Game 55: BOS vs. NYY — A chilly rivalry slows Yankee advance

The calendar says June 6, but the weather certainly wasn’t keeping up in the Bronx tonight. No, it was cold (54° at first pitch and dropping) and drizzling rain through most of the game. And yet, the packed crowd in the Bronx bundled up to watch the first game of this week’s rivalry series. Because there’s nothing like the rivalry series.

I mean, over the years, it’s certainly toned down from the vitriolic fervor that you probably wouldn’t want to take your kids to. And then the Red Sox won the Series (3 times), and suddenly, it’s all good. It’s like having a good debate about really opposing politics, and then still being able to go out for drinks with that person with no hard feelings. It’s the good kind of rivalry — where you don’t hate the people or the city, and you want good things for them everywhere except within the ball park. No, in the ball park, you do not wish good things for them, and a loss stings a bit harder than most other losses.

Of course, if there was a better start, they Yankees actually might have had this game. But Masahiro Tanaka continued in his struggles on the mound in tonight’s game. He threw just 62 pitches in his 5 innings, giving up 5 hits, a walk, and 5 runs, and striking out just 2 Boston batters, setting himself (and the Yankees) up for the loss.

In the 1st, the lead-off batter singled, made it to 3rd on a single, and then scored on a fielder’s choice to give the Red Sox a small early lead. But Tanaka was able to hold them off until control slipped again in the 4th, giving up his lone walk to lead-off the inning. Then he gave up consecutive home runs, all before recording an out. A 2-out solo shot in the 5th capped off the Red Sox’s runs for the night.

So, with Tanaka coming off a rough start, the rest of the team had some work to do. The bullpen had to keep the Red Sox from adding to their score. Which they actually did quite well. Layne allowed a lead-off walk in the 6th, but then Chad Green came in for some long-term relief and just breezed through the Red Sox lineup, including getting 5 stellar strikeouts for his 10 outs (pitching just over 3 innings). Shreve closed things out for the last 2 outs of the 9th inning in just 9 pitches.

The Yankees offense had some catching up to do as well. Down early, the Yankees took their first available opportunity in the 2nd inning. After Hicks worked a 1-out walk, Didi Gregorius singled and thanks to a throwing error by the outfielder, Hicks scored and Gregorius ended up all the way at 3rd. But 2 outs later, the game was still tied.

Down even further in the 5th, Chris Carter led-off with a big, solid solo home run. After the starter exhausted himself in just 5 innings (throwing a whopping 123 pitches, by the way), a new reliever gave the Yankees a bit more chances. Starlin Castro led-off with a single, moved to 3rd on Hicks’ single, and then scored while Gregorius hit into a double play.

The Yankees took the final shot in the 8th under yet another new reliever. Matt Holliday led-off with a double and then on a ground out camped at 3rd for a bit. With a new pitcher, Gregorius actually struck out on a wild pitch, but the catcher was unable to handle it and Gregorius took off for 1st base as Holliday came running home. Everyone’s safe, and the Yankees were within a single run of the Red Sox lead. Despite Headley’s walk, the Yankees ended up stranding 2 runners on base and then never had a chance in the 9th for a final rally.

Final score: 5-4 Red Sox

MLB released its latest AL All-Star Game voting information. And as it turns out, the whole world is an Aaron Judge fan. Yes, Judge is now #1 overall in voting, plus #1 in the outfield category. Basically, everyone seems to recognize that there’s something pretty awesome about this kid. He does something kind of spectacular at nearly every game, and he’s getting noticed, rightly so. However, I think MLB beat reporter Bryan Hoch put it best during a moment tonight’s Judge show:

And there’s still quite a bit of Yankee representation: Castro dropped to 2nd for 2nd basemen; Holliday is up to 2nd for designated hitters; Gregorius is 3rd for short stops; Sanchez is 4th for catchers; and Gardner is 9th and Ellsbury 15th for outfielders. Have you voted your 35 times yet?

Now, on this day, in 1944, 73 years ago, the Allies embarked on a huge invasion of northern France in what became known to the world as D-Day. It was the ultimate turning point for the Allied forces, leading to the liberation of France from Nazi occupation and eventually to their victory over the Axis Powers. Baseball in America was cancelled that day as Americans clung to their radios to hear about the storming of the beaches of Normandy.

But one particular person you may have heard of played a key role in that operation. A young naval officer named Larry spend the invasion running messages between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach, two of the specific points of attack on the western side of the English Channel. At one point, he and five crewmates provided cover fire on Omaha Beach to soften the German defenses to get US troops to advance on land.

