Game 67: TB vs. NYY — Old Timers’ Day joy, but a series still won

For as long as I remember, summer wasn’t summer without baseball. And baseball wasn’t baseball without my dad. So, watching a ballgame on Father’s Day is a gift for me.

It reminds me of my childhood spent with dad watching games on a grainy black-and-white set while he explained the mechanics of the game and talked of legendary players. Reminds me summer days at the ballpark cheering on a favorite team, despite its dismal record, eating peanuts and telling jokes. Reminds me of the weekend Dad spent teaching us to play ball with his old bat and catcher’s mitt in the backyard. And as always, there was joy and fun building those family memories.

It is in those moments that my strong bonds between Dad and baseball are formed. Dad so enjoyed the game that we couldn’t help but learn the enjoy it too. Our family may all root for different teams now, but the common bond is still the game itself. Though he’s been gone nearly a decade now, Dad would love knowing his kids and grandkids are now building their own family memories around this same game of baseball.

And maybe that’s what he had in mind all along. Thanks, Dad!

In the final game of this weekend series against the visiting Rays, CC Sabathia had a great game overall, throwing 102 pitches into the 8th inning. He gave up 10 hits, a walk, and 3 runs, and solidly struck out 10 Rays’ batters.

The only runs the Rays scored tonight came in the 2nd inning. He gave up 2 consecutive singles to put runners on the corners before a double scored the lead runner. Two outs later, the batter hit a solid single that scored both runners, but then the Yankees defense kicked in and got the runner trying to stretch his single into a double.

Leaving the game to a standing ovation, Sabathia would have had a great game and probably a win had the Yankees had any kind of offensive support. Adam Warren came on to close out the 8th for Sabathia and throw a solid 9th inning, but the Yankees’ offense limped through the game. They still managed 7 hits and 4 walks on the board, but they only run they got was a 2-out solo home run in the 5th by Aaron Hicks.

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

Next up: The Yankees travel to Washington, D.C. to complete their previously suspended game from May 15. That game will conclude first, picking up in the 6th inning with the game tied 3-3. About 30 minutes after that conclusion, they will play the make-up game from May 16. The Yankees will head back to the Bronx for their 3-game mid-week series against the Mariners before beginning their road trip against the Rays.

Before the current Yankees took the field, Yankee fans were treated to witness the celebration of the 72nd Annual Old Timers’ Day, featuring many favorite players, spanning generations of greats from the 1940s to the 2010s. Always a fan-favorite day, players from decades of former Yankee rosters take the field for a few innings, full of good-natured competition and fun.

Before the action on the field, the familiar voice of the late Bob Sheppard greeted the fans to Old Timers Day and the stadium roared to life, and current Yankee broadcasters John Sterling and Michael Kay began the introductions of each participant.

After introducing the widows of former players — Jill Martin (Billy), Kay Murcer (Bobby), Diana Munson (Thurman), and Helen Hunter (Catfish) — they continued with a plethora of former Yankee greats like Dr. Bobby Brown, Bucky Dent, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Willie Randolph, Bobby Richardson, and Gene Monahan, among so many others of Yankee Universe. Fans cheered with standing ovations for pitching legends Whitey Ford and Don Larsen, now in their 80s, but looking spry and all smiles today.

(Full video of today’s introductions.)

The newest members making their debut at Old Timers’ Day were Dion James, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Nick Swisher, and Yankees manager Aaron Boone. It’s a bit of stretch to call most this group “old timers” (Swisher being just 37), but it was good to see this group again. Their relative youth brought a zeal and enthusiasm to the game. Especially fan-favorite Nick Swisher, as they welcomed him back to the Bronx with roaring applause. He waved and thanked the crowd with his signature smile and genuine gratitude, obviously much missed.

As they do every year, the players divided into two teams, the Bombers and the Clippers. The sheer joy of being in pinstripes and taking the field seemed to energize the crowds, and the game did not disappoint. Wild pitches and missed catches brought good-natured ribbing, and Swisher showed off his still-sharp baseball skills with a 2-run double and a big 3-run homer into the second deck. With pitching by the likes of Pettitte and hitting by Swisher, it was inevitbale that the Bombers would outscore the Clippers, final score of 15-3 by the end of their abbreviated game.

Following the game, Swisher was unofficially dubbed the “MVP” of today’s game, saying that today’s festivities sum up the joy of what its like to play baseball for a living. He said, “I feel like every time you take the field, you have a lifetime pass to be a little kid for as long as you want. For me, I’m just happy to be here. I couldn’t believe that [homer]. You only dream of stuff like that!” Close friend David Robertson made sure he celebrated right with his own Gatorade shower during his post-game interview.

Until next year…

Go Yankees!

Game 156: KC vs. NYY — #CCStrong, Make-up batting practice, historic afternoon

Today’s afternoon game was a minor blip in the regular schedule, a make-up game from a rain-out back on May 25. The Yankees start their final week of the season, 2 3-game series in the Bronx — the Rays and Blue Jays. The visiting Royals flew in from Chicago after the weekend and will head home to Kansas City for their own final week at home.

