Game 159: NYY vs. TB — Late September Drama at the Trop

The Yankees “magic number” is down to 1. They are solidly 2 games ahead of the Athletics, so just 1 win in this weekend’s series against the Red Sox means that they have secured home field advantage for the Wild Card game, a much easier trip for Wednesday’s game from Boston. This would technically be the biggest “advantage” for the Yankees, as the A’s will have to fly in from California after their weekend series in Anaheim.

But that particular drama is a series away. And there was plenty of drama this afternoon under the dome of Tropicana Field in the Yankees final game of this series against the Rays, mainly thanks to the strong scoreless, 1-hit start by CC Sabathia and a power show by the Yankees’ offense.

In the 1st, Brett Gardner led-off the game with a double. With 1 out, Voit and Stanton each walked to load the bases. All the runners moved up on a wild pitch, scoring Gardner. Then Miguel Andujar smacked a 2-out 3-run home run to give the Yankees a solid early lead. The Rays changed their pitchers and that helped keep the Yankees in line for a bit.

Torres led-off the 4th with a single, moved to 2nd on a passed ball, and then scored on Austin Romine’s single. Hechavarria singled but then was tagged out on Gardner’s fielder’s choice grounder that left runners on the corners. Aaron Judge’s sacrifice fly scored Romine. Gardner then stole 2nd and scored on Luke Voit’s big double.

So the Yankees had this hefty lead. And CC Sabathia was having his own strong show from the mound. He threw just 55 pitches today into the 6th inning, allowing just 1 hit, and striking out 5 Rays batters. Sabathia was having one of those good outings that made him a legend in his long career, and he just needed 2 more full innings to get a special bonus as part of his contract. Literally, he just had to pitch through 7 innings today to get a $500,000 contract bonus.

But in his 5th inning, one particular pitch hit a Rays’ batter and started much of the bitter drama today. It was an accident, just an errant pitch. Why would a veteran starter with a huge offensive lead behind him intentionally hurt a batter?

As a result of this hit by pitch, the Rays pitcher felt it was his job to throw at Austin Romine, narrowly missing the Yankees catcher in the face. It was clearly intentional, clearly in “retribution” for Sabathia’s sloppy pitch in the previous inning. So, the dugouts got their requisite “warnings”. And the inning continued. Romine struck out 3 pitches later.

After the drama with Romine, Hechavarria singled and then scored on Brett Gardner’s big triple. Gardner then scored on Aaron Judge’s sacrifice fly. And then Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton hit back-to-back home runs to keep the ball rolling for the Yankees’ offense today.

And then we went back into that drama. Now, when Romine got “buzzed”, he fell onto the ground and was visibly shaken. Boone had to hold back Sabathia from charging out in defense. Had Romine been actually hit (or worse, hurt), there would have been some serious scrums on the Trop’s infield. It was that kind of tense. Sabathia wasn’t having any of this nonsense. It’s this old-school tradition that shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s really a ridiculous response, especially as the pitch at Romine was aimed at his head. You don’t do that. That’s bad baseball.

And again, Sabathia wasn’t having any of it. He threw away that all that bonus money with a single pitch to kick off the bottom of the 6th inning when he plunked the Rays’ catcher on the back of the leg (calf area). It was a lazy pitch, and Sabathia didn’t even seem to see that he’d been ejected as he was already on his way to the dugout. Boone was also ejected in the fracas.

Luis Cessa came on to finish out the 6th inning with 3 quick outs. He gave up a lead-off solo home run in the 7th but otherwise sailed his way through 3 solid innings, including 5 (of the 9 outs) strikeouts. Loaisiga closed out the game with a strong 9th inning to keep the Rays to that lone allowed run.

But the Yankees wanted that run back. Giancarlo Stanton helped them do so with his lead-off solo home run in the 9th, his 2nd homer of the game and 37th for the season.

Final score: 12-1 Yankees, Yankees win the series 3-1

Next up: The Yankees are traveling to Boston tonight to begin their weekend series there tomorrow night at Fenway. Their final 3 games will be played against the 1st place Red Sox, a potential ALDS match-up should the Yankees win the Wild Card Game. The Red Sox are set to play the winner of the Wild Card Game as the AL team with the most wins.

And a quick reminder going into the weekend, that the AL is set (division leaders Red Sox, Indians, and Astros, and Wild Card opponents Athletics and Yankees), but the NL is going down to the wire. The Braves have the NL East, but the Central and West divisions are a half-game apart (Cubs-Brewers and Rockies-Dodgers) as I post (the Cubs and Rockies play today, so this will change). Plus the Cardinals are just a game out of Wild Card contention. This means that the NL is where the drama is right now.

