All the latest updates, farewells, outreaches, and honors… it’s been a busy 5 weeks!

Between the Cubs’ victory parade, postseason awards, Thanksgiving, Winter Meetings, and now the approaching week filled with Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year, the Yankees have been everything but quiet and stagnant. Some years, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s job seems to just sit back and watch other teams do the postseason dance that is somewhere between an elegant waltz and a fire-sale at times. But not this year.

Cashman has been busy, even making some pretty big moves. First, in the middle of last month, he traded catcher Brian McCann (and cash considerations) to the Astros for a pair of young pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. Sorry, McCann fans, but McCann wasn’t exactly ready to be a once-a-week player with Gary Sanchez taking a much larger (and well-deserved role). This was a good move for everybody.

Earlier this week, as part of the Winter Meetings (hosted at the beautiful Gaylord Resort, just south of D.C.), Cashman also made a play for two big players. First, he signed Matt Holliday, a veteran outfielder who is slated to primarily fill the position previously occupied by Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran (outfielder/designated hitter). Holliday, a 7-time All-Star, began his career with the Rockies, spending 5 seasons there and making a name for himself, before finding a nice home with the Cardinals for the last 7 1/2 seasons, being a crucial part of their 2011 World Series championship. Holliday seems very excited to be playing in New York, which isn’t really surprising as he wore #7 in St. Louis for Mickey Mantle. You know, David Ortiz said once last season that there are two kinds of players — those who were born to play with the Yankees and those born to play against them (Ortiz being the latter).

Another big pick-up was the deal made when the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year, $86 million deal. Yes, Chapman fans, two of the Warriors Three will be back in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. This time, with Chapman’s shiny World Series ring glaring and pushing the Yankees to give him another one. A physical exam is still pending the finality of this contract, but things look good for the closer to return to Yankee pinstripes for the next five seasons.

Cashman’s focus was clearly on building up the bullpen as most of the roster moves these last 5 weeks. So try to keep up: Branden Pinder was originally designated for assignment early in November, but then was outrighted to AAA Scranton, so we’ll be seeing Pinder again; Joe Mantiply (after being claimed off waivers from the Tigers), Nick Rumbelow, and Nathan Eovaldi were designated for assignment and then released all three of them just before Thanksgiving; James Pazos was traded to the Mariners for reliever Zack Littell; Dustin Ackley was released; Jacob Lindgren elected free agency; and the Yankees then filled a bunch of holes on their roster with minor leaguers Jorge Mateo and Yefrey Ramirez (from the Single-A Tampa Yankees), Ronald Herrera and Miguel Andujar (from AA Trenton),  and Dietrich Enns and Giovanny Gallegos (from AAA Scranton).

But it didn’t stop there. In coordination with the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees moved some minor leaguers around and said some goodbyes. The Brewers claimed reliever Caleb Smith, the Red catcher Luis Torrens, reliever Tyler Jones went to Arizona, and the Pirates got reliever Tyler Webb. The Yankees themselves picked up a few minor leaguers, catcher Jorge Saez (Blue Jays) and reliever Colten Brewer (Pirates).

All the postseason awards have been doled out, and the Yankees got… two. And nothing went to our Rookie of the Year, Gary Sanchez. No, the big Yankee winner this postseason was Brett Gardner, who took home both the Gold Glove and Defensive Player of the Year for doing the outstanding job we’re used to seeing out there in left field.

However, there are a few alumni honors come next month. BBWAA vote for the Class of 2017, with any new inductees to be announced next month. Several former Yankees grace the ballot this year, none more so than Jorge Posada (the first of the Core Four to reach such an honor). However, the chances everyone seems to hold for Posada (and the few other Yankees alums) seem rather slim, especially as the voters seem to be rather stringent in their voting, less nostalgic as your average baseball fan and more strategic in their selection parameters.

Also selected for Hall of Fame honors this year are current Braves’ president John Schuerholz and former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, both elected by the Today’s Game Committee. Other familiar faces on this ballot, who failed to make the cut this year, include former manager and player Lou Pinella, former players Albert Belle, Orel Hershiser, and Mark McGwire, and former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Debates as to which of these deserve to be in Cooperstown rage on.

