Game 67: NYY vs. OAK — Swept away on Father’s Day

On this Father’s Day 2017, I am reminded of my own father who loved this great game of baseball. He was what you would call a fan of the game. I remember sitting with him and my brothers in a dreary stadium by Lake Erie, and even when our team lost yet another one, my dad never thought of them as a “mistake on the lake”. No, he appreciated the strategy and called it a “thinking man’s game”.

Of course, he did have a favorite team, but he actually just loved the game no matter who was playing. He always told us that when he watched the players, he was reminded they all were once little leaguers with big dreams. Maybe he identified as such because he also once had big dreams of playing ball.

When my dad was growing up in the first part of the 20th century, baseball was the sport to play. Summer afternoons saw neighborhood kids gathered in a local park with tattered gloves and old bats to play a game just for the fun of it. At home or even in local stores, fans gathered around the radio, listening to games from Cleveland or Chicago or New York. This love of baseball resulted in friendships that lasted a lifetime.

My dad’s love of the game connected our family together. On Father’s Day, there is usually a ballgame playing somewhere, and while many of us now root for different teams, it is my dad’s love for the game that gave us this gift of connection over this shared interest in baseball.

And there was, of course, a baseball game today, as the Yankees closed out their road trip with this final game in Oakland against the Athletics. The Yankees were looking at winning one in the “Bright Side of the Bay” (which it clearly wasn’t for the Yankees this weekend). And Luis Cessa got the start this Father’s Day afternoon, throwing 73 pitches in his 4 innings, giving up 5 hits, a walk, and 4 runs, striking out just 4 Oakland batters.

All of Oakland’s runs were scored in the 3rd inning, clearly Cessa’s weakest time today (he gave up 4 of his 5 hits in that inning alone). With 1 out, a single and double put runners in scoring position so that they could on another double to get the A’s on the board. Then another player hit a 2-out 2-run home run to double their score and push them into the lead.

Other than that lone inning, Cessa had a pretty good outing, despite setting himself up for the loss. He handed the game over to Chad Green, whose 5th and 6th innings continued that same pattern of keeping the A’s from doing much. Tyler Clippard’s 7th was nearly flawless, but it would be recently reinstated Aroldis Chapman sailed through his 8th inning with just 8 pitches. (Talk about a comeback!)

Now, the Yankees weren’t exactly shut out or sitting on their laurels through this game. In fact, they struck first when Matt Holliday fired a solo home run to lead off the 2nd inning. Gardner led-off the 3rd with a double and then scored on Aaron Judge’s 1-out single.

Didi Gregorius smacked a long ball to the right field seats, just to the left of the foul pole. The umpires called it a home run, but just to cover their bases, the umpires called for a review themselves to make sure the ball really was a home run. It was, and the Yankees were within a run of the Athletics after their big 3rd inning.

But the A’s starter did a pretty decent job of fending of any potential Yankee rallies into the 7th inning and the bullpen (surprisingly for this team) just breezed through the final 8 outs and shut the Yankees down in order.

Final score: 4-3 Athletics, Athletics sweep series 4-0 (Yankees’ West Coast road trip: 1-6)

Roster moves: The Yankees sent Kyle Higashioka back to AAA Scranton to make room for Aroldis Chapman, who is now back from his rehab assignment and off the disabled list.

The Yankees took a few moments to honor their dads and reflect on what this day means to them, as so many of them are now fathers themselves. Manager Joe Girardi shared his insights. Gary Sanchez was recently featured in a special article, talking about how the birth of his daughter Sarah changed him as a man and as a player. He sees becoming a father as a turning point in his life, a sentiment I believe most fathers would echo.

And so, on this day that honors so many fathers, I am remembering my dad with thankfulness for introducing me to this wonderful game of baseball. I wish I could be sitting with him today cheering on the team, eating peanuts, and keeping the box score. I will always remember how he had a way of using baseball to teach us life lessons when watching a game, that character counts, that integrity and honesty and loyalty are to be valued. By his example, I learned to support the whole team, not just individual players. To find the positive in even a negative situation. That there’s always another day and another game. To always hope. And above all, to never give up.

My dad remembered the one year his team did win the World Series when he was a boy (hint: it was 1948) and almost saw it happen again in his lifetime (about 10 years before he passed away). But even in his later years, he was ever the fan, even wearing a team cap when he watched a game on TV, hopeful that this might be “the year”.

