Game 119: NYY vs. NYM — #SubwaySeries victory tour continues in Queens

The Subway Series continued in Queens, before yet another sold-out crowd, their 5th one in 6 games (and the 6th one came within a few hundred seats of being another sell-out). And they decided to make things interesting before a New York hometown crowd.

Like the other newer starter yesterday, Jaime Garcia had a pretty good outing tonight. He threw 91 pitches into the 6th inning and gave up 5 hits, 3 walks, and 3 runs, striking out just 3 Mets batters. In the 1st, a lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a sacrifice fly to give the Mets a small early lead. Garcia held off the Mets for a time, later giving up a 2-out solo home run in the 5th. And in the 6th, with 2 runners on and just 1 out, Garcia’s night came to a close (with both those runners on his account).

Tommy Kahnle unfortunately promptly gave up a sacrifice fly that scored the lead runner (charged to Garcia), but then closed out the inning with a fly out, handing the game to Adam Warren. Warren sailed through 2 innings, adding 3 strikeouts of his own, in a rather strong showing for the now veteran bullpen staple. David Robertson’s 9th inning was everything we expect from tonight’s closer (see below), sewing up the game with 2 more strikeouts and his 14th save on the season.

Meanwhile, the Yankees played a bit of “tag” with the Mets for a good portion of the game. After the Mets scored in the 1st, the Yankees tied up the game in the 2nd when Chase Headley worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, then to 3rd on a passed ball, and scored on Garrett Cooper’s ground out. Aaron Judge’s monster home run (all 457 feet into the upper deck in left field) led-off the 4th to put the Yankees in the lead.

Then the Mets caught up with the Yankees and tied up the game, so the Yankees forged ahead in the 6th, loading up the bases with a single and 2 walks. After the Mets’ starter left the game, Headley’s sacrifice fly scored lead-runner Judge to put the Yankees back on top.

When the game got tied up again in the bottom of the 6th, the Yankees weren’t about to just sit on their laurels. So in the 7th, Torreyes led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt, and then watched as the bases were loaded with Ellsbury and Hicks’ walks. After 1 out, Didi Gregorius hit a solid double into the corner of right field that scored 2 runs to give the Yankees the lead their strong bullpen wasn’t about to surrender.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Aroldis Chapman was unavailable to pitch today due to some tightness he felt in his hamstring during yesterday’s game. He’s hoping to avoid the disabled list, and the Yankees still consider him their primary closer. But with the likes of Betances and Robertson (who closed out the game tonight), the Yankees are not hurting for back-end of their bullpen.

In fact, their bullpen might be one of the strongest points of this season. Even when other parts weren’t clicking (like starting pitching or a lagging offense), the bullpen was able to often save the game from getting out of hand. I would even wager to say that the bullpen may be the primary reason the Yankees are still in contention for the postseason. Of course, it’s one of the few parts of the team that rarely gets a lot of attention, but those relievers are something else to watch, a crucial part of the team’s success story.

It’s so easy to overlook the players who don’t make the big splashy plays. Isn’t it like life though? It’s the little things, the under-the-radar moments, the ones that won’t make the headlines that matter the most. The so-called “small stuff” matters because it’s in that “small stuff” that we find consistency of character, the foundation for how to handle life’s “big stuff”, the moments that catch all the glory (or shame, as the case may be).

And in a team like the Yankees, we see things like persistence and perseverance and possibilities in the small stuff — the consistency of the middle relievers like Warren or Green, the strong but quiet defense of guys like Torreyes or Romine, or the flexibility and rally of Headley. So it’s no wonder the same stuff is then reflect in the big stuff — like a Judge or Sanchez homer, Gardner’s highlight reel outfield plays, or Chapman’s 103mph fastball.

Go Yankees!

Game 117: NYM vs. NYY — #SubwaySeries starts strong

Rivalry week continues as the Yankees and Mets play their now annual 4-game split between the Bronx and Queens. We began tonight in the Bronx with a strong showing by the Yankees.

Recently recalled Luis Cessa got the start tonight and threw a pretty good outing. He threw just 66 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up 5 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and striking out 5 Mets’ batters. Those two runs came as solo home runs in the 3rd inning. And that would be it for the Mets tonight. However, Cessa had some physical issues that caused him to be pulled from the game early.

Fortunately, the bullpen was strong and ready to go. Chad Green closed out the 5th solidly and remained dominant through the 6th and 7th innings. David Robertson continued that momentum in the 8th, getting all 3 outs with stellar strikeouts. And Dellin Betances’ 9th inning closed out the game well and earned the save tonight.

