Game 25: HOU vs. NYY — A case of the Mondays

In just shy of 3 hours, Houston took tonight’s game 9-1, outhitting the Yankees 17-8. Former (temporary) Astro and tonight’s starting pitcher Andy Pettitte had a very rough outing tonight, allowing 7 runs off 10 hits, and throwing 91 pitches over 4.1 innings. His relief pitchers Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno (in his MLB debut) didn’t fare much better. Warren allowed 2 runs (a 2-run home run) off 3 hits to finish the 5th and 6th innings, and Nuno allowed 4 hits but no runs over the 3 final innings. It wasn’t very pretty.

Not that there were many people there to see the final few innings. The 34,000 in the crowd thinned to about 10,000, the few and faithful and ever hopeful for a last-minute rally by the home team. And honestly, the bright spots for the home team were few and far between, including the sole Yankees run, a Vernon Wells RBI single in the 6th, making Gardner the last batter (and only Yankee) to cross the plate all evening.

Recent call-ups Vidal Nuno and Austin Romine had the unfortunate luck of this game being their major league debut. Romine took his turn behind the plate, while the recovering Cervelli sits on the bench with a new plate in his hand for the next few weeks. Though he went 0-for-3 in the batter’s box, he seemed at home as backstop tonight.

Again, if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything. And tonight, we barely had defense, let alone basic offense, and minus strong pitching, the Yankees just weren’t having a very good day this Monday — a good case of the Mondays, I suppose. It’s not exactly lovely to watch, but it is what it is tonight. They can beat themselves up and the fans can jeer all the want, but tomorrow they have a whole new ball game to play and new opportunities to do something totally different. We can chalk tonight up to whatever we want, but honestly, the effort wasn’t there, so they couldn’t find a win anywhere in the Bronx.

The most interesting event of the day happened just outside the stadium earlier in the afternoon at the corner of 161st & River Avenue (the main subway corner right outside of stadium). A car hauler went under the elevated trains (for those who’ve been to the stadium, you’ll know that’s the track for the #4 train), which should be a normal thing, except the hauler was much taller than the 12’6″ allowed for traffic flow. The top car hit the overhang and flipped back, getting stuck on the overhang, snarling traffic around the stadium and delaying traffic on the 4 train. I think it was mainly cleared up by game time, but I’ve been on the snarling traffic side of getting to the stadium for the game, so I’m guessing some very unsuspecting people weren’t too thrilled with the delay either via the train or via car.

I’m thinking it was a good case of the Mondays all around in the Bronx tonight. Just one more sleep until a new day, fresh with new opportunities and new possibilities. It’s days like today that remind us why we cherish the good days, and do our very best to forget the “Mondays” of our lives. So here’s to a better day tomorrow… and hope for at least a better chance to redeem whatever happened on the field tonight.

Go Yankees! 

Game 24: TOR vs. NYY — Sweep Dreams

Sorry, I had to use the pun today. One of the worst things about Twitter and other social media is the instant accessibility to silly puns or a cheesy play-on-words. Last year, whenever the Yankees would go for the final win of a series, the Yankees Twitter feed was always referencing “Sweep Dreams”, and honestly, I don’t remember them sweeping a lot of series last year. So perhaps it is only fitting that they sweep this one and as an homage to last year’s valiant effort on the Yankees PR department (or at least the person charged with running their Twitter feed) to bring out the cheers for the home team to sweep the opposing teams right out of town on a losing streak. And today did not have a “sweep dreams” tweet to lead into the victory this afternoon, but the Yankees still managed a win 3-2. (Please tell me I didn’t start some weird superstition now.)

