Game 11: BAL vs. NYY — Excellence at work

Tonight’s 3-0 shut-out win against Baltimore was all about Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda threw 113 pitches through all 9 innings, allowing only 5 hits and striking out 5 batters. He really threw just a solid outstanding game, something you normally don’t see until much later in the season, hitting the momentum and keeping the game tight and strong.

It was in the 5th inning that the Yankees scored all three of their runs. The first one was due to a Jayson Nix sacrifice fly to score Brennan Boesch. The final two were a 2-out 2-run home run by Brett Gardner, also scoring Francisco Cervelli. On the defensive side, in the 8th inning, there was a rather fun 6-4-3 double play, a quick flip by Nix to Robinson Cano who almost Jeter-esque stepping on 2nd, tossed it over to a waiting Lyle Overbay at 1st.

And while there is no wins if no one scores, tonight just really belongs to Kuroda. The first Yankee pitcher of the season to go an entire game and was impressive throughout. And if I think back even to his time in Spring Training, Kuroda always turned in an excellent performance, no matter what the game was. I know some people slough off the spring games as no big deal because they don’t count for anything, but at least for Kuroda, it seemed as if he was always on his A-game, regardless of what game was being played and who his opponent was — an example truly for all the players, especially those trying to make their way to the regular roster.

Perhaps that is the true necessity of the veteran, “experienced” players on the team, to be a great example of excellence to the younger players. I was talking with a friend tonight during the game about the hype around some young players around the league, and while they are very good in some (often flashier) ways, they still lack the polish, the instinct, the heart that comes with “experience” of time, repetition, and determination. The younger players may do something amazing, they may even end up in Cooperstown in 20-odd years, but they aren’t there yet. And the advantage of being on a team full of classy, excellent, well-seasoned players is the first-hand learning experience for the younger, often unpolished players.

And for that, I’m excited for the Yankees this year. While critics seem to almost romanticize what they see as the aged fall of the dynasty, I see as the greatest opportunity to pass on the continued legacy that is the New York Yankees. Perhaps I am romanticizing a bit now, but I’d rather wax poetically about something positive, holding out for all possibilities, instead of dooming everything to some abyss of infinite impossibilities. I like that so much is still possible, and it always is. Hope isn’t foolishness or naivety because I’ve seen the supposedly crumbling Yankees do the impossible for so long, and I expect nothing less from a team full of “experienced” players and those that hope to be one day.

Go Yankees!

Game 10: BAL vs. NYY — Win some, lose some

The hot streak is over, but there’s still something to be said for the Bronx Bombers. In a season, that many have voiced their doubts about any kind of consistent home runs, the Yankees sliced two over the fences in today’s loss against the Orioles. Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells each hit their 3rd home run of the season today. Both players are continuing to prove to the fans and execs why they were the right choices to fill in the spots left vacant by exiting star players from last year.

Pitching was an issue today with Phil Hughes’ 2nd start of the season, after a full week off. He went a full 3 innings, allowing 9 of Baltimore’s 11 hits and all 5 of Baltimore’s runs (3 of which were home runs). David Phelps came on to pitch the next 4 innings, keeping the birds at bay. Phelps continue to prove his value to the team, even in this role of long-relief. I think we’ll continue to see good things from him.

In a fun twist in the top of the 9th inning, Girardi decided to play with the infield a bit, moving Robinson Cano to shortstop and Francisco Cervelli to 2nd bringing in Stewart to catch the closer Robertson. That’s right, Cano played short and Cervelli was at 2nd. I honestly got thrown at the attempt to shake-up the field, much like the time when Swisher pitched against the Rays in 2009 to save the overtaxed bullpen. I looked it up; it was exactly 4 years ago tomorrow this happened. It sounds like April is the month to have a little roster fun. It worked then and it worked today.

After two blow-out and two rain-out games in Cleveland and then what will be one of the most talked about games in recent history last night, today was a slight let-down. But then, a hot streak is only a streak for so long, and I’m glad it wasn’t broken in some spectacular fashion (like last night’s game) by the opposing team. If pitching hadn’t been an issue early in the game, today would still have been just another game. “Win some, lose some,” as they say. There’s another game tomorrow to win or lose. But hopefully to win for the Yankees. I’m realistic enough to know they won’t always win, but I’m positive enough to always hold out hope for the win.

Go Yankees!