The Yankees faced a bit of resistance from the Mets’ starter for much of his 6 innings. So they played a little small ball in the 4th. They loaded up the bases with a single and 2 walks and lead runner Hicks scored on Gary Sanchez’s sacrifice fly to get the Yankees on the board. And then Aaron Judge led-off the 6th with a big solo home run into the right field seats, his 36th of the season, to tie up the game.

Once the Yankees dipped into the Mets’ bullpen, they found another opening in the 8th. Aaron Hicks led-off with a solo home run to score the winning run. After 2 outs and 2 pitching changes, Gary Sanchez joined in on the fun with a solo home run of his own for that insurance run.

Final score: 4-2 Yankees

Roster moves/Scranton Shuttle: before the game, the Yankees optioned reliever Caleb Smith back to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled tonight’s starter Luis Cessa.

Injury news: Luis Cessa felt a weird tightening in the 5th inning, coming up from a pitch with a new twinge in his back. He is scheduled to have a precautionary MRI tomorrow on his right rhomboid muscle (the upper back area). However, it doesn’t seem to be so serious, so after some rest and treatment, he could be ready for his next scheduled start on Saturday in Fenway.

Now, this wasn’t a bad way to start the “Subway Series”. The Yankees will wrap up the first half tomorrow night before the teams shift over for the final 2 games to CitiField in Queens, about 10 miles east of Yankee Stadium (or about an hour train ride or 30 minute Uber).

Before the game, journalist and 2017 Hall of Fame award winner Claire Smith was honored and threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Smith was the first female MLB beat writer covering the Yankees from 1983 to 1987 for a Connecticut paper. She later worked for major papers like The New York Times and is currently a news editor for ESPN. She was recently the 2017 winner of the JG Taylor Spink Award, an award given at the Hall of Fame ceremony every year to celebrate “meritorious contributions to baseball writing”. She is the first woman and fourth African-American to win the award and has her own section in Cooperstown.

From one female writer to another, my sincerest congratulations!

Go Yankees!

Game 111: NYY vs. TOR — Falling short North of the Border

The Yankees are north of the border for their mid-week series against the Blue Jays. And with the season beginning to wind down, the Yankees are looking for every game to put them in line for the postseason. Unfortunately, the last place in the AL East Blue Jays aren’t willing to go down easily.

CC Sabathia go the start and, thanks to a single batter who seemed to have his number, he threw a less-than-stellar outing. He threw 57 pitches in just 3 innings, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and 4 runs, striking out just 3 batters. In the 1st, Sabathia gave up a lead-off double, who moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt and then scored as part of a big 2-run home run to get Toronto on the board early. And a lead-off single in the 3rd scored as part of another 2-run home run (by the same player in the 1st inning) to double the Blue Jays’ score.

From there, the Yankees called on Bryan Mitchell for long-term relief, and he promptly threw a beautiful scoreless 4 innings. Mitchell kept the Blue Jays to their early lead in anticipation of the Yankees’ offense to catch-up and take-over. David Robertson’s 8th inning continued that momentum, again lying in wait for the Yankees’ fabled offense.

Fabled would be the right word tonight, as it seemed quite a bit stilted against the Toronto’s pitching staff. They had just two minor opportunities to play some small ball. In the 2nd, Headley led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Gregorius’ single, ended up at 3rd on a double play, and then scored on Garrett Cooper’s single.

Then in the 8th, consecutive Yankees (Sanchez and Headley) were hit by pitches and Todd Frazier worked a 1-out walk to load up the bases. It would be Cooper again for the RBI, this time a sacrifice fly {NOTE: no media link, sorry} to double the Yankees’ score and halve the Blue Jays’ lead.

But the Yankees didn’t have a last-minute rally in them, so dropped this first game in Toronto.

Final score: 4-2 Blue Jays

The Advanced-A Tampa Yankees are hosting their version of HOPE Week this week, starting today and running through Saturday. On the schedule are many amazing Tampa area organizations: the Lighthouse Center for Creative Learning, a school for children with autism; A Kid’s Place of Tampa Bay, a foster or transitional home for displaced children; Trinity Cafe, a proper restaurant that specifically serves the area’s homeless and hungry; the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation; and Tampa Yankees’ players, staff, and fans will participate in the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s “Cut for a Cure”, a fundraiser where kids (who also are cancer survivors) shave participants’ heads.