It was really a battle of the pitchers today. Starting pitcher Phil Hughes did an excellent job keeping the Blue Jays scoreless until the 4th inning, and even then, he only allowed an RBI single and the RBI double in the 6th — the only runs the Jays ever scored. Hughes went 111 pitches over 6 innings, allowing those 2 runs, 7 hits, and 9 strike-outs. And once again, his win went to his replacement (Logan), who was followed by the strong, reliable Robertson and then closed by Rivera (his 9th save of the month/season). Famed knuckleballer and current Cy Young winner (from his 2012 NL season with the Mets) RA Dickey went 7 innings, giving up only 4 hits and 3 runs (2 homers, see below), striking out 2 and walking only 1. Honestly, if not for those home runs, Dickey really threw a better game (usually does) as evidenced by the 4 allowed hits and 1 walk. The disadvantage at times of a team sport is that you can throw the best game of your career but if it’s not supported by your team (in this case offensively), you walk away with the Loss on your record. I believe this happened today. Not that I’m complaining too much, my team won the game, after all.

For all their power hitting they supposedly picked up in the offseason, it was the Yankees that hit those powerful home runs today. In the 2nd inning, right fielder Brennan Boesch smacks a solo home run into the right field stands to put the first score on the board. Hughes maintains this lead until the In the 7th inning, with Hafner on first with a single and two outs, Lyle Overbay steps up and knocks a 2-run homer into the Yankees bullpen where a warming-up David Robertson just reaches up and catches the ball right out of the air. (The ball is later tossed to a waiting fan in the bleachers above the bullpen.)

I found this interesting fact from a blog kept by Bryan Hoch (the MLB reporter for the NY Yankees): {Original post here}

The Yankees have won six consecutive home games vs. Toronto…additionally are 15-2 at home vs. Toronto, since 5/24/11, 17-4 since the start of 2011, and 28-11 all-time at the current Yankee Stadium (since 2009)… according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Blue Jays’ record at the current Yankee Stadium (11-28, .282) is the worst mark for any Major League team that has played at least 30 games any current Major League venue. [Because of their win today], the Yankees have their first four-game sweep of Toronto since 9/18-21/95 at the original Yankee Stadium. [They] have come from behind to win each of the first three games of this series [and did so again today].

Several articles recently have talked about the 2013 Yankees as if they were some “patchwork quilt”. And I suppose it may seem that way to some extent, former stars from other teams or minor league bit players filling in here and there, and those handful of Yankee regulars filling in the gaps between the new and “experienced” on the team. But it’s working. The Yankees have a 15-9 record, well above .500 for the season already, and they’re 7-3 for their last 10 games, which means they’re on a roll. Momentum is everything in sports, but it is essential in a team sport. So even if you’re playing a whole different 9 players tomorrow, you still are rolling on that momentum because the whole team is involved and active in the dugout and (when they can) on the field or in the batter’s box. I seem to only be able to talk about the team aspect lately, and I’m doing so much of this that’s it’s hard not to repeat myself at times. But like I alluded to previously in just this post, it really is that team dynamic that can make or break the team.

Normally, a patchwork quilt of a team can end up looking like some other “created to succeed” teams look like — a ton of overpaid, flashy star players, who play only for themselves. They’re the ones who throw bats and helmets when they strike out or temper tantrums when they feel like an umpire made a bad call or charge the mound when hit accidentally with an errant ball. Imagine a whole team of these guys… but can I really call them a team at that point? No, you need a commonality, a mission statement of sorts to “buy into” (as they say in New York) and rally behind, so no matter who’s in pinstripes for this season, or even this month, everyone has the same drive and passion and camaraderie. Because they are… (say it with me now, kids) a team!

Like I’ve said before, stars may be made in the batter’s box, but it’s teams that win ball games.

Go Yankees!

Game 23: TOR vs. NYY — Hafner for the win

This afternoon’s game was really all about Travis Hafner. All but 1 of the 5 runs the Yankees scored in this 5-4 win over Toronto are because of Hafner. The other is an RBI single by (who else anymore) Vernon Wells. Let me recap a bit before I start the raving.

