Catchers away, Rule 5, and sleeping for charity

Personal life sometimes clogs up time and doesn’t allow for more frequent updates. Fortunately, in the off-season, it’s not like there’s much to talk about on a daily basis. Unfortunately, all those lovely plans I made for diving into history and legend and my own opinion have been shoved aside momentarily for the sake of off-season work.

Last week, the Pirates picked up yet another Yankees catcher. To recap the last couple of years, after the 2012 season, the Pirates signed Russell Martin (recently signed with the Blue Jays); then after 2013, they grabbed Chris Stewart; and now, they can claim Francisco Cervelli as a new Buc. Apparently, the Yankees are breeding grounds for Pirates catchers. In exchange for Cervelli, the Yankees acquired pitcher Justin Wilson, who will compete for a bullpen spot come Spring. The lefty debuted in 2012 with the Pirates and is very excited (via Twitter) to join the Yankees (but who isn’t?). Wilson: “[The Yankees:] Tradition and a first class organization. Can’t wait for Yankee baseball. Hope I look good in pinstripes!” If you’re wondering who’s now back-up for McCann, the Yankees look at Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy to fill that role; one will undoubtedly win the back-up role and the other will continue in AAA Scranton as the starting catcher there. Spring is always the definer for such cases.

Okay, Zelous Wheeler fans… you will have to pay attention to Japanese baseball now because Wheeler is on his way to play for the Japanese Pacific League’s Rakuten Golden Eagles as of today. During the course of the day, as part of this same transaction, the Yankees filled out their 40-man roster with Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Branden Pinder, and Danny Burawa. The biggest reason behind today’s moves were the midnight deadline to protect prospects for the Rule 5 Draft in a few weeks (December 11th). The Rule 5 Draft is a rather confusing part of baseball’s minor league system in which teams can draft a minor league player (signed over age 19 and played professional ball for at least 4 years or signed at age 18 and played for 5 years) to play on their 25-man roster for the entire next season; if the player isn’t kept on the 25-man, he is offered back to his original team who may decline the offer and the player reverts into essentially free agency. If minor league players are on the 40-man roster, they are officially “protected” and thus ineligible for what is essentially poaching of fresh talent.

Speaking of fresh talent… the Arizona Fall League finished up last weekend, and a couple of young Yankees certainly caught some eyes. Outfielder Aaron Judge ranked #13, catching the eye of several scouts due to his “huge raw power, patience, and arm strength”; this is significant because the Yankees just signed Judge in 2013 and is already making his mark in the Yankee organization. And 1st baseman Greg Bird ranked #19 overall, but was honored with the league’s MVP award; scouts note of his patience and power, after leading the AFL in home runs and runs scored, and was 2nd in hits RBIs, and total bases. Bird and Judge are both prospects not eligible for the Rule 5 Draft being relatively new to both professional baseball and the Yankees, but based on their performances this fall, it won’t be long before those two could become household names, hopefully in pinstripes for seasons to come.

And as you know, one of my favorite thing that the Yankees do is give back to their community. From HOPE Week to individual foundations and charities to community projects, the entire Yankees organization is actively involved in giving back. Tonight, GM Brian Cashman spends the night on the streets of Manhattan as part of Covenant House’s “Sleep Out” movement. The goal of the event is to raise awareness for homeless youth; this is Cashman’s 4th year, and he is joined by over 750 business, sports, and entertainment executives. Covenant House is nationwide an organization that provides job training, education, long-term housing, and second chances to homeless youth. The participants will sleep (or at least attempt to sleep) in a parking lot near the headquarters of the organization. As the weather turns, let us remember all those who don’t have somewhere warm to be when it snows and take an active role in helping; sometimes all that means donating blankets, sweaters, socks, or toiletries to a charity outreach or helping out at a soup kitchen or buying a needy family a holiday dinner. Just do something to give back; you’ll never regret kindness and they’ll never forget it.

Go Yankees!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Yankees!

Game 128: CHW vs. NYY — The unearned sweep & the 10th inning

The First City just swept through the Second City in the weekend series at Yankee Stadium. The White Sox haven’t really had a great year as it is, but they have a few things going for them. Their team captain Konerko is retiring after this year, and prior to the game, it was Yankees’ team captain to present the former 1st baseman with a 1st base bag signed by the Yankees in honor of one retiring captain to another. Their best hitter (and current 1st baseman) Abreu is still pretty menacing and pretty much driving the Chicago offense. And their ace Sale is pretty stellar.