And in sad news, former ball player and manager Don Baylor passed away yesterday after a long struggle with multiple myeloma, a nasty blood cancer. He was just 68 years old. Baylor had a 19-year professional career with the Orioles, Athletics, Angels, Red Sox, Twins, and Yankees (1983-1985), an All-Star who also won an MVP Award and a World Series. He went on to manage the Rockies and Cubs, winning 1995 NL Manager of the Year, before retiring from baseball entirely 15 years ago around the time of his diagnosis. He was close to many in the game, even being a groomsman in Yankee teammate Dave Winfield’s 1988 wedding. Our hearts go out to his family, including his wife Rebecca. He will be missed.

Go Yankees!

Game 109: NYY vs. CLE — “Cleveland’s a Plum”, at least tonight

Okay, my apologies to the city of Cleveland yesterday seemed to work. Of course, it could very well be the fact that the Yankees just played way better than they have the last two games at Progressive Field.

Competing for that fifth rotation spot, assumed odd man out Jordan Montgomery certainly worked very hard at trying to prove he deserved to at least remain in consideration for that spot. Montgomery threw just 65 pitches in his 5 innings, gave up 3 hits and just 1 run, striking out 7 Cleveland batters. That lone run was a 1-out solo home run in the 2nd inning.

But between Montgomery and the rest of the bullpen, the Yankees held the strong Indians’ lineup from doing much of anything else. David Robertson came on for 2 innings, the 6th and 7th, and kept that momentum strong. Dellin Betances had a flawless 8th inning, turning the game over to Aroldis Chapman, who earned his 14th save of the season.

Not that the Yankees’ offense was blowing the Indians’ pitching staff out of the water or anything. In the 1st inning, Gardner led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd on Judge’s 1-out single, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ (just-inches-shy-of-a-home-run) RBI double to get the Yankees on the board early.

Once the Indians tied the game up in the next inning, the battle was on for who would break the tie, and as the Indians’ pitching is certainly one of their strongest elements, it was quite the feat. It wouldn’t be until the 8th inning, and it would be Chase Headley to break the stalemate. Headley hit a nice 1-out solo home run into the right field seats.

Final score: 2-1 Yankees

Injury news: Matt Holliday was out of tonight’s lineup due to a sore back. Apparently, he tweaked it last night during one of his at-bats, and it didn’t get better with rest and treatment. So, it looks like he might be headed back to the DL again. He has been struggling since he came off the DL last time (due to a virus), so maybe this could be a reset as well as a time to rest and recover.

Okay, since you all enjoyed my nickname exploration (and if you didn’t, sorry), I decided to do more research. I found sites that list many other nicknames for Cleveland, some I believe, some I question. Again, to recap, the most common I’ve heard (and this is primarily from family that lives or lived in the area) are the “Mistake on the Lake”, “Rock & Roll Capital of the World”, and “Believeland”.

One nickname was attached to the city around the early days of statehood for Ohio — “Forest City” — due to its heavily forested areas. More recently, the city has tried to market itself for urbanites seeking gentrified city living as the “North Coast“. But my absolute favorite (and one that absolutely no one I know ever heard of) is “Plum City” — supposedly on a 1970s marketing campaign to attract tourists a la the “Big Apple”.

Small note here: I’m not sure why the fruit thing works for New York, but it falls terribly flat when literally any other city tries to use a local fruit and apply it as their nickname or slogan. Here’s a few clearly failed attempts — Big Orange (LA), Big Peach (Atlanta), Big Strawberry (Garden Grove, CA), Big Tomato (Sacramento), Big Guava (Tampa), and the Big Pineapple (Honolulu). Stop with the fruit, people! (I’m looking at you Atlanta and your decidedly weird peach obsession…)

Alright, pop culture reference alert: even my family would probably prefer to be more like Jack Donaghy of 30 Rock and refer to the city as “The Cleve”. For reference, the direct quote is regarding what he believes is the vacation wishes of every red-blooded American: “We’d all like to flee to the Cleve and club-hop down at the Flats and have lunch with Little Richard…” (And if you have no idea who Jack, 30 Rock, or why that’s a funny scene, you are due for a good binge-watching session; it’s on Netflix.)

Well, that’s all from “The Cleve” tonight. Fingers crossed to split the series tonight or “Plum City” might feel a little more like a prune.

Go Yankees!

Game 105: DET vs. NYY — Coming up short despite stellar defense

On this warm Tuesday afternoon, the first day of August, the Yankees were looking to continue this winning streak high they’ve been on for this home stand. But in the end, they came up a bit short, despite even some last-minute hope, against the visiting Tigers in this middle game of the midweek series.