Two other awards honored journalists for outstanding writing and broadcasting — the late Bill King, known for his coverage of San Francisco sports, distinctive facial hair, and his catchphrase “Holy Toledo!”, and veteran journalist Claire Smith, who became the first woman to receive the honor. Neither will be officially in the Hall of Fame, but will be part of a permanent exhibit to honor such journalist excellence and contribution to the game. I mean, without them, our knowledge of the game would not be what it is today, even with direct information like social media. It would certainly make my job a lot harder!

And speaking of Yankee alumni, the Yankees announced that they will be officially retiring the number 2 in honor of Derek Jeter on before the game on Sunday, May 14. Rather fitting really, with the extensive knowledge of how close Jeter is with his family, Jeter’s long-sacred number will become the 22nd one the Yankees send to Monument Park, and with that move, all the single digits (save a zero) are officially removed from jersey circulation. Single game tickets are not directly available yet (though they feature prominently on the secondary online marketplaces), though season tickets and multi-game ticket packages are available.

This week, in Tampa, the Yankees foundation hosted their holiday celebration, led by Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal with special guests Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, and Nick & Joanna Swisher. Hundreds of local children were treated to the Yankees 28th Annual Holiday Concert, complete with gifts and carol singing, in preparation for the holidays. The Yankees also hosted other local community outreaches in New York for the holidays including a Thanksgiving food drive and giving back to the children and families of the Bronx with a great goodie bag full of both basic necessities and special gifts.

Looking ahead, many players have already committed to playing for various teams around the world in the World Baseball Classic this March. The Yankees only current representative is Dellin Betances, who agreed to play for the reigning champions, the Dominican Republic, alongside former teammate Cano. Other former Yankees who will play in the WBC include Martin for Canada and Beltran for Puerto Rico. Betances, who was also recently married, will be an outstanding contribution to any team. Also, a big congratulations to Dellin and Janisa Betances!

As far as everything else, there’s still 63 days until Pitchers and Catchers report for Spring Training. So there’s a lot of time left for the Yankees to do something else, despite reports that they’re pretty much done with big moves this off-season. That statement, however, doesn’t preclude any minor “tweaking”, and you must know by now they love their “tweaking”. Enjoy your holiday season!

Go Yankees!

Game 162: BAL vs. NYY — Thank you, Tex!

Today was fan appreciation day at the stadium. This meant the Yankees spent their time thanking all their loyal fan base this season, even upgrading some of their upper level fans to Legends Suite seats (the cushy ones right behind home plate). And those same Yankee faithful were on hand to say goodbye to Mark Teixeira as he played his final game in pinstripes. (More below.)

Luis Cessa got the start for the final game against the Orioles and this final game of the season. Cessa did a pretty good job to start off, but things got a bit tricky for the tenacious team trying to secure themselves a Wild Card spot. Cessa threw just 77 pitches just shy of 6 full innings, gave up 5 hits, no walks, and 4 runs, striking out 6 Baltimore batters.

In the 3rd, the O’s lead-off batter hit a ground-rule double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on a sacrifice fly to get the Orioles on the board. In the 4th, with 2 outs and a runner on 1st with a single, a big 2-run home run eased the Orioles further in the lead. Then with 2 outs and a runner on base with a single in the 6th, the Yankees went to their bullpen.

Tommy Layne came on, but promptly gave up a 2-run home run — one run charged to him, one to Cessa before closing out the 6th inning with a strike out. Blake Parker allowed 2 baserunners in the 7th, but began the shutdown of the O’s. Adam Warren breezed through the Baltimore batters in a 12-pitch 8th inning, and Richard Bleier took it up a notch with a 9-pitch 9th inning.

The Yankees weren’t exactly quiet against the Orioles’ pitching tonight, working 10 total hits, but they didn’t cobble much together as far as runs to dent the Orioles’ lead enough. Brian McCann hit his 20th home run of the season, his 9th consecutive year to hit at least 20 home runs. This is also a huge milestone for McCann as he is now the 4th catcher in MLB history to hit at least 20 homers in 10 different seasons, just behind Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza (each with 11), and tying Yogi Berra. (Worth noting: all three of these catchers are in the Hall of Fame.)