Which brings me to this year. In 2017, there is a very real chance that could be “the year” for the Yankees. (Despite the current outcome of this road trip!) That elusive #28 is a real possibility. But no matter how the season ends, we’ll still remember that there’s always the hope for “the year” — as if we just know it’s an eventuality. And with the Yankees, we know from experience that it really is.

So, thanks, Dad.

Go Yankees!

Game 65: NYY vs. OAK — A bumpy ride in “Bump City”

Oakland was dubbed “Bump City” after author John Krich’s 1979 book Bump City: Winners and Losers in Oakland about the history of the city, known mainly for its pictures by Dorothea Lange from the collection of the Oakland Museum. But no one from Oakland really knows that and are not a huge fan of said nickname. But it fits my purposes, especially with the way this road trip is going.

Luis Severino had a pretty good outing except a single inning. And thanks to that, he threw 109 pitches in just 6 innings, overall giving up 4 hits, 4 walks, and 4 runs, striking out 6 Oakland batters.

In the 2nd, Severino faced all 9 batters in the Oakland lineup as he struggled his way through the inning. He gave up consecutive walks before getting a strikeout, and then a double scored the first A’s run. A ground out scored another run, but initially the runner was called safe at 1st. The Yankees challenged, and it was overturned for the 2nd out of the inning. And it was back to the game for a single to score yet another run. Another single moved runners to the corners, and another single scored the 4th run of the inning.

So, the Yankees had a bit of catching up to do. In the 3rd, with 2 outs and runners on the corners, Aaron Judge hit his 23rd home run of the season, a 3-run shot to the right field seats to put the Yankees a whole lot closer to the A’s lead.

And in the 5th, Torreyes hit a 1-out double and then scored on Mason Williams’ single to tie up the game. Williams ended up at 2nd on the throw, but Oakland challenged him being safe at 2nd. The call was upheld after a rather long review. Despite the Yankees loading up the bases with a couple of walks, they weren’t able capitalize on it then and break the tie.

Until Chris Carter led-off the 6th with a solo home run, that is, straight up the middle of the O.Co (Oakland Coliseum). And in the 7th, Judge hit a 1-out triple and then scored on Starlin Castro’s single for an insurance run.

So, with a 2-run lead, Chasen Shreve took over for Severino. Shreve had his own issues. With 1 out, he gave up a walk and a single to put runners on the corners, and a sacrifice fly scored the lead runner to put the Athletics within 1 run. Jonathan Holder had a worse time in the 8th, loading up the bases with a walk, a ground-rule double, and an intentional walk before a single scored both the tying and winning runs for the A’s. The final play was a double play, but was originally just a fielder’s choice until the Yankees continued their streak of challenge-and-overturn in their favor.

Final score: 7-6 Athletics

Injury news: (and boy, is it a doozy lately!)
The Yankees officially placed CC Sabathia on 10-day DL, retroactive to June 14, due to his strained left hamstring. Adam Warren is also now on the 10-day DL with right shoulder inflammation. On day-to-day are Aaron Hicks (with achilles tendon soreness) and Gary Sanchez (with groin tightness).

And in roster maneuvers:
The Yankees reassigned Aroldis Chapman to AA Trenton to continue his rehab assignment. He is hoping to be activated and rejoin the team in Oakland by Sunday’s game. (Fingers crossed!) The Yankees also optioned pitchers Ronald Herrera to AA Trenton and Gallegos to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, recalling relievers Domingo German and Luis Cessa from AAA Scranton. They also recalled Mason Williams and Kyle Higashioka from AAA Scranton to fill in for Hicks and Sanchez, respectively. (I hope they got a group rate on the Scranton to Oakland flight!)

Two more games in Oakland this weekend (and they’re not late-night games for us East Coasters!), and the Yankees are looking to right the ship again. For a bit there tonight, it looked like the Yankees would pull through and win it once again. But that West Coast drain kicked in and just flipped the story on them. Time to take control of that story and change the narrative.

Go Yankees!

Game 25: TOR vs. NYY — Home runs x7

Baseball is a funny sport because most games have quite a bit of downtime between them. In American football, it’s about a week. In other football, it’s at least 4 days (though usually about a week). In hockey, it’s every other day. In basketball, it’s a couple of days on, a couple of days off. But no, in baseball, it’s every day. That means, you can have one terrible game and wake up the next day with a redo shot and come out swinging for the fences.