CC Sabathia got the start tonight, and despite earning the loss, he actually had a decent outing. He threw 97 pitches in his 6 innings, gave up 6 hits, a walk, and 4 runs, and struck out just 3 Detroit batters. In the 2nd, Sabathia gave up a single and a double to put runners in scoring position. The next batter hit into a great play where the defense took out the lead runner with a fielder’s choice at 3rd. But a 3-run home run put the Tigers on the board early. A 2-out solo homer in the 3rd added an insurance run for them.

So, with Adam Warren throwing a beautiful 2 innings in relief for Sabathia, the Yankees’ pitching staff was just waiting for their offense to pick up the slack and give them some run support. Even David Robertson got into some trouble in the 9th, giving up 3 singles, but it would be the defense to come to the rescue and keep the Tigers from adding to their score.

The Yankees’ offense did pick up and the stats do show they were pretty evenly matched tonight. In the 4th, Sanchez led-off with a double and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board. The Tigers’ pitching kept the Yankees from adding their offense into runs-scored for most of the game. And in the 8th, Sanchez hit a 1-out single and ended up at 2nd on a fielding error. After a pitching change, Gregorius’ single scored Sanchez.

So, the Yankees looked at that last-minute bottom of the 9th inning for some hope. With 2 outs, Ellsbury worked a walk, and then the Tigers opted to intentionally walk Gardner. After a pick-off error and stolen base, the speedy outfielders were in scoring position. The air thick with tension. But then an infield pop up ended that potential rally and the game.

Final score: 4-3 Tigers

The Yankees wrap up their series against the Tigers and their home stand tomorrow afternoon. They are off to Cleveland to face the Indians for a 4-game weekend series. It will be there that the Yankees will see the club debut of newly acquired starters Sonny Gray (on Thursday) and Jaime Garcia (on Friday). Both starters are excited about joining the Yankees, both saying it’s a dream come true. Garcia even admitted that his family’s favorite team has always been the Yankees, as his late grandfather was a huge long-time fan.

I once heard a former ball player say that there are guys meant to be Yankees and guys meant to play against them. Sure, some kids dream of playing against the Yankees, but we don’t hold it against them. We’ll find the ones that dream of being a Yankees and embrace them into Yankee Universe — like Gray and Garcia.

Go Yankees!

Game 102: TB vs. NYY — A Gardy Party, part 2

In the tooth drama and the weekend, one thing that seemed to get lost is the fact that Yankee Universe got to wake up this morning in 1st place in the AL East. Yes, readers, the Yankees are on top and holding.

So, the Yankees asked young starter Caleb Smith to start this third game of this 4-game weekend series against the visiting Rays. Smith threw 71 pitches into the 4th inning, giving up 3 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs, striking out 4 Rays batters. He gave up a lead-off solo homer to start the game and give the Rays an early lead. And in the 3rd, with 1 out, Smith loaded the bases with a couple of singles and a walk so that the lead runner scored on a sacrifice fly.

Adam Warren closed out the 4th and gave up a 2-out solo shot in the 5th to give the Rays the lead. And Betances and Kahnle kept the Rays scoreless through the 6th and 7th innings, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Yankees played a little catch-up. In the 2nd, Gary Sanchez led-off with a ground-rule double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly. Sanchez then added to the Yankees’ score with a lead-off solo home run in the 4th. And Matt Holliday led-off with a single in the 6th and ended up scoring as part of pinch-hitter Chase Headley’s 2-run home run to the left field seats to put the Yankees in the lead.

David Robertson came on to set-up the 8th inning for the Yankees’ win. But he gave up a lead-off solo home run to tie up the game for the Rays. He regrouped and got through the inning, despite the blown save, before handing the game over to Aroldis Chapman, who sailed through the Rays in a 13-pitch 9th inning.

So, it was back to the Yankees for that last-minute hope to do something awesome. And they did in the bottom of the 9th. With a new reliever on the mound, Headley led-off the inning by working a walk. Ellsbury came in to pinch-run for him and promptly stole 2nd base. Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch and Torreyes singled to load up the bases. And with no outs yet in the inning, the Rays pulled their closer for a new reliever. It didn’t help them, as Brett Gardner promptly singled home Ellsbury for another great walk-off win, the second one this series already.