And had the Yankees not cracked Sale today, it would have been a decent win for the White Sox in what was essentially a pitching duel. Well, let’s be honest, the crack in Sale’s armor today wasn’t Sale but the defense behind him. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

For the Yankees, they sent up Chris Capuano, who easily pitched one of the better games since becoming a Yankee and still was unable to earn his first Yankee win. Over 6 innings, Capuano threw 97 pitches, giving up 6 hits and 3 runs (on 2 home runs), striking out 5 Chicago batters. I imagine it was rather disheartening to have the lead-off batter in the 1st inning hit a 2nd pitch solo home run into the left field seats; and it interrupted the Bleacher Creatures’ Roll Call. In Capuano’s last inning, with a runner on base with a single and 2 outs, a batter smacks a long 2-run home run to put the White Sox up 3-0 as Capuano exits the game in the middle of the 6th inning.

And that’s when the White Sox got sloppy. Prado ended up at 2nd on a fielding error (the outfielder dropped the ball instead of catching what should have been an easy fly ball out) and then scored on Mark Teixeira’s double. Beltran and Cervelli each walked to load the bases, with 2 outs on the board. Zelous Wheeler is hit by a pitch and it literally walks in Teixeira. And then just for good measure, Ichiro Suzuki singled home Beltran and Cervelli. And it was suddenly 4-3 Yankees, with Capuano on the hook for the win, and White Sox Sale not earning a single of those 4 runs the Yankees scored that inning.

Rogers and Hill split the 7th inning, and Adam Warren pitched a flawless 10-pitch 8th to keep the score firmly in the Yankees’ favor. But on the 1st pitch of David Robertson’s 9th inning, the batter smacked a solo home run to tie up the game and blow the save for Robertson. It was his only flaw of the inning, quickly getting those other 3 outs to end the inning and turn the game back to the Yankees.

But they couldn’t come up with offense in the bottom of the 9th and sent the game into extra innings. David Huff, despite giving up 2 hits, still managed to come out clean in the 10th inning, and the entirety of Yankee Stadium held its breath, hoping for someone (anyone, really) to make something happen. However, it looked bleak, as the first two batters quickly struck out. Beltran snapped the dark clouds with a double, and the White Sox opted to intentionally walk Headley (which I think everyone sees as quite a compliment to the Yankees’ 3rd baseman). And Brian McCann comes into the game as a pinch hitter for Cervelli, working up to a 3-2 count with 2 outs and 2 runners on base; the 7th pitch of the at-bat, an 86 mph change-up, looks good to McCann, and he smacks it right down the right field line and into the seats by the foul pole for a 3-run walk-off home run.

Final score: 7 – 4 Yankees

Honestly, the only runs the Yankees actually earned was that 10th inning McCann gem, which is why it’s a weird way to win. Don’t get me wrong because I’ll take a win however it comes. And it certainly feels like the White Sox gave this game up with their sloppy 6th inning, so it’s not like I feel bad for them. I guess it’s the term “unearned” that gets to me. Wins are accomplishments, and I don’t like awards or recognitions or wins that are “unearned”, like how they give participation trophies at schools or the whole concept of “no competition so that no one’s feelings get hurt”. It’s all tied up in the same place for me. Competition is good, winning is good, and even losing (or failing) is good. If you can’t lose, then you never really win. And if you can’t ever win, you’ll never know what it means succeed or accomplish or even dream.

So, while I’ll take the win because the Yankees certainly need every win possible at this point in the season, it feels just slightly hollow to me. However, it’s not that bad because I know that they know how to compete and win properly (and even lose properly). And they’re off to play the make-up game in Kansas City tomorrow night, where for some strange reason the Royals are beating up on the AL Central. Hopefully, the Yankees can turn their 4-game win streak and this sweep into a win tomorrow and on into their road trip this week.

Go Yankees!

Game 125: HOU vs. NYY — McCarthy vs. the Astros (the 2014 version)

I was watching today’s game, brainstorming ideas for titles and story angles, and what kept coming back to me was the idea of a man named McCarthy and the place that boasts the home of the Space Race. Except this isn’t the 1950s and this isn’t the government. No, it’s 2014 and we’re talking baseball. I just found the coincidence a little amusing this Thursday afternoon. (And if you have no idea what I’m referring to, I weep for your education; Google will fill you in.)

