Games 89 & 90: NYY vs. BOS — Let’s split 2, #CCStrong, & finally shut out

The first game of today’s doubleheader was a make-up game from the rain out on April 25. But after last night’s marathon 16 innings, it was bound to be a long finish to this weekend’s rivalry series at Fenway.

Game 1:
For the afternoon game, the Yankees turned almost at the last-minute to veteran starter CC Sabathia who had a truly great outing this afternoon, coming off his recent stint on the DL. He threw 97 pitches in his 6 innings, gave up just 2 hits, 5 walks, and no runs, striking out 3 batters along the way. Plus, he set himself up for the win, his 8th of the season actually.

The Yankees needed the likes of veteran reliable starters like this vintage Sabathia to give the exhausted bullpen a chance to recoup some of its strength. And he did. Clippard and Green kept the scoreless streak alive through the 7th and 8th innings, and Chapman’s 9th was strong enough to earn him the save and continue the momentum of the game.

The Yankees’ hitters managed to hit quite a bit off the Red Sox’s pitchers in the first game today, a total of 12 hits. However, they only managed to break through the defense in two innings. In the 4th, with 1 out, the Yankees loaded the bases with a single, an error, and another single. Ji-Man Choi’s sacrifice fly scored Gregorious to get a run on the board, and then Ronald Torreyes’ single scored Frazier to double the score. Despite the bases being loaded with a hit-by-pitch, they ended up grounding out to end the rally. Didi Gregorius added an insurance run in the 5th, a 2-out solo home run into the right field seats.

Final score: 3-0 Yankees

Game 2:
About 4 hours later, it was time for the regularly scheduled game, the rare late Sunday night game. And the Yankees called on another veteran starter to try to extend the life of the bullpen. Masahiro Tanaka definitely helped with the bullpen, and his outing was actually pretty good overall. He threw 112 pitches into the 8th inning, gave up 8 hits, no walks, and 3 runs, striking out 9 Boston batters.

In the 3rd, a 1-out single scored as part of a 2-out 2-run home run to give the Red Sox the lead. And then in the 6th, a lead-off single ended up at 2nd on a throwing error, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on an RBI single. But that would be it for the Red Sox. Even as Chasen Shreve closed out the 8th with a 5-pitch strikeout to make it an even 10 for the Yankee pitchers this game.

All that was needed was for the Yankee batters to do something. And normally, off this particular starter, they can and do. But while they got 8 total hits, they didn’t do much else with that. They also racked up 10 strikeouts, but they were unable to find a hole in the defense large enough to walk home.

And thus, the Yankees became the final team this season to be shut out of a game. It took 90 games, but someone had to do it. Somehow, it’s only fitting that it’s the Red Sox.

Final score: 3-0 Red Sox

Final series outcome: Red Sox and Yankees split the series 2-2.

In roster moves: before the doubleheader, the Yankees transferred Michael Pineda from the 10-day to the 60-day disabled list due to the partial tear in his right UCL (elbow). The Yankees selected the contract of reliever Caleb Smith and recalled Domingo German and Bryan Mitchell (who was scheduled to be their 26th man) from AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In their place, they optioned Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller back, due to their extensive work in last night’s game.

But I wouldn’t put down roots there just yet. Keep the “Scranton Shuttle” fired up and ready. They’ll be more roster moves before the Yankees start their series in Minnesota.

Also, our hearts go out to the family of legendary Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff. Wolff passed away Saturday at his home in New York at the age of 96. He is the voice that called the Don Larsen perfect game in 1956 and is still the current World Record holder for the longest broadcasting career, awarded in 2014. The passing of another iconic voice in the sports world is always a sad day, closing another chapter of the great past and legacy of this team.

Go Yankees!

Game 88: NYY vs. BOS — Dramatic rivalry in 16 innings

Well, the rivalry is nothing if not a show for the dramatic. Five hours and fifty minutes, 16 very long innings, a protested game, weird base running, 16 total pitchers, and 36,936 fans. So, it’s also apparently the longest game between the Yankees and Red Sox at Fenway since June 4, 1966 (which also went 16 innings). Fortunately for the Yankees, today’s (or rather tonight’s) game turned out much better.