The Yankees got their second shot at runs in the 8th inning. With 1 out, Gary Sanchez singled. The Orioles finally went to their bullpen then (though to be fair, their starter today did a pretty good job of heading off the Yankee offense for most of the game). Sanchez moved to 2nd on McCann’s single and then raced for home on Didi Gregorius’ 2-out single. It’s rather fitting the final run of the season was scored by the player who certainly helped infuse enough into the roster to keep playoff hopes alive for the last 2 months of the season for the Yankees.

Final score: 5-2 Orioles, Orioles win series 2-1.

The Yankees finish the season with a final total of 84 wins and 78 losses, with an average of .514. To be perfectly fair, they are behind the Wild Card teams by just 2 games. Remember, even in Spring Training, all the “talking heads” were saying this year’s team wasn’t even going to be close. (More on the postseason below).

I think much of Yankee Universe watched this game with a touch of melacholy. And not because of the loss, for the most part. No, the Yankees said farewell to Mark Teixeira in a lovely pre-game ceremony. After a video of his career highlights, Teixeira took the field to doff his cap to the cheering fans. He was joined by his wife Leigh (escorted by Girardi) and their three children.

The executive director of non-profit community outreach Harlem RBI presented Teixeira with a special thank you card signed by hundreds of the program’s participants. Teixeira has helped raise more than $10 million for the program over his career and become a prominent figure in raising awareness and investing his time and energy in helping kids have access to community athletic programs.

The Yankees, via the Steinbrenners, presented Teixeira with a framed #25 jersey, honoring his final game. 2009 Championship teammates Gardner and Sabathia presented him with a special 1st base, signed by his 2016 teammates. Teixeira will certainly be missed on the field and in the clubhouse, but I don’t expect him to stay away from baseball for too long. Like so many of them, it’s rather difficult to just erase a part of you that’s been so prominent for the last 30+ years.

Yankee fans, however, were a little reluctant to say goodbye, but also incredibly appreciative of Teixeira during the game. On his first at-bat today in the 2nd, the fans gave up a big standing ovation, and when he was pulled from the game in the 7th, they likewise cheered for him for a final time. It was a little surreal to see Tyler Austin take his place rather symbolically then; though we’ll have to see come Spring Training how well Greg Bird is doing. It might be an interesting battle to win Teixeira’s now vacated position at 1st base.

Okay, we have a postseason. But I’m saving all that for tomorrow’s post. Just know the Yankees aren’t in it. Their off-season began at dinner time today. The AL Wild Card game is Tuesday, with the NL Wild Card on Wednesday to decide who’s playing all those lovely division series.

Go Yankees!

Game 159: BOS vs. NYY — A farewell, a sweep, an elimination

Before tonight’s game, the Yankees said farewell to a long-time rival who played his final game at Yankee Stadium tonight. For the first time in his 20 year career, Yankee Stadium gave David Ortiz a standing ovation as he, and his wife and children, were part of a special pre-game ceremony. The Yankees, represented by former Yankees pitcher David Cone and former Red Sox teammater Jacoby Ellsbury, presented Ortiz with a specially crafted leatherbound book that had memories retold by current and former Yankees. And to present a special painting of Ortiz at the stadium, Mariano Rivera surprised the power-hitter and helped unveil the gift.

Ortiz retires following this current season, but his memories and contributions to the recent rise of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry are part of history. Not that he contributed much to this particular series, with his 4 strikeouts, 2 walks, and no hits. But his season batting average can afford to take a hit, leaving the game with .316 average.

And they also had a game to play tonight. Only fitting, CC Sabathia got the start, his final start this season, and he did spectacular job. Into the 8th inning, Sabathia threw 105 pitches, gave up just 4 hits, 2 walks, and the lone Red Sox run, and struck out an impressive 8 batters. All this set him up for the inevitable win tonight.