Starting pitcher CC Sabathia had 2.1 solid innings getting his first 7 batters out straight before falling into a struggle that would allow 4 runs (3 earned, 1 on a catcher’s error, 2 were home runs) and 9 hits over the course of 8 total innings pitched. It wasn’t until the 6th inning that he re-found his momentum to finish strong, after allowing a single home run, he proceeded to get the next 9 straight batters out. Joba Chamberlain got his first save opportunity of the season to close out the 9th inning.

Defensively, the Yankees also have two outstanding players today. Brett Gardner (no surprise there) continuing his outstanding defense in the outfield with full range and coverage all the way to the back wall, if necessary. (This great play in the 7th inning I think took the wind out of Gardner at first; talk about effort!) The other player today that deserves recognition is the often-overlooked Jayson Nix, who started at 3rd base today. For example, in the 9th inning he made two excellent plays. He saved a possible run from scoring by stopping the ball from getting by him into the corner in left field. His throw just missed the quick runner at 1st for the out, but his defense certainly prevented any Blue Jay from taking away the lead. And for the 3rd out of the inning, he again snagged the ball quickly and ran to 3rd for the force out to win the ball game.

Now to the offense… down 3-0 in the 4th inning, Toronto’s starter somehow walks Wells and Youkilis (glad to see he’s back in the game, starting at 1st base, after some time off for “back stiffness”). And then Pronk comes up to bat. On a 2-1 pitch, he slams the 4th pitch into the Yankees bullpen for a 3-run home run. Down 4-3 in the 7th, Cano hits a solid double to right field and then scores on Wells’ single to tie the game. A groundout moves Wells to 2nd, who proceeds to steal 3rd as Hafner is batting once again. Hafner, however, doesn’t make the Toronto defense wait for long as he hits a solid triple into center field that their outfielder cannot handle and scores Wells in the process to plant the scoreboard at 5-4 Yankees.

Injury update from yesterday: Francisco Cervelli had surgery on his hand, and it reportedly went “as planned”. I don’t know exactly what that means, but that sounds like better news than we got yesterday. He’s been placed on the 15 day DL, and the Yankees have recalled (as expected) Austin Romine from AAA Scranton to fill in as back-up catcher to Chris Stewart. Ivan Nova’s MRI found “inflammation on the right triceps”, which indicates a strain, something that requires rest and treatments with the trainer. He’s also been placed on the 15 day DL, and as predicted David Phelps will take his spot in the starting rotation. To replace Phelps in the bullpen, the Yankees called on Vidal Nuno, who was outstanding in Spring Training and has been playing excellently for AAA Scranton since the beginning of this month. Now, if you’re doing math, that puts the roster at 41 players, so to make room, Jeter’s been placed on the 60 Day DL, which removes him from the 40-man roster. (But he’s been looking very much at home in the dugout at the last few games, cheering on his teammates, joking with the coaching staff, and captaining when necessary.)

I don’t usually like to read many commentary articles or watch too many sports shows about the Yankees, unless I trust the author or reporters to be at least unbiased (preferential to the Yankees without being obsessed is always better, but rarer in the industry). But I have to say that it’s nice to peek at some of the latest stories about the Yankees lately. Even with the news of the recent injuries, the anti-Yankee brigade has been decisively less “anti” and somewhat surprised that the team hasn’t fallen apart because of all the reports that the players are, well, falling apart. In fact, most of them are trying to hide their shock that the new Yankees (Wells, Youkilis, and today’s hotshot player Hafner) are not only blending in as part of the team, they’re continuing the streak of what it means to be the Bronx Bombers.

As of today, the team has a 14-9 win-loss record, averaging into a .609. That’s right, the team that was supposed to be barely breaking .500 all year is well above average. In fact, the team is really starting to find its momentum on the field that double plays are becoming the norm, no matter who is playing in the infield. And that amazing triple play the team made is still one of the coolest plays of the 2013 season in the entire league. And if you notice my intentional wording in this paragraph, you’ll see why it doesn’t matter who is on the DL when you’re with the Yankees because it’s not about the individual players — it’s always, always, always about the team. And it’s the team that’s starting this seemingly fractured (forgive the pun) year on a high, and it’s the team that is making playoff dreams come alive for the New York Yankees this year.