Game 9: BAL vs. NYY — Triple play alert

That’s right, in tonight’s game, there was the rare baseball feat of the triple play. And it was awesome. It may sound like a telephone number (4-6-5-6-5-3-4), but here’s what happened. CC Sabathia allows 2 back-to-back singles at the top of the 8th inning. The Orioles batter Machado hits a low grounder to Robinson Cano (4), who flips it to Jayson Nix (6) for the 1st out; Nix tossed it to Kevin Youkilis (5) to catch the advancing runner but turned it into a rundown, so Youkilis tossed it back to Nix (6) to catch him going back to 2nd, then Nix tosses it back to Youkilis (5) who tags the runner for the 2nd out; Machado sees an opportunity to make it to 2nd base but instead gets caught in his own rundown as Youkilis throws across the diamond to Lyle Overbay (3), Overbay on one side of the rundown tosses it to Cano (4) who is able to tag out Machado as he slides into 2nd base for the 3rd out. Here is the play to watch it yourself. (And if you aren’t familiar with the scorekeeping numbers I just mentioned, you can read my blog post about scorekeeping to catch up.)

It is also worth noting that the last time the Yankees successfully had a triple play at home was June 3, 1968 against Minnesota, but today’s 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple play was the 1st in recorded Major League history (since 1876). I know the sports shows will have this one to play on clip shows for ages to come, and now it will be permanently a part of Yankee lore.

Oh, and the Yankees won tonight over the Orioles. The first 2 runs scored on RBI singles by Youkilis and Cano (the 3rd and 5th innings, respectively). Then in the 7th inning, the bases are loaded when Vernon Wells hits a long hit out to center field, but Baltimore’s Adam Jones had a hard time catching the ball in the cold night and couldn’t hang onto it, earning a fielding error. Oh, and that allowed all three base runners to score making the tied score up to what would become its final 5-2.

Injury report: Eduardo Nunez was hit by another nasty pitch today. This time, the ball landed directly on his right wrist. He seemed to want to stay in the game, but upon testing it for fielding, realized he needed to come out. X-rays are negative, but it looks like he may miss a few games with a bruised wrist. Nunez needs to get this target off his back so we can have him actually play baseball. But still, get well soon!

Yankees starter CC Sabathia went 8 innings tonight, allowing 2 runs off 8 hits, striking out 9 batters, and getting charged with a controversial balk. (After reviewing the call, I don’t think I agree with the umpire’s decision on this, but what’s done is done at this point.) But still a solid 8 innings, which allowed our own #42 Mariano Rivera to come into the 9th inning to save the game in 15 pitches.

Still shot from the movie 42

And speaking of #42, I have a confession: I have now seen the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 twice in the last 24 hours. And it is so worth it. It has passed most baseball-related movies in my book by leaps and bounds; it’s better than The Natural, *61, Field of Dreams, and A League of their Own (my #5, 4, 3, & 2 respectively now on my favorite baseball movies). I have started making a personal list of the numbers associated with Yankee legends and players who would never have been in pinstripes had it not been for Robinson’s courage and Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey’s determination. And not just the African-American players, but the Asians, Hispanics, Native American, and bi-racial players we cheer on with gusto and laud with such fervency owe their very career opportunities to the likes of Robinson and Rickey and others who were not afraid to do something different because it was the right thing to do.

“You made me love baseball again,” Rickey says to Robinson at one point in the movie because integrating baseball was more than a political move or stance against some horrible racism. It was the right thing to do because Robinson was a ridiculously talent ballplayer. And today, we are privileged to have the opportunity to cheer on ball players of all heritages (and often languages) regardless of what they look like, but because they fit the 3 qualities of a great ball player — ability, teamwork, and character. Robinson fit the bill, and our own #42 (the last man to ever wear #42 professionally) Mariano Rivera fits that bill. And that makes me so proud to be a baseball fan and a New York fan.

Go Yankees!

Rained out in Cleveland, Day 2

More rain in Cleveland tonight. And following an almost 2 hour rain delay, the officials finally called it a night. It looks like the Yankees can board their flight back to New York and get some rest before facing Baltimore tomorrow. After 2 straight days of power-packed wins and then 2 straight days of rainy nothingness in Cleveland, I’m sure the team is itching to continue their delayed winning streak against a team that is easily becoming their 2nd major rival in the AL East.