No one knew that the scrawny kid from St. Louis, who helped keep the Allies in communication at the risk of his own life at times that day, would be the same one they’d be cheering on to help the Yankees win multiple World Series championships in the next coming decades. Even today, folks proudly wear #8 in his honor, but 73 years ago, he did more than just hit a ball around. Yogi Berra showed what it really meant to be a hero, and he served his country well.

And then he came back to play a little baseball…

A big thank you once again to all our nation’s veterans and their families. Your service and sacrifice are never forgotten.

Go Yankees!

Game 33: HOU vs. NYY — Well, it wasn’t a shutout

When I agreed to do this blog, the one outstanding rule was that I would maintain a positive outlook. And for some games, some seasons even, this has been quite the test of my forced optimism. I think that’s why Girardi has a quirky catchphrase to rely on at press conferences following bad games: “It’s not what you want.” The positive insinuation is that you strive for something better than what you got, but just because that’s how it happened tonight, doesn’t mean it always happens that way.

A certain NYC paper blamed the Divine just this morning for the other New York team’s string of recent “bad luck” (they’ve been plagued with injuries and some player antics that led to a suspension). But blaming the supernatural (which includes blaming “bad luck”, if we’re really being picky) is kind of ridiculous. You can be the best team in the entire world, and in 162 games, the best anyone has ever done (in the modern era) is won 116 games (the 2001 Mariners). (By the way trivia nerds: the next 2 team records are the 1998 Yankees with 114 wins and the 1954 Indians with 11 wins.) A great batting average is .300, meaning that you didn’t make it on base 70% of the time you were up at bat.

Baseball is the game of learning how to turn common failures into victory patterns. And because of that baseball is a game where character matters more than glorious feats and humbling defeats.

So, as we ease into the weekend, the Yankees played their 2nd game in this 4-game series against the visiting Astros. Jordan Montgomery got the start and continued his pattern of minimal damage despite some higher statistics. In his 6 innings, he threw 91 pitches, gave up 8 hits, a walk, and 4 runs, and struck out 7 batters.

With 2 runners on base with singles and 1 out in the 4th, a certain former Yankee catcher remembered what it felt like to hit in the Bronx, finding the 2nd deck of the right field porch to get his new team, the Astros, on board with a 3-run home run. And a lead-off double in the 5th scored on a 2-out single to give the Astros a hefty lead over the Yankees.

Holder and Clippard sailed through the 7th and 8th innings, respectively, keeping the Astros from adding to their lead. Those two are certainly proving how valuable middle relievers are to a team.

Part of what makes Montgomery’s higher statistics okay is that the Yankees’ offense is usually able to combat some of those numbers with some of their own. But they were certainly restricted tonight, limited to just 4 hits off the Houston starter and then just pummeled with strikeouts all night (a total of 13).

Now, the 9th inning shook up things a bit for both teams. Though not a save situation, Girardi wanted to give Aroldis Chapman some work and sent him in for the 9th. But Chapman was having a bit of an off-day. His lead-off allowed single, stole 2nd on a strikeout, moved to 3rd on a fly out, and then scored on a single to give the Astros one more run. Chapman seemed a bit hurt on after one pitch, taking his time to get back to the mound, but stayed in the game to give up one more single. (Chapman is apparently fine, by the way.)

At that point, they were taking no more chances and sent in recent call-up Giovanni Gallegos to make his MLB debut. Gallegos threw a grand total of 2 pitches to get the final out of the half-inning and get the Yankees out of the threat.

The Yankees tried to pull a last-minute rally in the bottom of the 9th, and it got rather hopeful. Holliday led-off with a single, and then after a strikeout, Ellsbury singled. After another strikeout, Didi Gregorius hit a solid single to score Holliday and end the potential shutout. (more later) And then a strikeout closed the rally with a pout.

Final score: 5-1 Houston

My news feeds pop up with many random trivia facts about the game, the players, and baseball in general. But tonight, one was rather applicable. Apparently, going into tonight, only 4 teams haven’t been shutout all season — the Nationals, Twins, Indians, and Yankees. The Indians were shutout tonight, and as the Yankees narrowly avoided it, the tally now stands at 3.

Okay, I’ve got to address the 7th inning scuffle. So, Chase Headley is usually a pretty chill guy, one of the smartest, nicest guys on the team really. He knows the game, is able to spot a balk a mile away (something I still can’t do with even fair accuracy), and his strikezone radius is better than most umpires.