Honestly, most of the regular part of today’s game was a pitching duel between Luis Severino and the Red Sox’s ace pitcher (who also started the All-Star Game just 4 days ago). They both kept things close, with their stats nearly parallel (except the Red Sox’s start had 13 whopping strikeouts, his true specialty on display). Severino threw 114 pitches in his 7 innings, giving up 4 hits, 2 walks, and a run, striking out just 6 Boston batters. That lone allowed run came in the 3rd inning. With 1 out, Severino gave up 2 walks and a single to load up the bases. A sacrifice fly easily scored the lead runner.

But that would be it for the Red Sox all afternoon and into the night. Clippard and Betances closed out the rest of the regular 9 innings, breezing through the Red Sox lineup.

It looked like the Yankees were going to be shut out of tonight’s game right until that 9th inning. Lead-off hitter Matt Holliday planted the 3rd pitch of the at-bat into the Green Monster seats, a big solo home run to tie up the game. So, the game went into extra innings. Lots of extra innings.

In the 10th, Shreve got into a bit of trouble giving up 2 singles, but then Warren got him out of it with 3 great outs to get out of the jam. Then it would be reliever Jonathan Holder who would shoulder most of the extra innings load with 3 truly fantastic innings. His 41 pitches sailed through the Red Sox batters. And Chapman’s 14th was quite a bit better than his blown save last night. And once again, the Yankees threw their weight behind another reliable reliever in Ben Heller who took the final 2 innings and held the Red Sox to that lone run, adding 3 great strikeouts, earning the win.

The Yankees’ bullpen rose to the occasion and became the ‘pen they’ve been earlier this year, the one that helped the team reach 1st in the division (a spot they no longer occupy). So, it’s only fitting the current 1st place holder also had a pretty good bullpen and held off the Yankees bats for most of the game. It wasn’t until the top of the 16th the Yankees found their opportunity.

Ellsbury led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on Headley’s single, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ single to break the tie. Austin Romine’s single scored Headley, and Torreyes’ sacrifice bunt moved the runners up to scoring position before Gardner was intentionally walked. Gary Sanchez’s sacrifice fly scored Gregorius to ensure the extra insurance run for the Yankees’ eventual victory.

Final score: 4-1 Yankees, in 16 innings.

I know I wasn’t the only one that was glad this was an East Coast-based game (that started at 4pm EST), and not a West Coast night game (that started at 10pm EST). Been there, done that. Those aren’t fun nights, even when the Yankees do end up winning.

There was a bit of a weird play in the top of the 11th inning. So, Holliday worked a walk, and the Red Sox changed relievers. The new pitcher got Ellsbury to hit into a ground out of sorts. The fielder tagged 2nd as he threw back to the 1st baseman hoping for a double play. However, it wasn’t a good throw and bounced off Ellsbury’s leg as he tagged 1st base. To complicate things, Holliday decided to head back to 1st base for some weird reason, causing a bit of a clog-up and confusion as the 1st baseman tried to catch the errant throw (as it rolled past them all into foul territory beyond 1st) and figure out why Holliday came back to 1st. Holliday jumped up and ran to 2nd thinking he was safe there.

After nearly 10 minutes of replay, review, and manager arguments, it was ruled that Holliday was out at 2nd and Ellsbury safe at 1st, no interference (despite what the silly Red Sox-leaning broadcasters seemed bent on arguing) or anything beyond bad base-running by Holliday. And the Red Sox decided to play the rest of the game under protest. Seeing as nothing came of Ellsbury still being safe on base, I doubt the protest will amount to much. In fact, in the decades such an option was available, only one game has picked up and resumed after review (the infamous “Pine Tar Game” in 1983).

But here’s what I’m thinking: I think Holliday didn’t see the infielder tag 2nd, assumed it was a line drive, and headed back to 1st thinking he’d be doubled off the base. Or something to that extent. In other words, the call was right, and Holliday misread the scenario. It caused some confusion, but nothing came out of it. So in the end, does it matter? No, because they still had to play 5 more innings beyond this to figure out the winner of the game.

With a double-header scheduled for tomorrow, I imagine there’s going to be quite a few roster moves tomorrow. Especially as the only bullpen pitcher not used was Chad Green. I would think a lot of “fresh arms” will be pulled up from Scranton in lieu of the doubleheader, and I suppose the 26th player (allowed for doubleheader days) would be an extra bench player. But I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. So we’ll see how it all plays out, and pray for a couple of easy regular games.