It looks like we already have 2 games to make up and it’s only the 2nd week of the season, but that’s April for you. Maybe we’ll be seeing a doubleheader make-up game some time in the near future. As a fan, I like doubleheaders, but I can’t imagine they are so much fun on the players, especially due to pitching limitations and all the policies and regulations on player production. But we shall see.

In more interesting, non-weather-related news, I’m on my way to catch the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 tonight, and I couldn’t be more excited. Yes, I will be wearing my version of #42 — the Rivera version. Yes, I will be raving about this movie (follow me on Twitter for more). Yes, I will be seeing 42 again later this weekend. Yes, we need more movies that depict our baseball greats with class, dignity, accuracy, and heart. And yes, we need some more really good Yankees-based movies.

For now, I will keep dry and warm in my local movie theater, proudly wearing #42, cheering for the sport I love and the people who dared to make a difference and make it possible for so many of those who play ball today to play ball today.

Go Yankees! (And thank you, Jackie & Co., for making me proud to be a baseball fan!)

Rained out in Cleveland

Well, there’s not much of a story today in the Buckeye State for the Yankees. A massive storm front that dropped spring snow on Denver is swept through the Midwest and Great Lakes areas today with a deluge of rain. Chances are not good for the game tomorrow either, which means the powers-that-be will be scrambling to look and book make-up games later in the season. Make-up games are hard on everyone because of team scheduling, out-of-series momentum, recouping lost profits from the fans in attendance, and broadcasting schedules.

News from Tampa today came that both Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson are on the road to recovery, working out at the minor league complex this morning. Both (along with Mark Teixeira, who lately has been with the team) are looking at an early May return (though no actual date has been announced so as not to hamper or push any recovery before its time). And while I know the fans will be happy seeing them back on the field, I know it means so much more to the guys that they can return to doing what they love to do. And though I am one of those who cannot wait to hear their names announced playing Shortstop, Center Field, and 1st Base (respectively), I’d rather have them fully healthy and ready for the long stretch of season. Keep up the good work and heal up soon, gentlemen!

Of course, this got me thinking about the team’s transactions because every time you activate someone from the disabled list, you have to send someone down to the minors or release someone from the team. They did this recently when they brought back Phil Hughes by sending Cody Eppley to AAA Scranton. Reactivating the “big three” I mentioned above means that three current roster guys will be moved elsewhere — probably 2 infielders and an outfielder (current guesses, based mostly on positions: Overbay, Francisco, and Nunez). But when the time comes to shuffle the deck, as it were, the decision makers will be looking at a lot of different aspects — offensive production, utility role ability, defensive range, current individual injuries and injury history, and overall team cohesiveness.  I suppose it is rather dejecting for those who get sent down or released. But they only have to look into recent Yankee history with Cervelli’s redevelopment, which not just earned but demanded a 25-man roster spot.

So, on this rainy day (or couple of days), as we hope the rain doesn’t dampen the winning streak the Yankees are on, we focus on where they are now and the many different puzzle pieces that are making this winning streak possible and setting the stage for those recovering. I think they are ever grateful for the contributions (albeit temporary) and keeping the continuity that is the 111 year old tradition of New York pride. Once a Yankee, always a Yankee.

Go Yankees!

Game 8: NYY vs. CLE — Let’s call it “Batting Practice”

They always say if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything. Sorry, Cleveland, but you don’t have any pitching. This really came into play when their starter Carlos Carrasco gets ejected in the 4th inning for intentionally hitting batter Kevin Youkilis in retribution for previous batter Robinson Cano’s 2-run homer. Sure, the Yankees were up 7-0 at that point, but that was just childish and mean-spirited, especially in light of the fact Carrasco just got back from a 6-game suspension for intentionally drilling a Royals’ batter in 2011. (The time discrepancy was explained as: Carrasco then had and was recovering and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery immediately following this incident, which is an 18-month standard recovery time; and this was his first start back, following the surgery and the suspension). Girardi & Co. would never put up with that kind of behavior, so I’m hoping he’s not long for some permanent punishment before someone really gets hurt.

Outside of that bit of drama, the game ended up basically like extended batting practice for the Yankees in tonight’s 14-1 win. Yes, that’s right — 14 runs, off 18 Yankee hits. So instead of my basic summary, game wrap-up, and highlights, I now have to summarize the summary. Gardner and Cano each earned 2 doubles, Wells and Overbay each with 1 double. Gardner earned 2 RBIs; Cervelli, Youkilis, and Boesch each earned 1; and Cano grabbed 4. Being as they are after all the “Bronx Bombers”, home runs, however, were the tall order of the day, with Ichiro, Cano, Youkilis, Overbay (his first as a Yankee), and Boesch (also his first in Pinstripes) each yanking one out of Progressive Field tonight.

