tonight.

And that was the ball game. 1-0 Rays in a bottom of the 9th, 2-out, bases loaded situation.

Masahiro Tanaka threw a simulated game in Tampa today against the Instructional League at Steinbrenner Field. He topped out about 92 mph (not surprising), and some comments were made about how his last attempt at a sim game was sharper. But this all depends on how he feels tomorrow and the next couple of days. Should he feel back to himself, Tanaka could be pitching in the Bronx this weekend. Basically, the young pitcher will be under the microscope for a while, as he continues to the long path to full recovery and health until they trust his arm not to give out on him again.

This story feels awfully familiar, and it’s getting old. Can everyone just get and stay healthy? And win some ball games already?

Go Yankees!

Game 141: KC vs. NYY — It’s Derek Jeter Day in the Bronx

I guess you could say that the best part of this picture perfect day was the pre-game festivities because the game itself wasn’t much to talk about. Everyone went into today knowing it was going to be “Derek Jeter Day” at Yankee Stadium, but a proclamation from New York City mayor Bill de Blasio made it “Derek Jeter Day” all over the five boroughs — certainly an honor deserved from someone who has contributed much to the city for the better part of the last two decades.

The ceremony began with long-time Yankee broadcasters John Sterling (radio) and Michael Kay (TV) taking turns announcing the special guests and introducing the gifts, emceeing the entire “not-a-farewell-tour” stop in the Bronx. Representing the very large family of the retiring shortstop were his maternal grandmother (escorted by Girardi); his parents; and (escorted by Sabathia) his sister (and Turn 2’s president) and his adorable nephew (who once again stole the show with his own tip of the cap). Then came the familiar faces — Rob Manfred (baseball’s newly elected commissioner), Harold Reynolds, Reggie Jackson, former trainer Gene Monahan, Hideki Matsui, Joe Torre, David Cone, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Tim Raines, and Gerald Williams. (And for those wondering, Andy Pettitte was away on a trip with his sons and regrettably couldn’t be in New York for the event.)

(Also, many of these guests were part of a pre-game press conference where they paid their tributes to Jeter. Here is some of what they said.)

Following all those introductions, the Yankees invited alumni and current Jeter’s Leaders onto the field, streaming in from center field to the infield to stand with the other guests. One person commented that this is truly where Jeter’s legacy is felt because of the active involvement of the Turn 2 Foundation in the lives of kids (and former kids) and their communities in Kalamazoo, New York, and Tampa. A video of Turn 2 was shown on the big board, showing that impact and how its Leaders are effectively changing their world.

After a “highlights” reel was shown, the man of the day himself jogged his way out to the infield to greet every one of the special guest and wave to the cheering crowd and to the opposing dugout where the Royals clambered over the barrier to give Jeter his due with their own standing ovation (complete with cell phone cameras).

Once the cheering died down (something that really never happened fully until the middle of the game a few hours later), it ramped back up again as Jeter was “surprised” by a handful of very special guests. First were Cal Ripken and Dave Winfield. Then as a tie in with the campaign from the All-Star Game (#RE2PECT), astronauts Steve Swanson, Reid Wiseman, and Alex Gerst tipped their caps from the International Space Station about 200 miles above Earth. This could only be topped by the founder of the #RE2PECT campaign himself — Michael Jordan.

Then came the gifts. Joan Steinbrenner (George’s widow) presented the proclamation from the mayor. Current trainer Steve Donohue rolled out a new version of the massage therapy machine Jeter always joked about “stealing” when he retired; no “stealing” necessary now. Yankees’ CIO Felix Lopez walked out a framed art that had all 14 patches Jeter has won in his All-Star Games, with the patch of his retiring logo the Yankees are wearing this month in the center. Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal presented Jeter with the Yankees’ donation to Turn 2 in the amount of $222,222.22. And Hal Steinbrenner, his wife Christina, and a handful of Steinbrenner grandchildren gave Jeter a custom-made Waterford Crystal, etched with the retiring logo and an engraved message from the Yankees.