First off, let me just say this was easily the quickest game the Yankees have played in a very long time at 2 hours and 7 minutes. And no, that’s not a misprint. It was just over 2 hours long. And in a day where everyone seems to complain about the average game length being just under 3 hours and the rumors that the newly elected MLB Commissioner is interested in shortening game lengths, today’s game will most likely be used as an example on how to keep things moving. But I believe this has more to do with pitching efficiency than anything else. I’ve seen pitchers who seem to love taking their time between every pitch, let alone every play or out, but every single pitch. That slows the game way down. Want a shorter game? Train pitchers to be efficient with their time on the mound.

So, the Yankees played that rare Thursday afternoon matinée in the Bronx today, the final of 3 games against the Astros. Technically, the Astros will be flying away from New York today with the series already in the win category after winning the last 2 games. But they certainly weren’t going to sweep — not if starter Brandon McCarthy had anything to say about it.

And he did — he threw 107 pitches over all 9 innings, allowed just 4 hits, no runs, and no walks, striking out 8 Houston batters. That’s right, a complete game and a shut out for McCarthy. Now, on the other side of things, the Astros only sent up one pitcher of their own for their 8 innings, and he threw just 96 pitches. Honestly, in a normal game, if the Astros could actually hit off McCarthy today, they should have had enough to make a go for the win. But they weren’t hitting, the Yankees were.

I’d like to believe the pre-game informal meeting of the players had something to do with it. They agreed that enough was enough and decided to play more aggressively, or in their words “with more emotion”. In total, the Yankees accumulated 7 hits and 3 runs today. All of those runs came in the 2nd inning, which meant that the Yankees spent 7 more innings defending their lead. And call it emotion or passion or just sheer willpower, they did it. In the 2nd inning, Teixeira led off with a single and moved to 3rd on Prado’s double. Teixeira and Prado both scored on Chase Headley’s double. Headley ended up at 3rd on Cervelli’s ground out and then scored on Ichiro Suzuki’s sacrifice fly.

They say that to win, you need to score runs and have good pitching. Sounds exactly like what happened today.

In roster moves: Carlos Beltran felt some soreness in his elbow, the one with the bone spur that had him on the DL last month, and is currently day-to-day and getting some treatments like cortisone shots to increase healing and decrease pain. So in the meantime, the Yankees knew they needed outfield support. So they called on Zelous Wheeler, who jumped in as today’s DH, and optioned Chase Whitley to AAA Scranton.

I guess I’m still stuck on the Space Race against McCarthy… Houston might have won that battle half a century ago, but today it was McCarthy. And personally, I’m a bigger fan on this McCarthy than his “red-chasing” namesake. Maybe it’s because they’re actually named the “Astros”, but every time the Yankees play them, it pulls out every bad rocket-related pun leftover from that Space Age era that I’ve ever heard. It’s a very good thing their paths won’t be crossing any more this year. I can put off all the bad jokes until 2015.

Well, at least space-related ones…

Go Yankees!

Game 108: NYY vs. BOS — The trades, the rivalry, and the Monster

First up: yesterday’s massive trade fiasco…

Okay, I toyed with the idea of writing a separate blog post yesterday just on the trades made, but I felt like my opinions were too hot to make a calm, objective post. Those I actually talked to yesterday certainly got an earful. And I wasn’t just specifically talking about Yankee moves. I think we can officially dub yesterday as the “Game Changer” for far too many games. A few teams certainly ended up winning yesterday, some even guaranteeing themselves a playing spot in October, and some teams pulled some rather confusing moves that either pulled them out of postseason contention or were just rather head-scratching.

The Yankees really didn’t make an Ichiro-sized splash as they did a couple of years ago; no, that was left for a couple of other teams to cannonball into the media circus pool. Instead, they upgraded their infield and added a solid reliever. In the first trade with the rival Red Sox (and tonight’s opponents) since 1997, the Yankees sent infielder Kelly Johnson to Boston in exchange for shortstop (and starting 2nd baseman tonight) Stephen Drew. And with the Diamondbacks, the Yankees acquired infielder Martin Prado for minor league prospect Pete O’Brien and either cash considerations or a player to be named later. Drew will be a free agent following this season, while the Yankees picked up Prado’s contract through 2016. The Yankees also picked up pitcher Esmil Rogers off waivers after he was released from the Blue Jays, adding a new arm to their inconsistent bullpen.

