Game 18: NYY vs. TB — A loss & the catwalk

Like I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of indoor/domed stadiums for baseball. But I’m not using that as an excuse for today’s loss 5-1 against the Rays. Starting pitcher CC Sabathia has struggled with his velocity this season, after coming back from November surgery on a bone spur on his elbow. But today’s outing also demonstrated a long view I’ve had of Sabathia beginning when he was with the Indians — when Sabathia is on, he’s unstoppable, and when he’s not, we lose. Tonight was a loss. Sabathia gave up 7 hits and 5 runs (4 in the 1st inning and 3 of the total runs were home runs), walking 2 batters, and striking out 8.

The Rays pitcher, however, was strong tonight, allowing only 2 hits, both from Robinson Cano, one was a solo home run and the Yankees only score of the evening. It should be noted that Moore has won every start this year so far and has an ERA of 1.04. He is shaping up to be another strong pitcher for the Rays’ rotation, a rotation that shaped the careers of reigning Cy Young winner David Price (tomorrow’s starter for Tampa Bay) and James Shields (now with the Royals).

The Rays are really the story for the evening, with their 3 home runs and solid triple leading their offense and strong pitching for their defense. The Yankees really had a rather unimpressive outing all around today. Kevin Youkilis was scratched again on a caution to save his stiff back (replaced by Overbay at 1st, Nix at 3rd), and Travis Hafner wasn’t in the lineup tonight in favor of right-handed batter Ben Francisco. However, though Vernon Wells didn’t have any luck offensively, he continues to earn his keep defensively including a snazzy sliding catch in far left field in the 3rd inning.

The weirdest play tonight, and this I will blame on the oddity of indoor stadiums, happened in the 6th inning. After a nice double play, a Rays batter stepped up to the plate and smacked a high fly ball. Like usual, Nix (at 3rd), Overbay (at 1st), Sabathia (pitching), and Francisco Cervelli (catching) come in close to see who can catch it for the 3rd out. At first, it seems like everyone’s lost it in the lights, but then Cervelli waves the rest off and makes the catch. As the Yankees head into their dug out, the home plate umpire calls it a “dead ball” or foul ball. Everyone’s more than a little confused. Apparently, the Trop has a few rules regarding balls hitting the catwalks:

  • A fair ball that hits the 2 lower catwalks, lights, or objects is ruled a “home run”
  • A fair ball that hits the 2 top catwalks is ruled “in play”
  • A fair ball that stays one of the 2 top catwalks is ruled a “ground rule double”
  • A foul ball that hits any object is a dead ball or a foul ball.

So apparently, the ball was in foul territory and hit an object and thus ruled a dead ball. But 4 pitches later, Sabathia retired the batter with a swinging strikeout to earn that 3rd out of the inning. But it was probably the most interesting thing about tonight’s game.

And while I won’t go into any further reasons I don’t like domed stadiums, I’m guessing there’s a whole lot of Yankee fans tonight that are calling foul on these interesting, specialized rules. I don’t think it happens that often to make a huge issue out of it, but having to create specialized policies for hitting things like catwalks over a baseball diamond, just seems like it interferes with the spirit of the game. I guess I need to chalk it up to one of the many odd rules of baseball I’ll probably never get/agree with. On my list: the strike-out then run to first base thing that’s becoming more common, most balk calls (or should I say the lack of consistent enforcement), and the infield fly rule.

But all those nitpicking rules, and honestly the detailed focus on them, just further push away people from enjoying the true spirit of the game, the game that kids play every day with freedom and fun and without calling a balk or worrying about hit a catwalk for a foul ball or what might trigger a call for the infield fly rule. All of that might help keep the professional part of the game fair and even, but the heart of the game is old-fashioned competitive fun. And the moment it stops being so, we should reevaluate why we play the game in the first place.

Go Yankees!