Go Yankees!

Game 22: TOR vs. NYY — A win and 2 losses

Tonight’s win over Toronto Blue Jays was overshadowed by two injuries early in the game. On the 5th pitch, the Toronto batter fouled a ball off which beelined for catcher Francisco Cervelli’s right hand. Upon inspection by Girardi and trainer Steve Donahue, Cervelli was pulled from the game and replaced by Chris Stewart. In the 3rd inning, starting pitcher Ivan Nova came out of the game due to some stiffness in his left arm, replaced by David Phelps. Cervelli’s injury is a fractured right hand, which he will have surgery on tomorrow to repair and be out at least 6 weeks to recover and rehab. Nova underwent an MRI and his prognosis is yet to be determined.

Both replacements did an excellent job of filling in for the starters. Phelps earned the win tonight and Stewart threw out 2 runners trying to steal bases. It should be noted that arrangements have already been made to bring Austin Romine up from AAA Scranton to alternate with Stewart on a regular basis. And until a prognosis is made on Nova, we can only speculate, so I’ll not speculate and discuss fact tomorrow when more is known. I prefer fact in writing because there’s such a permanence in floating words into the internet, and I’d rather not assume or draw conclusions until I know all the details. If I’m wrong, it looks stupid. So while I may speculate privately (and I am well-known to do so), public opinion and public blogs should really be based on solid truth (though I know for a fact I’m in the minority on this front outside of actual reporters).

Seeing as the Yankees did outscore the Jays tonight 6-4, offensively, they played excellently. Cano got a double, and Lyle Overbay was able to hit a nice solid triple out to center field, which also knocked in Nunez for one of the 6 runs. A sacrifice fly and a force out also scored RBIs. And passed balls in the 4th and 7th allowed for Overbay and Cano (respectively) to score runs. And in the 8th inning, Brett Gardner hit a beautiful home run out to right center field.

As good as it feels to win another game, it really hurts to see another injury added to the growing list. And it’s really hard to watch someone with a serious injury like a broken bone that requires surgery. Yankees fans went through that last October with Jeter’s injury in the ALCS, and tonight really brought back all those fears. It’s especially hard because Cervelli has been doing some dynamic things both defensively as starting catcher and offensively as a batter. So while it really is difficult and disheartening to have to deal with the reality of yet another injury on the team, we still wish Cervelli quick healing.

Stay safe out there Yankees. We fans need you guys safe and healthy all year long.

Go Yankees!

Game 21: TOR vs. NYY — Home runs, ejections, & positivity

Leave it to Vernon Wells, Robinson Cano, and Francisco Cervelli to continue the collection of home runs for the Bronx Bombers and lead the offense in tonight’s 5-3 win over Toronto. Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda struggled early in the game giving up a 2-run home run and a solo home run in the 1st and 2nd innings respectively, but then held off any further runs for the rest of his 6 inning outing. Chamberlain, Robertson, and Rivera all pitched an inning to keep the score at 5-3 as the Yankees walked away with a really great win.

I should note that defensively the team was also on par to help curb any potential base hits and runs from getting in the way of their win tonight. The outfield as usual put in extra duty against the usual Blue Jay power hitters, including a fancy rolling grab from Brett Gardner to end the 5th inning.

The most interesting event of tonight’s game was the call made in the 7th inning on Ben Francisco. Francisco, who has been struggling at the plate as of late, bunted to move the runner along and hopefully make it to 1st himself. The ball is hit very solidly to the racing 3rd baseman who bare handed tosses the ball to the waiting 1st baseman and Francisco is called out by the 1st base umpire. However, the kerfuffle began when the 2nd base umpire (and crew chief) questions the call. The call is overturned and Francisco is called safe on a “bobble”. This ruffles the feathers of the Jays’ Manager, who proceeds to storm out, scream in the umpires’ faces, and as you may have guessed, is ejected from the game (apparently this is his 2nd ejection in a row). On replays, the umpires’ final call is proven correct. Francisco was safely across 1st base by the time the Jays 1st baseman had the ball in his glove after he had to scoop it up off the ground. (The clip of this is from Toronto’s reporting and it seems the announcers don’t see the correct angle of the play until the end.)

