Spring Game 20: NYM vs. NYY — Empire State of Mind

Okay, this might be the first New York vs. New York game I’ve been to in forever where someone didn’t quip: “Hey, I think the team from New York is going to win this game.” The Yankees play the Mets far too often anymore for this joke to be more than a groaning pun. Fortunately, tonight’s game was spared such “dad humor”, at least on this point.

The Mets came up from Port St. Lucie to visit their crosstown rivals under a clear, crisp Spring evening. As the sun faded behind the stadium, the moon slowly rose over the right field until it hung bright and full in the night sky. A recent cold front swept through the area leaving Floridians shivering in their sweatshirts and tourists from up North enjoying the nice weather break. And with just a few exceptions, it was a rather lazy evening for 3 hours of baseball before a sell-out crowd.

And yes, the team from New York won.

Luis Severino is really something. In 77 pitches tonight, over 4.1 innings, he threw 48 strikes, including 5 strikeouts against Mets batters. The 2 hits he allowed only came in his final inning, the 5th, where he got into a bit of trouble — 2 on base with just 1 out and reaching his limit. It was time to call on the powerhouse guys from the back of the bullpen — Chapman, Betances, and Miller (in that order) to shut things down. It sort of worked.

Chapman’s first batter hit into a ground out that scored the lead runner, and a ground-rule double scored the other before a nasty strikeout closed the door on whatever rally the Mets were hoping for in the 5th inning. Betances’ 6th gave up a couple of hits, but relied on his trusty strikeouts (2 as usual) to get out of his own trouble. And Miller’s lone hit was stranded in the 7th due to his 2 strikeouts tonight in what has to be his best outing of the Spring so far.

It wasn’t until the 8th inning the Mets tried to rally their guys again to make something work on their side of the diamond, and they took advantage of an off-night by prospect Tyler Olson. With 2 outs, two runners on base with singles, in scoring position on a wild pitch, Olson walked the next batter to load up the bases. Clearly struggling, the Yankees gave him much needed relief in the form of Diego Moreno. But he too was having a bit of an off-night at first, walking his first batter to walk in the Mets’ 3rd run. After a brief consultation with pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Moreno found his footing and got out of the inning and through the 9th without further damage, including 2 strike outs.

This put the final Yankees’ pitchers’ strike out count at 12. (Literally double what the Mets’ pitchers had on the Yankees’ batters tonight.)

And speaking of Yankee batters, it would be a single inning that would be the dividing line for the Yankees tonight — the 2nd. With 1 out, Headley singled and Castro doubled to put them in scoring position. Didi Gregorius’ single scored Headley to start things rolling. Then Brett Gardner’s single scored Castro, and Hicks’ single loaded the bases. Alex Rodriguez promptly plopped a short single between the left infielders to score both Gregorius and Gardner. Then with bases loaded again on Teixeira’s walk, Carlos Beltran’s sacrifice fly added one more as Hicks crossed home plate.

The Yankees added one more in the 6th, you know, just in case a 5-run inning wasn’t enough. With 2 outs and Gregorius at 2nd with a double, a slow throw to 1st allowed Dustin Fowler a single and the speedy Gregorius to score (he literally never stopped running). Fowler then stole 2nd but was left stranded there on a fly out to end the inning.

That single inning contribution was enough to earn Dustin Fowler the “One to Watch” honor in today’s post. He was replaced in the next inning by Payton (who made some decent plays in center field tonight on his own), but Fowler was the one that stood out, even if for his brief time in tonight’s game.

Final score: 6-3 Yankees.

Earlier today, the Yankees optioned Slade Heathcott to AAA Scranton, reassigning him to minor league camp. With Spring winding down, the remaining cuts will come in spurts with the final ax falling just before the Yankees leave for Miami to play the Marlins for 2 games April 1-2.

The Rays played the Cuban National Team earlier today in Havanna, as part of a diplomatic move by MLB and the United States to celebrate the opening doors to one of its Latin American neighbors, especially one that has given the game so many great players (like Chapman and the Mets’ Cespedes, who played in Tampa tonight). President Obama and his family (huge baseball fans in their own right) were present for the game as guests of Cuban president Raul Castro. Baseball dignitaries like Commissioner Manfred and MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre were also at the game (and its festivities leading up to the event), as well as legends like Dave Winfield, Derek Jeter, and Rachel Robinson.

The last time an American team played baseball in Cuba was before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Robinson traveled with the Brooklyn Dodgers for Spring Training in Cuba in the 1947. So today’s game there was part of a very historic event.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: tonight’s game was not filmed once again. Chalk it up to the disadvantages of Spring Training or blame the big game in Cuba or whatever. Sorry!}

Also, tonight, I want to extend my personal thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families of the terrorist attacks today in Brussels, Belgium. Much like baseball can be a great uniter in times of tragedy and a conduit of healing and reconciliation, we stand with you from all across the world as you heal and stand strong against the evils that seek to disturb our peace and destroy our freedoms.

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