CC Sabathia got the start today and really had a great afternoon against the Royals. He was absolutely stellar through the first 3 innings, not giving up a hit until the 4th. But even then he really didn’t allow much until his final blip on the mound. He threw 80 pitches into the 7th inning, gave up 6 hits, a walk, and 3 runs, and struck out 4 batters. In fact, until the 7th inning, Sabathia limited the Royals to that walk and 3 hits alone.

So, feeling strong, and with a low pitch count, Sabathia came out for the 7th, but then found some trouble in the heart of the Royals’ order with their veteran power-hitters. He gave up a lead-off single, a 2-run home run, and a solo home run. That would be it for his afternoon. All pitchers are on a short leash now, so if you can’t limit the damage, it’s time to depend on the next guy to see you through.

And today, once again, that worked out well. Chad Green came on to do what Chad Green does, but after allowing a walk to his first batter. Then he promptly set the Royals down in order, righting the ship, as it were. Robertson’s 8th inning was a flawless 3-strikeout moment, and Kahnle’s 9th closed things out for the Yankees, overall limiting the damage to that lone blip by Sabathia in the early 7th.

Meanwhile, the Yankees took advantage of the late summer warm weather and found their swings early and often. Gardner led-off the 1st with a single, moved to 3rd on Sanchez’s double, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ ground out to get the Yankees on the board early. In the 3rd, Gardner worked a 1-out walk, and then Aaron Judge followed him with a big 2-run home run, his 49th of the season. (More on this after the recap.)

In the 6th, Gregorius hit a 1-out single and then scored all the way from 1st on Matt Holliday’s double. Greg Bird smacked a big 2-run home run into the 2nd deck of the right field seats to keep the momentum going. After an out, the Royals opted to go to their bullpen and piece together the rest of the game. But they just don’t have the bullpen they did a few years ago.

In the 7th, with 2 outs, the Yankees just let loose. Aaron Judge hit a really big solo home run that bounced into the left field bleachers — his 50th home run of the season, breaking the rookie home run record (more below). Gary Sanchez immediately followed that up with his own solo home run into the left field seats, his 33rd of the season. (Remember, Sanchez had about a month out due to injury too!) Despite loading up the bases a bit later, the Yankees couldn’t add any more to their score.

Well, that inning. Because in the 8th, they came back and added just a few more. With a new reliever and 1 out, Torreyes got another hit today (he went 3-for-4 today), and because they missed the catch originally, Torreyes got all the way to 2nd, but the player fumbled the throw and that error allowed Torreyes to keep going all the way to 3rd. He then scored on Brett Gardner’s double. Judge worked a walk (pinch-run by Clint Frazier) and Sanchez singled to load up the bases. Didi Gregoirus singled home Gardner, and Matt Holliday’s sacrifice fly scored Frazier to cap off the Yankees’ monster afternoon.

The Yankees’ offense racked up 15 hits and 4 walks, while getting only 5 strikeouts. The latter part of the game was basically Yankees’ batting practice after a while.

Final score: 11-3 Yankees

Technically, the Yankees win that May series with today’s game, winning 3 of the 4 games against the Royals. Boston doesn’t play until later tonight, so where they land on the standings is still a giant question mark.

Postseason prep: tonight… go Blue Jays! (Seriously, they beat the Yankees this weekend, surely they can take out the Red Sox.)

Now, both of Aaron Judge’s home runs mattered and ended up in Judge’s memory case. In 1987, Mark McGwire hit 49 home runs in his rookie season. Coming into today’s game, Judge was sitting at 48. That first one in the 3rd inning meant that Judge tied McGwire for the record. But the one in the 7th was #50, a new record for a rookie player.

Also, Judge has now homered off every AL team (including the 4 he hit late last season). As of now, he’s hit off 4 of the 15 NL teams — Mets, Brewers, Pirates, and Dodgers. So, there’s 11 teams waiting for a Judge home run. By the way, active players who have hit off all 30 teams are former Yankee (and current Astro) Carlos Beltran and current Ranger Adrian Beltre (who also has hit a home run in the 40 stadiums of the modern era). Judge’s name is already being thrown around with names of some great players, but setting records at every turn will do that to you.

And it’s not like CC Sabathia is some slouch in the midst of these rookies building their greatness. The veteran pitcher is certainly making a case to include his name in future Hall of Fame talks. His win today tied him with Yankee great Whitey Ford, as left-handed pitchers with 236 wins. Only 2 more lefties have more wins — 240 by Frank Tanana (who played for a few teams including the Angels, Rangers, and Tigers 1973-1993) and 239 by David Wells (a name that might be familiar to Yankee fans from his brief stint during the dynasty days, but also flitted around the league with teams like the Blue Jays 1987-2007).

To be perfectly fair, Sabathia is only at 17 seasons this year, 4 less than either Tanana or Wells and just 3/4 game wins behind them. He could very well jump both early next season. That is if he plans on renewing his contract after his current one expires following this season. And in pure disclosure: Whitey Ford earned his 236 wins in just 16 seasons, however, it was during the time (1950, 1953-1967) when the Yankees and winning games was almost a foregone conclusion.

