Spring Game 18: ATL vs. NYY — Rough start + error-filled defense + overcast skies = Sunday Sorrows

I sat next to a Tigers’ fan at the game today. Not that they were playing in the same stadium we happened to be seated in (though they were playing at their Spring home just about 30 minutes east of us). But just because he wanted to see a ball game today. I listened to him chat with the man on his other side for most of the game, and they pretty much reminisced about the “good old days” (read: the late 1990s). Towards the end of the game, I just had to explain to them that if they’re judging this year’s Yankees by what they saw today, they’re sorely mistaken. They’re much better than whatever happened on the field, and the visiting Braves certainly aren’t that good.

A loss always allows observers (and participants) to become introspective. You start analyzing every angle, trying to figure out what went wrong and how a single alteration might have improved the outcome. And honestly, I’m not sure if I can pinpoint a single problem with today. It’s just a whole mess of problems that collaborated against the Yankees this muggy, overcast Sunday afternoon.

But I’m left with one question: can I get away with blaming Daylight Savings?

CC Sabathia probably had the worst day (though a few others weren’t that far behind him), getting his second start of the Spring. And after a show of “vintage-CC” last time, I think we were all excited about his outing. Until the 1st inning. The first batter hit into a single (though it was a close call at 1st) and then it all just fell apart. The next player reached on a force attempt thanks to a fielding error (#1). Then 2 consecutive singles scored the first 2 runs for the Braves, and a double scored 2 more. Another single and messy throw put runners in scoring position, and a sacrifice fly scored another run.

And that was Sabathia’s first out of the inning, which he followed up with a great strikeout. But then he struggled to get that 3rd out. A double scored yet another runner, and after giving up a walk, Sabathia’s day was done. I should note here that most of the allowed hits were because the fielders weren’t able to respond quickly and handle the plays that would normally be easy outs for the players on the field (most of them were starters or veterans). But Sabathia, in a post-game interview, took the bulk of the blame himself, as a veteran pitcher usually does. Sabathia, the perfectionist, had a rough day, but, like one reporter mentioned, he could have blamed the defense but chose to shoulder it himself.

Coming on in replacement with 2 runners already on base, Ben Heller closed out the 1st inning by getting a ground out at 2nd thanks to the quick reaction of shortstop Jorge Mateo. Heller went on through the 2nd inning and kept the Braves from adding to their big lead. Chapman and Shreve continued that momentum in the 3rd and 4th, and the defense was starting to really work together, getting 2 double plays (one in each inning), save another fielding error in the 4th (#2).

In the 5th, young reliever Camarena came in and got through that inning quickly, after a lead-off double, but then the defense struggled and under Camarena in the 6th. Two consecutive fielding errors (#3 & #4) and a single loaded the bases (and you could hear the collective groan in nearly 2/3 of the fans in the stadium). But while a sacrifice fly scored one unearned run, Camarena (and the defense) collaborated for a fly out and ground out to get out of the inning.

German pitched his way through the 7th and 8th inning, stopping the Braves from adding to their ever-increasing lead and getting 3 great strikeouts. But in the 9th, Ramirez found some trouble after 2 switch line outs. Two outs and two runners on base with singles, yet another fielding error (#5) allowed another runner to score, putting the remaining two runners on the corners. A big triple (almost an inside-the-park homer thanks to the speed of this player) scored 2 more runners. Even after a hit-by-pitch threatened another base runner, Ramirez dug deep and got a great strikeout to get out of the inning.

The Yankees weren’t exactly blessed in the offense department today. In fact, the Braves pitching staff and defense kept them hitless through 4 innings. It was like the Yankees hit balls directly to the infielders for either line drives or easy out plays. Today’s starting catcher Austin Romine was having a hard time watching the team struggle with what are usually easy plays in the field and getting the ball to him for the outs to make at home. Romine got his own form of revenge, in a way, by getting the Yankees’ first hit in the 5th inning, a 1-out solo home run into the right field seats.

Jorge Mateo followed up that with one of his own to lead-off the 6th inning, a great shot in nearly the same spot for the fans hanging out there. The Yankees would only cobble together 4 total hits (and 2 walks off the Braves’ starter), while the Braves collected 14 hits and 3 walks (and 5 errors and a hit-by-pitch). Yeah, not a good day for the Yankees.

Final score: 10-2 Braves (to be fair, only 4 of those Braves’ runs were “earned”)

Player of the Game: Jorge Mateo. Easy choice today. In the first half of the game, Mateo was easily the best, most consistent infielder. His instincts and sharpness easily stood out in this sloppy defensive game. (Though it should be noted that Romine also did a great job behind the plate.) But then you add Mateo’s big home run in the 6th, his first of the Spring, and you remember why he’s been one to watch for the last two Springs. He’s really something else.

Meanwhile, the first round of cuts were made today, sending 11 pitchers and catchers to minor league camp to finish their Spring — pitchers Camarena, Feyereisen, Lail, Mantiply, Reeves, Rumbelow, Rutckyj, and Sheffield; and catchers Deglan, Diaz, and Saez. This still leaves 56 players in camp, but that count includes currently injured Tyler Austin and the six players representing various teams in the World Baseball Classic.

And speaking of the World Baseball Classic: it’s been quite the last 24 hours for the teams in the WBC. Last night, Venezuela eked out a win over Italy in the 10th inning, 11-10, Puerto Rico beat Mexico 9-4, and the USA fell to the team from the Dominican Republic 5-7. Overnight in Tokyo, Team Israel kept their winning streak alive by defeating Cuba 4-1, and the Netherlands fell to Japan 6-8. Today, the Dominican Republic ended up trouncing the Columbia team 10-3, by racking up 7 runs in the 11th inning alone, and Italy fell to Puerto Rico 3-9.

As I write this, Canada faces off with Team USA. Later tonight, Mexico will face Venezuela (10 pm EST), and the Netherlands will face Israel early tomorrow morning (6 am EST). While there are 6 current Yankees on teams all over this tournament, it’s kind of fun to keep an eye out for former Yankees (like David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Francisco Cervelli, Yangervis Solarte, and Martin Prado) and watching their impact on their national teams. I mean, once a Yankee… and all.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: no video links today. Trust me, there’s not a lot about today’s game you really want to remember. Just savor in the beauty of Romine and Mateo’s great home runs in your imagination, forget the rest happened, and you’re good.}

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