His lone run came in the 4th inning as a 1-out solo home run. The next batter was Ortiz, who walked and when he was replaced with a pinch-runner, and Yankees Stadium gave him his final farewell, a really nice standing ovation.

Anyway, when Sabathia too exited to his own standing ovation, Tyler Clippard came on to close out the 8th inning for Sabathia, using just 7 pitches to breeze through the next 2 outs. And Richard Bleier closed things out quickly in his 12-pitch 9th inning.

Now, for being the AL division champions, the Red Sox certainly haven’t showed such a strength in their final series against the Yankees, especially in regards to their pitching staff. The Yankees paced their way through the game, poking holes in their pitching staff wherever and whenever they could. In the 1st, with 1 out, Ellsbury walked, stole 2nd on a strikeout, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s double to get the Yankees on the board.

With the game tied, the Yankees came back in the 5th with Hicks’ lead-off bunt single. Hicks later scored on Ellsbury’s 2-out double that also saw the end of the Red Sox’s starter’s evening. In the 6th, with 2 outs and the bases loaded, Tyler Austin worked a walk to score the lead runner, and a wild pitch scored the next runner for the extra insurance run.

In the 8th, with 1 out, Brian McCann worked a walk and then scored on Aaron Hicks’ double. Now why that is significant is because McCann, who is arguably one of the slowest guys on the active roster scored from 1st base on a double, like he was one of the faster runners on the team. Then, with another out and a wild pitch, 2 more walks loaded the bases, but the Red Sox wisely pulled that pitcher for another one and closed out the Yankees run-scoring machine this week.

Overall, the Yankees got 8 hits and 7 walks off Red Sox pitchers tonight. Comparatively, the Yankees pitchers only gave up 4 hits and 2 walks. Clearly, the Red Sox weren’t going to win this series. Not with the way they played these last 3 games.

Final score: 5-1 Yankees, Yankees sweep Red Sox 3-0.

However, while it’s great to celebrate their victory, the clubhouse was still rather quiet. The Yankees were officially eliminated from the postseason, despite their win and sweep tonight. It’s still a close race for both wild card races, but the Yankees aren’t in it anymore. The goal every single season is to win a World Series, so that not even making the postseason is heartbreaking.

Now, before you also take out your pitchforks to Girardi, please note that Girardi has actually led his team to a winning season every single season he’s been the Yankees manager. By winning, I mean that they are on the plus side of .500, or they have more wins than losses during the season. But you can’t blame him for how the game has shifted in the last few years. The legends of the 1990s and early 2000s are gone, or retiring this season, and it’s a very different playing field with younger, untested athletes as well as the changing culture of the game.

Remember, the Yankees were supposed to be holding up the bottom of the league or, at best, muddling through the middle by the beginning of September. And yet, it took them until 4 games before the end of the season to end their race for the postseason. While it’s just crushing not be in it, you can’t say it wasn’t a good run, nor can you say the Yankees just gave up.

My mom always loves to say that these guys “just don’t give up”. And she’s right. I don’t expect the next 3 games to be an easy series for the Orioles. Because that’s not who the Yankees are.

Go Yankees!

Game 158: BOS vs. NYY — A walk-off Grand Slam

Actually, for most of the game tonight, it was quite the pitchers’ duel. Bryan Mitchell got the start for the Yankees against the visiting Red Sox and ended up throwing a 2-hitter. Yes, the Yankees’ starter kept the AL East Division Champions (more later) to just 2 hits through the first 7 innings of this game. Well, he did give up 5 walks and just struck out 2 batters. But the lack of score is what made things rather interesting.

Not that the Yankees were hitting much off the Red Sox’s starter. In total, they got one hit and 2 walks off him in his 6 innings. The Yankees’ offense was also kept silent through the 7th and 8th innings under the Boston bullpen.