Game 17: NYY vs. TOR — Pitching to a loss & infinite possibilities

They always say if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything. The Jays took an early 2-0 lead by the end of the 2nd inning before Chris Stewart powered a deep left-field solo home run in the 3rd. And by the middle of the 6th inning, the Yankees were up 4-2. And then the Jays stepped up to the plate. A walk and a double pulled starting pitcher Ivan Nova out of the game (and responsible for those two runners) and replaced him with Boone Logan, who really hasn’t been off to the best start this year. Nova’s pitching really wasn’t stellar, but it did allow for the Yankees to take and maintain the lead until then. Logan allowed an RBI soft single before being pulled in favor of David Phelps. Phelps then allowed a 2 RBI double and an RBI single. By the end of the long inning, Toronto had taken the lead 6-4. But the Blue Jays weren’t over making a dent in the scoreboard — a 2-run homer in the next inning planted the final score at 8-4 Toronto.

My favorite play on the Yankees defense today came from former Golden Glove winner for Toronto, now proudly wearing pinstripes, Vernon Wells. His instinctive timing and excellent outfield skills instigated a really nice double play in the 3rd inning and gave him a great reason to pointedly tip his hat to the outfield seats who have been taunting and booing him for the entire weekend because of his outstanding plays, fielding, and offense.

Also offensively, Brett Gardner base-stealing season officially began today. He is expected to steal 40-ish bases this year. Again, this is something the Yankees are counting on to score runs, but it seems with Wells, Youkilis (resting today from a “stiff back”, probably turf-related stress), and Hafner (among so many others) on the regular roster powering those home runs regularly, effective base stealing may be just a small part of the run-scoring strategy. But it’s worth noting today that Travis Hafner also stole his first base since 2010. Yes, that fact shocked everyone, including the Yankees’ Twitter writer.

They always called the 1969 Mets the “Miracle Mets”, and I don’t ever deny what they did that year was nothing short of a miracle. But when I think back to some of the greatest events in baseball (or miracles, if you will), almost all of them were by a New York team. The Brooklyn Dodgers dared to defy the color barrier; the New York Giants take the best radio monologue in baseball history with the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951 (against the Brooklyn Dodgers, by the way); the “Miracle Mets” in 1969, and if we’re being honest 1986; and of course, nothing tops our good old reliable New York Yankees, who claim so many history-making moments it would take a lifetime to recount each one as it deserves to be recounted. But there is something about the city that has hosted so many miracle moments that inspires those who don pinstripes to do some amazing things, even if they’re new to the uniform or new to the sport.

Maybe it’s just because I’m missing the city today (or that I’m almost always missing the city) that makes me think of such things. But you can’t go to a game in New York without feeling the history, the passion, the legends that have been made there and the ones currently being made before your eyes. I cannot imagine that Ebbets Field, Polo Grounds, or even Shea or old Yankee Stadiums felt any different. There is something magical about a New York baseball game, something you don’t get at other parks that don’t have the history of longevity or traditions older than a few decades. You get that feeling that you’re a part of history, a tradition that predates grandparents or even great grandparents. And it’s something you can’t shake, where history crosses the future, where potential meets legend, where anything is possible because nothing is absolutely certain until the 54th out is called (or at times, the 51st).

And that might be the ultimate miracle of all — the infinite possibilities and the defying of all limitations and expectations, just because a few men don pinstripes as their fans cheer them onto victory.

Go Yankees!

Game 16: NYY vs. TOR — Extra innings comeback on turf

The Yankees continue to fight for dominance among the AL East, and today’s win in extra innings was no exception. Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda once again showed how “experience” can set the stage for a win. In his 108 pitches thrown over 7 1/3 innings, Kuroda allowed only 3 hits (1 would become an earned run), walked 1 batter, and struck out 7 Blue Jays.

The Yankees offense provided an early lead for Kuroda, who managed to keep it scoreless against Toronto into the 8th inning with a score of 3-0. The pitchers (Robertson, Chamberlain, Logan, and Kelley) following Kuroda weren’t as fortunate with their outings, each working for 2 outs over the next 4 innings; Robertson, however, allowing for an RBI single and a 2-RBI single to tie up the game and take it into extra innings. I should note it was Shawn Kelley who was awarded the win because he was the last pitcher to preserve the lead, which is a shame because Kuroda really pitched an excellent game once again.