I kind of miss those days… but these days are pretty awesome too…

Go Yankees!

Game 73: TEX vs. NYY — Falling just short on Old Timers’ Day

Well, it was clear which game today Nature preferred. One was played under warm, sunny skies, the other with the looming threat of nearby storms that never really materialized. And it certainly was a sign of how both games turned out.

After a really fun Old Timers’ Day (more after the recap), the Yankees closed out this homestand and the weekend series against the Rangers, though this homestand has been anything less than stellar. Michael Pineda got the start this afternoon, and just struggled right out of the gate, taking his time to settle in and find that groove that he normally sails through in most of his outings. Pineda lasted just 4 innings, throwing 71 pitches, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and 7 runs, striking out just 4 batters.

In the 1st, a lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on an RBI single. A 2-run home run gave the Rangers a strong early lead. Then with 2 outs and 2 runners on base with a single and walk, a big home run scored 3 more runs for the Rangers. And to cap off their scoring, the Rangers sent one more homer into the stands, a 2-out solo home run in the 4th.

After Pineda, the bullpen certainly had a better job of keeping the Rangers in line. Webb’s 5th set things back on the right course, despite getting into a bit of trouble himself, though he came out of it without giving up more runs to the Rangers. Green’s 2 innings were nearly flawless. And closing out the final bit of the game was the tag team duo of Betances and Chapman, the latter wowing the lingering crowd with his 3 consecutive strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense had a hard time breaking through the Rangers’ starter, only managing a few hits until the 5th inning (the starter’s final inning of the game). Williams led-off with a single. Then 2 outs later, Romine technically struck out on a wild pitch, but made it safely to base, moving Williams to 2nd. Aaron Judge broke the zeroes on the scoreboard as his single scored the Yankees’ first run of the afternoon — Williams. Then it was Gary Sanchez’s 3 run home run that got the Yankees back into this game and fighting.

Under a new reliever in the 7th, the Yankees struck again. Ronald Torreyes led-off with a solid home run into the 1st row of the left field seats. Two outs later, Judge and Sanchez both worked walks before the Rangers called on a new reliever. Didi Gregorius promptly singled home Judge, but Sanchez was thrown out trying to get to 3rd on the throw.

Despite their best efforts, especially getting runners in scoring position, the Yankees fell just short in their last-minute attempts at a rally.

Final score: 7-6 Yankees, Rangers win series 2-1.

Unfortunately, there is also an extensive injury list: Aaron Hicks came out of the game after the 4th inning (moving Williams from right to center field, 1st baseman Tyler Austin to right field, and adding Austin Romine in the game at 1st base). Hicks started feeling a tightness in his right oblique, and after an MRI during the game, Hicks said he’s headed for the Disabled List, which could see him out for 3-4 weeks.

Now, Starlin Castro was out of today’s game due to injury to right wrist (a lingering injury he sustained about six weeks ago). Other than rest, Castro has undergone a cortisone shot as part of his recovery. And Matt Holliday had allergic reaction to something he ate in Oakland last weekend and is still suffering from fatigue that can linger after a bad allergic reaction

So with Jacoby Ellsbury still working with AAA Scranton until he is cleared and recalled, local Ellsbury fans might be sooner now due to Hicks’ injury. Especially if the hot offense he’s been showing in Scranton can translate well here.

Okay, so it was basically one of the coolest (ironically) days at Yankee Stadium. Today, the Yankees hosted their 71st annual Old Timers’ Day. The Yankees spent time introducing each honored guest, mostly former players and a few former coaches. Plus, the wives of some legends who are no longer with us represented their famed spouses well. It was a delightful ceremony only capped off by a highly amusing and enjoyable exhibition game between former legends on the “Bombers” or the “Clippers”. The Clippers won 2-1, thanks to younger “Old Timers” like Tino Martinez, first-timer Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams and a bit of a boost from Reggie Jackson.

Other former teammates of Jackson from the 1977 team were entertaining (I’m looking at you, Sparky Lyle) , and pondered their 40 years since that iconic championship run, something they’ll be celebrating and remembering later this year. Plus, they honored Tim Raines, who briefly played with the Yankees (during their championship years, 1996-1998) and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this July, gifting him with 2 seats from the old stadium Raines actually played ball in years ago.

{Media links: highlights of the Old Timers’ Game — Mickey Rivers’ catch (he’s still got it!), starter Sparky Lyle’s amusing tumble trying to field a soft grounder, Tino Martinez’s single scoring Bernie Williams’ dramatic slide, Lee Mazzilli’s RBI double and his own score on an error.}

Basically, despite the actual game falling short and the looming potential storm that never quite came into existence, the fun of the morning wasn’t really lost. If anything, it gave loyal, long-term Yankee fans the chance to compare the stars of yesterday with the stars of tomorrow. And while everyone certainly seemed to have an opinion, the reality is that of the legends of yesterday are actually a mixed bag of success stories. Some of them you know (like the ones I mentioned), but others are in the “yeah, I sorta remember that guy” (but you really don’t). And some of both of those categories certainly had their mixed reactions in their own playing days.