Go Yankees!

Game 85: MIL vs. NYY — A new rookie walk-off champion leads offense

Last year, thanks mostly to the wonder that was/is Gary Sanchez, the world was talking about the “Baby Bombers”. The appellation was appropriate then, but it’s even more relevant this season. With the constant stream of young farm talent making their MLB debuts (or at least their Yankee debuts) this year, the chances for a new Baby Bomber to earn the designation continues to rise.

And today, another one earned the title. (And Didi Gregorius revealed a new emoji nickname! If you have Twitter and you’re not following him, click the follow button to get in on the fun.)

Anyway, one of the stars of last year’s Baby Bomber introduction and this year’s All-Star, Luis Severino got the start in the middle game of this weekend’s series against the Brewers. He threw 102 pitches in his 7 innings, gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out an impressive 10 batters. Actually, Severino’s weakest spot was his 1st inning, though all 3 of those outs were strikeouts. He gave up a double, hit-by-pitch (though not really, despite what they said on the replay, it totally didn’t hit him), and then a 3-run home run to get the Brewers on the board early.

They would also be the only runs the Brewers scored all day. Dellin Betances threw an 11-pitch flawless 8th inning, adding 2 more strikeouts. And Aroldis Chapman just slammed through the 9th with 3 consecutive strikeouts, topping out at (just) 102 mph today. So with those 15 total strikeouts from the Yankees pitching staff (including two 2017 All-Stars), the Yankees seemed to be back on track.

Of course, the offense continued to be a bit stymied by the Brewers’ pitching. Only getting 2 hits and a walk off the starter in the first 6 innings, the first hit breaking up his no-hitter, a single by rookie Clint Frazier. But then in the 7th, the Yankees found their opportunity. With 1 out, Chase Headley hit a ground-rule double and moved to 3rd on Ellsbury’s single. A bad pick-off attempt and error scored Headley, and then Ellsbury scored when Clint Frazier hit a really solid triple. This is Frazier’s second triple in as many days, and the Brewer’s starter was done for the day.

Two outs later, and the Yankees were still a run shy of the Brewers. So with Betances and Chapman proving to be the force the Yankees hired them to be, it was up to the offense to see if they could pull of a last-chance rally. With a new reliever hoping to close out the game for the Brewers, the Yankees pounced on his bad outing. In 4 pitches, he walked Gregorius. After a strikeout, in another 4 pitches, he walked Ellsbury. And then “Red Thunder” Clint Frazier stepped up to the plate. The second pitch of the at-bat was a 97 mph perfect fastball that Frazier sent into the left field seats for a walk-off 3-run home run, his first homer in Yankee Stadium and his first career walk-off.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Roster moves: Scranton Shuttle Alert! Before today’s game the Yankees recalled Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder, optioning Luis Cessa and Jordan Montgomery back to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Now, before you Montgomery fans (hello, Gumby Nation!) get all concerned, remember that his next start wouldn’t be until next Sunday (July 16) in Fenway. In the meantime, the Yankees’ bullpen has just been struggling lately. So, if they can play a little strategy to get through the weekend and maybe into next weekend after the All-Star Break, maybe they can right the ship in time for Montgomery to be recalled for his schedule start on that Sunday.

Today’s strong outing certainly helped! Fingers crossed for more of this. And more Baby Bombers!

Go Yankees!

Game 63: NYY vs. LAA — Not quite a good night in the City of Angels

Angels Stadium is often called “Yankee Stadium West” because there is a rather large contingent of Yankee fans in the LA area who come out in droves for Angels-Yankees games every year. And that’s apparent by how much blue and white fill the cherry red seats and that the games are sold out in the middle of the week.

But I’m thinking it felt a little less like a second (or third?) home for the Yankees after this series. Despite the strength the Yankees showed this week, even coming from behind, it seemed to fall short in the end in these last two games. Pretty much faulting the less-than-ideal pitching show from both teams in the last 48 hours.