Now, let’s set the scene: Headley is up at bat in the 7th, and the first pitch is a strike on the edge of the zone (questionable, but whatever, it’s been iffy all night). The next pitch, Headley sets up to bunt and is hit on the hand by the ball, but the umpire says it’s a foul and his injury is a result of the foul not a hit-by-pitch. A weird call (that I don’t really agree with), but I can see where he’s coming from. Headley’s in a bit of pain, as he just took a 91.4mph pitch off his hand, so after being checked out by the Yankees’ staff, he needs a few minutes getting back in the batter’s box for the next pitch. He makes a comment to his friend, former teammate, and current Astros’ catcher. And suddenly, the home plate umpire is all up in Headley’s face, including a finger pointing mere centimeters from the 3rd baseman’s nose.

Well, in the heat of the moment, I don’t know one person that isn’t going to be upset that someone is yelling at you and shoving their hands into your face. So Headley is ejected, and for some reason, Girardi isn’t, though he certainly puts up a good fight with the same umpire. No one on the broadcast, in the stands, on either team seems to understand the logic behind the umpire’s initial reaction and the ejection.

Torreyes, by the way, came in to replace Headley, picking up his at-bat where it is. He watched a ball outside add to the count, before hitting a little grounder to end the inning.

And in better news: today would have been Yankee legend Yogi Berra’s 92nd birthday. In his honor, the Yogi Berra Museum hosted its first annual awards dinner tonight at the Plaza Hotel to help raise money for the museum and education center in New Jersey. Among the awards presented tonight, former Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry was awarded the Teammate Award, and Yankees’ general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal was awarded the Carmen Berra Award. Later in the evening, Bernie Williams even joined the band on stage with his guitar. And as a fun favor, all the guests were given chocolates molded into a silhouette of Yogi.

By the way, if you’re ever near Jersey, go check out the Yogi Berra Museum. It’s a living legacy of the great game of baseball and the great men who played it.

Go Yankees!

Game 19: NYY vs. BOS — #AllRise, Judge & Severino take on Fenway

Consistent northeastern Spring rain spoiled the opening game at Fenway for the rivalry series yesterday, forcing a reschedule for when the teams face off again in The Olde Towne, the first game of a doubleheader on July 16. So, the Yankees were looking to recoup some of their magic they found in the Bronx last week in this now shortened series before heading back home again.

They definitely found it again, despite the cold air and the misty rain and the fog that settled in later in the game. This was thanks in part to some stellar pitching by starter Luis Severino. Severino threw 100 pitches in his 7 strong innings, giving up just 3 hits and 2 walks, and striking out 6 Boston batters, setting himself up for the eventual win. Dellin Betances breezed through the Red Sox lineup with just 13 pitches, including 2 nasty strikeouts, for the 8th inning.

At one point in the 3rd inning, right fielder Aaron Judge went running for a long foul ball and misjudged how high the wall was, tumbling over the edge headfirst as he caught the ball. He came up with the ball, but for some really weird reason, the umpires didn’t trust that he hadn’t just picked it up off the ground. (It’s weird because Judge is one of the more honest guys in the game, so if he dropped it, he’d say he dropped it.) This, of course, sent Girardi out of the dugout to ask for a replay, which took far too long and ultimately revealed what everyone already knew — Judge had the ball the whole time, so it was an out.

It was all smooth sailing for the Yankees. Especially because they gave their pitchers a nice lead to defend. In the 2nd, Castro reached 1st safely on a sloppy throwing error and then scored as part of Aaron Judge’s big 2-run home run over the right field wall. Then in the 6th, with 2 outs, Judge worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then scored on Greg Bird’s single off the Green Monster.

So, come the bottom of the 9th, all they needed was 3 solid outs for a nice win. But it’s Fenway. And when are these games ever so simple? Aroldis Chapman just struggled his way through the 9th inning. He allowed a lead-off walk and a double to put runners in scoring position, and a ground out scored a Red Sox run and got the first out of the inning. But then a wild pitch moved the lone runner to 3rd, a mere 90 feet from scoring another run. And then he walked the next batter. So, runners at the corners pushed Chapman to dig deep and get a much-needed strikeout. And then to atone for his outing, he took command again and got another one on his 33rd pitch of the inning to end the game and give him his 5th save of the season so far.