At the top of the 11th inning, the Yankees offense once again charge up the mountain that was the sloppiness of Toronto’s fielding to score 2 runs on an Ichiro Suzuki bunt and a throwing error. Ichiro landed at 2nd and baserunners Wells and Cervelli ended up tagging home to put the score at 5-3 Yankees in the 11th. And once again, it was good old #42 Mariano Rivera called in to close the door on the heated Blue Jays, which included 2 back-to-back strikeouts and another save to add to his growing career numbers.

I’ve never been a big fan of domed stadiums or turf diamonds, even though I used to live near the Tropicana Dome in Florida (where the Rays play). To me, I’ve always preferred the outdoor look, smell, and feel to a game that’s been played in sandlots around the world by kids in the hot days of summer. Of course, with the weather patterns constantly changing and snow pouring into Coors Field in Colorado and Target Field in Minnesota recently and the bitter cold rains that drenched and cancelled two Yankee-Indians games last week, I can understand why there is always chatter of making a domed stadium or adding some such device to a current complex. But that’s always been the risk of an outdoor game. Heck, there were only day games for decades until stadiums installed field lights, and now most games during the season are night games. But is converting stadiums to domes (or even the retractable roofs like at Rogers Centre in Toronto) worth the investment?

Players usually prefer playing on real grass because of its natural sponginess, which allows for better (and more injury-free) base running and fielding. And for a place with a retractable roof like Toronto, I don’t understand why real grass isn’t an option. And honestly, it rather limits some of the fun parts of baseball. Fielding is limited because you don’t want your outfielders especially running down every ball with such force because it’s basically like running full-on on carpet-covered linoleum — after a while it starts the wear and tear on your knees, shins, and hips which increases the injury. Base running is also drastically affected. Without the natural give of grass, stealing bases isn’t as common because it isn’t as safe to go barreling head first or even sliding on your “upper thigh” into a base. Again that image of doing so on carpet-covered linoleum should suffice for any reasons.

From the turf in Toronto, the Yankees head down on Monday to my home state to play on turf at the Trop for a series. And while I’m glad they’re getting this back-to-back “turf war” (if you will) out of the way early in the season, it’s also a little dangerous to be using a consistent set of players on day-to-day with the surface. I think we’ll see some regular players rotated out for a rest to save some legs and prevent any overuse or potential injury. And it was easy to figure out that Toronto and Tampa are the only two teams with artificial turf and the only teams with a domed roof. Every other stadium is a) primarily set outdoors and b) converted to real grass if they didn’t have it already.

Okay, I do have another reason I like outdoor parks, and perhaps it’s because I’m a Yankee fan. When the player hits that amazing home run, it’s always fun to see it sail clear out of the park and not hit some steel wall on one side of the dome. Those that catch some air and land in the parking lot or on the sidewalk outside the stadium (like stories of Mickey Mantle’s homers) are the ones you remember and talk about for years to come. Those are the ones that kids dream of hitting on those sandlots all across the world. There is a simplicity, an innocence, something purely Americana about the outdoor field and all of its potential greatness. It’s one of the many things I love about baseball.

Go Yankees!

Game 15: NYY vs. TOR — Cheering for the good over the boos

The Yankees were in hitting mode tonight in their series opener in Toronto. Amassing 6 doubles, a triple, and 3 home runs, the Yankees took home tonight’s win 9-4. Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte threw 7 innings and an out in the 8th, 90 total pitches, 61 of them strikes, and striking out 5 batters. He allowed 6 hits, 3 of the 4 Toronto runs (one was a 2-run home run in the 6th). Pettitte was in fine form today and pitched 3 straight 3-up-3-down innings (getting the batters out 1-2-3 in batting order).