Also solid tonight was starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, who thanks to his team is now 2-0 for 2013. He threw 97 pitches over 7 innings, striking out 4 batters and only giving up 1 run, a solo home run in the 6th and the Indians’ only run scored tonight. His replacement Adam Warren also gave a solid performance for the final 2 innings, saving Rivera and Robertson and Chamberlain for any future, tighter scoring games in the near future.

Nearly 30,000 empty seats in the stadium tonight (compared to yesterday’s sold-out crowd), heavy on the home runs, fielding grounders, base running, singles and doubles for almost everyone… to me, this game ended up looking like a lot of the Yankee batting practices I’ve attended. I mean, I do feel bad for the Indians. No one really wants to get slammed like this. And after seeing that scoreboard continue to crawl upwards for the other team, it has to be disheartening, and a younger or “less experienced” team like the Indians won’t have the voracity to pull together and execute an effective rally or at least attempt one.

And while it’s still early in the season, I do love that the Yankees are finally finding that groove and playing as a team, even without their (recovering) veterans. This, to me, signals a stronger, well-rounded team that has a chance (despite critics) at doing something great, even amazing this year. Again, it’s still early and I’m still (perhaps naively) hopeful, but that’s the fun part about April — October and most everything is still so possible.

Go Yankees!

Game 7: NYY vs. CLE — Winning the “family series”

Honestly, this big story today isn’t the win at Cleveland, but the familiar faces in the other dugouts. Wearing #33 for the Yankees is former Indian (and former 1st baseman) Travis Hafner, while #33 for the Indians is former Yankee (and current 1st baseman) Nick Swisher. Both seemed excited about the opportunity for the Cleveland’s first home series of the season for very different reasons, and both filled their new roles very nicely.

After a troubling 1st inning to the game for both teams (each starting pitcher gave up 3 runs in the 1st inning alone), the game settled into a momentum, at least for the Yankees. Starter Hiroki Kuroda threw 5.1 innings, allowing 3 runs off 5 hits and 4 walks, striking out 6 batters. Boone Logan seemed to find his stride after a rough couple of outings in previous games, keeping the Indians at bay for his 4 outs. But Shawn Kelley’s 4 outs struggled to find the strike zone, giving up a double, 2-run home run, a triple, and several wild pitches (one of which scored the 3rd run of the 8th inning) before finally getting out of that jam. Closer Joba Chamberlain (minus the mustache at last) walked 2 batters (one was Swisher) in the 9th but was able to strike out his final batter to keep the game at 11-6.

However, it was the offense’s game that ultimately won the day for the Yankees, mostly due in part to Hafner and the renewed bat of Robinson Cano. In the 1st inning, Hafner earned boos from a previously welcoming Cleveland crowd by slamming a 3-run homer into center field. In the 3rd inning, Cano’s double put him in place to score on a Hafner single. Cano hit 2 solo home runs today in the 5th and 6th innings. Also notching RBIs today are Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, and Eduardo Nunez (who was back in the line-up today after some time off following the bicep bruise he sustained in Detroit).

And this makes Cleveland and New York even in the stands at 3-4, something I watch intently every year because of my uncle. Like I’ve mentioned before, my mom’s family is from Northeast Ohio, thus diehard Indians fans. And it’s become a slight family rivalry every season as to whose team is better (and let’s be honest, it’s usually been me). And now, my uncle and I have a (non-monetary) bet going to see whose team will have the better win-loss average by the All-Star break. It was agreed upon at the end of Spring Training, where the Indians were on a high and the Yankees were just… not, but it’s starting to look up for my side of the deal.

And I suppose that’s what makes this particular series special for me. This is my family’s series. My mom watches it partly rooting for both sides (but really, she’s happier when the Indians win). My uncle is just rooting for the improbable rout over the Yankees (I’ll never say it’s impossible, but I doubt it). And I, as usual, am enjoying the Yankees triumph over another team. And overall, it builds good-natured competition and rivalry and that bond that only baseball can bring to a family. It is a family sport, after all — from the first time a dad and son play catch to their first trip to a real ballpark to watching the son hit his first home run. It’s like home. It’s like family. It’s my family.

Go Yankees!