Now, with those three additions, certain players had to be moved around. Scott Sizemore was released from his AAA contract in conjunction with Prado’s addition; Brian Roberts was designated for assignment due to the recent additions of infielders Headley, Drew, and Prado; and as mentioned above, Johnson was traded to Boston. And to make room in the current clubhouse, Zelous Wheeler and Zoilo Almonte were optioned back to AAA.

After all the roster movements and deals and trades, I cannot imagine the amount of work done to maneuver all that, like fitting pieces of a 10,000 piece puzzle into place in 24 hours. The goal for all 30 teams is simple: build a better, stronger team. Some are focused on just getting to October, some on rebuilding for future seasons, and some on just plugging holes in the leaky dam. I love puzzles, but I’m glad I’m not a GM after yesterday.

And the Yankees were in Boston tonight. On a personal note, it’s the first game they’ve played there since I was privileged enough to take a Fenway Park tour back in June, so watching the game was rather fun and special, pulling memories and moments from that day to the forefront of my mind. And so much of me wished I was sitting in the ugly, uncomfortable seats in the Green Monster, cheering on my Yankees in the midst of a sea of red-shirted Bostonians. I grew a new appreciation for the rivalry after that tour, and I almost crave the competition and zeal that both teams and their fans seem to spark in both cities and both parks on such weekends as this one.

It was recent July acquisition Chris Capuano to take the mound for the Yankees tonight. Actually, overall, Capuano did a pretty good job for his first Fenway start. The pressure of the rivalry often can take its toll on newer pitchers to the competition, even if they are veterans. But 98 pitches over 6.1 inning, 8 hits, 4 runs, and 5 strikeouts, keeping some of the bigger Boston bats silent was a decent outing tonight, as it was a bit of a back-and-forth offensive game. In the 3rd, with 1 out, one batter tripled, the next hit a ground-rule double to score the runner, and the next singled home the runner from 2nd. They added another run in the 4th with an RBI single.

In the mean time, the Yankees added their own offense as Carlos Beltran hit a solo home run into the Red Sox bullpen in the 4th, and Beltran’s single in the 6th scored Ellsbury.

In the 7th, with Capuano still going strong, he allowed a runner to single and then advance to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt, thus on the hook for that runner. Shawn Kelley came in to relieve Capuano, but a quick single scored that runner for Boston. Thornton would close out the inning for the Yankees with a 1-pitch double play.

Down 4-2, the Yankees are back up to bat in the 8th inning with a big chance to catch up as the heart of their batting order is due up. Derek Jeter steps up to the plate, likes the first pitch he sees, a 93 mph fastball, and smacks it to the top of the Green Monster over left field. It may be the only time everyone in Fenway was cheering for a Yankee home run.

Actually, Jeter got a standing ovation for every at-bat he had tonight from the entirety of the Boston crowd. Sure, there’s always a contingent of Yankee fans at Boston games, but they weren’t cheering the loudest for Jeter tonight. I could always tell when Jeter was walking up to bat and when he did something good on the field because the crowd would cheer as if he were Pedroia or Ortiz or one of the Boston stars. It was surprising and amusing and amazing all at the same time.

Adam Warren pitched 12 pitches in the 8th inning, keeping the Red Sox from adding to their 4-3 lead. But lack of offense in the 9th ended up handing the Red Sox the win tonight.

The Yankees have two more games at Fenway this weekend. Then Boston will come back to the Bronx at the beginning of next month, and the Yankees will be back in Boston to close out the regular season at the end of September. There’s nothing like a Yankees-Red Sox game, so if you can, there’s still 8 more chances to catch one this season.

Go Yankees!

Game 91: NYY vs. CLE — Splitting the series, bad news, all on a better day

Okay, let me get this out of the way up front because basically from the 6th inning on, it’s all anyone could talk about. Masahiro Tanaka was in Seattle today to be seen by the team doctor who is currently there with other fellow medical staff for a conference. Yankees team doctor Dr. Ahmad and two other colleagues (a noted orthopedist and a fellow team doctor) confirmed to Cashman who confirmed with the world that Tanaka’s elbow pain was due to a very small partial tear of his UCL (the ulnar collateral ligament, which runs through the elbow as part of the joint to connect the lower and upper arm bones).