And they certainly found those fences tonight. In the middle game in the series against the Blue Jays, the Yankees were looking to regain their winning momentum. Fortunately, they had plenty of opportunities tonight to do something about that. Masahiro Tanaka had a decent outing as tonight’s starter, throwing 91 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up 8 hits and 4 runs, and striking out just 4 Toronto batters.

Actually, Tanaka refused to give up a run until the 5th inning. He gave up a 1-out solo home run to get the Blue Jays on the board (albeit trailing by quite a bit at this point), and then a 2-out double scored on an RBI single to double their score. In the 7th, a lead-off solo home run (by the same player who hit the first one, by the way) kicked things off for the Jays. Then with 1 out and a runner at 1st with a single, Tanaka’s night was done.

But the bullpen kind of struggled out of the gate tonight. Tyler Clippard, usually in fine form, had some issues getting his outs. First, giving up a pop-out, but then loading up the bases with a single and a walk. Dellin Betances would have been fine except a balk moved all the runners up and scored another run, before a walk loaded the bases all over again. Betances got things in order and got a strikeout to end the threat and the 7th inning.

Tommy Layne had his own issues in the 8th. A lead-off single and double moved runners to scoring position, so that a ground out scored one more run for the Blue Jays. But then Layne got things under control and got the final 2 outs of the inning with his usual efficiency. Jonathan Holder easily had the cleanest inning, an 18-pitch, hitless, scoreless 9th inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees got an early lead and kept building on it, thanks in part to some well-placed (or poorly-placed if you’re a Jays’ fan) pitches by their starter, who gave up a total of 10 hits in his 4 innings. Gardner led-off the 1st inning with a double, ended up at 3rd on Headley’s single, and then scored on Matt Holliday’s double.

In the 2nd, Judge led-off with a walk and then scored as part of Aaron Hicks’ 2-run home run. Carter then singled and scored as part of Brett Gardner’s 1-out 2-run home run. And outfielder Aaron Judge wanted in on the fun, adding his own flair — a 1-out solo home run in the 3rd (his shortest home run to date, by the way). And Gardner hit his 2nd homer of the game, a 1-out solo home run in the 4th inning.

And then the Yankees faced the Toronto bullpen. Though to be perfectly fair, collectively, the bullpen did a better job on the mound tonight than the Jays’ starter. In the 6th, with 1 out and 2 runners in scoring position (thanks to a wild pitch), Chase Headley’s single scored the lead runner, Carter, adding to the Yankees’ increasing lead. Castro led-off the 7th with a double and Gregorius worked a walk. And it would be (who else?) Aaron Judge to hit his 12th home run of the season, a 3-run shot into the left field seats. Despite getting 3 more base runners on in the 7th, the Yankees’ run-scoring was over.

Final score: 11-5 Yankees

A bit of weird trivia came up on my timeline during the game. Apparently, the last time the Yankees’ starting outfield all hit home runs and hit a combined 5 homers in a single game was May 30, 1961 — Mantle (2), Maris (2), and Berra (1). Tonight, it was Judge (2), Gardner (2), and Hicks (1). Not bad company to be part of.

Okay, so there’s a ton of injury updates and roster moves to talk about. First up, Greg Bird‘s ankle from that Spring Training injury in March hasn’t healed, as MRI tests reveal that his bone bruise is the same as the last time they checked. The Yankees put him on the 10-day DL, calling up Rob Refsnyder as an extra bench player while Bird rests and gets treatment. Also, for fresh arms in the bullpen (not that they needed it tonight), the Yankees sent Luis Cessa back to Scranton, recalling Chasen Shreve.

Now, during last night’s game, Jacoby Ellsbury ran right into the center field fence during a key play, and while he finished the game, today’s tests revealed some soreness and a bruised nerve in his left elbow. So he’s shut down for a couple of days, hopefully rejoining the team fully for the weekend series in Chicago. Though clearly, the outfield is covered for the time being.

And during the game tonight, Austin Romine suffered some discomfort and was ultimately pulled from the game in the 6th inning, as he advanced to 3rd on an offensive play. At the change in the inning, Romine was done with the game, Higashioka in behind the plate and Romine diagnosed with what was dubbed “cramping in the right groin”, later attributed to dehydration. If you’re wondering about catcher options, know that Sanchez did really well with the Scranton team tonight for his rehab game. They are hoping he will rejoin the team by this weekend, unless they need him before then.