I should include something about the press conference earlier this afternoon, but there wasn’t really any new information. Derek Jeter has a broken ankle that needs time to heal, and when it’s healed, he’ll be back on the field playing. No, there’s no set time because there’s no point this time. Opening Day has come and gone, and I think any other goal is just simply another day during the season. There isn’t one series that’s more important than another at this point, so allowing him time to rest, heal, and rehab that ankle is the best thing for both Jeter and the Yankees right now. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be for him personally to not be able to do what he loves to do, and we continue to wish him well.

But much like what happened last year when Rivera and Gardner (and Pettitte and Sabathia and Teixeira and…) went down, the rest of the guys just stepped it up and got the job done. Because like I’ve said in many previous posts, it’s not about the individuals, it’s about the team. And together, working as a team, they can win, and they can win a lot. And they can come from behind 3-0 and end up scoring 5 runs over 3 innings and win against the team that’s supposed to be the best in the AL East (according to some preseason analysts).

I suppose personally tonight’s win was a little justification for me. I had a really rough time in the Dunedin stadium this Spring during the games against Toronto, as the fans were more than a little abrasive. And the fans in Rogers Centre were, shall we say, less than welcoming to the Yankees last weekend. It’s a shame that a fan base can leave such an impression when I’m sure the guys in bright blue are perfectly nice, normal guys trying to do their job just like any other professional baseball player. And perhaps we forget that we as fans have a responsibility to our team to give the visiting team and its fans respect, even if you are rivals (or want to be). There is a huge difference between respected rivals and mean-spirited hatred. Remember that when you choose your words (spoken, written, blogged, or tweeted) about anyone or any team. I think most people would rather hear positivity and think positively; I know it helps me sleep better at night.

In the mean time… Go Yankees!

Game 20: NYY vs. TB — Nunez at work in loss at the Trop

In tonight’s loss to the Rays, the outstanding player of the night (at least defensively) was Eduardo Nunez, with not one but two amazing plays at shortstop tonight. My personal favorite was the 2nd play in the 6th inning in which he dove for the gap between short and 3rd before tossing it off balance to Overbay at 1st to get the out. If not for his fancy grab, both runners would have made their ways around the bases and possibly a run in. Nunez continues to prove his nay-sayers wrong about his capabilities as a shortstop.

But there’s not much to say for the Yankees otherwise tonight. Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte (who earned his first loss of the season) gave up 3 runs (2 earned, 1 on a fielding error by Boesch) on 7 hits, walking only 1 batter, and striking out 10 batters (that’s a really great statistic for a pitcher who usually forces groundouts for his outings) over 6 innings. And relief pitcher Shawn Kelley is struck out 3 batters, allowing only 1 hit and walking only 1 batter, keeping the Rays at 3-0 over the Yankees.

The Yankees on offense as a whole could not do much to put a dent against Rays starting pitcher Cobb, who went 8 1/3 innings, only allowing singles by Nunez, Nix, and Gardner (Cano singled off Rodney in the 9th) before Rays Manager Maddon opted for his closer Rodney for the final two outs against New York. Rays fans weren’t as happy with that decision to pull Cobb after he had really earned the right to finish the game he began.

