67 men, a broken foot, words, old guys, and hope… it’s always about hope

So, we’re up to 67 players in camp this week. Pitchers and catchers reported a week ago, and everyone showed up on Saturday. Their first full work out as a team then was Sunday, and things are off to a good start.

With one exception. Tyler Austin, who was hoping to make the Opening Day roster, at least a bench player, took a foul ball off his foot during live batting practice and fractured his foot. Currently in a boot and hobbling around camp, Austin will be out for at least 6 weeks. Realistically, Austin was up against primary contenders for 1st base Greg Bird (coming back off his own injury last year) and veteran Chris Carter (who the Yankees signed recently for veteran presence and platooning possibilities). While his start could be slow this year, Austin will probably see major league time, much like he did last year.

One of the recent signings, infielder Chris Carter, while initially viewed as a replacement power-hitting DH (for Rodriguez) platooning there with Matt Holliday (who can also play outfield), Carter can also platoon at 1st base, which is especially crucial now that Austin will be out for a while. Carter began his career with 3 seasons with the Athletics before spending the next 3 with the Astros, and last year, he played 160 games with the Brewers, hitting 41 home runs. To make room for Carter, the Yankees designated reliever Richard Bleier for assignment.

Contract negotiations are never easy. Several Yankees negotiated through their contracts as usual, avoiding arbitration. But Dellin Betances was the lone holdout this year. He (and his agent) held to one number, but the Yankees wanted to pay a bit less than that. As neither side was willing to compromise, a mediator was hired and met with both sides late last week. After each side argued their case, the mediator agreed with the Yankees, and Betances reported to camp. Unfortunately, there were a few harsh words expressed publicly, which promoted Betances to respond publicly. No one needs these distractions, so I hope this is done with now so that everyone can move on with the season.

Joe Girardi had the best outlook on the season, equating it to the mid-90s in style and feel during his first press conference of the season last week. With the recent departure of Teixeira, Rodriguez, McCann, and Beltran, the team overall is very young, with the average age of the 40-man roster currently at 26.65, about 3 years younger than the average 4 years ago. Sometimes, those three years make all the difference. But it’s a long season before we can tell how that shakes out.

Speaking of the “old guys”, Nick Swisher recently announced his retirement from playing professional baseball (in a way only he could) and was invited by the Yankees as a guest instructor to camp. Swisher showed up (complete with his old #33) yesterday to help counsel and coach the young team. Joining him at camp today will be Alex Rodriguez who will fit into this role he’s been sort of doing for the last couple of seasons anyway. Both former teammates will be joining Mark Teixeira in the broadcasting booth (though they’ll be in different booths) as all three now have contracts to work part of the season as color commentators in addition to their regular life roles as being “dad” (a role which all three are very much enjoying giving much more time to).

Spring Training begins Friday. Yes, three days until the crack of the bat, the smell of the dirt and sweat, the noisy vendors hocking beer and peanuts, the chatter dissecting Girardi and Cashman’s every choice, the smiles in anticipation and hope, the slumped shoulders in defeat, the grim line of determination, the hustle, the fervor, and the hope. It’s always about hope, isn’t it? Hope that maybe this year could be The Year. Hope that something that started decades ago as a dream could be that reality, echoed in the cheers of thousands of fans and deep in the hearts of all those who wear (and once wore) the pinstripes.

Go Yankees!

It’s almost Spring…

Well, now that the other major American sport has taken its bow, it’s time to focus on the real American pastime. And before you’re wondering, I write a blog about the New York Yankees, which team could I possibly back in the big game last night — the team that plays in Boston or the one that doesn’t?

Anyway, just a couple of days ago, the Yankees posted pictures of their staff loading up all their equipment, loading it onto the truck, and sending it on its way down to Tampa. Many on the current roster and invitees (including quite a few of the Baby Bombers on the top 100 prospects list) are showing up at the minor league complex for early workouts. Tickets to games are being purchased, renovations at the field are almost done, and the countdown in down to mere days. Yes, Yankee Universe, it’s almost Spring Training.