Go Yankees!

Game 158: NYY vs. TB — So close and yet…

I’m guessing that tonight’s game will be one that the Yankees and the Rays won’t want to remember any time soon. Neither team played exceptionally well, and neither team really came out looking like a winning season kind of team that they both are. It was just one of those games that you’re glad is over, learn from the mistakes, turn the page, and start fresh tomorrow.

The Yankees got on the board first, facing the Rays’ brief starter in their bullpen-pieced pitching staff again. McCutchen led-off the game with a single and moved to 2nd on Stanton’s 2-out walk. Neil Walker then hit a big 3-run home run right up the middle to get the Yankees started with a solid lead.

It didn’t last long. Masahiro Tanaka got the start for the Yankees and wasn’t exactly having the kind of memorable night. He threw 80 pitches in 4 innings, gave up 6 hits, a walk, and 4 runs (3 earned), and struck out 4 Rays’ batters. In the 1st, he gave up a single, a walk, and an RBI single before getting the first out of the inning, a strikeout.

But then the next batter hit a baby grounder back to the mound, but a poor throw by Tanaka allowed him to be safe and the lead runner to score. He hit the next batter to load up the bases before giving up another single to score the tying run but keep the bases loaded. He then managed to get 2 consecutive strikeouts to leave the Rays stranded there.

A 1st pitch, lead-off solo home run in the 3rd gave the Rays the slim lead, and the teams battled most of the game to maintain the close game. Holder, Green, and Chapman each took an inning to keep things tight through the 7th inning. But David Robertson had some issues in the bottom of the 8th.

A lead-off walk scored on an RBI double to add to the Rays lead. A passed ball then moved the runner to 3rd. Robertson finally got an out, a strikeout, to hold that runner just 90 feet from home. But the next batter hit into a fielder’s choice and still ended up safe at 1st as the runner also scored. Late to the defense and everyone’s safe.

Another single ended with runners on the corners. Then the next batter hit a bunt single that scored the runner from 3rd. Originally, it was called out at 2nd (which means the run still scored, by the way), but the Rays rightly challenged and the call was overturned. Again, everyone’s safe.

That Rays’ lead now expanding further. It was time to go back to the bullpen. Justus Sheffield came on to help stem the tide. He immediately got a fielder’s choice out at 2nd to put runners at the corners. But then, Sheffield tried to pick-off the runner at 1st and bounced the ball to Voit, allowing both runners to move up and thus another runner to score. After a grounder ended the inning, the Yankees were back in the batter’s box for one last shot.

They took it and loaded up the bases. Sanchez led-off the 9th with a walk, Gardner hit a 1-out single, and McCutchen singled. Aaron Judge’s single scored Sanchez, keeping the bases loaded. Luke Voit hit a really long single that scored both Gardner and McCutchen and moved Judge to 3rd. Judge kept things rolling by scoring on Giancarlo Stanton’s single to put the Yankees within just 1 run again. Voit advanced to 3rd on a flyout, but Andujar then popped out in foul territory to end the game.

Final score: 8-7 Rays

Injury update: There’s good news in Yankee Universe. I promise. Didi Gregorius has been cleared to resume baseball activities. That means he can start working out again, throwing a ball, swinging a bat, working on fielding, and get back into the game sooner than later.

And there’s a lot of talk about the upcoming Wild Card game. The Yankees need 2 more wins (of the 4 games left to play) to secure home field advantage. But does that actually matter in a one-off game like the Wild Card? According to statistics, no. In 12 Wild Card games over the last 6 years, 5 home teams have won and 7 visiting teams won. And the Yankees got home field both times they were Wild Card and are split in their success — lost to the Astros in 2015, won over the Twins in 2017.

In other words, you can’t predict baseball, and a lot of the superstitions, suppositions, and “traditions” are bunk.

Go Yankees!

Game 157: NYY vs. TB — 3rd inning power show

Luis Severino got the start in the second of four games against the Rays in St. Petersburg tonight. He had a really strong outing, throwing 97 pitches in 5 innings, giving up 4 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs, and striking out 7 batters to earns his 19th win of the season.

The Rays only allowed runs tonight came in a messy 3rd inning. Severino quickly loaded up the bases with a double, hit-by-pitch, and walk. Then a double scored the 2 lead runners before the Yankees relayed to get the third runner out at home. But that would be it for the Rays’ offense tonight. Kahnle, Tarpley, and German came on in relief of Severino to split the final 4 innings and keep the Rays rather silent.