It’s really no surprise that the Yankees broke through right in the top of the game. Gardner led-off with a single and moved to 3rd on Judge’s 1-out single. After Judge stole 2nd (and has just 1 less stolen base than Gardner this year), Matt Holliday’s sacrifice fly scored Gardner to get the Yankees on the board. Castro was then hit by a pitch to set-up a big breakthrough by Gary Sanchez, who hit a great 3-run home run into the left field seats.

Michael Pineda certainly had an off-night tonight. He threw 102 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 10 hits, a walk, and 5 runs overall, and striking out just 2 Angels batters. After the Yankees gave him a nice lead, Pineda struggled right from the start, giving up 3 singles to load the bases with 1 out. A sacrifice fly got the Angels on the board. It was only a sacrifice fly because of the amazing defensive skills of Aaron Hicks actually reached over the center field wall and caught it, robbing that batter of a grand slam that would’ve quickly tied up the game. But Pineda got out of the inning without further damage.

It didn’t last long. After a lead-off single in the 2nd, a 2-run home run edged the Angels closer to the Yankees’ lead. And in the 3rd, the lead-off single moved to 2nd and then 3rd on 2 ground outs. After a walk, Pineda threw a really messy wild pitch, which easily scored the runner from 3rd (the runner who is not fast at all, a veteran with a persistent injury and better known for some towering home runs) to tie up the game. Another single scored another run and put the Angels in the lead.

The Yankees came back to tie it all up again in the 6th. Sanchez led-off with a single and ended up at 2nd on a throwing error. After 1 out, Chase Headley hit a single which scored Sanchez, and then Headley got caught in a rundown between 1st and 2nd. The game was tied again, but it was only the 6th inning.

Pineda was able to fend off the Angels for the second half of his outing, but he handed over the game to recent call-up (see below) Ronald Herrera. Despite getting ahead in the 7th with 2 quick outs, Herrera gave up a walk and then a big 2-run home run to give the Angels back the lead. Herrera had trouble getting that 3rd out of the inning. The next batter was hit by a pitch and then stole 2nd, ending up at 3rd due to a throwing error (Sanchez having a bad defense day, but a great offense day). But then Herrera got the strikeout he needed to stop the Angels’ advance.

Like I said, neither pitching staff was really at their best tonight. The Angels’ starter only made it into the 4th inning due to a potential injury, and both teams gave up 26 collective hits and got just 9 total strikeouts.

Final score: 7-5 Angels, Angels win series 2-1

Injury news: after last night’s unexpected injury and exit, CC Sabathia was tested and examined for what caused the tightening of his hamstring. An MRI revealed a grade 2 hamstring strain, which makes a stint on the disabled list unavoidable. As of yet, the Yankees haven’t set a timetable or announced a rotation replacement (for Sunday’s start) or a corresponding roster move.

Roster moves: The Yankees have been busy moving people around. Chapman is working with the Tampa Yankees on his rehab assignment. After designating Tommy Layne for assignment, they ended up outrighting him to AAA Scranton (like I said, they still want him around). Before the game today, they optioned Ben Heller to AAA Scranton, recalling tonight’s newest addition to the bullpen Ronald Herrera from AA Trenton. And in completion of a trade made earlier (Johnny Barbato) with the Pirates, the Yankees picked up pitching prospect Matt Frawley.

And the final day of the MLB Draft was earlier today, and the Yankees filled out their draft choices with 19 pitchers, 4 outfielders, 5 infielders, and 2 catchers.

Pitchers: Shawn Semple, Harold Cortijo, Aaron McGarity, Garrett Whitlock, Ron Marinaccio, Bryan Blanton, Janson Junk, Colby Davis, Riley Thompson, Austin Crowson (L), Alex Mauricio, Shane Roberts, Tristan Beck, Jacob Stevens, Jordan Butler (L), Andrew Abbott (L), Tanner Burns, Brent Burgess, and Andrew Nardi (L)
Outfielders: Steven Sensley, Pat DeMarco, Jake Mangum, and Jimmy Herron
Infielders: Eric Wagaman (1B), Ricky Surum (SS), Chris Hess (2B), Alika Williams (SS), and Hayden Cantrelle (SS)
Catchers: Ryan Lidge and Steven Williams