You just never know who’s going to be a “somebody everyone knows” and “somebody I think I used to know” at one of these games in the (not-so-very-distant) future. Some of those great players today were on teams when the Yankees were just terrible, despite being really great players. Which unfortunately, often makes them rather forgettable sometimes. And then today there was still Don Larsen or Whitey Ford or Joe Torre — legends today who were part of what made the Yankees’ one of the most successful franchises, the dynasty moments in Yankee history. (All 3 got pretty extensive standing ovations, by the way.)

Go Yankees!

Game 63: DET vs. NYY — A Grand Old Time, but a disappointing loss

In Motor City, they have a small reason to celebrate. Today’s win for the Tigers made it the first time since the Tigers have won a series at the new Yankee Stadium (built for the 2009 season). This, of course, means the Yankees have slipped back under par in the standings. This weekend hasn’t exactly been the strongest showing for the Yankees in some aspects, but they’ve been pretty good in minor areas that unfortunately collectively don’t add up to wins.

For example, Michael Pineda started this afternoon’s finale against the Tigers, throwing 114 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, and solidly striking out 8 batters. In what amounted to a weird summary of the game, the 4th inning was a bit of an issue. Pineda quickly loaded the bases with singles from the strongest hitters on the Detroit roster. A sacrifice fly scored one and a single quickly loaded up the bases again. But then things started working for the Yankees as a great line out to Gregorius and nice strike out closed the door on what could’ve been a messy outing. In the 5th, with 1 out and runners on the corners, a ground out scored the runner from 3rd to double the Tigers’ lead at that point.

But that was all Pineda allowed in the scheme of things. Anthony Swarzak picked up the ball in the 7th inning. A single and a 2-run home run kicked things off roughly for him, but then between his strikeout and a couple of fly outs for the defense, that would be it for the Tigers. Goody and Green closed things out with an inning a piece without allowing any further Tigers’ runs.

So we turn to the quieted offense once again for a sign of something off. They Yankees even faced two former teammates now with the Tigers’ bullpen, but with a single exception, it didn’t seem to make much of an impact. It wasn’t until the 8th inning that the Yankees poked through the Tigers’ pitching. Ellsbury led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Beltran’s 1-out walk, and then scored on Chase Headley’s 2-out single.

Yankee pitchers managed to strike out 12 Detroit batters, yet gave up 9 total hits. Meanwhile, the Yankees offense managed 4 hits and 4 walks and struck out 9 times, and only managed a single run.

Final score: 4-1 Tigers, Tigers win series 2-1.

Roster moves: After the game, the Yankees optioned reliever Chad Green to AAA to make room for their other big move today. The Yankees signed 1st baseman Ike Davis. After all the recent blows their string of 1st basemen and their replacements have taken, the Yankees were looking for a strong, tested (albeit somewhat ideally temporary) veteran presence at 1st. Davis is mostly known for his time with the Mets (2010-2014), but after a short stint with the Pirates and the Athletics, Davis spent most of this year with the Rangers’ AAA team before being released and then signed by the Yankees today.

Also, today, the Yankees celebrated the 70th Annual Old Timers’ Day. On the roster for the game between the “Bombers” and the “Clippers” included Hall of Famers like Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, and Joe Torre and other Yankee greats like Don Larsen, Stick Michael, Lou Pinella, Willie Randolph, John Wetteland, and Bernie Williams. But the talk of the day was 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui celebrating his 42nd birthday today with a monster 2-run homer into the 2nd deck in right field off another great Yankee David Cone.

But the greatest presence this afternoon was the greatest absence. Yogi Berra was a fixture at this day nearly every year, and today’s OTD game was played in his honor, complete with special plaques on the bases and patches on the uniforms. Berra continues to be honored and celebrated this year, deservedly so.

{Media note: you can watch the entire Old Timers’ Day pre-game ceremony, including all the introductions of the former Yankee greats here. Or watch the shorter version and game highlights here.}

Go Yankees!

Also, I want to send my thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families of today’s terrible tragedy in Orlando. My heart goes out to the city in light of this and the other tragic loss of just a few days ago. May we learn how to bind together as a community to make smart, active decisions on how to prevent such terrible things from happening ever again and become a community that prove our differences are really our greatest strength as they become such an amazing unique pattern that is humanity at its strongest and most beautiful.

World Series Game 1: SF vs. KC — The Royals’ big “bummer”

I probably should have put my World Series in a previous blog, along with the recap of my Championship Series predictions (and its results). But before I dive into the game recap, here it is: I had the Orioles over the Royals in 5, the Giants over the Cardinals in 6. Results: Royals over Orioles in 4, Giants over Cardinals in 5. So I was .500 (not including the game count) once again. At least, I’m consistent for this postseason. And so for this World Series, I’m saying Giants over Royals in 6 games. Though I will say, it would be way cooler for the Giants if they win it in 5 because they’ll win in San Francisco, and it’s always better to win at home because the crowds are amazing.