Final score: 3-1 Yankees

And in injury news: Didi Gregorius has been amazing with the Tampa Yankees during his rehab stint. He’s batting .444 with them, going 2-for-4 with a walk and RBI just tonight. His home run last night scored their only run of the game. In other words, things are looking good for him to rejoin the team for the next series, which starts Friday back in New York against the Orioles.

Okay, so what makes today’s game even more special is that the hero of tonight’s game, Aaron Judge, celebrated his 25th birthday today. (Happy Birthday!) So, his home run statistic is kind of a fun one. Apparently, despite the regularity of the rivalry series, Yankees who have homered against the Red Sox on their birthdays is a very small group of notable players — Judge today (age 25 in 2017) joins Cecil Fielder (age 33 in 1996), Roger Maris (age 32 in 1966), Yogi Berra (age 22 in 1947), Bill Dickey (age 26 in 1933), and Lou Gehrig (age 26 in 1929). Not a bad club to be part of.

Go Yankees!

Game 92: BAL vs. NYY — 105? Time for a winning streak

After a bit of a stifling weekend and mixed results within the stadium (and no, I’m not talking about the craze that’s taken over as a hybrid of a particular video game, though I’m told there are several “creatures” in the Bronx that aren’t cheering loudly from the bleachers), the Bronx was blessed with a cooler evening tonight for the start of a 4-game series with the Baltimore Orioles. Yankee fans were treated to stellar pitching and a win against the first place team in the AL East that is hopefully the start of a much needed winning streak for the Yankees.

Taking strong command of the mound tonight, Yankee starter Ivan Nova pitched 6 complete innings, threw 97 pitches, gave up only 4 hits and a home run (the only run allowed for Baltimore). For the last three innings, the 31,102 fans packing the stands were once again treated to terrific pitching to close the game and shut down Baltimore. Top of the seventh, Dellin Betances threw 20 pitches for 2 strikeouts, allowing 1 walk and no runs. Andrew Miller took the helm in the eighth, giving up 1 hit but no runs with 12 pitches, inducing a fairly nifty double play. Top of the ninth with the Yankees ahead by 2, Aroldis Chapman calmly took the mound, throwing his fireballs to four batters, walking one but allowing no runs to earn the save. This powerful pitching trio for New York is a joy and a wonder for Yankee fans to witness. Hoping management has no plans for splitting up these “Warriors Three”.

The Yankees worked their defense and offense well tonight. In the top of the second, Jacoby Ellsbury snagged a fly ball for an out at the center field fence. In the fourth, Headley and Castro coordinated to get the out in a rundown. Headley and Refsnyder played their corners well, keeping potential runs off first base. That double play in the 8th under Miller was swiftly executed by Gregorius to Castro to Refsnyder that kept another potential run off base.  In fact, the entire Yankee infield tonight played strong and confident, determined to keep Baltimore from scoring. And the outfield was busy running down all those “almost home runs” from the team leading in home runs this year.

The New York offense had 7 hits, scoring twice with a home run in the 2nd by Alex Rodriguez (his 9th of the year) and a sacrifice fly in the 3rd by Brian McCann that scored Gardner. New York took the lead and never let it go. Beltran had 3 hits in 4 at bats tonight, including a double that tied him with Willie Mayes on the all-time doubles list; basically, every hit for Beltran is some milestone these days. The Yankees attempted several scoring opportunities, especially later in the game, but couldn’t seem to get anything else past the Orioles’ pitching and defense. (There is a reason they’re in 1st in the AL East.)

Of course, all most people could talk about were Chapman’s rocket balls. He hit 105 mph on the radar gun for just the second time in MLB history. And he’s the only person to do this ever, let alone do this twice. In fact, he throws so hard that MLB stats for this year have a “Chapman” filter. He throws the fastest balls in the league, but when they throw up who’s throwing the fastest, they never list him except as a caveat — as in: all these pitchers throw super hard, but as we’re all aware that Chapman literally owns all the top pitches ever this season, we’re going to feature all the guys except him to show what’s going on beyond the Yankees’ 9th inning.

Anyway, Chapman gave the Yankees their second win in a row, and I, for one, am hoping this continues a nice winning streak for the Yankees.

Final score: 2-1, Yankees.