Overall in the draft, the Yankees clearly sent a message as they sought 28 total pitchers, 5 outfielders, 5 infielders, and 2 catchers. In thinking back to these last few seasons, the biggest weakness is the pitching and the Yankees are clearly setting themselves up for a future of stronger pitching options. And prospective pitchers made good trade bait if the Yankees need to fill an offensive hole along the way. It was a good move for the organization.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 33: NYY vs. TOR — The “youth movement” continues

So, apparently, today is the day when everyone submits their prediction for the 2017 season. Like making lists as to where everyone will end up in the standing all the way up to picking the postseason awards (like Rookie of the Year and MVP) to a postseason bracket prediction. I’ve read seven today alone, and they couldn’t be any further apart. The only thing everyone seemed to agree on was that the Yankees weren’t going to do much this year. While I am cautiously optimistic about the Yankees chances in the postseason, I just got to wonder if these people have seen the Yankees play at all this Spring.

I mean, the Yankees are closing out the Spring on the very top of the standings, and I am aware that sometimes that’s not a great foundation for how the season will turn out. But to completely write them off seems rather dismal and unrealistic. Not that I expect much from the talking heads. With some very few exceptions, the Yankees tend to be the team every non-Yankee fan seems to love to beat up on or spew negative thoughts upon. They didn’t call Yankee Universe the “Evil Empire” for nothing, right?

Anyway, today, the Yankees traveled to Dunedin to play the Blue Jays, and it was Jordan Montgomery’s last chance to show off his stuff this Spring. And show off, he did. The young pitcher went 5 innings, giving up 6 hits and a walk, and striking out 4 Toronto batters. And his lone allowed run came in the 4th inning. A lead-off ground-rule double moved to 3rd on a single, and then scored on a 1-out single. But between his defense and some good pitching, he got out another threat, something he did nearly every inning.

Ben Heller sailed through the 6th and 7th with minimal threats, and Chasen Shreve’s 8th inning allowed only a single baserunner. After Shreve gave up a single in the 9th, Graham quickly shut things down in 2 batters, thanks to a snazzy double play to end the game.

The Yankees’ offense was limited by the Blue Jays’ pitching staff, but they got in enough to make a difference. In the 2nd, Starlin Castro hit a beautiful 1-out triple and then scored on Aaron Judge’s big single to start the scoring and give the Yankees the early lead.

And in the 5th, Hicks and Judge worked a walk and a single and then pulled off a double steal to put themselves in scoring position just to make things interesting for the new reliever. Romine’s single scored Hicks and put runners in the corners. After a pop-out, Brett Gardner singled and scored Judge, but then Gardner and Romine ended up in scoring position thanks to a throwing error. After Headley’s walk, the bases were loaded, but this opportunity to further their lead ended after a quick infield pop-up and strike out.

Honestly, the pitching staffs today were fairly even matched, getting nearly the same statistics for their overall day. So the difference was the minute opportunities taken at the most opportune times. And you know, scoring runs.

Final score: 3-1 Yankees

Roster moves and news: It looks like some decisions have been made as to who’s going to make the team this year. Infield hopeful Tyler Wade and catcher Kyle Higashioka were sent back to minor league camp before today’s game. Which means that the battle for infielder seems set on Ronald Torreyes making the team as Gregorius’ replacement, and the extra infielder is down to Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder.

And in an unexpected turn of events, the Battle of the Aarons might go to Aaron Hicks, who’s had a fantastic Spring. Girardi mentioned that he’s considering sending Aaron Judge to start the season in Scranton just so the young outfielder could play every day.

Finally, the Yankees still haven’t named a 4th or 5th starter. But they won’t do the latter until they need one on April 16 (thanks to a scheduled filled with off-days). This means they’ll be carrying 8 relievers until then. And recent conversations have indicated that Luis Severino would be a starter, but he might be doing so in Scranton to start the season. In other words, they like his stuff, but they want him to get more starts than he might get as part of the major league team.