And then Jeter addressed the crowd, speaking mainly to the fans. It was rather reminiscent of the speech he gave on Closing Day of the Old Yankee Stadium just a few years ago. He has been a fan-favorite (even outside of New York) because he does remember that the fans are an integral part of baseball. In this era where it seems so easy for professional athletes to be so involved in their sport or their endorsements or their personal lives, it’s nice that someone remembers that without the fans, they don’t have a job. It’s the fans that buy the tickets, the concessions, the jerseys, the things they endorse; and it’s the fans that cheer or jeer from the seats.

(You can view the entire speech here or the transcript here. Also, this is a link to the entire 42 minutes of the pre-game ceremony.)

And then it was “play ball”…

I’m going to be as diplomatic and positive about this as I possibly can. It wasn’t a good game. And it’s not just on the Yankees’ side of thing. No, the Royals weren’t good either. And it’s only by some really sloppy defensive errors that anyone actually won today. The Royals just landed on the less fuzzy side of today’s lollipop. But let’s face it, the entire lollipop was awfully fuzzy.

Shane Greene got the start today and barely eked out 5 innings. For being so good in so many of his starts this year, it’s been rather disappointing to see his struggles have been more consistent than his success as of late. 90 pitches took him those 5 innings, but it was really the first few innings that tried and tired the young pitcher. He allowed 5 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs (though none were technically earned), and struck out 4 Kansas City batters.

In the 2nd, back-to-back singles put runners on base, but 2 outs later, it was looking better for Greene. But a little dribbler back to the mound had Greene really miss the easy out at 1st and scored a runner. Then in the 3rd, the lead-off batter reached on a fielding error (Beltran couldn’t hold onto the ball), stole 2nd base, and scored on a single. That was 2 unearned runs. But runs, be it earned or unearned, always count toward a win, like they did for the Royals today.

Adam Warren took the 6th and 7th innings in relief of Greene, keeping the Royals planted there, while waiting for the offense to wake up. Shawn Kelley’s 8th followed Warren’s pattern, even getting himself out of a bit of a jam in anticipation of a rally sometime soon. Then Outman and Rogers split the 9th, but that offensive rally never came. The Yankees ended up with 9 baserunners via 4 hits, 4 walks, and an error, but nothing to show for it. The Royals took yet another “unearned win” today with their score of 2-0, taking the series 2-1 and the overall match-up between the teams this year 4-3 (the first time they’ve won a season series against the Yankees since 1999, or so I was told).

Yes, it was a shame that on “Derek Jeter Day” the Yankees couldn’t come up with a win. But it’s the way it is.

I mean, there’s still a nice chunk of the season left to play and a postseason race to catch-up in… so it’s still a lot of “play ball” without completely saying goodbye to the Captain just yet.

Go Yankees!

Game 134: NYY vs. TOR — A 1-hit blunder

I’d love to say that today’s game was the result of a pitching duel, and I guess in some respects it was. I mean, the Blue Jays technically only scored in the 1st inning and never again, but they did hit quite a lot off Yankee starter. I guess that’s more a testament to the Yankee defense then, despite what the talking heads might seem to believe.

Michael Pineda took the start today in Toronto, going into the 7th inning with 93 pitches, allowing all 7 of the Blue Jay hits and their 2 runs, and striking out 3. Like I said, that score came in the 1st inning with a lead-off single on base and 2 outs on the board, a misplaced slider gave Toronto a quick 2-0 lead with a long 2-run home run.

The Blue Jays spent the rest of the game defending that lead and trying to add to it. The Yankees spent the rest of the game keeping the Blue Jays to those 2 runs and trying to get something on the board. Both teams were slightly successful in their endeavors.

When Pineda allowed back-to-back hits to put runners at 2nd and 3rd, threatening to add to that 2-run lead in the 7th, the Yankees turned to old Horse Head himself (Shawn Kelley, who may regret his rubber face mask stunt due to everyone associating it with his new nickname now). It took Kelley 9 pitches and not one of those runners crossed the plate. Huff took the 8th inning and kept the score firmly planted there.

Offensively, the Yankees had a total of 5 base runners through the entire game — 2 walks, 2 hit-by-pitch, and a double. That’s right, only one hit the entire game (hence today’s blog post title). That hit came in the 4th inning where the Yankees most threatened to do some damage to the Blue Jays. With 2 strike outs, Beltran was hit by a pitch, Mark Teixeira doubled, and McCann was hit by a pitch. Bases loaded, Yankee fans were on the edge of their seats praying for a miracle. But it was not to be today. A shallow fly out put a halt to any hopes that inning.