One of the things that confuse me is how they award the pitching statistic (win, loss, save) for a game. Honestly, I can usually figure out why in some cases. Say the starting pitcher went 8 innings, his team winning 3-2, and his closer keeps the score as such — that awards the win to the starting pitcher (because he started the win) and the closer gets the save (because he protected the win). The loss is usually awarded to the pitcher on the losing team that gave up the lead and allowed the other team to essentially win the game. And while I guess it makes sense to award Rodney the save tonight because he did protect the lead Cobb set into motion, it seems less like an actual earned save and more like just getting two outs to end an inning. Or maybe it has to do with the base runners when the closer takes over. I guess I’m still confused, and I will probably have to chalk it up to one of the things I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

But I guess I should go back to applauding the man of the evening. Nunez deserves much respect and kudos for his defense today. I’m thinking this is what Girardi and Cashman have been hoping to pull out him for a while, something they only saw as the “potential” factor of his dimension as a player, something we can now rest a little easier waiting for Jeter to return. And honestly, I think Nunez can stop trying to push himself to prove something. He’s proven it and now can move forward and finally get down to playing the game we love.

Go Yankees!

Game 19: NYY vs. TB — Pitching, Ichiro, & Awards

In what became the battle of the starting pitchers, tonight’s win against the Rays was a well-fought 4-3 victory. Phil Hughes seems to be finally finding his form, but still did not earn the win, which went to his 8th inning replacement David Robertson. Robertson did a fantastic job with his inning, striking out 2 of the batters and forcing a pop fly for the other one. Over his 7 innings, Hughes allowed 6 hits and 2 runs, striking out 6 batters. Again, a decent outing for Hughes and I think he’s finally finding that stride that seemed to be lacking at the end of last year and during Spring.

But today’s game is really credited to Ichiro Suzuki, who has been struggling offensively this season. But tonight showed his continued defensive excellence, including some fancy assists from right field to get a runner out at 3rd. At the top of the 9th inning had the bases load with a Cano single, an intentional walk to pinch hitting Hafner, and an unintentional walk to Overbay. Ichiro hits a nice single to centerfield to allow Cano and Hafner to score and bring the score to 4-2. Later, a first pitch homerun in the bottom of the inning off Rivera finalized the score at 4-3, Rivera earning the save on the next 3 batters. But the damage done by Ichiro at the end of the game was enough to solidify a solid win for the Yankees.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a win tonight because the Rays started their ace Price, who is the current AL Cy Young winner (an award to the best pitcher in the league) and Rodney in the bullpen, who is arguably one of the better closers in baseball right now. But Price, who like another Cy Young winner Sabathia, usually specializes in strikeouts, but tonight was only able to strike out 5 Yankee batters. Not saying he was terrible tonight because clearly he was able to keep the Yankees at bay for much of the game. It’s just not what I think most people expect from a pitcher like Price.

And perhaps that might be part of the issue with sweeping grandiose awards like this. It’s really difficult to follow up an outstanding season with another outstanding season. The Giants, for example, have success in 2010, winning the World Series, but really struggle in 2011 before reclaiming their title in 2012. Do they have the team to win again in 2013? Perhaps, but there’s some major contenders now in the NL before they can make it that far (the Braves are probably the most obvious obstacle for the Giants in the NL as of today). So is it the pressure to exceed your previous performance? Is it the drive to go further and do more? Is it the assumption that because you were good once, you can continue at that level without any extra effort (which sometimes leads to apathy toward training)? Maybe it’s all of the above.

But maybe the most important factor once again is the human element. Baseball is a game played by real people, who have real flaws and fail more often than they succeed. A basic batting average proves that point — a good average is .300, but that means you failed to get on base 7 out of 10 times. And that’s what makes it once again a metaphor for life. It’s not what you did yesterday or even at your last time up at bat that matters, but what you do right now that counts for everything. It’s your reaction and your recovery from failure that makes the difference in the long run. When you haven’t hit at all during the game, it’s the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs and bases loaded, no one cares if you have a .100 batting average if you can suddenly hit that grand slam. And if you fail, there’s a game tomorrow to make a difference, even if it’s a nifty catch like from tonight’s game by Brett Gardner.

Go Yankees!