The UCL may sound familiar because it is the ligament they replace and repair in the infamous Tommy John surgery. However, the doctors stressed that because of the size of the tear the first course of action is platelet-rich plasma injections beginning on Monday to help speed up a natural ligament repair. A small tear usually will heal on its own because the body is kind of amazing at doing stuff like that. Should it not heal, then surgery might be back on the table. But that is really looking like a last resort at this point, which is good news.

And Carlos Beltran was placed on the 7-day DL with a concussion from his injury (broken nose from a batting practice ball) yesterday. In his place, the Yankees recalled Yangervis Solarte, who has been absolutely thriving in AAA. (I told you he’d be back.) Beltran will probably be back after the All-Star Break; Tanaka’s return is dependent on how his body reacts to the rehab; and Solarte’s fate is to be decided.

What was decided was that the Indians apparently wanted to make a statement in their final game of this 4-game series in Cleveland. And prior to the game, the Indians gifted Derek Jeter with their contribution to his “I’m not having a farewell tour”. They gave him a custom Gibson guitar (as Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and a picture of him at bat crafted entirely of Legos, designed and made by the Indians’ visiting clubhouse assistant manager. Cleveland will always hold a special place for Jeter as it was where he had his first MLB Opening Day in 1996, and it’s a place he admittedly enjoys playing in.

Okay, so the Yankees looked like they were doing pretty good for a while in tonight’s game. While David Phelps cruised along, keeping the Indians scoreless for 6 innings, the Yankees racked up some offensive force. In the 4th, Cervelli on base with a single, Zelous Wheeler’s big home run scored 2 runs. And in the 5th, Cervelli on base once again with a hit by pitch, advanced to 2nd on Wheeler’s single, and scored on Solarte’s single. 3-0 Yankees going into the 7th inning.

Phelps threw 103 pitches over his 6 full innings and a couple batters in the 7th. He allowed 7 hits, 2 runs, and 3 walks, striking out 5 batters. It was those 2 runners in the 7th that would end up being a problem, and Phelps was responsible for them because he allowed those back-to-back singles. Matt Thornton came on and loaded the bases with a single, and then a triple cleared the bases and tied up the game, effectively blowing Phelps’ win. A sacrifice fly scored that runner from 3rd and put the Indians on top 4-3. And the Yankees called on reliever Jim Miller to get out of the inning.

The Indians came back in the 8th to add to their lead because a single run lead apparently wasn’t going to be enough and giving a messy 8th inning seemed like the right thing to do tonight. (I should note at this point, most of the news and chatter had shifted off the game on the field and onto the worst case scenario with Tanaka.) Miller, still on the mound, was kind of on the receiving end of what would be a terrible inning for the Yankees. He got a quick strike out, but then gave up a double. The next batter hits what is initially was called a double, but on a challenge was overturned and ruled a 2-run home run. A single, an out, a stolen base, an RBI single, and a 2-run home run suddenly put the Indians up and over 9-3.

And they hold on in the top of the 9th to win tonight’s game 9-3, splitting the series with the Yankees 2-2.

Honestly, my mom wanted the Indians to win tonight because it’s her birthday. And she only thinks it’s fair that the Indians win on her birthday because they are the team she grew up rooting for. She’s only a recent convert to being a Yankee fan, but when they play each other she’s back to being a Tribe fan. She doesn’t have as much luck with the Tribe winning on her birthday, (since 2000) only claiming wins in 2003, 2008, and tonight. Also, going back to 2000, they haven’t played 6 years due to the All-Star Break falling in the middle of July (2000, 2002, 2006; the game actually fell on July 10, 2001, 2007, and 2012).

But I guess a win for her birthday by the team she’s been waiting to win the World Series since before she was born (they’ve only won twice 1920 and 1948), watching them get so close (AL Pennants in 1995 and 1997) and yet falling short (to the Braves in 1995 and the Marlins in 1997). My grandfather used to send my mom newspaper clippings of their team’s weekly progress while she was away at college and into adulthood. When they both got email a few years before he passed away, he would email her all Indians’ news he could find, though I’m sure she could find it herself by then. Baseball was always something special in our family, a connection that isn’t likely to sever any time soon. And every time I talk about the Indians with my mom or my uncle (who’s still a big Tribe fan) or some other family member from that area, it reminds me of that connection. I don’t like it when the Yankees lose, but I don’t mind it when the Indians win. Somehow, I think my grandfather would be celebrating the win of his team, a step closer to that elusive championship — 66 years and counting.