But the Yankees used that same 3rd inning to make the difference in the game with a huge power show. Adeiny Hechavarria led off the inning by hitting his first Yankee home run (and earning his own unique John Sterling home run call). Then Gardner hit his 60th career triple, and McCutchen walked before the Rays’ starter finally got an out in the inning and then was escorted to the dugout.

Going to the bullpen didn’t help the Rays, but it certainly allowed for more Yankee power to show off. Luke Voit doubled to easily score Gardner, and then the Rays intentionally walked Stanton to load up the bases. And they changed pitchers again. Neil Walker worked a walk in 4 pitches which scored McCutchen, and Miguel Andujar’s sacrifice fly scored Voit. And to cap off this inning, Gary Sanchez smacked a big 3-run home run.

Stanton led-off the 5th with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Sanchez’s single. And Andujar finished off the Yankees’ big night with a 2-out solo home run in the 9th inning, his 26th homer of the year. Is anyone else hoping for “Rookie of the Year” for him too?

Final score: 9-2 Yankees

Injury news: Aaron Hicks had an MRI to check on his hamstring injury, and the good news is that there are no strains (or tears). That means the injury isn’t as serious as it could be, nor is it season-ending. It just means that they are going to watch him and his recovery progress, calling him “day-to-day”.

And Gleyber Torres was scratched from tonight’s lineup due to some tightness in his left hip and groin area. However, it’s just “tightness”, so he said he was available off the bench. But the Yankees didn’t need him tonight and will probably keep him rested until he can actually be fully available to the Yankees. Besides, his absence allowed Hechavarria the chance to earn his John Sterling home run call.

Go Yankees!

Game 156: NYY vs. TB — Bullpens’ night to shine

The Yankees begin their final week of the season with a trip down to Tampa Bay for a 4-game series. For quite a few games this season, the Rays have been using their bullpen for their every day pitching staff, splitting games between their bullpen with no real starter. This was due in part to early injuries and trades of their starting pitching stars, but it’s worked for them, as they’re finishing well above .500 and just a few game out of the second Wild Card spot.

So, the Yankees decided to follow their lead and pieced together their own bullpen pitching day for tonight’s opener. And it worked, starting with Holder and Tarpley each taking a scoreless inning.

Sonny Gray came on for a scoreless 3rd, but had a few issues in the 4th. He gave up a lead-off double that moved to 3rd on a passed ball, held on base with a single, and then scored on a double play to get the Rays their lone run. After Gray, the Yankees breezed through their bullpen allowing an inning each to Green, Robertson, Chapman, Betances, and then Britton for the save.

But the Yankees knew how to hit into the Rays’ staff and take the opportunities when they were given. Andrew McCutchen started things off with a 1-out solo home run in the 3rd into the left field seats.

And in the 5th, with 2 outs, Judge worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a passed ball, and then scored on Brett Gardner’s single. Giancarlo Stanton’s double scored Gardner before Stanton got thrown out going for 3rd to end the inning. And McCutchen hit a 1-out double in the 7th and then scored on Aaron Judge’s double.

Final score: 4-1 Yankees

Injury updates: Aaron Hicks came out of the game in the 4th due to a tight hamstring. At first, I think people were concerned this might be a lingering issue with the ankle bruise from fouling off a ball from his ankle Saturday just before he hit the walk-off single. But it was the hamstring. Fortunately, there is a plethora of outfielders on the roster, but Hicks is quite the contributor in the field and in the box.

Didi Gregorius is feeling better after sustaining a torn cartilage in his wrist on that aforementioned walk-off win on Saturday. The cortisone shot seems to be working, and Gregorius is hoping to be back before the end of the season or at least to play in the Wild Card game.

Okay, no more injuries, people. I know that at this point in the year that everyone’s a bit banged up. But take care of yourselves. We’re hoping for a full Yankees roster for a great (and full) postseason.

And in a fun pre-game adventure, the Tampa Bay area was hit with a sudden major storm, filled with lightning, thunder, and buckets of rain. Now, the Trop is a dome, so no need for a rain delay. But the lightning struck the Trop as the thunder kind of shook the building. And the lights and all the power went out.

Pre-game promos were halted for a bit as generators kicked in and kept auxiliary lights on, while the building had to be rebooted. The main lights on the field, for example, take quite a bit of time to power up, especially if they’ve been suddenly turned off. It certainly made for an interesting start to the night.

Go Yankees!

Game 121: TB vs. NYY — Good start wasted on quiet bats

Well, that was not how the Yankees wanted to end today or this series. Masahiro Tanaka had a pretty good outing tonight, keeping the Rays to just 2 runs, but the Yankee bats just didn’t capitalize when they could to flip the narrative today. So the Yankees ended up on the wrong end of the series.