On a slightly different note, I do want to address a general issue. Normally, I wouldn’t be mentioning an incident where a Baltimore outfielder was harassed by fans at Fenway last night. But this was no ordinary incident. Boston fans used racial slurs at the center fielder, one even hurled a bag of peanuts at him. As Yankee fans, we’re used to hostility from the opposing team’s crowd, but this was too far. I don’t care who you are or which team you root for, but you don’t resort to racial slurs and assault to antagonize a player. Much of the comparison is being drawn due to the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s MLB debut and the vitriol he took from the racist crowds.

Folks, you cannot cheer on a team filled with players of color only to slur obscenities at players of color on the other team. Now, having spent time in Boston (and yes, Fenway), I know this is not representative of your city or your true fans. And yet, I wasn’t really that shocked to find out that this seems fairly common there (and in a few other rather known hostile stadiums). It’s always a few loud-mouth bad apples that lead the charge and spoil the game for the rest of the fans. Part of the fun of the game is rooting for your guys to do well, but resorting to violence and obscenity and stooping to racial slurs is downright degrading and doesn’t represent my sport.

So, all you who love this sport and love keeping it clean and family friendly, do your part. Teach your kids how to be good fans, and then you go be the example of what a good fan is. You can respect players on opposing teams as human beings (who might one day wear your team’s uniform) and still cheer on your guys. You can break the cycle. You can be the difference. You can prove that we’re better than we were 70 years ago.

Go Yankees!

Game 24: TOR vs. NYY — “It’s not what you want”

Well, that was less than a great way to start the new week, the new month, and the new series. Maybe the Yankees had to be generous to the last place (in the AL East, 2nd to last in the AL and MLB) to boost their morale or something. And that is my so-called positive spin on the game. To use Girardi’s own press conference cliche: “It’s not what you want.”

Luis Severino certainly had a rough time tonight in the opening game of this series against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. Severino threw 105 pitches into the 6th inning, giving up 8 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs, striking out just 3 batters. So, we’ll call it an off-day for Severino.

In the 2nd, the lead-off batter singled and then scored as part of a 2-run home run to get the Blue Jays on the board and in the lead early. Severino kept them to that score for most of his outing until the 6th inning. A lead-off single moved to 3rd on a ground-rule double, and then both scored on a sacrifice fly in which Ellsbury hit the back wall far too hard. Then a 2-out solo home run added more to the increasing lead of the Blue Jays and called an end to Severino’s night.

Severino turned things over to recent call-up Luis Cessa (more later), but Cessa had his own struggles in the 7th inning. As if repeating the pattern, a lead-off single scored as part of a 2-run home run to finalize the Blue Jays’ score tonight. Cessa was able to keep the Blue Jays from adding anything else through the 8th and 9th innings.

The Yankees were able to tally up 7 hits off the Blue Jays great starter (who often gives them trouble), but they weren’t able to do much except for in a single inning, the 4th. With 1 out, Castro singled, moved to 2nd on Ellsbury’s single, and then scored on Aaron Judge’s single to finally get the Yankees on the board when the game was much closer. The Yankees just didn’t capitalize on any more opportunities in the game.

Oh, and Jacoby Ellsbury also got his first catcher’s interference of the year on his at-bat in the 6th inning. He had 12 last year alone, bringing his career total now to 27. This stat almost became something of a joke last season because how often do you have this call. It’s like an infield fly or a balk. It’s just not something you see every day, unless it’s 2016 and you’re Jacoby Ellsbury.

Final score: 7-1 Blue Jays

Before the game, the Yankees, in need of a fresh arm in the bullpen, moved some players around. They sent Bryan Mitchell to AAA Scranton in exchange for Luis Cessa, who made his 2017 debut in tonight’s game. Cessa’s outing tonight allows for the exhausted bullpen an extra day of rest.

Okay, everyone. It’s that time of year. It’s time to vote for the All-Star Game ballot. In July, your favorite players have a chance to be standing in Marlins Park in Miami for the 88th annual All-Star Game. Fans everywhere can cast their votes for starters up to 35 times, up to 5 times a day, until 11:59 pm EST on June 29, 2017. And one lucky voter will win an all-expenses paid VIP trip for 4 to the All-Star Game events.

I cast my five votes today… who gets your votes?

Go Yankees!

 

Spring Game 29: PHI vs. NYY — Pulling it all together in the end

Players don’t win games, teams do. It’s why the concept of teamwork is vital to team sports like baseball. So every player must do their part, the best to be part of that team in order to do something good — like win games.