The Yankees have wrapped up the last few weeks of their off-season in many ways. Last month, Chance Adams, Starlin Castro, Clint Frazier, Chase Headley, Matt Holliday, James Kaprielian, CC Sabathia, Gary Sanchez, Justus Sheffield, and Gleyber Torres helped out with the Yankees first ever “Winter Warm-up“, an event designed to introduce new players to New York and its legacy and community with the help of some of the veterans. This included surprising a life-long fan with VIP tickets; touring the City and Yankee Stadium; holding a live-streamed town hall for fans; visiting a senior center, an elementary school, a senior community event, and cancer center; calling season ticket holders personally; and surprising Bronx residents joining them for lunch at a local restaurant.

At a special awards banquet in January, quite a few Yankees were recognized for their contributions in baseball this past season. Last year’s “Warriors Three” (or No-Runs DMC, as some rogue reporters seems to believe they should be dubbed), Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were recognized by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with the “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke Award” for their outstanding teamwork this year. What is especially significant is that this three-headed monster was split in July when Chapman went to the Cubs (and got a ring) and Miller went to the Indians (and almost got a ring, settling for the AL MVP instead). Betances took over the closing role to finish the season but is more than willing to slide back to set-up man after the Yankees resigned Chapman in December. The local writers’ group also honored other Yankees at that dinner. Chase Headley received the “Good Guy Award” and Mark Teixeira shared the Slocum Award for Long and Meritorious Service with Boston’s David Ortiz, in addition to a number of other awards given across baseball.

Overlapping Spring Training once again is the World Baseball Classic. As of this posting, only two Yankees have committed to play for the WBC. Didi Gregorius will play for the Dutch team, which is scheduled to start its games March 7 in Seoul against South Korea, Taipei, and Israel. Dellin Betances has committed to play for the Dominican Republic, which starts its games March 9 in Miami against Canada, the United States, and Columbia. There was talk that Sanchez might join Betances on the reigning championship team, but the closer to Spring Training, the less likely the chances. Masahiro Tanaka was offered a spot on the Japanese team, but opted for Spring Training to get back in the momentum of being a Yankee and come out stronger than last year.

In a single day last month, the baseball world lost two of its members in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic. Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, 25, was a key part of the Royals’ 2014 World Series attempt and their 2015 World Series win, even earning Rookie of the Year in 2014. Former third baseman Andy Marte, 33, was originally signed by the Braves in 2005 before spending the bulk of his career with the Indians and most recently the 2014 season with the Diamondbacks and a team in South Korea. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families and friends as they mourn their loved ones.

I wish I could tell you the Yankees had some good news about the Hall of Fame results, but it was not to be this year. Instead, the BBWAA (the same guys who recognized Teixeira, Betances, and Headley) decided that just three former players would make it to Cooperstown this year — Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The trio are the only three who made the cut-off at 75% of the earned votes. Most Yankee fans will probably only remember two names — Mike Mussina (holding on for another year at 51.8% of the vote) and Jorge Posada (who failed to get the minimum 5% voting needed to stay on the ballot next year at 3.8%).

Bagwell spent all 15 seasons (1991-2005) with the Astros, as their star first baseman. Raines is predominantly known as the left fielder of the Expos (1979-1990, 2001), but he also spent some of his 23 seasons with the White Sox, Athletics, Marlins, Orioles, and Yankees. Raines spent his time with the Yankees during the start of the most recent dynasty, 1996-1998, even earning a 1996 World Series ring for his postseason contributions. Rodriguez spent the majority of his 21 seasons with the Rangers (1991-2002, 2009), eventually spending time with the Marlins, Tigers, Astros, Nationals, and Yankees. Rodriguez may be the most familiar to current Yankee fans as he spent the latter half of the 2008 season in pinstripes as back-up catcher. As expected, neither of the former Yankees will be donning a Yankee insignia on their monument plaque in the Hall of Fame, which will be honored and unveiled on July 30.

Okay, so here’s important Spring dates to remember: February 14 — pitchers and catchers report to camp (8 days away); February 15 — pitcher and catchers work out day, Steinbrenner Field open to public if you want to watch the work outs (9 days); February 18 — full squad reporting day (12 days); February 19 — full squad work out day (13 days); February 24 — Spring Training home opener vs. Phillies (18 days); April 2 — Season Opener at the Rays (55 days); and April 10 — Home opener vs. the Rays (62 days).

Yes, it’s almost Spring…

Go Yankees!

ALCS 1: TOR vs. CLE — Pitchers leading the way in the AL

It was a lovely, crisp 58° in Cleveland at the time of the first pitch just to emphasize that we are really playing Fall Ball. And both the Indians and Blue Jays sent up what is easily their best respective starters.