Other than the 1st inning, Tanaka breezed his way through the next 5 innings and still earned the loss. In the 1st, he gave up a single, a stolen base, an RBI double, another single, and an RBI double. The other runner got a little greedy on that last double, and the defense snapped into action to get the second runner out at home. Then Tanaka got out of the inning with 2 of his 6 strikeouts.

Britton threw a beautiful 11-pitch 7th inning before handing things over to David Robertson. Robertson had his own issues as the Rays continued to try to add to their minuscule lead. He gave up a single that moved to 3rd on a throwing error and then scored on a sacrifice bunt. But he was able to get out of the jam without allowing further damage. Kahnle closed out the game with a clean 9th inning.

But the Yankees just weren’t doing much to hit off the Rays’ pitchers, despite them using a more normal pitching pattern of a regular starter and then a collection of relievers to fill out the rest of the game. The Rays’ starter held the Yankees’ batters to just 2 hits and a walk and kept them scoreless through 5 innings. And his relievers, for the most part, continued that pattern.

But in the 8th, with 1 out, pinch-hitter Romine singled, and Hicks hit into a failed double play only getting Romine out at 2nd but a messy throwing error allowed Hicks to make it all the way to 2nd. Then Giancarlo Stanton hit a double off the right field wall, and for some reason, the umpires called it a home run, and the Rays’ outfielder didn’t bother to chase the ball down because he thought it was a foul.

Yeah, that left everyone kind of confused. So they did an umpire review and it was easily overturned as a home run, but the question remained as to what the call should be. The logical choice ended up being essentially the equivalent of a ground-rule double for a compromise, mainly because the Rays’ outfielder didn’t hustle to get what was a live ball rolling around in the outfield after it bounced off the wall.

Okay, after finally getting on the board, the Yankee had one more opportunity in the bottom of the 9th and it looked like it was going to work. Gregorius and Torres singled and Walker worked a walk to load up the bases. There was no outs, and the Rays decided to shut it down with a new reliever. Just 9 pitches later, the game was over.

Final score: 3-1 Rays, Rays win series 2-1

Next up: The Yankees host the Blue Jays for the weekend to close out this home stand. After a travel day on Monday, they will play a short series in Miami before another travel day has them arriving in Baltimore for a weekend series there. And then it’s back to the Bronx again to close out the month.

Roster moves/Scranton Shuttle alert: After yesterday’s game, the Yankees optioned Luis Cessa back to AAA Scranton. They also recalled reliever Tommy Kahnle. Kahnle, as stated above, ended up pitching well in tonight’s game.

Go Yankees!

Game 120: TB vs. NYY — When you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything

They always say that when you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything (Sometimes it’s “you don’t have nothing”, but I was an English major and can’t allow myself to use a double negative unless I’m using a direct quote to make a point). But the point of that statement is proof that as much as you need those runs, you need a strong pitcher that won’t give up those runs for the other guys.

And Luis Cessa was just not having a great game tonight, in this middle game against the Rays. He threw 65 pitches into the 4th inning, gave up 7 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs, and struck out 4 batters. In the 2nd, a 1-out double scored on a 2-out single to get the Rays started.

Then in the 3rd, he loaded up the bases with 2 singles and a walk and no outs. But then he got a good strikeout, so there was hope. The next batter hit into a grounder that the Yankees failed to turn into a double play, so the lead runner scored. Another run scored on an RBI single to give the Rays a hefty lead.

They added two more when a 1-out single scored as part of a 2-run homer in the 4th. And that was the end of Cessa’s night, handing things over to Holder. Holder had a better night, getting two solid strikeouts to close out the inning. Another good outing for the reliever who’s had some issues recently.

Sonny Gray really had a chance to show off his long-term reliever skills again, starting in the 5th and pitching into the 8th. Gray had some issues, but was able to space most of them out through his outing after a bit of a snag in the 5th. A 1-out double later scored on a 2-out single to cap off the Rays’ runs tonight. Green breezed his way through the final 5 outs in just 12 pitches and kept the Rays from adding to their lead.

The Yankees’ offense was really kept to a minimum and also spread throughout the game. They collected 5 hits and 4 walks (and 2 hit-by-pitches), but only managed one run — Miguel Andujar’s lead-off home run in the 2nd. They just weren’t finding the right holes to make a difference, several times getting enough runners in scoring position but getting halted from scoring runs, and Cessa’s troubled start laid the groundwork for the eventual loss.

Final score: 6-1 Rays

Roster moves: Before tonight’s game, the Yankees designated last night’s reliever George Kontos for assignment in order to recall Luis Cessa.