The Boston batters poked a hole in the pitchers’ duel in the 8th inning though. Adam Warren had a bit of trouble coming on in relief thanks in part to the lead-off batter reaching on a fielding error. A ground-rule double put runners in scoring position. Then with 1 out, Warren opted to intentionally walk a Boston favorite (and the fairly strong showing of Red Sox fans shared their displeasure). A double scored 2 runs to break the scoreless game before Warren again intentionally walked another power-hitter in the line-up. And that was it for Warren tonight.

Tommy Layne came on to close out the inning. A passed ball scored the runner from 3rd, who, though usually a slow runner, booked it home at the quickest he’d run all year. With another out recorded, Layne intentionally walked the next batter (the 3rd intentional walk of the inning) before getting that final out to get out of the inning.

In the 9th, the Yankees turned to Jonathan Holder for the first 2 outs and James Pazos to get the 3rd out before they turned things over to the Yankee offense for a last-minute rally. And boy, did they get one.

The Yankees certainly took advantage of the new reliever. Gardner led-off with a single and ended up at 2nd on defensive indifference. Ellsbury worked the first walk of the inning, and a wild pitch moved both outfielders into scoring position. Sanchez then worked a walk and was then pinch-run by Torreyes. Still with no outs this inning, Brian McCann earned the 3rd walk of the inning that walked in Gardner to get the Yankees on the board.

So the Red Sox, feeling the Yankees knocking on their lead, decided to pull their reliever who couldn’t seem to get an out tonight. The new reliever quickly got 2 outs, and Yankee fans were hoping against all hope as Mark Teixeira stepped into the batter’s box. A first pitch curveball on the outside edge of the strike zone. Then, the retiring veteran saw a pitch he liked — a 99 mph fastball — which he hit deep into the Yankees’ bullpen. That’s right, a walk-off grand slam home run!

Final score: 5-3 Yankees.

Okay, time for some Mark Teixeira and grand slam trivia… This was Teixeira’s 12th career grand slam, 205th career home run, and his 15th home run this season. Until tonight, Mark Teixeira held the record for most home run in his career without a walk-off home run, making tonight’s walk-off a major milestone for him.

Now, I did some research on walk-off grand slams, and apparently, they’re not as rare as you’d think. Between 1950 and 2015, they were more than 180 walk-off grand slams. Now, there are only 28 “super walk-off grand slams” or “ultimate walk-off grand slams”, where a team was losing by 3 runs and the grand slam’s 4 runs were the only thing needed. Unfortunately, the Yankees weren’t in that position thanks to McCann’s RBI walk.

This is the 4th Yankees walk-off grand slam with the team trailing, and it’s illustrious company — Alex Rodriguez (April 7, 2007), Jason Giambi (May 17, 2002), and Babe Ruth (September 24, 1925). Plus, Teixeira is the 1st Yankee to hit a walk-off grand slam against the Red Sox since Charlie Keller in 1942.

Now, that we’ve geeked out a bit on tonight’s Yankee good news. The Red Sox were also served their own good news tonight. Despite the loss, the Red Sox clinched the AL East division due to the Orioles beating the Blue Jays in their game. The Blue Jays were the last threat to the Red Sox lead, and thanks in part to the Yankees beating them in 3 games this weekend, the Red Sox eased into the lead and took the division title. Of course, the best comment of the night is wouldn’t it be weird to see both teams celebrating on the field — the Yankees for their grand slam win, the Red Sox for their division championship. But I’m glad they saved it for the visitor’s clubhouse.

Go Yankees!

Game 151: NYY vs. TB — 8 home runs & Gary Sanchez

Masahiro Tanaka had a somewhat bad night. And yet, he still ended up with the win. That was partly due to the Yankees’ surging offense again and partly due to the really sloppy pitching by the Rays. The host team certainly didn’t put up much of a fight (save a single inning), much to the chagrin of the small hometown fan base represented at the Trop tonight. As usual, a good portion of the Tampa Bay area crowd were Yankee fans.