(And I promise you I wrote that paragraph before the game started, so tonight’s outcome has nothing to do with why I chose to go that direction. No, it’s pure dumb luck, which is usually how I end up on the favored side of my predictions.)

Let’s be honest here: the Royals are clearly the favorite if you’re rooting for the underdogs, while the Giants are the favorite if you’re rooting for a continuation of whatever dynasty the Giants seem to be building this decade (their 3rd Series in 5 years). And each side has their opinions as to why their selected team will take the Series, the least of which being that their team is just “better”. But mostly, I think people are just picking the lesser of two evils if they’re not already Royals or Giants fans. So basically, it’s just like every other World Series.

Tonight, both teams put up their “ace” pitcher, but only one tonight really proved himself to be a true ace. An “ace” to me is one who can face any situation, any batter, any play with consistency and excellence and shut down the opposing team with the help of his defense at times, but one who is in control of the game from start to finish. That fell to the Giants’ starter tonight in every sense of the word (and my stated definition), one I’ve said in previous blog posts that is a personal favorite (non-Yankee) pitcher to watch because of his (Yankee-like) work ethic and tenacity on the field. Bumgarner certainly outpitched his opponent the Royals’ ace Shields. Bumgarner throwing a solid 106 pitches over 7 innings, giving up just 3 hits and a walk, and the one run the Royals collected tonight (a solo shot in the 7th inning).

Shields and the Royals, however, just struggled in front of their home town crowd. Despite the raucous cheers from oceans of fans donning every shade of blue (save Yankee-like navy), the Royals were limited to minimal offense and just didn’t display the impressive defense they’ve been showing off in every other postseason game this October. Instead, Shields’ whopping 70 pitches took him into the 4th inning, but technically could patch together much, exiting after 7 hits, 5 runs, 1 walk, and just 1 strike out. It took him 32 pitches (almost half of his final total tonight) to get through the 1st inning alone, giving up an RBI double and a 2-run home run to put the Giants on top 3-0 quickly.

An RBI single in the 4th forced the Royals into their bullpen early in the game, though his reliever ended up loading the bases with a 2-out walk and then walked the next batter to walk in the Giants’ 5th run. This was before they finally settled down and found their rhythm again. It wasn’t until the 7th inning that the Giants found another opening for their offense against the Royals’ bullpen. A lead-off walk scored on a nice triple, before that runner scored on an RBI single. After the Royals’ single offensive attack in the bottom of the 7th, the score was 7-1 Giants. And there it sat.

Kauffman Stadium was rather quiet unless a “good play” was made by the Royals. At some point about halfway through the game, the fans turned from hoping for a win to cheering for any “good thing” they could, be it a strikeout or easy ground out or sacrifice bunt. Not a bad display of team spirit and loyalty, Kansas City. But I’m guessing the folks across the country at their locales intently watching the game were cheering in their Orange and Black, and very glad for such a solid win in their corner.

The Giants’ win tonight also snapped the Royals’ record-setting postseason at 8 postseason wins. And here’s another fun fact (at least fun for any Giants’ supporters): 10 of the last 11 Game 1 winners have gone on to win the Series that year, including the Giants in their last 2 Series (2010 and 2012).

WS Game 1: Giants over Royals 7-1, Giants lead Series 1-0

Okay, for “This Day in Yankee History”, we go all the way back to 1928 when Yankee legend Whitey Ford was born. The southpaw would grow up to don the pinstripes and become the Yankees’ all-time wins leader and owner of the most World Series wins (10) in history. He was one of the outstanding pitching staff during the Yankees second dynasty (the DiMaggio-Mantle-Berra era in the middle of the 20th century).  (For more, you can check out a post I did on the Hall of Fame pitcher earlier this year.)

Go Yankees!

Game 74: BAL vs. NYY — Old Timers, Goose, & a bad shut-out

One of my favorite days during the season is Old-Timers’ Day, and that was today at Yankee Stadium. The one day when all the greats from way past to recent past come together to celebrate the long Yankee legacy of greatness. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui made their first appearances at the 68th Annual Old-Timers’ Day. They joined legends like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Paul O’Neill, David Cone, Ron Guidry, Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage, Jeff Nelson, Willie Randolph, and Joe Torre (to name just a few). And the former pinstriped donned their numbers, got their own personal roll call from the Bleacher Creatures, and played a rather fun game for the fans in the sold-out stadium before the official game today.