Now, growing up, I was taught that the AL had the hitters and the NL had the pitchers. And for the most part that proved true, until the power-hitting (and partially drug-enhanced) home run derby of 1998 between two NL batters on the Cubs and Cardinals. But lately, the stereotypes have been proving true with a lot of NL pitchers coming close or even achieving that much-coveted perfect game.

So, it’s still a little weird for me when you get some really amazing pitching in an AL game, but I can’t say that it doesn’t make me appreciate it a bit more. Like I’ve come to expect it out of NL pitchers, so when I see it in the AL, I’m a little more enthralled by and anticipatory of the prospect.

Like I was tonight with the Blue Jays starter Estrada and Indians starter Kluber. Kluber threw 100 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up 6 hits and 2 walks, and striking out 6 Blue Jays’ batters. But he kept the Blue Jays scoreless, which ended up being the key to this game. Estrada again threw a complete game, a full 8 innings, giving up 6 hits to the Indians’ batters, a walk, and 2 runs, striking out 6 along the way. This certainly saved the Blue Jays’ bullpen for upcoming games this series.

So, in the bottom of the 6th, the Indians broke through Estrada’s command on the mound when Kipnis worked a 1-out walk (Estrada’s lone allowed walk) and then scored as part of Lindor’s big 2-run home run. It would be the only runs scored in the game, making Lindor a big hometown hero there at Progressive Field.

In the 7th, Kluber got a huge standing ovation, rightly so, as he exited the game and turned things over to Miller (the Yankees’ former closer/reliever is one of the reasons that the Indians are very much in this postseason still). Miller just dominated his way through the 7th and 8th innings. Allen came on in the 9th to breeze through the Blue Jays line-up in just 11 pitches.

In total, the Indians combined for 12 strike outs, thanks in large part to Miller, who recorded all 5 of his outs with his own brand of nasty strikeouts. Though a Blue Jays fan could argue a couple of those were certainly handed to him (there was a particularly low strike zone tonight at the plate).

Final score: 2-0 Indians, Indians lead series 1-0.

There are some updates to the eSurance MLB awards, including some crucial moments by Yankee favorites. Gary Sanchez is still up for Best Rookie, but several other Yankee memories have been added.

Mark Teixeira’s “last hurrah” is now nominated for Best Offensive Play, where he helped the Yankees win a big game against Boston with a big walk-off grand slam. And Mark Teixeira’s “special sendoff” is nominated as Best Moment for the pre-game ceremony on the final game of the season to wish him well in his retirement.

And in Best Trending Topic, the Yankees’ “summer shakeup” is nominated in how they used the farm system to help with a roster overhaul which kept them in the postseason conversation.

Other categories you can vote on include: Best Major Leaguer, Best Hitter, Best Pitcher, Best Defensive Player, Best Social Media Personality, Best Defensive Play, Best Social Media Post, Best Performance, Best Fan Catch, Best Call Radio/TV, Best Player-Fan Interaction, Best Manager, and Best Executive. Postseason categories will be up after the World Series. So vote today and come back and vote often.

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 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 156: NYY vs. TOR — Monday Night Brawling

Well, it was a big brawl of the titans. And oddly, I’m not talking about the other brawl (or debate, to be official) taking place in New York between the two candidates for President. No, the Yankees and Blue Jays certainly got into things a few times tonight. I mean, the Toronto crowd (and team) is never the “nicest” opposing crowd on the road, but scuffles like tonight are ridiculous.

Actually, this evening’s game was bookended with drama. Within 2 pitches, Brett Gardner led off the game with a bunt single that landed him all the way on 3rd on a bad throwing error. He then scored on Gary Sanchez’s ground out to get the Yankees on the board early.

Luis Severino got the start tonight in the final game of the weekend wraparound series against the Blue Jays. Unfortunately, with 1 out, Severino accidentally hit the next batter (it’s obvious, based on where Sanchez set-up behind the plate, by the way) to get the Blue Jays’ first runner on base before loading them up with a single and a walk. Severino walked in the Blue Jays first run of the night to tie up the game before finally getting those needed 2 outs (with the bases loaded, I might add).