Okay, weird stuff first. So, except for the 3rd inning, Masahiro Tanaka actually had a pretty good night — 70 pitches in those other 5 innings, 3 allowed hits, 2 allowed walks, and 4 strikeouts. So for 29 pitches in the 3rd, Tanaka did the unheard of — gave up 4 solo home runs to the Rays in a single inning. A first-pitch lead-off home run got the Rays on the board, before worked his way through a strikeout and a ground out. Then he gave up back-to-back-to-back home runs before getting out with a line drive out. Tanaka has never given up 4 home runs in a game ever, let alone in a single inning, and it set a club record for the Rays.

Weird trivia bit: Tanaka joins an odd little group of Yankee pitchers that allowed 4 homers in a single inning — Chase Wright (in 2007), Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (in 2005), Scott Sanderson (in 1992), and the great Catfish Hunter (in the infamous 1977 season).

Adam Warren tossed a scoreless 7th and came on for the 8th. After getting his only strikeout of his outing, Warren gave up a solo home run. So with the Rays cutting into the Yankees’ lead, the Yankees rotated through Layne and Clippard for the next two outs of the inning. Holder threw a beautiful scoreless 9th inning to keep things steady for the Yankees.

Let’s be honest: the Rays had just an awful night, helmed primarily by the pitching staff. Their starter struggled from the very beginning, throwing a 34-pitch 1st inning. Gardner led things off with a single and Ellsbury worked a walk. They each scored on singles by Gary Sanchez and Brian McCann. And there was still no outs yet. So they finally got a couple outs before Ronald Torreyes got in on the action with an RBI single to score Sanchez. Not a bad start for the Yankees.

And for some reason, the Rays’ starter came out for more torture in the 2nd inning. Solano and Gardner singled and moved into scoring position on a ground out. Then Gary Sanchez hit his 18th home run, a 3-run blast to shove the Yankees deeply into the lead. Once McCann and Teixeira were on base with hits, the Rays realized they weren’t going to get much out of their starter and went to the bullpen. Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly tagged on one more run for the inning, but that reliever was able to stop the bleeding through the 3rd inning as well.

The Rays brought in a long-term reliever, who allowed some hits, but really kept the Yankees from doing much with them until the 6th inning. With 2 outs, it was Gary Sanchez to hit his 19th career home run to add to the Yankees lead. (More on this below.) Yes, that’s insane, and the small crowd at the Trop (even the Rays fans) kind of went crazy. Who is this kid?

The Yankees didn’t do much in the 7th or 8th innings, thanks in part to a few of the Rays’ better relievers. But they certainly took the 9th inning reliever to task. Gregorius led-off that inning with a single, moved to 2nd on a ground out, and then scored on Mason Williams’ single. Donovan Solano hit his first home run this season, scoring Williams and just solidifying the Yankees dominance in this game.

Final score: 11-5 Yankees.

The last time the Yankees allowed 5 or more home runs and still won the game by 5 or more runs was May 22, 1930, with a final score of 20-13 over the Philadelphia Athletics (the second game of a doubleheader, too).

So, tonight, the Yankees scored 11 runs off 17 hits tonight. That is some bad pitching, augmented by some sloppy defense. And this is a shame for several reasons. First, the power-hitting section of the Rays’ line-up has a ridiculous number of home runs this season (138 for their top 6 hitters, an average of 23 for those 6). They even added to their totals tonight in that 3rd inning, and actually all their runs tonight were oddly off solo home runs. Second, they really should be better overall. It’s why you can’t rely solely on statistics and “on-paper”. The intangibles mean and affect everything.

Okay, let’s talk about Gary Sanchez once again. So, Sanchez is the fastest player in all of MLB recorded history to hit his first 19 home runs (in just 45 games), which beats the Boston Braves’ Wally Berger, who hit his 19 home runs in 51 games in 1930. Sanchez also is beating Ruth’s 1927 record in per at-bat rate — Ruth’s record was 1 homer in every 9 at-bats, Sanchez currently sits at 1 in every 8.7 at-bats.

For your amusement:

Comparisons have been made to everyone from Ruth to Mantle to Bench. Personally, I think he’s just carving out who Gary Sanchez is. He’s even started a trending hashtag (#IAmGary or #ElGary). And being 23 years old and just starting out in his career, I’d say he’s right on track to find out who Gary Sanchez is and who he will be.