All of this stuff makes me glad it’s not my job to make those decisions. All those people I hear chattering away in the stands about how they think Cashman (or usually Girardi) should play this guy or get rid of this other guy make me just shake my head. It’s easy to be an armchair coach or message board manager when no one’s job or career is really on the line. There’s also all sorts of contract details and specific reasons as to why every decision is made. Do I always agree with it? No. Do they always agree with it? No. But you learn from your bad decisions and your good, and you grow and make better decisions in the future.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: limited video availability today. Hope you enjoy the 2 I included. Just hold on until the season, and they’ll be many more to view.}

Spring Game 31: TB vs. NYY — A couple of home runs help a shaky start

It was another warm sunny day in Tampa as the Yankees took on the hometown boys, the Tampa Bay Rays. One week from today, these two teams will meet again at the Trop, just across Tampa Bay for the season opener (and the Rays’ home opener), officially kicking off the 2017 season.

And it was up to Bryan Mitchell to start today’s game. He got off to a bit of a shaky start though, fending off the Rays’ batters mostly until the 3rd inning. With 1 out, a batter was hit by a pitch and then stole 2nd. After another out (which moved the runner to 3rd), the next batter walked and then stole 2nd, moving both runners to scoring position. Another walk loaded up the bases, so that a single scored 2 runs for the Rays to get them on the board before Mitchell finally found that 3rd out, a line drive to Hicks in left field.

After putting runners in the corners with singles in the 4th, the Yankees went to Chapman to close things out. But after a nice strikeout, the next batter hit into what should’ve been a double play, but the ball was bobbled in transit, so the runner scored and 2 runners were safely on base. A ground out that could’ve been another double play but was bobbled a bit (by the same player), only made 1 out at 1st, moved the runners to scoring position. Chapman’s day was done, and in came Ben Heller who struck out the next batter.

Heller actually had a pretty dramatic day of his own. Despite loading up the bases in the 5th, he got out of it in the end. Shreve did better in the 6th and 7th innings, adding 2 strikeouts of his own. Despite a pretty good 2 outs, a single and RBI double added one more run for the Rays under Frieri. JR Graham, however, clearly had the cleanest inning, 3 consecutive ground outs to close out the game in the 9th inning.

The Yankees’ offense was able to support the shaky start and often dramatic innings of the pitching staff. They actually scored first in the 2nd. Carter walked, Judge singled, and Romine walked to load the bases. Then Ronald Torreyes hit a long ball out to center field to score Carter, but then the sharp arm of the center fielder gunned down Judge at 3rd for a double play.

In the 3rd, Kozma led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Ellsbury’s walk, and then scored on Aaron Hicks’ single. Ellsbury then scored on Greg Bird’s single. And 2 outs later, Hicks scored on Austin Romine’s single to give the Yankees a nice lead. And in the 4th, Tejada led-off with a walk and then scored as part of Aaron Hicks’ 2-out, 2-run home run. Ruben Tejada himself add to the score with a big lead-off solo home run in the 6th.

Final score: 7-4 Yankees

Player of the Game: I debated on this one a bit, and I was pretty much set on one player coming out of the game. But I thought about it and changed my mind, as I’m entitled to do. So, today, I’m going to give this honor to Ruben Tejada. Not only did he score 2 of the 7 runs today, but he also got that big home run in the 6th. And while he did make those 2 glaring bobble in the 4th, he really does play 2nd base really well and consistently. It would be silly to ignore all he’s contributed to the game this Spring with just that lone inning’s problems.

Roster moves: before today’s game, the Yankees released reliever Jonathon Niese, narrowing the candidates down for the bullpen. There is still quite the competition for many of those pitching spots on the 25-man roster. With 3 starters guaranteed (Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda), Green, Mitchell, Montgomery, Severino, and Warren are all looking to fill those last 2 spots. The remaining 7 spots on the pitching roster go to the set bullpen (Betances, Chapman, Clippard, and Layne) and whoever doesn’t make the starter and the remaining guys in camp (Frieri, Graham, Heller, Holder, and Shreve). I have my preferences, but they don’t ask me my opinion.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: no video today. Sorry! Another thing for which they don’t ask my opinion. Just imagine a hot, sunny day and some runs scored by both teams.}

Spring Game 21: NYY vs. TOR — Shaky start, catch-up and excel

Another lovely Spring day for baseball. Sunny, clear blue skies. A second day of cool weather, even a bit chilly in the shade. Rowdy Canadians in their Spring home stands, and quite the game on the field.