And the Yankees continued the parade of honoring Yankees with a pre-game ceremony for Goose Gossage. A plaque (like Martinez yesterday) will now hang in Monument Park signifying the impact the former closer had on the Yankees during the late-70s. Gossage was a 9-time All-Star who racked up 151 saves and 512 strikeouts during his 319 games over 7 seasons as a Yankee. He helped the Yankees earn that 1978 Championship. Gossage was humbled by such an honor, but almost more so by being invited to share the field with some of the greatest Yankees on Old-Timers’ Day. Cherishing his time with the Yankees, Gossage is a fixture at such events like today and every year at Spring Training. He’s hard to miss with his bleached moustache, but his presence is part of the bridge that ties the dynasty with Berra to the dynasty with Jeter. And all three were present and having a great time on this Sunday in the Bronx. Gossage also got to throw out the first pitch before today’s regular game. {Long-version of Gossage’s pre-game ceremony here.}

And then there was the game with Masahiro Tanaka taking the start. And unlike most other Tanaka days, this wasn’t quite up there. But it’s complicated. Tanaka threw 106 pitches over 7 innings, allowing 6 hits, 3 runs, and 1 walk, and striking out 6 Baltimore batters. Now, just looking at that line, it doesn’t look that bad. And honestly, it really wasn’t terrible. Initially, Tanaka gave up a solo home run in the 2nd before he and the Baltimore starter kind of got into a bit of a pitching duel, both rather sharp and allowing just a handful of runners from hits and walks but nothing to threaten. In the 7th, Tanaka was pushing his limit, giving up a single and double, so that a ground out scored the first runner and a sacrifice fly scored the second.

So Baltimore was up 3-0, and the Yankees hadn’t managed to crack their pitcher. And here’s where trouble began for the Yankees. Adam Warren, normally pretty reliable out of the bullpen, certainly struggled today in his relief outing in the 8th inning. Two singles put runners on base with no outs, a force out turned messy with a throwing error and runners ended up on 2nd and 3rd. An intentional walk loaded the bases, which clear turned out to be a mistake because the next batter’s sweet double cleared the bases, scoring 3 more Baltimore runs. A single from the next batter scored one more run before a double play mercifully ended the 8th inning with Baltimore leading 7-0.

A scary moment in the bottom of the 8th had Mark Teixeira being hit by a pitch right on his foot. He was pulled from the game, sent straight to the trainer’s room for a full exam and x-rays. Teixeira was almost certain he was headed for the DL with something broken, and yet another set-back injury after the last few years being so injury-plagued. Fortunately, x-rays came back clean, no breaks, so it looks like a couple of days rest with some bruised feet is all that the doctor has ordered for the frustrated 1st baseman.

So into the 9th inning they went. David Huff, coming in for a struggling Warren, promptly gave up a solo home run, pushing the Orioles up to an 8-0 lead and eventual win for the AL East rivals.

Today’s loss tied the Yankees with Baltimore for 2nd place in their division, just 1.5 games behind Toronto. And this is going to be crucial info as the Yankees are headed north of the border for a series against those pesky Blue Jays for a brief 3-game trip away, a weird quirk in the scheduling.

Actually, these last two weeks in June seem to be division rivals week for the Yankees — just swept the Blue Jays and split the Orioles 1-2 at home, before 3 games at Toronto, then home for the Red Sox and Rays, before heading on the road to finish the first half of the season.

I’ve said it before, but I really don’t understand the scheduling of MLB games. But I’m not complaining too much. I’m certainly glad it’s not my job. I’d rather just watch games and tell people what I think. Oh wait…

Go Yankees!

Rizzuto & Ford — two very different legends, one big dynasty

Okay, I began talking about some of my favorite Yankees on Monday, even listing my top 5 from the “Classic Era” (1903-1961). So today, I’m continuing my explanation of my choices beginning with my number 5, actually a tie between Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford. I chose Rizzuto because he still is one of the best shortstops in Yankee history, his active time with the Yankees is really unsurpassed even to this day, and he was really a great guy who just loved to play ball. And I had to pick Ford because he’s really one of my favorite Yankee pitchers of all time, and he just loved to play this crazy game with passion and a whole lot of fun.

Phil Rizzuto, about 1955

Phillip Rizzuto, often dubbed “Scooter”, a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn in 1917 was part of the dynasty years that cemented the Yankee legacy beyond the “Golden Era” of the 20’s led by Ruth and Gehrig. A slight build for an infielder, Rizzuto bounced around the Yankees’ minor leagues in his early 20’s before getting that call to the big leagues in 1941. Rizzuto played his first game for the Yankees on April 14. That first year, the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series, earning Rizzuto the first of his 7 Rings.

The following year, the shortstop even played in his first of 5 All-Star Games. But the Navy came calling, like it did for so many of the young players of that era, and a 25-year-old Rizzuto instead spent 3 years playing baseball for the Navy with fellow future Hall of Famers like the Dodgers Pee Wee Reese and the Yankees own Bill Dickey. After the War, Rizzuto was back in his old #10 pinstriped jersey ready to pick up better than where he left off.

Rizzuto was a master of the “small ball” batting, unlike some of his more power-hitting teammates. This attributed to his lifetime batting average of .273, 1588 career hits, and 563 RBIs. Now in the lead-off batting spot, 1950 was Rizzuto’s most outstanding year, earning him the MVP award. He led the league in plate appearances (735), 2nd in hits (200), and 3rd in doubles (36), though his performance against the Phillies in the Series was one of his weaker outings in his whole career. (The Yankees still went on to win the Series in a 4 game sweep.)