So the Yankees came back out for the 2nd inning and their first batter (Chase Headley) got plunked (after he threw behind him too!). It was obviously intentional, and the pitcher was clearly trying to get revenge for the hit batter in the 1st inning. Headley knew it when he threw down his bat, both teams knew it as they streamed out of their dugouts, the entire crowd knew it, you’ll know it. All the home plate umpire did was “warn” the pitcher and both dugouts not to do this again. Again? It’s just been done “again”. Which is what Girardi said to the home plate umpire, who in turn tossed him out of the game.

Oh, but it wasn’t done there. In the bottom of the 2nd, Severino plunked his first batter (I have mixed feelings about whether this was accidental, but based on his sloppy 1st I’m guessing it was) only to get tossed from the game. And both teams met up again for another scuffle. Then for some reason, both bench coach (and acting manager with Girardi watching from the clubhouse) Rob Thomson and pitching coach Larry Rothschild got ejected from the game too. Damage to the Blue Jays: nothing. But I’m not getting into that. Watch the clips yourself and decide.

So, Jonathan Holder came on to replace the now-ejected Severino and closed out the 2nd inning quickly. After 1 out in the 3rd, he struggled a bit, allowing 2 runners on base with a single and a walk. A double then scored the lead runner. James Pazos came on, but an RBI single scored one more run for the Blue Jays before the Yankees kind of regrouped and closed the door on the Blue Jays’ run machine this weekend, for the most part at least.

Yates and Bleier split the next three innings, keeping the Yankees scoreless, despite racking up some pitch counts. In the 7th, Adam Warren came on for a 2 inning stint, breezing through the Blue Jays line-up in a straight 6 outs.

The Yankees had been relatively scoreless since the scuffles in the 2nd inning. But they decided on a last-minute run rally to come back and win it for the “ejected ones”. With 1 out in the 8th, Gardner doubled and then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. That knocked the starter out (finally). Just a run shy of Toronto, the Yankees weren’t about to leave it there.

In the 9th, with 1 out, Mark Teixeira (in his last away game of his career) hit a big solo home run to tie up the game. Then Gregorius on base with a single, Aaron Hicks smacked a 2-run home run to give the Yankees the lead. After Solano’s double, that reliever was done for the night. But the next one just walked Gardner and gave up a nice RBI single to Ellsbury and then a sacrifice fly to Gary Sanchez. That extra-extra-extra insurance run was exactly the boost the Yankees needed.

Unfortunately, Dellin Betances wasn’t exactly having the best night once again. A walk, a fielding error (of his own making), a wild pitch, and another walk quickly loaded the bases. Another walk scored a run. (Still really hate these, by the way.) No outs recorded, Betances was done.

In came Tommy Layne, who is usually a short-term reliever or one-off specialist. And boy, did they need a specialist of sorts. A fly out became the first out of the inning, but then a walk scored another runs (no comment), and a single scored yet another. The Blue Jays were within 2 runs now. So a little dribbling ground out made its way to Layne who dove for the out at home himself, a rather pretty play, if I do say so. And another fly ball had Gardner sliding into foul territory to make the catch and closed the door for Layne to earn his first save of the season.

Final score: 7-5 Yankees, Blue Jays win series 3-1.

Also tonight: the Marlins hosted the Mets in Miami tonight, on a night that was supposed to be Jose Fernandez’s start. The entire Marlins roster wore #16, as it will be the last time any Marlins player ever wears #16. They held the requisite moment of silence, but both teams and the crowd knew it was more than “requisite” anything; this was part of the grieving process to honor, to remember, to cherish the moments.

The Marlins won thanks in part to a beautiful lead-off home run by 2nd baseman Dee Gordon to start off the bottom of the 1st inning. It clearly stunned most people into the remembrance and honor of their lost teammate, fellow athlete, and friend. Following the win, the team gathered around the mound that should have been Fernandez’s tonight to continue to grieve and show their solidarity. After a brief speech by Marlins’ star Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins players removed their caps and left them on the mound.

Again, our continued prayers are with all those whose lives and hearts were touched and now broken by the loss of Jose Fernandez.

The Yankees head home to face 3 games against the Red Sox and 3 against the Orioles for the final 6 games of the season. The Red Sox have clinched a play-off berth but not the division, with the Blue Jays (thanks in part to this series) are still in it. The Orioles are still strongly in Wild Card contention, but the Yankees aren’t out of it yet. In two games, however, they will be. Yes, that means they need to lose two more games in this six game span to be officially eliminated from October baseball.