But it was the offense that really secured Pettitte his 3rd win of the season. Of the 13 total hits from Yankees, Robinson Cano and Travis Hafner each netted a double, Francisco Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki each netted 2 doubles, and Brett Gardner sliced a nice triple. But it was the three solid solo home runs from Hafner, Lyle Overbay, and Vernon Wells that kept pushing the score higher. With runs scored small and big tonight, the smattering of Yankees fans in Rogers Centre cheered tonight as the majority of the nearly 41,000 people took up very loud booing every time the Yankees did something awesome. I will note that it certainly seemed like the Jays’ fans were doing nothing but providing a very monotone boo sound consistently for most of the (very quick) 2.5 hour game. Way to show the world how to be a good sport tonight, Toronto!

Well, none of the names on tonight’s hitting list surprise me in the least. The Yankees have proved (at least to me, now going 9-6 for the season so far) that they can hit, score runs, and play well no matter whose name is on the roster. After yesterday’s blow with Jeter’s lingering ankle issues and the increased activity across America with unfathomable tragedies, it seems like we could really use some good news and something to cheer for and get excited about. And today, we got it on many fronts.

In the midst of the Yankees running up the scoreboard north of the border, the brave men and women in Boston were able to safely apprehend the second suspect in the Boston marathon bombings. And while the investigation is still in process, the citizens of Boston can now begin to mourn and heal and breathe a sigh of relief. There is still much to do in recovery, but a huge step has been made to begin closure for the city. And our hearts are also with those still sifting through the mess in Texas. Again, there are many in this country who are hurting and feeling the loss brought on by recent events; our prayers are with them tonight.

So as I think back over tonight, with the boos of Toronto fans echoing in my ears (thanks to replays, as linked above), I think it is only appropriate that we remember that we need to continue to cheer for the good despite anything that may be trying to distract or intimidate us. It is our crying out for good that brings justice when the cry of the hurt and broken can be so deafening and helpless. So thank you, Toronto, for providing me with a great allegory for life. “They only boo you if you’re good.” Then America (and our beloved Yankees) must be the best tonight. Boo all you want because good always wins in the end.

Go Yankees!

Game 14: ARI vs. NYY — Extra innings setback

In the first extra innings game of the season, the Yankees followed up a 9th inning rally with a 6-2 loss in the 12th inning in tonight’s 4 hour 11 minute game against the Diamondbacks. All the runs scored in the first 9 innings were by solo home runs, 2 from Arizona, allowed by starting pitcher Phil Hughes (in a rather solid pitching outing tonight, 7 innings, 6 hits, 6 strikeouts, no walks) in the 3rd and 6th inning. Going into the bottom of the 6th, the Yankees down 2-0, suddenly found life in the bat of Robinson Cano via his solo home run. The Yankees stayed 2-1 going into the bottom of the 9th, when Francisco Cervelli knocked his solo home run into the left field bleachers.

Trouble began in the top of the 12th with David Phelps pitching his 2nd inning of the night. A double, a fly-out, a base taken on catcher’s interference (Cervelli’s 2nd of the night, though I’d be tempted to argue that one wasn’t interference as much as the batter made it out to be), and then a hit by pitch. An RBI single starts the Arizona rally, and then former Yankee Eric Chavez clears the bases with a very nice 3-RBI double to bring the score up to 6-2 Arizona. The Yankees couldn’t rally again in the bottom of the inning and thus lost the 3rd game of the series tonight. But taking 2 out of 3 is always a bonus. If the Yankees can continue to do at least that, we’re  in for a good season already. (By the way, we’ve been sitting over .500 for a team average for the last week.)

But tonight’s loss isn’t the loss everyone’s going to be talking about. Word came in from Tampa today that we won’t be seeing Derek Jeter don the pinstripes any time before the All-Star break (mid-July). His ankle had been giving him trouble earlier this week, so after a precautionary CT scan, the diagnosis is a small crack on the ankle bone, a new injury to the same ankle he broke last October. Cracked bones, often called broken bones, take 4-8 weeks to heal before you can do anything on them. This one, however, will not require any new surgery or plates, just rest. This pushes baseball activity off until end of May/June at the earliest. Girardi’s statement recently of “he’ll be ready when he’s ready” is never more accurate and appropriate. Like I said yesterday, I think we’d all rather have him fully recovered and fully healthy and ready for the end of the season and postseason than rush recovery and risk another injury. So in the meantime, we wish him “get well soon!”