On this day in Yankee history: On July 18, 1999, with Joe Girardi catching, David Cone threw the third perfect game in team history against the Montreal Expos at the old Yankee Stadium. Check out this vintage video of all 27 outs to relive it, or (maybe) to see it for the first time. Cone’s game occurred on “Yogi Berra Day” with Don Larsen and Yogi Berra in the stands (after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch) to witness and perhaps to relive a little of their own perfect game versus the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series (the first in team history, but also the only postseason perfect game in MLB history). In May of 1998, the second Yankee perfect game (vs the Twins) was thrown by David Wells, with Jorge Posada catching.

And a big happy Birthday to Joe Torre, a man of many talents indeed — MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, 9-time All-Star, Hall of Fame Manager, Player, Rookie of the Year, MVP, Gold Glove Winner, broadcaster, and the list goes on. Baseball as we know it would not be the same without Joe Torre. Baseball fans everywhere are grateful for his passion for the game and his many contributions to baseball from nearly every angle — player, manager, executive. (Next stop: owner?) Thank you, Joe, and may this be the happiest of birthdays and the best of years.

Go Yankees!

Midsummer memories

Opening Day, April 5, 2016 (Photo credit: author)

Congratulations to all those who participated in the 2016 MLB All Star Game. And congratulations to the American League for their victory in this midsummer classic that highlights some of the best in baseball. It is wonderful to see these talented players, but also to see how many family-friendly events surround this yearly game that builds a strong fan base and encourages young players, boys and girls, to dream one day of “making the bigs”!

On that note, I have been thinking of all the ways baseball games are about so much more than just sitting in a stadium watching players hit, pitch, field, or run the bases. It is about family and fun and relationships built around a common interest in this great game of baseball. With the first half of the season already in the record books, it seems to be a good time to be reminded why we love to go to the ballpark. To give a nod and a bit of thanks to those who make a day at the stadium a memorable event.

For Yankee fans, the moment we get off the train and Yankee Stadium comes into view, we know it is going to be a memory-making day. From the moment our tickets are scanned at Gate 6, the excitement is palpable as we get that first view of the field from the concourse and are welcomed by the ushers as we settle into our seats. With creative verse or song, the vendors hawk their hot dogs or cotton candy while roaming the aisles. The scoreboard is lit up with baseball trivia, player interviews, and current stats.

The Bleacher Creatures are gathering and preparing for roll call. Seatmates all over the stadium greet each other with smiles in hopes for a Yankee victory. Fans continue to filter into the stands wearing a variety of Yankee shirts and jackets with numbers honoring Mantle, Maris, Berra, Munson, and others. Players on the field begin their pre-game warm-ups. The news crews and photographers roam the field looking for stories and photos. New York’s Finest takes their places to keep an eye on over-exuberant fans.

The National Anthem is sung by a Broadway artist. The ceremonial first pitch is thrown by a former player or celebrity. Inning by inning, faithful fans cheer or laugh or sigh at the plays on the field. It’s as if the fans are playing the game with the team, anticipating every pitch and every play. Yankee fans are involved in the game and seatmates who didn’t know each other at the beginning of the game are conversing and cheering together.

Even the mid-game “Cap Game” and “Subway Races” are cheered by the crowd. The birthday announcements and marriage proposals on the marquee are applauded.  The grounds crew dances their way around the bases. The crowd stands with thundering applause for the military men and women who are honored in the 7th inning as “God Bless America” is sung by another Broadway talent. And then, no matter the score, the true fans stay to end because, as Yogi used to say, “It ain’t over till it’s over!”

Exiting the stadium while Frank Sinatra serenades the fans with his iconic tune “New York, New York”, the stands empty onto the waiting trains. Another great day at the ballpark.

Across the league, this experience is repeated almost daily in different ways in different cities that best reflect their own teams. From mascot races, to running the bases, to trivia contests, to guest vocalists for the National Anthem or “God Bless America”, each team chooses what best reflects the values of their team and sets the tone to build a loyal fan base for baseball. Everyone who organizes or participates in any of these events is to be thanked by us all. You are part of why we love to come to the ballpark and call this game “America’s pastime”.

So, to include how other teams have chosen ways to celebrate the game and include fans, I have included the following videos from the first half of the 2016 season:

Our National Anthem as sung by a variety of gifted musicians including Candace Payne, aka “Chewbacca Mom” (Houston Astros); Hermina Hirsch, Holocaust survivor with the Stoney Creek High School Sign Language Choir (Detroit Tigers); the cast of Jersey Boys, Broadway musical (Washington Nationals); country singer and player’s wife Juliana Zobrist (Chicago Cubs); and the San Diego Children’s Choir Children’s Choir (Padres).