CC Sabathia got the start today against the visiting Phillies, pitching into the 6th inning. Sabathia had a lone sticky inning, but really came up strong for most of the game. Part of this was due to the support of his teammates behind him. Sabathia gave up 9 hits and a walk over his tenure on the mound, and struck out just 1 Phillies batter.

In the 2nd inning, Sabathia faced 8 batters and had trouble putting together those 3 outs. After getting 3 strong outs in the 1st inning, he followed that up with another one to kick off the inning, but then he gave up 2 singles, a wild pitch, and a walk to load up the bases. Another single scored the 2 runs for the Phillies, and one more single loaded up the bases again. The next batter hit a dribbler to 3rd base and Headley made the play at home to stop the scoring before Sanchez fired it to 1st just a hair late to keep the bases loaded. The final batter hit into a short grounder to get the runner at 2nd for the force and get the Yankees out of trouble.

Thankfully, those 2 runs would be the only runs the Phillies scored this afternoon. Mostly because of the stellar pitching from Dellin Betances, who closed out the 6th inning, and Luis Severino, who cemented his spot in the rotation with 3 flawless innings and 5 nasty strikeouts to freeze the Phillies’ offense.

The Yankees’ offense was up against a pretty good pitcher today, who certainly held the Yankees off for most of the game during his strong time on the mound, into the 7th inning. His immediate reliever continued the strong pitching. Both of these pitchers could rely on their infield especially to make the sharp plays to turn the Yankees’ hits into routine ground outs. The Yankees had a single opportunity in the 3rd inning after Hicks worked the Yankees’ lone walk of the game to lead-off the inning. Judge followed him up with a single and then ended up at 2nd when the next batter hit into a double play (getting Hicks at 3rd and the out at 1st). But Judge would go on to score from 2nd on Brett Gardner’s nice single to get the Yankees on the board.

And on into the bottom of the 9th, they went. With a new pitcher on the mound for the Phillies, the Yankees pulled it all together to make a difference. Avelino led-off with a single and then scored on Castillo’s big double to tie up the game. Then down 2 outs, Amburgey stepped up and hit a solid single to score Castillo (thanks to a really bad throw to the plate too) for a wonderful walk-off win.

Final score: 3-2 Yankees

Player of the Game: I really can’t make this call today for a few reasons. First, we’re in the final week of games, so a lot of the young guys that qualify for this category are now reassigned to minor league camp (more below). And second, today’s game was the perfect example of many of the players contributing to make it work. And I guess today’s POTG would go to the team. With Severino on the mound for the final third of the game, the players had the opportunity to show what it meant to work together in the field. And in the final inning, they collaborated to tie up the game and then win it in a walk-off. Everyone worked together, so everyone won.

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Honoring the 2016 AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders for their Championship Season, Steinbrenner Field, March 24, 2017 [photo courtesy of author]
And it’s no surprise really because before today’s game, the Yankees honored the 2016 AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team, who won the International League championship, the Governor’s Cup, and the AAA National Championship last year, with a special video recap of their season and then presented last year’s roster with their championship rings and had the championship trophy on display at Steinbrenner Field. Last year’s roster included Tyler Austin, Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, Aaron Judge, Brady Lail, Pete Kozma, Rob Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, and Nick Swisher. (No wonder they won!)

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The Champion 2016 RailRiders & their new hardware [photo courtesy of author]
And in some roster moves today: prior to today’s game, the Yankees optioned reliever Luis Cessa to AAA Scranton and reassigned him to minor league camp. Joining him there were infielder Ji-Man Choi, outfielders Dustin Fowler, Clint Frazier, and Billy McKinney, and pitcher Jason Gurka. They also received reliever Tyler Jones as a Rule 5 Draft return from the Diamondbacks, who was assigned to AAA Scranton and minor league camp. (A Rule 5 Draft return is when a player is selected by another team as part of a deal, but then because he isn’t signed formally by that team, he is returned back to his original team.)

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 26: BOS vs. NYY — Or rather Sale vs. the Yankees (the new rivalry?)

A nice night for a good old rivalry game. Not surprisingly, tonight was also the Yankees’ most-attended game so far this Spring, with about 500 more fans in attendance over the last home game on Saturday (and just 154 short of a sell-out). But the Red Sox are in town, so what do you expect?