Final score: 5-4 Yankees

Continuing the dental drama: Aaron Judge was a bit cautious during the celebration for Gardner’s walk-off single, even covering his mouth and making sure he knew exactly where Gardner’s helmet was at all times. He also took it upon himself to be the one to douse Gardner during his post-game interview, with YES reporter Meredith Marakovits skillfully dodging the blue Gatorade.

Now the Yankees continue this march back into dominance this season, nicely back in 1st in the AL East, ready for a sweep of the Rays with tomorrow’s game. After tomorrow’s closer, the Yankees faced the visiting Tigers for an early week series to closer out this home stand. They are on quite the winning streak and continuing to do so could secure their place in October baseball this season, a much-needed boost to the franchise and a rather realistic goal for the first time in many years.

Only 102 games in, and there’s still quite a bit of time left. I mean, sure they’ve already started the category for the wild card that explains how many games a team must lose before being eliminated from even the wild card spot in the postseason (the lowest number is 41 right now).

Also, a random trivia bit: today’s starter, Caleb Smith, celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday. So a slightly belated Happy Birthday to Caleb!

Go Yankees!

Game 101: TB vs. NYY — Bronx Bombers back #TanakaTime

Basically, tonight’s game was everything you’d want a game to be if you’re a Yankee fan. Except it was super short. Clocking in at 2 hours and 23 minutes, it’s easily one of the shorter games of the season, and it’s really easy to place the blame on the Yankees for this. They came in ready to continue this winning momentum, and then they did just that.

And most of the reason for the ease of this game was that starter Masahiro Tanaka was just a beast tonight, getting the visiting Rays batters to strike out a whopping 14 times. He even held them to a no-hitter until a 6th inning 2-out single snuck by Gregorius. But then Tanaka got back in the game with a strikeout. Tanaka gave up just one more hit, a 2-out solo shot to allow the Rays their lone run of the game.

So after 8 innings and 109 pitches, Tanaka Time was done. The game was turned over to David Robertson, who breezed his way through the 9th inning in just 6 pitches. Boy, it’s good to have him back on our side of the game.

The Yankees were able to support Tanaka’s outstanding pitching effort with enough run support on the backs of home runs by their outfielders. In the 1st, Brett Gardner liked that 3rd pitch of the at-bat again to lead off the inning with a big solo home run into the Yankees’ bullpen. Aaron Judge followed suit with a 1-out solo shot, his 33rd home run of the season.

Then in the 5th, Todd Frazier worked a 1-out walk, and Gardner worked a 2-out walk. This set up Clint Frazier to hit a no-doubter 3-run home run deep into the left field seats, above the visitor’s bullpen.

After a couple of innings against a former teammate, the Yankees decided to change things up and play some small ball in the 8th. Gardner was hit on the back shoulder by a pitch (he’s fine) and, after a strikeout, moved to 2nd on a ground out. The Rays’ reliever intentionally walked Sanchez, so a wild pitch moved both Gardner and Sanchez into scoring position. Didi Gregorius then singled to score Gardner easily, but then Sanchez tried to score too and got caught out at home to end the inning.

But the Yankees already had a hefty lead, so it was all good at the end.

Final score: 6-1 Yankees

So, I left out a small part of the “Gardy Party” celebration last night because I wanted to see how the story played out. And honestly, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Gardner, as you know, hit the game-winning home run in the 11th inning last night, and as he came into home where the team was waiting to celebrate, he tossed his helmet off. Well, Judge saw the stray helmet and thought someone might trip over it, so he picked it up. In the process of celebrating, the helmet bounced off someone else and bounced into Judge’s face, chipping his front left tooth.

No worries for Judge and his thousand-watt smile. A dentist fixed it this morning, and Judge clearly was in tonight’s game and continued to make an impact like nothing happened. After last night’s game, the reporters asked guys in the clubhouse who broke the tooth, and there was a bit of back and forth blaming each other in good fun — fingers pointing to Clint Frazier and Austin Romine. But really, it was a chipped tooth. Very fixable.

And I didn’t think it was that big of a deal last night, but my Twitter feed (when not filled with political drama) was filled with dental jokes, comments, and pictures of Yankees security searching the field for the piece of the tooth (which they never found). Maybe I wasn’t as concerned because I’ve chipped teeth before. They’re fixable. It’s not fun to get done, but it’s no big deal. I don’t know.

But it’s a good filler for a short game tonight.

Tooth drama is over. Judge is good. (Despite the naysayers on message boards that still think he and Sanchez are battling the “Home Run Derby Curse”.) The Yankees are on a roll, and we’re all on board to chase the October baseball dreams.

Go Yankees!