Go Yankees!

Game 139: TB vs. NYY — Walk-off wonder

A long weekend began a day early with the Rays coming into town, and the Yankee looking to gain some ground on that Wild Card race just out of their reach, for now. And tonight’s game was a bit of a back-and-forth event with some rather impressive show of power. Honestly, on both sides.

CC Sabathia got the start, and while definitely not his worst outing, he still got roughed up a bit in his abbreviated start. Sabathia threw 87 pitches into the 5th inning, gave up 7 hits, no walks, and 3 runs, striking out just 4 Tampa Bay batters. All of those allowed runs were solo home runs, by the way — a 1-out solo shot in the 1st, a lead-off homer in the 2nd, and a lead-off one in the 3rd (by the same guy who started the Rays’ runs in the 1st inning).

In the mean time, the Yankees certainly let into the Rays’ starter. In the 1st, Gardner and Ellsbury started things off with singled and ended up in scoring position on Sanchez’s ground out. Didi Gregorius’ single scored Gardner, moving Ellsbury to 3rd where he was able to score on a really messy pick-off error to give the Yankees the lead. The pick-off hit Gregorius on the back and rolled away; Gregorius was a little bruised up, but stayed in the game.

After the Rays tied things up in the 2nd, Brian McCann led-off the 2nd with a monster solo shot to the right field suite level (that’s the level above the 2nd deck) to give the Yankees back their edge. McCann came back in the 4th with a beautiful 1-out solo home run to regain the Yankee lead.

Jonathan Holder came on to get out of Sabathia’s jam in the 5th and was sailing along just fine until a 2-out solo home run in the 6th tied up the game again. But Holder got through that inning without further damage. Shreve started the 7th inning for an out before handing things off to Blake Parker who pitched through the 7th and 8th innings, keeping the Rays from retaking the lead. Yates threw a quick 8 pitches to start the 9th inning before Tommy Layne’s 5-pitch strikeout closed things out and handed the game back to the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th.

McCann led-off the inning, but he wasn’t going to make it a 3-homer night, instead flying out on the 2nd pitch. Headley too got out on the 2nd pitch of the at-bat. The Rays went to their bullpen again to face the red-hot Tyler Austin. Both guys put up their best. The reliever throwing 6 pitches to get up to a full count. Austin waiting on what he called “the pitch to hit”. And there it was — a 92 mph fast ball. Swing, hit, going deep, gone. Tyler Austin — walk-off home run.

Final score: 5-4 Yankees.

Walk-off home runs are some of the best ways to end games. And it’s their 5th win in a row. This certainly helps the Yankees in the Wild Card race putting them within just a few games.

And tonight’s game wasn’t without some weird quirky events. Like when Holder’s belt broke in the 6th and needed to be replaced right there on the mound. A reporter tweeted an interesting observation of the moment:

Another weird event was the reversal of a balk call. So, here’s what happened: Holder (again) was communicating with his catcher McCann in the 5th inning, but they couldn’t get on the same page. And in the middle of their signaling each other, the home plate umpire called a “balk”, which would have walked in the runner from 3rd. That’s not a good call for the Yankees.

But McCann jumped up and tried to explain to the umpire that it wasn’t a balk, but how Holder prepares and pitches and communicates to . Holder is still relatively new to the league, so his style isn’t as known by the powers that be. Upon request from Girardi, the umpires huddled, and everyone thought there’s no way they were going to reverse the call. Those calls are never reversed. But then this one was.

Okay. Call it favor. Call it justice. Call it whatever you want. But it worked for the Yankees.

Go Yankees!

Game 138: TOR vs. NYY — Sweep Dreams & #VoteGardy

It was t-shirt day at Yankee Stadium. The first 10,00 guests through the turnstiles got an old-school t-shirt in partnership with the sponsor. The Yankees, like every stadium, do these promos constantly through the year — like hats, pins, calendars, bobble heads, replica championship rings, and a plethora of other things I’ve collected over the years. But they also like to mix it up a bit. On Alex Rodriguez Bat Day, guess who was handing out bats to kids at one of the gates. And today, a couple of younger Yankees helped scan tickets and hand out t-shirts to fans as they came through the door.

