Tonight was the first game under the lights at Steinbrenner Field. Usually, many games are day games in the Spring, so night games are a whole different breed. A beautiful sunset, partly cloudy skies, and the bright lights shining down on tonight’s players all lent itself to what would unfold as some crazy stuff on the field.
It was like they played two very different games tonight. The first two-thirds was dominated by the Yankees, who outplayed the visiting Braves, especially when it came to their fielding. Then it completely shifted, and it was the Yankees that suddenly went sloppy. I know there’s a moment where they replace everyone, but this was like night-and-day. I mean, the Yankees had an 8-run lead going into the 7th inning, and they came so close to losing this game in just two innings.
Like I said, the Yankees dominated the first two-thirds of the game. Bryan Mitchell got his second start this Spring and continued setting a good stage for the rest of the team. He threw 3 innings, keeping the Braves to just two base-runners (a fielding error and a walk) during his time on the mound. Dellin Betances followed him for his Spring debut and continued Mitchell’s scoreless momentum. Montgomery then picked that up for his first two innings and kept the Braves from altering that big zero on their side of the scoreboard. But then he came back out for a third inning, the 7th in the game, and the Braves just pounced on him.
In the 7th, with 1 out, 2 Atlanta batters kicked off their rally with singles. A sloppy force attempt and throwing error scored the Braves’ first run. Feyereisen came in for the flailing Montgomery, but he didn’t fare much better. His first batter hit a big first-pitch 3-run home run, and his second followed that up with a solo home run, before he settled in for the final 2 needed outs.
Hissong had his own 8th inning woes when his lead-off batter reached on another throwing error and ended up scoring as part of his next batter’s 2-run home run. Camerena’s 9th inning kept things interesting — after two quick outs, he gave up a walk and a single before getting that final pop-up out to end the game.
Meanwhile, the Yankees gave just enough offense to keep in command, but as it turns out, just barely. In the 1st inning, Jacoby Ellsbury hit his first homer of the season, a big solo shot that bounced around the cabanas area in right field. And in the 3rd, Gardner led things off with a single and moved to 3rd on Ellsbury’s double. Starlin Castro’s single scored Gardner, and Matt Holliday’s double scored Ellsbury. (All before an out was recorded that inning). Then with 1 out, Chase Headley hit a long sacrifice fly ball to score Castro. Austin Romine’s single sent Holliday making a dash for home only to be cut down sliding for the dish.
Then in the 6th, with 1 out, Romine doubled (and then was pinch-run by McKinney), and Judge singled to put runners on the corners. Ronald Torreyes’ single scored McKinney, and Wade’s single loaded up the bases. Dustin Fowler’s single scored both Judge and the speedy Torreyes, putting runners on the corners due in part to a missed catch error. Pete Kozma’s double scored Wade for the final run the Yankees would score tonight.
So for those of you keeping track, the Yankees racked up 8 runs (to the Braves’ 0) by the end of the 6th inning. And it turned out they needed every single one to withstand the late-game assault by the Braves. It should be worth noting the Yankees also racked up 14 total hits during the game, so they were definitely hitting and hitting well, at least early on in the game.
Final score: 8-7 Yankees
Okay, my Player of the Game is Billy McKinney. He came in as a pinch-runner and ran the bases well and worked a walk in his only at-bat of the evening. But what made the biggest impression was his accuracy and hustle in right field. He’s been consistent in every game he’s played, but tonight, he even tried to climb the right field fence to rob a home run. He’d need at least three more feet of height or his vertical jump to do so, but his attempt alone was fascinating to watch, as he hit that fence hard trying to go for it.
The other day, a fan in the stands, who watches lots of minor league games, mentioned that McKinney was one to watch and “the whole package”. And that’s part of the fun of Spring games for me — to discover all the guys you might hear of in passing, see if the hyped up prospects are worth the hype, and find out who’s been hiding in the farm system waiting for their moment to shine.