Rizzuto spent his career at shortstop, playing in 5 All-Star Games (1942, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953) and 9 World Series, earning 7 Rings in the process (1941, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953), all before that final game August 16, 1956. Thirteen seasons in 16 years, all with the Yankees, the 39-year-old, married to the love of his life Cora with 4 kids, continued staying involved with the Yankees and baseball in a different way.

Beginning in the 1957 season, Scooter Rizzuto was at the microphone calling the very games he had played just the previous year. But Rizzuto seemed to make himself very comfortable in the booth, able to watch some of the greatest plays to come in Yankees history (including the famed 1961 home run derby between Mantle and Maris). Rizzuto was a regular fixture at Yankee Stadium again until not being permitted to go to his former fellow teammate’s (Mantle) funeral in 1995, required instead to call a Red Sox game. He abruptly left in the middle of the game, unable to think about anything but his friend’s death, announcing his retirement shortly thereafter.

Yankee Shortstops: Jeter & Rizzuto in 1999

He was persuaded to return to the booth for one more season, something I think modern-day Yankee fans would remember. Rizzuto was the one who called another young shortstop’s very first home run that year. When he retired from the Yankees for good after the 1996 season, Rizzuto had spent almost 60 years with the Yankees, 40 of those years in the broadcasting booth, the longest-running Yankees broadcaster ever.

Rizzuto’s #10 was retired by the Yankees in 1985, and after failing to make the Hall of Fame on the regular ballot (the highest he ever earned was 38% of the vote), the Veteran’s Committee easily granted him the honor in 1994. When asked why he didn’t get elected the normal way, his response was that his numbers “don’t shout; they kind of whisper.” Noted players and managers of the day and his peers felt the slight was unjustified, but Rizzuto had the last laugh as he left that legacy of whispering in Cooperstown for generations to take notice.

Rizzuto died in peacefully in his sleep in 2007 at the age of 89, after some recurring health issues and progressively declining health. His beloved wife Cora passed away just three years later. But in the hearts and minds of Yankees fans everywhere, Scooter lives on, forever memorialized in Monument Park and Cooperstown, and that high standard at shortstop only one other Yankee has ever surpassed.

Whitey Ford, his rookie year, 1950

Edward Ford, another New Yorker by birth (from Astoria, Queens), born in 1928, only became “Whitey” when he joined the Yankees minor leagues in 1947 and the guys figured his light blond hair needed to be recognized. Stepping into the bigs in the middle of 1950 (Rizzuto’s big year), Ford seemed to find his stride early, earning 9 wins just that year. And again, his early career was interrupted by military service, spending 1951 and 1952 in the Army during the Korean War. But when he rejoined the Yankees in 1953, the pitching staff suddenly congealed and the Yankees hit their stride for the rest of that decade, earning the other nickname “Chairman of the Board”.

While he didn’t really have a great fastball, Ford found his home in several other types of pitches to throw off his batters. That great 1961 season was good for Ford too, earning him his only Cy Young Award and the World Series MVP, something he certainly earned with a record of 25-4, leading the league during the regular season in games started (39), innings pitched (283), and batters faced (1159).

By the time Ford retired at the beginning of 1967, after what would be career-ending surgery at the end of 1966, his career stats certainly shouted — a 236-106 W-L record, 2.75 ERA, and 1956 total strikeouts. He was a ten-time All-Star (1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, twice in 1960, twice in 1961, 1964) and played in 11 World Series, winning 6 Rings (1950, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962). Ford was inducted to Cooperstown on the second ballot with 77.81% of the vote in 1974. That same year, the Yankees also retired his #16, which he began wearing following his time in Korea.

Legends at 2013 Old Timer’s Day: Berra & Ford

To this day, Ford’s pitching record still stands in Yankee history. Ford and his wife Joan (married in 1951) had 3 children, and settled in his retirement in the middle of some flurry of accusations of “ball-doctoring”, a common practice among pitchers up until the days when they toss balls for even the slightest dirt mark (that’s how many people get free balls at games today). Ford admitted to some doctoring, especially later in his career, but clearly (looking at those later numbers), that didn’t work as well as he might have hoped admittedly so.

So Ford, now 85, is enjoying the retired life, appearing at special functions like the Old Timer’s Game, the last game at old Yankee Stadium (in 2008), and other functions requiring the great #16. He and Berra seem to be competing for the long-living Yankee, and both characters give Yankees fans to this day a lot of funny stories and excitement from Yankees history to carry us into the next dynasty.

Go Yankees!

Yankee greatness from way back

I mentioned before the Christmas break that I was working on some things for the off-season to gear up for this next one. I spent most of the day today working out a lot of the details for Spring Training, truly one of my favorite parts of the year (the Spring, not really the preparations for it). There’s something to be said for having something to look forward to in life. It gives you a sense of hope, a sense of joy really because something’s just around the bend that is different and new and could lead to unlimited possibilities.