Setbacks and losses are all part of the game. But it doesn’t make it easy for me to write about positive things without sounding naively hopeful or optimistic. And while I’ve made a personal commitment to write every day about the team, it’s days like this that really play with my mind and distract me from my mission on this blog. I don’t want to glide too far into the cliché territory that borders on just fluff writing, so I have to constantly think of a new spin to stay positive, especially on days where there’s not a lot to be positive about. Spring Training certainly pushed those boundaries for me, but I kept the hope alive for a less dramatic regular season. Perhaps, that too was naive.

Whenever you do anything publicly, you run the risk of drama, critics, negativity, and misunderstanding. Maybe that’s why I prefer my public presence to be on a semi-anonymous blog and not in front of tens of thousands of people every night. I can edit my thoughts, my actions, my motivation if necessary before publication and sometimes edits after can lead to the delete button. But what happens with thousands of witnesses cannot be as easily undone or forgotten. The safety of a blog can be misused to amplify the public life of those who live such a life, but I guess that’s why I chose to use my “powers” (as it were) for good. There’s so much negative everywhere, and in this world that we live in now, isn’t it time we chose to shut out the negative, even those who are indirectly negative (you know, the “I’m only trying to help” people), and listen to those who want to continue to bring positivity to this world, even if only through words on a computer screen. So tonight, we remain positive and hope for good health and many wins for the team we love.

Go Yankees!

Game 13: ARI vs. NYY — Comeback to win

Two outs already notched on the board in the 7th inning, the Diamondbacks up 3-0, 2 Yankees on base due to an earlier single and double, and Nunez walks to load the bases. Then the pitcher walks Jayson Nix to walk in a run. A rather lousy way to get on the scoreboard, but when you’re down 3-0, you’ll take whatever you’re given. Back to the top of the batting order as Brett Gardner steps up to the plate. On a 2-2 count, he bloops a single into shallow left field and proceeds to see 2 runners tagging home plate to tie up the game at 3-3.

CC Sabathia comes in for the 8th inning. After a rough 31-pitch 1st inning (including a 2-run homer), Sabathia seemed to find his stride throwing shorter innings and keeping his total pitch count to 108 (77 were strikes), saving the bullpen for tonight except for closer Mariano Rivera who pitched a 17 pitch 9th inning for a quick 3 outs to keep tonight’s win at 4-3. (For all those doing the pitch count thing for Rivera’s innings, my number is always 17, so I guess I win tonight. Now can someone tell me what exactly I win?)

But what put the Yankees firmly in the lead was the 8th inning pinch hitter Travis Hafner. On the first pitch he saw tonight (a 96 mph fastball, I might add), he bombed it right out to right-center field, right into Section 103 (or right next to the bullpen for those not familiar with Yankee Stadium). Hafner continues to prove himself worthy of a Yankees uniform. His bat is certainly making up for any “lost power” that the critics seem so easy to remind everyone. And yet, looking across the league, our “replacements” seem to be out-playing most of the “lost power” (at least the ones traded or released). Yet another reason why all these predictions and assumptions pre-season and early in the season are total hogwash. Too many human factors can just blow all those statistical print-outs right out of the water.

Speaking of human factors, there have been a few injury update reports…

Mark Teixeira is now cleared to start baseball activities and was swinging a bat underwater yesterday and took some dry swings today from both sides of the plate (remember, he’s a switch hitter). He’s hoping to take batting practice with the team when they travel to Toronto this weekend before heading back to Tampa next Monday with the team to finish his rehab. As of now, they’re projecting a May return. I suppose an exact date will be determined once he begins his Tampa rehab, and they can gauge exactly how far he still has to go before he’s an everyday player again.