And then the Yankees went into tonight’s game looking for the much-needed win, to sweep the Blue Jays back to Toronto. And they called on Bryan Mitchell to make a spot start, after being called up just yesterday to fill in an empty roster spot. Mitchell actually did a great job for a spot start, reminding me of how well he did during Spring Training before his broken toe incident. He threw 80 pitches through his 5 innings, gave up 4 hits and 2 walks, striking out 2 Toronto batters, and keeping them completely scoreless.

After Mitchell gave up a double in the 6th on his 80th pitch, the Yankees thought he might have had enough so opted to go to the bullpen. Yankee Stadium greeted him with a rather warm ovation as he made his way back to the dugout.

Luis Severino came on in relief before powering his way through 3 innings, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out 3 batters. Currently, Severino has faced 51 batters in relief and only given up 2 hits and no earned runs, and he’s struck out 16 batters. Basically, I think we can say Severino’s found a nice home as a long-term reliever.

Tyler Clippard came on in the 9th and just breezed through the Blue Jays’ line-up in 11 pitches, adding 2 more strikeouts, and earning his 2nd save this season for the Yankees. They knew before the game tonight that Clippard would be the one called up should the situation arise for a save, as Betances was unavailable due to his exhausting (and somewhat disappointing) outing last night.

The Yankees managed to get 9 hits and 2 walks off the Blue Jays batters, and still managed to strike out 12 times. The only time those things added up to runs was in the 3rd inning. With 2 outs, Starlin Castro hit his 20th home run of the year, a solo shot out to the left field seats. Then Gregorius doubled and Teixeira worked a walk to get on base. Brian McCann’s single scored Gregorius, but one of those pesky strikeouts ended the inning for the Yankees.

Actually, the most impressive non-Yankee stat of the night was that the Blue Jays’ pitcher in the 8th inning threw just 6 pitches and still managed to give up a hit without allowing any runs. It was weird actually. If you were late coming back from the inning break, you might have thought the inning break was a bit too long and wonder what happened to the bottom of the 8th inning. It was a “blink and you miss it” kind of inning. They’re certainly not common in baseball, despite what MLB HQ is trying to do to “speed up the game”.

Final score: 2-0 Yankees, Yankees sweep the Blue Jays 3-0.

Yes, you read that right. The Yankees officially sweep the Blue Jays. The race for the Wild Card is alive and well, but then so is the AL East. So here’s some updated standings for you to chew on: the AL East is a battle for the top 4 teams — depending on what happens in San Diego tonight, Boston and Toronto will either be tied (if Boston loses) or a game apart (Boston ahead if they win), then Baltimore a game back, and then the Yankees just one game beyond that.

And in the Wild Card, (again waiting on the results from San Diego), the Boston-Toronto toss up at the top, then Baltimore by a game, then Detroit and Houston back each a game, and the Yankees are literally a half-game behind Houston. The Yankees are very much in this race, though the prediction calculate gave them just a 5% rating yesterday.

And here’s some fun math for you: the game numbers to elimination are really tight — 22 for the Wild Card, and 21 for the AL East. Basically, of the next 24 games to play, the results of the next 21/22 games will decide on whether they go to October baseball. Now, they won’t talk about those “magic numbers” for another couple of weeks, but there are already teams eliminated from both their division and the Wild Card race, and a good portion will join them in less than 10 games. This home stand is crucial.

Roster move: As predicted, the Yankees moved Chad Green to the 15-day DL due to his elbow tendon injury. It is, of course, retroactive to September 3, the day the injury occurred.

Also, beginning today, show your support for the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award by using your social media adding #VoteGardy. The Roberto Clemente Award is named after the late humanitarian and great ball player Roberto Clemente who literally gave his life while giving back. The Award is given to the player who best embraces this concept on and off the field, and the Yankees selected Brett Gardner for this year’s candidacy. A well-deserved honor.

So #VoteGardy!

Go Yankees!