But before we get too caught up in what could be, I want to focus a little on what was. As Yankees fans, we’re constantly reminded, by those who will remain nameless and less “celebrated”, that we can always look to the history of our favorite team to remind ourselves (and anyone who’ll listen) of our great history. And while I understand that can be a crutch to carry a weaker team through some tough seasons (is anyone else hearing “86 year curse” right now?), I think there’s something to be said for carrying on a legacy of greatness. A long line of men worked very hard, played with excellence, and got those 27 rings (well, 26 rings and a pocket watch), setting a standard not just for the Yankees, but for baseball in general.

But in that long line of history, I’m often asked “who is your favorite Yankee?” as I’m sure many of you Yankee fans are asked from time to time. And unlike some other teams, this isn’t an easy answer. There’s almost too many “great ones” to choose from. So, I break my own down my top 5 players like this: classic era (1903-1961), expansion era (1961-2013), and current roster (those only on the 2014 40-man roster). Recent retirees have altered my list a bit, but I think I’ve figured it out.

We’ll start with the most historic ones. So my personal favorite Yankees from the Classic Era of Baseball (1903-1961) are:

  1. Mickey Mantle (#7) — played 1951-1968
  2. Yogi Berra (#8) — played 1946-1965
  3. Joe DiMaggio (#5) — played 1936-1951
  4. Lou Gehrig (#4) — played 1923-1939
  5. Phil Rizzuto (#10) — played 1941-1956 // Whitey Ford (#16) — played 1950-1967

(Notes: I know some of these played into the Expansion Era, but honestly, their best playing years were solidly within the original time frame. Also, this was very difficult because I wanted to limit myself to players who played only with the Yankees during their time as professional players, or else I would have included greats like Roger Maris. And I allowed myself a tie on my fifth selection which I’ll explain in a later post.)

So, I hope I got you thinking now. Who are your favorites from that Classic Era? I know people wonder why I omitted certain choices, but if you remember my original criteria for who I think makes a great baseball player (ability, teamwork, and character), my decisions might make a bit more sense. Or maybe not. But I will take a post to explain each selection in the coming days (barring any further breaking news), and I’m curious to hear your responses and your selections. Use the comment section below to explain your choices.

Go Yankees!

This day in Yankee history (The World Series Edition)

First, two Yankee legends are celebrating their birthdays today…

Whitey Ford is 85 today. Ford was a great pitcher of the “Golden Era”; teammates with other legends like Berra, Mantle, DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Howard, Larsen, and Maris; part of the legendary 1961 team; 10-time All-Star, 6-time World Series champion, Cy Young Award winner (1961), World Series MVP (1961), and inducted into the Baseball Hall-of-Fame; served in Korea at the beginning of his career, taking 2 full years off from baseball to serve his country, and returned better than ever; and has #16 retired in his honor in Monument Park.

And John Flaherty turns 46 today. Flaherty is probably most known to Yankee fans today as one of the regular sports broadcasters and a frequent analyst on many of the regular programming on the Yankees’ YES Network channel. But Flaherty also played for the Yankees at the tail end of his career through the contentious year against his former team, the Red Sox (2003-2005), serving as the back-up catcher for Posada.

A happy birthday to both Yankees!

Now, this day in Yankee history, being so late in the year means we have a special “World Series Edition” for today’s history lesson.

1998 World Series
Win #24 for the Yankees
via Google Images

In the postseason, they swept the Rangers in the ALDS, took the ALCS from the Indians (4-2), and then swept the Padres on this day 15 years ago. It was their 24th World Series title, their second in three years, and their first of three consecutive titles. It was a sign that this dynasty wasn’t a fluke. Torre’s team was here to stay, and they weren’t opposed to making a huge splash. Including the postseason, the ’98 team won 125 games (just 50 losses), setting an MLB record, passing the previous record of 118 set by the 1906 Cubs or 116 set by the 1986 Mets (depending on your sources).

I think it’s only fitting that Game 4 of the 1998 Series (today’s memory) found recently retired Pettitte and Rivera on the mound in a shut-out game of the Padres. (Pettitte threw 7.1 innings, Nelson threw to 1 batter in the 8th to split up the outs, and Rivera got a 4-out save.)

I was having probably a little too much fun researching, reviewing, reading, and remembering the 1998 team. They were virtually unstoppable. That team is often compared to the 1927 team, which I understand based on knowing all sorts of basic information like the greatest sports teams ever in all of history. But seeing as I wasn’t alive to watch the 1927 team personally (or the 1961 team, which is of course another highly regarded team in Yankee history), for me, it was the 1998 team. Everything just lined up for them, and it was an honor to watch this team in action. And then, of course, repeat similar seasons over the next two years.

1998 doesn’t seem like that long ago, but 15 years certainly does. Maybe all of us alive (and conscious of Yankee greatness) in 1998 are still looking to somehow magically create that same team once again. But maybe the team that will be the next “great team” were just children then or even (in worse case scenario) just children now, but they are out there. The same club that created Murders’ Row in the 20’s, the M&M boys in the 60’s, and the Core Four in the 90’s is going to churn out the next great generation of baseball players at some point. We are just anxiously awaiting that honor of watching them succeed at the highest level once again. History always repeats itself, and it will again. It’s never an “if” with the Yankees, but always a “when”.

Go Yankees!