Bryan Mitchell got the start tonight and, honestly, did a really great job in fending off the Red Sox. He gave up 7 hits but struck out 7 Boston batters, throwing into the 5th inning. A lead-off solo shot in the 3rd got the Red Sox on the board, and then a single and double put runners in scoring position. Another single scored one more run for the Red Sox, and with runners on the corners, there was still no outs. But then the guy on 1st made the mistake far too many players have learned this Spring: “you don’t run on Gary”. You run, you get caught stealing. Once that out was notched, 2 strikeouts followed and got Mitchell out of the Red Sox only real threat under his tenure.

Chapman was called in for 3 outs in the 5th and 6th innings. And Tommy Layne kept things interesting loading up the bases before getting out of the 6th unscathed.

Now, the Yankees were up against an absolutely stellar pitcher that the Red Sox just picked up from the White Sox this December. His name (Sale, as if you couldn’t pick that up from today’s title) is constantly thrown around with some of the best pitchers of the era, and deservedly so. He’s going to be a thorn in the Yankees’ side this season. The Yankees didn’t even get a hit off him until the 4th inning, and by then, he’d already racked up 7 of his total 10 strikeouts off Yankee batters. And the Yankees didn’t really even threaten until the 6th inning (his last). With 2 outs, Castro doubled, and Matt Holliday followed that up with a solid 2-run home run to tie up the game.

But the Red Sox followed up their new ace with a great show of the bullpen, adding 4 more strikeouts (for a total of 14) and just shutdown the Yankees’ roster for the rest of the game. To be fair, the Yankees’ pitchers had their own good stat — 12 strikeouts. But it would be the other stat that would sink today’s game — 13 allowed hits.

In the 7th, Luis Cessa came on and gave up a lead-off triple. Two ground outs later, that runner crossed the plate. An interesting play in this inning had outfielder Clint Frazier bounding head-over-heels into the Yankees’ bullpen to go after a foul ball. He ended up a little bruised, especially as he didn’t catch the ball, but the inning was over shortly thereafter. Cessa came back in the 8th for a cleaner inning, keeping the Red Sox close.

In the 9th, Niese took over. With 1 out, Niese hit a batter and then gave up a single (and all the Red Sox fans around felt the need to scream as if it was Game 7 of the World Series and their team was down). A deep single scored an insurance run for the Red Sox before Niese closed things out with 2 sharp strikeouts.

Thanks mostly to the Red Sox’s new ace, there was just no way the Yankees were going to win tonight.

Final score: 4-2 Red Sox

Player of the Game: this one was particularly difficult to call today for a single reason — there was basically no good or outstanding things by guys in the farm system today, usually found in the latter half of the game when they come on to replace all the starters (the guys on the 25- or 40-man roster). So, I’m going to break my own rule here. I’ve got to give it to Ronald Torreyes, who will probably be on the starting roster again this season. But he was just fantastic (as usual, I might add), especially at shortstop tonight, making 3 outstanding plays, including catching a couple of sharp line drives, and helped make the tag in Sanchez’s successful caught stealing  play in the 3rd inning. He’s really a joy to watch play the game.

Roster moves: after tonight’s game, infielder and top Yankee prospect Gleyber Torres was reassigned to minor league camp and AA Trenton. There was a lot of chatter about how Torres might make the big league roster this year, especially in light of some recent injuries. But I have to agree with the Yankees’ decision here. He’s clearly a good player, but he’s young and needs time in the farm system to develop his natural talent, power, and instinct to become the outstanding player they expect him to be in the next few years.

Speaking of injuries: the Yankees came out with an official diagnosis for injured Didi Gregorius. An MRI yesterday confirmed the deep bruise to his throwing shoulder, sustained during his time with the team representing the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. But they are going to be cautious as it has developed beyond just a bruise and into a strain of the muscle (the one that connects your shoulder blade and ball-and-socket joint in your shoulder). So, he’s now expected to miss the first month of the season. Bummer.

And speaking of the World Baseball Classic: the game last night between the Netherlands and Puerto Rico was amazing and tight, leading right up to extra innings. And now, in the 11th inning, teams start with 2 runners on base already (a rule I’m not really a fan of, truthfully). And in an 11th inning walk-off sacrifice fly, Puerto Rico saw their way into the final game, with their 4-3 victory. (Congrats, by the way, to the Netherlands, who really did an amazing job this tournament!)

Now, as I post tonight, the teams representing the United States and Japan are currently battling it out for the chance to face Puerto Rico in the final tomorrow night. Oh, and it’s raining pretty steadily in LA right now, with most fans watching from the concourse or hidden under those ugly plastic ponchos. It’s going to be a close game. And that’s what makes it good. At least to me.

Go Yankees!

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.}