So, set your plans on a double sweep, Yankee fans. Hey, anything can happen, right?

Go Yankees!

Game 150: NYY vs. TB — 16 strikeouts to snap skid

Well, it took a trip down south to stop the Yankees recent skid in the standings. On the opening night against the Rays for this mid-week series, the Yankees came out strong offensively and from the mound.

Michael Pineda got the start and commanded the game once again. He threw 98 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 5 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, striking out a whopping 11 Rays’ batters. The runs came in the bottom of the 3rd, with 2 outs (strikeouts, of course) and 2 runners on base with singles, a really nice triple scored both runners to get the Rays on the board before striking out the next batter to get out of the inning. That is pretty strong pitching.

In the 6th, with 1 out, Pineda was done for the night. Tommy Layne threw a 4-pitch strike out to get the next out, and then it was on to the reliable Luis Severino. Severino entered the game for a 12-pitch 4-out outing to carry the Yankees through the 7th inning and set him up for the eventual win. Tyler Clippard actually gave up a hit, a triple, in his 8th inning, and despite a wild pitch that allowed that run to score, he powered through, adding a couple more strikeouts of his own. And for the 9th inning, the Yankees called on Dellin Betances, who needed a clean outing to reset himself. He got it and his 12th save tonight — 3-up, 3-down.

On the flip side of things, the Yankees capitalized on a few of their 10 allowed hits in just a couple innings. In the 4th, with 2 outs, Mark Teixeira hit a solid solo home run deep to the left field seats to get the Yankees on the board. And in the 7th, with the Rays’ starter now out of the game, Torreyes led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Williams’ 1-out single, and then scored on Brett Gardner’s single. Gardner stole 2nd (because he’s Gardner) to put runners in scoring position. And score they did on Gary Sanchez (because who else?) hit a big 3-run home run to give the Yankees a secure lead.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Roster news: Aaron Hicks was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list, in the lineup tonight, batting 2nd (and getting a nice hit) and playing right field. With all the recent injuries and moves, it’s nice to see a familiar face come back.

The Yankees announced this weekend that they will honor Mark Teixeira in a pre-game ceremony before the last game of the season, October 2, before the Yankees take on the Orioles. Teixeira, as you know, will retire at the end of this season, and his daily presence on the field, in the clubhouse, and in Yankee Universe will be missed. Though his more immediate plans aren’t public, I imagine spending time with family will be top priority. But I don’t think the Yankees (or for that matter, baseball in general) has seen the last of Mark Teixeira.

Awards season update: So, Gary Sanchez is currently up for the Esurance Best Rookie award this year, and Rob Refsnyder is a nominee for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. For Sanchez, you can vote and vote again here to add fuel to the conversation about the young rookie who very much deserves the honors that await him.

Refsnyder’s award goes to a player shows his generosity and community by giving back to his local community in some way. Refsnyder’s chosen charity, A Kid’s Place, is an organization provides stability and care for children removed from homes due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment and is based in the Tampa Bay area. Refsnyder joins 5 other finalists, including former Yankees players Granderson (“Grand Kids“) and Robertson (“High Socks for Hope“). It’s quite the company of philanthropists, and while none of these guys do this for the accolades, it’s very cool how many people are recipients of the amazing generosity of such good guys.

For the end of the year awards, you can currently vote in 4 categories for your favorite players (Best Major Leaguer, Best Hitter, Best Pitcher, and Best Rookie) until November 11th. Other categories will be added during and following the postseason (Best Defensive Player, Manager, Executive, Social Media Personality, Postseason Performer, Offensive Play, Defensive Play, Moment, Single-Game Performance, Social Media Post, Fan Catch, Interview, Broadcast Call, Player-Fan Interaction, and Trending Topic).

And it’s official! The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are the AAA champions. The RailRiders beat the El Paso Chihuahuas (the AAA team of the Padres) at the championship game in Memphis tonight, with a final score of 3-1, thanks to a big 1st inning 3-run home run by Chris Parmelee. For that, Parmelee was awarded the game’s MVP award. With so many current (and former) Yankees that contributed to the RailRiders’ outstanding season and just fabulous postseason of their own, Yankee Universe has much to be excited about both today and for the future.

Go Yankees!