And that was it. Toronto won 2-0, the game decided in the 1st inning and neither team seemed able to do much more than that. Baseball is far from predictable, and today’s match is certainly proof of that.

I was watching the game today and heard someone comment about the futility of getting runners on base if they can score. A brief comment was made that you don’t win ball games that way; you win by getting runs. It seems like such a simple statement, a new Yogi-ism if there is such a thing. There’s a weird box on every score sheet for how many runners are left on base after the half-inning is over. What does that matter if the runs scored box sits empty? And there’s a lot made about how many runs are scored overall. What does that really matter? The team with the most runs doesn’t go on to the playoffs; no, it’s the team with the most wins. And a win is a win whether you beat your opponent by 1 run or 25 runs.

I guess I’m a little frustrated with idiosyncrasies and semantics today. I think we need to focus on things that really matter in the long run. Did the Yankees score enough runs to win today? No. Did matter whether the Blue Jays score 2 or 20 runs in the 1st inning? No. So what does that mean? It means the Yankees lost another game, and the Blue Jays won another game. It also means that the Yankees need to up their ante for the next game because their chances at October baseball wane at every lost game. Does it mean they need to score a million runs? No. It just means they need to win. Getting runners on base is important, but getting runs scored is the goal. Even if it’s just 1.

Winning is what matters and how often, not by how much. Of course, after baseball is over, more people are going to care about your character (how you win or lose a game) than how often you won or lost. So let’s remember that in the process too. After all, you never know who’s watching.

Go Yankees!

Game 132: NYY vs. DET — 9th inning high and then a crumbling

It’s always a shame when a starting pitcher has a great outing and then doesn’t get the win because of a weak offense. Today’s matinée featured Hiroki Kuroda on such an outing — 91 pitches over 7 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 walk, and 4 strike outs. Kuroda even threw several very quick 1-2-3 innings, keeping the Tigers from doing much of anything. A sacrifice fly score the Tigers’ first run in the 2nd, and an RBI single in the 5th scored the second one.

In response, the Yankees played almost a parallel game offensively, getting 4 hits and 2 runs off the Tigers’ starter. In the 3rd, with 2 outs, Wheeler singled and ended up at 2nd on a throwing error; he would go on to score on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. And in the 4th, Prado and Beltran on base with a single and a double, Prado then scored on Brian McCann’s ground out.

So from the 5th inning on, the game sat tied 2-2, both teams not really even reaching a threatening level at any point prior to the 9th inning. Dellin Betances got the call for the Yankees in the 8th inning, keeping everything status quo. In the top of the 9th, the Yankees got 2 base runners on, a runner at 3rd dancing, itching to cross that plate. But a strikeout ended that possibility. So the Yankees turned the game over to the Shawn Kelley in the bottom of the 9th to push it into extra innings.

Kelley, however, struggled his way through 27 pitches in that inning. A lead-off double immediately sparked a rally, and a walk further fanned the flames. Two strikeouts later, both teams crossing their fingers praying the wind would blow in their favor, a Tigers’ batter singled home the winning walk-off run. It would be 3-2 Detroit.

And now the Yankees head north of the border to play a weekend series against Toronto. It’s almost September, the finish line is almost in view, that race to October is tighter than ever. There are very few certainties at this point, and we are in the last moment of infinite possibilities. I scanned through the standings today and saw the first team will get eliminated from the Wild Card race in 11 losses (for this team, that could mean in 11-15 games). So by that math, we are going to go down to the wire.

The very last day of the regular season is September 28, exactly 31 days from today. And almost every race in every division across the league are still way too close to call. This isn’t like most years where there is at least one obvious steam-rolling winner. This is a muddled field, and maybe it’s better that way. It certainly enhances every game, every inning, every play with an extra layer of competition and anticipation. And if you’re anything like me, that added tension of competition is what really makes it worth it. Competition pushes you to the breaking point and then pushes you even further that you thought possible. Those who fight all the way to the end win, and those who crumble along the way don’t.

Go Yankees!