Today, the Yankees visited the Rays at their Spring home in Port Charlotte (about an hour and a half south of Tampa, between Sarasota and Fort Myers along the Gulf Coast) for an interesting match-up and an odd local rivalry of sorts. Look, I grew up in the Tampa area before the state had any professional teams (the Marlins came to the Miami area in 1993, the Rays to the Tampa area in 1998), which meant if you liked baseball, you were rooting for nearly anyone else (usually the Braves, the closest pro team). But Spring was different. Closest to us were the Blue Jays and the Phillies. The Tigers (in Lakeland) and the Braves were just an hour or two away if you wanted to really travel to see a game.
The Yankees have a weird history of bouncing around some, but they spent nearly 40 years in St. Petersburg (roughly 1924-1961). So when they built Legends Field (now Steinbrenner Field) in Tampa in 1996, the Yankees were nearly home. And with no professional team in Tampa (yet), many fans (and children of fans) who used to watch the greats (like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra) spring in town found a new March home in Tampa. Now add a pro team during the regular season, and suddenly, the divide widened. Those who were clamoring for a hometown team they could see all summer rushed to become Rays fans (joining the ever-present anti-Yankee contingent), and the rest remained faithful to the Bronx Bombers.
Hence, the strong presence of Yankee fans in the area. And this weird rivalry between Rays fans and Yankees fans. It’s an odd twist, and it’s nowhere near the level of the Red Sox-Yankees, but it’s friendly enough to enjoy year-round actually. (And people rather understand the sentiment because of the city’s baseball history, even die-hard Rays fans.)
Anyway, the Yankees played the Rays today. And Luis Severino continues to carve a spot for himself in the starting rotation this season. Today, he threw 59 pitches (43 of them strikes) over his 3.2 innings, giving up just 4 hits and striking out 4 Rays batters. Like every other Yankees’ pitcher, Severino is a perfectionist and wasn’t as happy with his outing (sound familiar, Tanaka?), which was contradicted with nearly everyone on the team, including Beltran who dubbed him “one of the best pitchers in the game right now”.
Then the Yankees went through their stable of prospects and semi-regular relievers. Barbato finished out the 4th inning for Severino cleanly, but got into a bit of trouble in the 5th. With 2 outs and 2 runners on base with singles, the Yankees turned to James Pazos to wrap things up. Not so cleanly, he hit the next batter to load up the bases, before allowing a really solid double to score the 2 lead runners (given to Barbato for the stats, as is standard). But that would be all for the Rays today.
Together with prospect reliever Swarzak in the inning between, Nick Goody and Branden Pinder bookended Swarzak for the final third of the game with just near flawless pitching. It was to give the Yankees time to catch-up and surpass.
They did not.
The Rays go back and forth with the reliability of their rotation and bullpen, but today was a good pitching day for the Rays (only giving up 4 hits and a walk to the Yankee batters). The one time the Yankees were able to make a decent attempt was a near-accident. Prospect Cesar Puello led off the 7th inning by getting hit by a pitch. But he made the most of his time on the bases and played a bit of small ball — stealing 2nd, moving to 3rd on a ground out, and then scoring on another ground out by Torreyes. And despite the next player getting a double, the Yankees left that tying run stranded at 2nd as the Rays pitching snapped back into action.
That would be it on this lazy Saturday afternoon in sunny Florida.
Final score: 2-1 Rays.
Okay, “one to watch”: fairly easy today — the lone run, Cesar Puello, for his excellent and efficient base running and keeping the game from being a shut out. In that vein, much talk has been circulating about some of these young guys making a splash during Spring Training, including by Girardi himself — names like Mateo, Judge, Fowler, and Wade that I’ve featured in this section of my blog.
Like I’ve said before, you just never know what can happen in the Spring. Players are made, legends are born, and we get to watch history unfold with a front-row seat.