Luis Cessa got the start for the Yankees today in Dunedin (about 20 miles or 30 minutes west of Steinbrenner Field, across Tampa Bay) against the Blue Jays, and had quite the shaky start. In the 1st, after 2 quick outs, Cessa gave up a single and double to put runners in scoring position, something they did on another single. After a walk, another single scored a third run that inning to give the Blue Jays an early lead. In the 2nd, a nice 1-out triple scored on another single, so after a stolen base and strikeout, the Yankees decided Cessa needed to call it a day.

Ben Heller came on in relief for the Yankees, closing out the 2nd and keeping the Blue Jays from adding to their lead in the 3rd. Then, the ball went to Bryan Mitchell, who’s been having a pretty good Spring so far. Mitchell threw 3 innings and kept things pretty tight for the most part. In the 6 (his final inning), he gave up a lead-off walk that scored on a 1-out triple. But then the Yankees teamed up and got the out in the next play making the out at home in a beautiful, sharp fielder’s choice.

Okay, in the mean time, the Yankees played a bit of catch-up as the Blue Jays’ offense kept itself alive. In the 1st, Torreyes and Castro each singled and moved up to scoring position on a wild pitch, before Torreyes then scored on Chris Carter’s ground out to kick of the scoring today. Then in the 3rd, Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro hit a pair of solo home runs over the right field fence to close in on the Jays’ lead. It would be Rob Refsnyder’s 4th inning lead-off solo home run to tie things up at that point in the game.

Down a run going into the 7th, Clint Frazier took care of that with a monster lead-off solo home run. In the 8th, McKinney kicked things off with a walk, moved to 3rd on Castillo’s single, and then scored on Ji-Man Choi’s ground out to give the Yankees the lead. Castillo then scored on Mason Williams’ single.

But it would be the 9th inning that the Yankees came into full force. Solano led things off with a single, moved to 2nd on a ground out, ended at 3rd on Wade’s single, and then scored on a fielding error Billy McKinney hit into. Then a walk loaded up the bases. Choi’s single scored Wade, and Williams’ sacrifice fly scored McKinney. After Tejada’s hit-by-pitch loaded the bases again, Frazier’s single capped off the scoring as Castillo crossed the plate. A new pitcher for the Blue Jays left the bases loaded, but it was enough to keep the Yankees’ lead hefty and secure.

Yankees fans seemed to anticipate watching the young prospect James Kaprielian, but he’s been limited this Spring until today’s game. He threw a near-flawless 2 innings, including 3 stellar strikeouts. And JR Graham was just outstanding in his 9th inning, with all 3 of his outs being great strikeouts.

We should note that the Yankees’ pitchers certainly had their issues today, giving up 8 hits and 4 walks, but their 15 strikeouts was just a phenomenal statistic to celebrate today. In contrast, the Yankees’ batters hit 14 hits and worked 4 walks off 9 Toronto pitchers. Though, to give them credit, they still got the Yankees to swing at 10 strikeouts today.

Final score: 11-5 Yankees

Some roster moves today after some outstanding contributions from some key players. After the game, the Yankees optioned outfielder Mason Williams to AAA Scranton and reassigned him to minor league camp. And James Kaprielian was reassigned to minor league camp. The Yankees also signed reliever Ernesto Frieri to a minor league contract and an invitation to Spring Training. His last MLB appearance was with the Rays in 2015, but he seemed to catch scouts’ interest during his stint with the Colombian team in this year’s World Baseball Classic.

And speaking of the World Baseball Classic, last night, in one of those great games, the teams representing Venezuela and USA faced off and made it a close game. After a surprising 3-run 8th inning, Team USA came out on top 4-2. Tonight, Venezuela will battle the team from the Dominican Republic at 10 pm EST.

I don’t know why, but this WBC is really one of the more exciting, edge-of-your-seat tournament. Not that I’m complaining. Actually, I’d love to see more of that kind of game. If you want to “fix baseball” (though I’m not sure why you would or how that’s even possible), this is how. It’s why people love real rivalry game and those walk-off moments. A close game is almost always better than a blowout or rout. That nail-biting nervousness and adrenaline rush right up to the very end… those are the stuff of dreams and legends.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: No cameras or video links today, unfortunately. Not that there’s much to say about the stadium in Dunedin, but the play today, especially in the latter half of the game, was pretty good. I guess you’ll have to use your imagination. Or, you know, plan to see a game in the future.}