“God Bless America” as sung by Yarrick Conner, USN Petty Officer (several games including the 2016 All-Star Game); the 82nd Airborne Division All-American Chorus (Fort Bragg); and Mackenzie Walker (Houston Astros).

And here is living proof that baseball fans are ageless: we applaud the delightful Kitty Cohen, 103 years old, as she fulfills her baseball dream of running the bases at a Toronto Blue Jays game.

So here’s to a great second half of the 2016 MLB season. Looking forward to continuing the race for October! Play ball!

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.

Game 57: LAA vs. NYY — HOPE Week, high honors, & home runs

On this day, 72 years ago, thousands of Allied military personnel stormed the northern coasts of France in effort to take back the possessed European lands from the Axis powers. In one of the greatest military strategies and invasions of all time, Operation Neptune (the amphibious landing at Normandy more commonly called “D-Day”) effectively turned the tide in the second world war and started the Allied nations on a course that would lead to global victory in just over a year.

Yankee great the late Yogi Berra was one of many American soldiers on those beaches that day, as was tonight’s veteran honoree for the 7th inning stretch. Our thanks continues to go out to all the veterans and current military personnel for their sacrifice and service to our country, including those the Yankees helped out for the start of HOPE Week today (more below).

Tonight was also the opening game of this 4-game home series against the Angels. And in honor of today’s historic significance, I feel it’s only fitting that the teams represent the expanse of the continental US, two of its most populous cities, and the millions of people between them. I don’t think they planned that back at MLB HQ, but it certainly worked out well.

So it was Masahiro Tanaka to start who, despite a couple of soft spots early on, still had a pretty good game tonight. He threw 91 pitches through 7 innings, gave up just 6 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, while striking out just 3 Angels’ batters. In the 1st, a lead-off single scored on a 2-out single to get the Angels on the board. Then in the 3rd, a lead-off ground-rule double (by a player who wore pinstripes for a couple months last year) started things off, moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on a sacrifice fly.

The hardest part about the whole game was that the Angels’ starter seemed to just dominate the Yankees offense for most of the game, keeping his pitch count low and only gave up 4 hits to the Yankees through his first 6 innings. But, like it’s done so many times at Yankee Stadium, “God Bless America” changes things. In the bottom of the 7th, with 2 outs, Brian McCann and Starlin Castro smacked their 8th home runs of the year consecutively and to opposite fields (and deep into the 2nd deck) to tie up the game.

Miller came on in the 8th and set the Angels’ offense down in order with 3 strikeouts in just 13 pitches. So he was the pitcher on record when the Yankees burst forth in the bottom of the 8th. With 2 outs once again (because what’s baseball without a bit of dramatic effect?), Ellsbury and Gardner each singled to sit in the corners as the Angels’ starter finally exited the game. His replacement promptly gave up a solid 3-run home run to Carlos Beltran (his 14th of the season) to push the Yankees nicely into the lead.

Chapman, of course, closed the game in a very effective 9 pitches, and the Yankees took game 1 of the series and homestand. Though it’s worth noting that all the Yankee runs were scored off home runs tonight. Perhaps, a sign of good things to come this weekend and a return to the Bronx Bombers moniker? I’ll take it.

Final score: 5-2 Yankees

It’s HOPE Week in the Bronx! My favorite week of the year! HOPE Week is an annual event in which the Yankees select and honor 5 different charities and organizations in the area as part of their initiative to give back to their local community.

This year for Day 1 of HOPE Week, perhaps rightly in correspondence with the date, the Yankees surprised and honored 14 year old Jake Gallin and his amazing idea called “Stars for Cars”. Jake and his now-nationwide organization sell star-shaped magnets to the public in honor of military personnel who earn Stars for their service and (far too often) personal sacrifice and then donate their profits entirely to the USO in their honor.

So as part of the effort, Brett Gardner, Nick Goody, Chase Headley, Brian McCann, and Mariano Rivera helped Jake sell the stars in front of New Rochelle City Hall, even adding stars to the cars in the parking lot to raise awareness. The Yankees also presented the USO with a $10,000 check in Jake’s name for his good work, and Jake got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before tonight’s game. But like any kid, Jake was totally stoked to hang out with the Yankees all day rather than take his Latin final (apparently). Lucky Jake! Thanks for your amazing example, Jake!

(If you’re on Snapchat, you can follow the Yankees all week for pictures, videos, and updates from all the HOPE Week events.)

Go Yankees!