“A perfect day for baseball.” I think I heard this sentiment echoed at least a dozen times even before the first pitch, something I remarked myself a couple of times. The skies were a clear, crisp blue; the weather maintained a sunny, but not too hot temperature (even in direct sunshine); a shifting, slight breeze helped; and the attitude of both the crowd and uniformed men on the field was lively and as sunny as the weather. It was a perfect day for baseball.
Of course, it helped that the Yankees also won and played pretty decent baseball in the process.
Adam Warren got the start again today, throwing 3 full innings. His lone run was a first pitch of the game strike that seemed to find its way over the left field fence in a hurry. A solo home run pushed the visiting Nationals up 1-0 in the 1st inning. Andrew Miller’s flawless 4th inning kept the Nats at that lone run and off the bases. Dellin Betances made his spring debut to a deluge of cheers, giving up a lead-off double that never made it very far with 2 strikeouts and a groundout in his 9-pitch 5th inning. Prospect Luis Severino attempted to go 2 innings after a really nice 6th, but a walk and a single turned 2-base jog (due to a fielding error), and Girardi asked for the fresh arm of Pazos, though a groundout would quickly score the Nats’ 2nd and final run of the game. Two more pitchers for two more innings and the Yankees kept the Nationals from seeing any other potential advances with 2 quick final innings.
On the other side of the field, the Yankees struggled (again) to find their footing initially, but of course, they were facing a pretty good opposing pitcher — so credit where credit is due. How do I know this was the problem? Because the Yankees barely hit off their starter, but came to life off the relievers. In the 3rd inning, Jose Pirela (more on him later) led-off with a double and then scored rather easily on Brett Gardner’s single to tie up the game. And then in the 4th, McCann on base with a single and 2 outs on the board, Young made it safely to 1st on a lucky throwing error as McCann heads to 3rd. The Yankees pushed ahead of the Nats due to Pirela’s nice single.
When the Nats tie up the game in the 7th, it’s up to those increasingly reliable “other guys” to make up the difference. Into the 8th inning, with 2 quick outs, Roller and Judge each singled and ended up on the corners. Infielder and farm system regular Cole Figueroa singled home Roller and the Yankees were up 3-2 over Washington. A quick 9th inning then turned that score into a win.
And for the curious, Alex Rodriguez made his spring debut at 3rd, dusting off whatever assumed rust and seemed very much at home back in the old “hot corner”. He continued to have mixed results at the plate, but he’s still hitting pretty well and getting quite a bit more cheers than boos, something that only increases when he continues to play well.
Taking a moment to talk about Pirela… Pirela is one of the primary candidates for the 2nd baseman’s job this year. And while he’s been very consistent in his defense, he hasn’t really had the opportunity to show what he can do at the plate. Until today, that is. Even Yankees Special Assistant (and Spring Training Regular) Reggie Jackson doted on Pirela, calling him the “best hitter on the team”. His two major contributions pushed the Yankees to win today, and I didn’t mention several really fantastic plays in the field. If Pirela continues to shine and be consistent both on the field and in the batter’s box, I have no doubt we’ll be seeing him more frequently in the Bronx.
But I do want to pay tribute to the “other guys” once again. Sometimes, late in the game, I have to sit back and smile. I feel like we’re seeing the future of the Yankees. When guys who spent last year in Tampa at Single-A level ball strike those big league guys out or make some snazzy play on the infield, it must be a glimpse at what someone saw once decades ago. Someone believed in the greats when they made errors left-and-right or struck out far too many times because the greats were the ones giving 1000% even late into the game, pouring their heart and soul into every defensive play or pitch, praying for that perfect opportunity to at least get on base.
The fun part about Spring Training is that you never know when one of these “other guys” will become synonymous with the greats, when it’s no longer “the next [fill in the appropriate great]” but rather just that player. Every year, 750 guys play professional baseball at a major league level, but only a handful will ever be considered “great” (read: Cooperstown-bound). You just never know when it’s suddenly going to click, and you’ve become a witness to history.