A very happy birthday to my mom, who goes to most games with me because we share the same love for the game, its intricacies, its quirks, its legends, its finest hours, its greatest miscues, and its lasting impact. Of course, it usually ends up being a conversation of me wanting to go to a game and her not wanting to miss an opportunity for an afternoon or evening at a ball park (any ball park). I don’t mind. It’s nice to share baseball with someone who not only gets baseball but loves baseball. And it helps that she’s now a Yankees fan. At least when they’re not playing the Indians, that is. (Mom, this double play made me laugh and think of so many random plays we seem to witness at our games.)

Go Yankees!

 

Game 85: NYY vs. MIN — America’s Team wins on America’s Day in Lou Gehrig’s honor

Today is the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech. And in his honor, all of baseball is celebrating him and his enduring legacy, as well as supporting ALS research for a cure to the terrible disease that took Gehrig from this world so early. As part of that honor, the Yankees recited his speech in this video clip. (The intro also explains the brief history of Lou Gehrig Day on July 4, 1939.)

And then there was a game in Minnesota today. To break from my normal pattern, because this game was anything but normal, I’m going to start with the Yankee offense. In the first 2 innings, the Yankees racked up enough runs to ensure them today’s victory and push the Twins’ starter out of the game after a whopping 52 pitches over just those 2 innings. In the 1st, Brett Gardner led off with a triple (is this becoming a thing now because I’m okay with it) and scored on Brian Roberts’ double; Roberts (who really had a fantastic offensive day overall) then scored on Mark Teixeira’s double; and Teixeira would score on Carlos Beltran’s sacrifice fly. Then in the 2nd, Francisco Cervelli led off with a double and scored on Brendan Ryan’s sacrifice fly; Gardner’s walk and Roberts’ ground-rule double put them in scoring position to score on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. Six runs in just 2 innings.

I can’t hold the Twins’ starter to much because the Yankees’ starter Chase Whitley had almost as much trouble through his 3 innings. He threw 74 pitches, allowed 8 hits, 4 runs, and a walk, striking out 4 batters. Not exactly a quality start, but thanks to an offense that seemed to pounce on the weakness of the Twins and a defense that certainly backed their pitcher to keep his head above water. Those runs were lead-off homers in both the 1st and 2nd innings and an RBI triple and an RBI single to put the Twins at 6-4 behind the Yankees by the end of the 3rd inning.

Now, fortunately, the Yankees relied on their bullpen to keep that score pretty much there, or at least their lead intact, turning first to David Huff for the 3 middle innings. Huff threw just 35 pitches over his outing, allowing absolutely no hits or runs and striking out 3 batters. He also ended up with the win. Warren came on in the 7th for 2 outs and Betances finished out the 7th, coming back for a full 8th inning. Betances allowed a lead-off single in the 8th, who would advance progressively and score on a ground out, making the score 6-5 Yankees.

David Robertson earned his 20th save of the season with a snazzy 16 pitch 9th inning, striking out 3 batters and handing the Yankees another win. In the 9th, there was also momentary greatness for recent call-up Zelous Wheeler, who entered the game in the 8th. Wheeler went after an errant fly foul ball so far he ended up diving into the Yankees’ dugout. Unfortunately, upon review, it was overturned and called a foul ball because he didn’t “catch it on the field of play” as his foot was already on the dugout steps and thus off the field. (Confession: I didn’t know this was a rule until today’s game. I guess we learn something new every day.)

A win is good, but for “America’s team” to win on America’s Independence Day, it seems all the sweeter. My family listened to the game over burgers and hot dogs fresh off the grill; distant crackles of fireworks in the distance broke into the game periodically; everyone decked out in some form of red, white, and blue; and the John Adams mini-series paused somewhere in the middle of one of the episodes, waiting for us to re-gather in the living room. I have to say that today felt very tinged with Americana, and not just because my mom placed little American flags everywhere in her house. No, because everything we did today felt like a celebration of America — family, baseball, fireworks, and history.

Stay safe today, and remember that our independence was never a guarantee. But we celebrate with fireworks and baseball and family and grilled deliciousness and everything because someone fought to make it happen, sacrificed for our freedom, paved the way for us to become the people we dream we can be, maybe even become the “luckiest man on the face of the earth”.

“So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.” — Lou Gehrig, 1939.

Go Yankees!