Spring Game 25: TB vs. NYY — Drizzly, dreary day can’t dampen the Yankees

For much of the morning leading up the game, the big question was whether there would be a game to play thanks to the ridiculous weather this Spring. Today’s skies began overcast and dreary and spend most of the day drizzling rain all over the area as a new front came marching across the state. Even though it really never stopped, the game played on.

The regular season home team of the Rays came to visit the Yankees Spring home for this afternoon’s game. And the Yankees decided to go with a pitching strategy the Rays tested out last season — a 1-inning opening pitcher, followed by a long-term reliever and a couple of closers. While the Rays didn’t practice their pattern, the Yankees seemed to find it work for them today.

Chad Green was the opening pitcher for the 1st inning and had a bit of trouble at first. A lead-off single raced home on another single that was aided to a sloppy fielding error in right field. But then Green quickly got 3 outs to get out of the inning. Despite getting on the board early, the Rays’ batters were stymied by the Yankees’ pitching for most of the game.

Luis Cessa threw 4 solid, scoreless innings, setting himself up for the eventual win. Britton and Coulombe kept things moving through the 6th-8th innings, before David Sosebee came out for the 9th. A lead-off walk moved to 2nd on a ground out and later scored on a 2-out single to double the visiting team’s score. It was a decent attempt at a rally that fell short.

This was, of course, due to the fact that the Yankees are really becoming quite the force this Spring. Down a run in the 1st, Judge redeemed himself for that 1st inning error at the bat. He worked a 1-out walk and then hustled home on Gary Sanchez’s double to tie up the game.

In the 3rd, with 1 out, Gardner walked and stole 2nd. He then scored on Aaron Judge’s single (the first single he’s hit all Spring, by the way). Judge scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s double, and Stanton promptly scored on Sanchez’s double. Torres led-off the 4th with a walk, stole 2nd, stole 3rd on a 2-out walk, and then scored on Billy Burns’ single. And Greg Bird smacked a big 1-out solo home run in the 5th to cap off the Yankees’ lead early.

Final score: 6-2 Yankees

One to Watch: It’s Thairo Estrada again today, mostly for his stellar defense. It’s always after he makes some outstanding play, like laying out for a catch in the infield dirt or one of those nifty jump-throws, that I’m reminded that just over a year ago, he was shot in a botched robbery in his home of Venezuela.

As a reminder, last January, Estrada and his wife were going out to eat when two teenagers approached to demand cash and his phone, but as he had neither on him, they panicked and shot the young prospect. They were never caught, a symptom of the awful situation currently ravaging the South American country.

Actually, Estrada still has the bullet lodged in his hip and spent the last season plagued by injuries to his back and hamstring in effort to come back eventually. And this Spring, he’s put much of the trauma and drama of last year behind him. He’s really showing why he still should be considered one of the Yankees’ most talented prospects. (The current rankings have him much lower than he should be, but the latest rankings will be released and updated following the finalization of current 25-man and 40-man rosters this next week.)

Next up: The Yankees will travel to West Palm Beach (about 3.5 hours southeast of Tampa) to visit the Astros tomorrow and see the Cardinals on Thursday in nearby Jupiter. Just a few games left of this Spring, and things are still going strong for the Yankees. How that translates to the regular season is still very much up for the talking heads and “barstool managers” to make their infamous sweeping declarations, and the teams to prove them all wrong.

Injury news: Unfortunately, it looks like Dellin Betances will begin 2019 on the disabled list thanks to some right shoulder inflammation and impingement. The impingement is when “you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space between the acromion [top corner shoulder bone] and rotator cuff [tendons connecting shoulder and arm] narrows. The acromion can rub against (or ‘impinge’ on) the tendon and the bursa [fluid sac that helps the shoulder rotate], causing irritation and pain.” In other words, even just working out the shoulder could further aggravate the initial injury.

This means that Betances will need to reduce the inflammation and treat with some physical therapy and steroid injections to combat all the overuse of the shoulder, one would guess to be rather common in pitchers, especially those who throw as hard as he does. But the advantage is that the Yankees have a lot of depth in their bullpen. So a little delay in Betances’ 2019 start won’t harm the Yankees that much.

Before today’s game, the Yankees called on a fellow athlete to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Wearing her medals, Olympic jacket, and a Yankees cap, Abbey Burns threw to her brother, Yankees’ minor leaguer Billy Burns. She is a noted Special Olympics equestrian and swimming athlete and holds records in several categories of Paralympic American swimming.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 2: NYY vs. TB — First Spring win with some big swings

Shifting a little closer to home certainly seemed to help the Yankees shake off yesterday’s loss. Of course, that has nothing to do with the fact that they played a team that clearly isn’t used to working together, a clear contrast to yesterday’s opponents.

Jonathan Loaisiga had a great start against the Rays this afternoon at their Spring home field in Port Charlotte (about 90 minutes south of where the Rays spend the season and the Yankees spend Spring in Tampa). Loaisiga continues to show the Yankees why he was worth the call-ups last year and why he could be a contender for this year’s team. He threw a near flawless 2 innings, eventually setting himself up for the win.

Other names (perhaps familiar to frequent readers) that took the mound today included David Hale, Brady Lail, and Stephen Tarpley. Together with two other minor league relievers, the Yankees pitching staff helped navigate today’s team to their first Spring win.

Sure, there were some stumbles along the way, as we should expect in Spring Training. But they were able to fend off the Rays until the middle of the game. In the 5th, back-to-back solo home runs over the short left field fence got them on the board, and 2 outs later, another solo shot off the center field netting added one more. But a great moment (not on the highlight reel thanks to the away broadcast) was the final play of the inning — when catcher Lavernway threw to shortstop Cabrera in a blink-and-you-miss-it play to catch the runner stealing 2nd.

In the 6th, a 1-out single scored as part of a 2-run home run to give the fans a bit of something to cling to in what became the Rays’ 3rd loss of the Spring. It’s worth noting that much like at the Rays’ regular home in St. Petersburg, the majority of fans in the stands today were clearly Yankees fans. As if the echoing cheers during positive Yankee moments weren’t making that obvious.

And those cheers began early today, with the Yankees once again jumping out in front right in the 1st inning. Tyler Wade hit a ground-rule double and then scored on Luke Voit’s single. Estevan Florial kicked off the 2nd inning with a single, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then easily scored on another wild pitch. Two outs and a new pitcher later, Holder and LeMahieu singled to get on base, and Wade’s double scored Holder for a rather easy early Yankees’ lead.

Then in the 4th, with 1 out, LeMahieu walked, Wade singled, and they both scored with Luke Voit’s powerful 3-run home run over that left field fence to double the Yankees’ score. After the Rays got a few runs on the board, the Yankees got a few back in the 6th when Mazilli singled and then scored as part of Matt Lipka’s 2-run home run (yes, to left field).

It was enough to claim their first win this Spring.

Final score: 8-5 Yankees

Next up: for Opening Day, the Yankees will host the Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field tomorrow afternoon. And because it’s both Opening Day and their home, you can expect to see some appearances by the “big guys”. There’s nothing like Opening Day. I can’t wait.

Go Yankees!

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!