Derek Jeter is consistently working out in Tampa, running, fielding, batting, hitting, etc. The date of May 1st will come and go, but like Girardi said earlier this week, “[Jeter will] be ready when he’s ready.” They don’t want to make a promise of a date that they’re not sure is reasonable for his recovery. Like I’ve said before, I think we’d all rather have him ease back in slowly to the roster than rush him back and then risk losing him when we really need him in September-October.

Curtis Granderson has been busy being an ambassador for his Grand Kids Foundation, including honoring Jackie Robinson Day by meeting with a New York high school and taking them to see a special screening of 42. This high school was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and Granderson’s organization (and others) helped rebuild their sports field, getting the teams back their home field advantage. Oh, and in between all his special events, he’s been rehabbing in Tampa and will continue to do so until his projected early May return.

We wish them a continued get well soon! And we continue our support and prayers for Boston.

Go Yankees!

Game 12: ARI vs. NYY — Remembering Jackie Robinson & Boston

For throwing all his 94 pitches over 5 innings, starting pitcher Ivan Nova showed a strong outing, at least a stronger one than we’re used to seeing from Nova. Two-thirds of those pitches were strikes, and after getting into a little trouble in the 3rd inning, giving up 2 runs, he kept the Diamondbacks at bay in tonight’s 4-2 win, assisted by the strong showing from the bullpen via Logan, Chamberlain, Robertson, and, of course, #42 himself, Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees offensively were hitting like crazy tonight earning 12 hits, 3 walks (2 intentional to Cano and Ichiro), a powerful 3-run home run from Robinson Cano in the 4th inning, and a Nunez sacrifice fly to score Youkilis. It was quite an impressive showing tonight in the Bronx, a well-fought and well-earned win.

And as yesterday was an off-day, the Yankees used today to honor Jackie Robinson by every player, umpire, and coach donning #42 tonight. I have to admit, for a few seconds, it wasn’t as disconcerting to watch a Yankees pitcher wearing 42 until I realized it was Nova and not Rivera. But it was a very nice recognition of Jackie Robinson’s impact on baseball. I loved seeing all the 42’s everywhere on every play, every pitch, every hit, every out.

StandUnited Boston
Outside Yankee Stadium today in support of Boston
via Yankees

The most moving event tonight, however, was the moment of silence for those injured or killed in yesterday’s explosions at the Boston Marathon. Much like Boston showed its support for New York in the days following 9/11, New York (however unfortunate the circumstances) used this opportunity to show its support for Boston. As investigators are still sifting through leads and evidence in Boston, the whole country is supporting another city rocked by an outrageous act of violence. We remember these tragedies that have become all too familiar in today’s 24/7 news and social media access. Even as I write this, I have a newspaper to my left that should have had today’s headline about the African winners of the Boston Marathon or the celebration of Jackie Robinson’s career across MLB, but instead we read the words “terror” and “deadly” and “carnage”.

Baseball now is a game of great equalizing, a three-hour distraction from life that is very much needed at times like these. I remember how the 9/11 rescue crews would be listening to a game while they were working, and their conversation wouldn’t be on the task at hand but on what they thought of Torre’s decision to pitch one guy or sit another or why someone shouldn’t be playing for the Yankees anymore. (Nothing changes there except the names.) It wasn’t disrespectful or maudlin, but rather healing to allow the city to remember something that has been static when the whole world was drastically changing. It’s remembering the game you fell in love with as a kid, when so many kids have been ripped of their innocence, discovering that not everyone is going to be nice and play fair in this life. It was that year that we faced the Diamondbacks in the World Series. Nice coincidence today…

I guess I get a little nostalgic remembering  why we are fans in the first place. And I guess it takes world events to remind us that a little distraction is healing and a reminder that while we sort through and find justice, we can count on some things to be the same. And in spite of that, while today we stand with Boston, when we play them again at the end of next month, I don’t expect anything less than the return of our nearly a century-long semi-friendly rivalry. It’s our tradition, it’s our history, and it’s our baseball.

Go Yankees! Our prayers are in Boston today for the families of those who lost someone, for a quick healing of all those injured, and for swift justice to those who would continue to do evil in this world.