And as we’ve said (or rather presumed) in previous posts, Cashman confirmed the obvious — Aaron Judge‘s return will not be just 3 weeks from his initial injury (July 26). He recently received a cortisone shot to help with the healing, but he’s still not resuming baseball activities like swinging a bat or playing catch.

The reality is that he broke a bone (that’s why the word “fracture” is in “chip fracture”) and bones take time to heal. And it’s not until they heal that one can even start the recovery process. It’s going to hurt. The muscles and surrounding area have been irritated by the injury and will also require time to adjust to the healing process.

Look, injuries are both simple and complicated. They’re complicated in that there is no exact formula on healing and the process because each person and each injury is going to be different. And they’re simple for the same reason — they’re going to heal when they heal and there’s not much you can do until they do. It’s frustrating, but it’s just part of life, especially when one is an elite athlete.

It certainly makes me feel like I write about injuries almost as much as I write about roster moves. So, to me, it seems that injuries are as much a part of the business of baseball as figuring out the best combination for the bullpen. It’s certainly lends itself to part of the reason why baseball is so unpredictable.

Go Yankees!

Game 119: TB vs. NYY — Happ in charge & Romine’s power drive

Rain seems to be the biggest foe of baseball this season. But tonight’s game was only held off by a 21 minute delay at the beginning of the game to dry out the field a bit before the Yankees and Rays began their opening game of this mid-week series.

JA Happ got the start tonight and threw a pretty good game to earn his 3rd win as a Yankee and 13th win overall this season. Happ threw 106 pitches in his 7 scoreless innings, gave up just 1 hits and 4 walks, and struck out 4 Rays batters. Happ is certainly finding his stride as a Yankee and fitting in very nicely to the Yankees rotation.

The Yankees batters faced the odd Rays pitching pattern again. The “starter” only threw just 1 inning before his primary reliever threw 5 innings. Normally, the longest pitcher starts the game and then relievers piece together an inning or two to finish out the game. Now, the Rays were the one of the first teams to use the extreme fielding shifts and now doing this strange pitching pattern, so maybe it will catch on too.

Anyway, it’s not like it worked out well. The Yankees dinged into the Rays’ “starter” in the 1st inning. With 1 out, Stanton doubled and then advanced to 3rd on a pick-off throwing error and then scored easily on Aaron Hicks’ single. The Yankees then loaded up the bases with Gregorius’ single and Bird’s walk, but a ground out ended the early threat.

The long-term reliever (I guess) actually held off the Yankees for much of his 5 innings, pitching into the 6th. However, in the 5th, the Yankees found a small hole to capitalize on from an unlikely suspect. Walker led-off with a walk, and then Austin Romine liked the first pitch and plopped it into the right field seats for a 2-run home run to give the Yankees’ lead some cushion.

Under the Rays’ final reliever, the Yankees found one more chance to add a run in the 8th. With 2 outs, Andujar doubled and was pinch-run by Robinson. Robinson then scored on Greg Bird’s double to cap off the Yankees’ night.

Dellin Betances came out for the 8th inning, and the Rays’ lead-off batter took his first pitch into the visitors’ dugout for a solo home run to get the Rays on the board. But then Betances breezed through a quick 3 outs. And Aroldis Chapman only needed 9 pitches to earn his 31st save to close out the game.

Final score: 4-1 Yankees

There is quite a bit of conversation in regards to this year’s Rookie of the Year candidate. And it should both please and not really surprise any in Yankee Universe that both Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. While Torres has pretty much always been in the conversation due to the pre-set expectations as a prospect, the biggest standout and surprise is the rise of Andujar.

Andujar has been a consistent force for the Yankees, virtually taking up the starter’s role at 3rd and being quite the power hitter at the plate, with the team’s highest batting average and doubles. Torres, of course, made the All-Star team as the back-up 2nd baseman (finishing 2nd in voting behind a veteran superstar infielder), a huge honor for his rookie year, but Andujar was in the mix for his position, finishing 3rd behind 2 big star players for other teams. That’s how valuable these players are.

Both are great candidates for Rookie of the Year, but voting and awards season is still so far off and there’s still quite a bit of baseball yet to play. Though it would be something to have another Yankee rank so high in this category. Sanchez was 2nd in 2016, Judge won the honor last year, and both Torres and Andujar are up for it in 2018.

I’ve said it for a few years now. The Yankee farm system is really good, and it’s given me hope for the future of the franchise. And if they keep churning out these kinds of players, Yankee Universe shouldn’t be worried either.

Go Yankees!