Game 84: MIL vs. NYY — A soggy disappointment

It took nearly 4 hours, plus a 51 minute rain delay in the middle of the game, for the Yankees to fall short thanks to their biggest weakness of late — their bullpen. They hosted the opening game of the weekend series against the surprisingly surging Brewers, in their final series before the All-Star break.

Jordan Montgomery got the start tonight, throwing a 74 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up 7 hits, no walks, and 2 runs, striking out 4 batters. While the Brewers got a sprinkling of hits, they didn’t do much until the 4th inning against the rookie pitcher. A lead-off double scored as part of a 1-out 2-run home run to get Milwaukee on the board.

Meanwhile, the Yankees began collecting their score against the Brewers’ starter. They got on the board first in the 2nd when Didi Gregorius singled and ended up all the way at 3rd due to a fielding error. He then scored on Clint Frazier’s sacrifice fly. A walk and another fielding error later, and runners were stranded in scoring position.

Then in the 4th, as the rain started pouring over the Bronx, Gregorius led-off the inning by reaching 1st safely thanks to yet another fielding error. He then scored as part of Ji-Man Choi’s big 1-out 2-run home run, hit into the 2nd deck of the right field seats. After Romine reached on a missed catch error (are you seeing a trend?), the starter threw a strike to the new batter (Wade) and the umpires called for the tarp. And we were in rain delay.

For 51 minutes. The Yankees were ahead, and most of the conversation was along the lines of wishing they were already in the bottom of the 5th so they could call the game and hand the Yankees a shortened victory.

But that was not to be. When everyone came back, a new pitcher was on the mound for the Brewers and Wade eventually struck out. After Gardner’s walk, another strike out left more runners stranded. Aaron Judge hit his 30th home run of the season to lead-off the 5th inning (more later). But that would be it for the Yankee offense.

The Brewers’ defense made 5 errors in 4 innings (a season high) and the Yankees just didn’t capitalize on that small detail much at all.

Back to the Yankees’ mound… Tyler Webb came on to close out the 5th inning for Montgomery, which he did thanks to some great defense by Tyler Wade. But then he gave up a walk and double to put runners in scoring position as he handed the ball over to Tyler Clippard. A wild pitch moved runners up, scoring the first runner, and a sacrifice fly scored the next runner and tied up the game. The Yankees lone fielding error allowed a runner to get on base, but Clippard got out of the inning without further damage.

Well, in that inning, that is. With 1 out in the 7th, Clippard walked consecutive batters, and then after another out, intentionally walked the next to load up the bases. So, at this point, we’re all looking for that last out to get out of the jam. Instead, it worked in the Brewers’ favor, in the exact opposite of the Yankees — a grand slam to double the Brewers’ score over the Yankees.

Chasen Shreve came on to stop the bleeding, but even he struggled to get a hold of the game, giving up a lead-off double that scored on an RBI single. But then, as turn about is fair play, he walked a batter and then let a ground out leave a couple of runners stranded. Luis Cessa had a better night, closing out the game’s final 2 innings, keeping the Brewers scoreless.

But overall, the Yankees’ pitchers gave up 14 total hits and struck out just 5, while their batters only got 4 hits and earned 12 strikeouts. And that is what made the difference.

Final score: 9-4 Brewers

Roster move: before the game today, the Yankees announced that they sent Mason Williams outright to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. And with the upcoming break, I’d expect a few more moves before they come back to face the Red Sox next Friday at Fenway.

On that big Aaron Judge home run: Judge beat Yankee great Joe DiMaggio’s rookie home run record for most homers by a Yankee in their rookie season. Technically, Judge is on track to hit 57-ish home runs this season, still short of the Babe Ruth/Roger Maris mark (60/61). But neither of them hit that many in their rookie season. And the record belongs to Mark Maguire in 1987 with 49. He also holds the record for most homers by a rookie before the All-Star break at 33. (Though right now, Judge may cut it close on that last one.)

Now, I’ve been told that people think both Judge and his NL competitor (and potential rookie rival on Monday night) will fade in the 2nd half of the season due to the “Home Run Derby” curse and perhaps just lack of faith. But I don’t put much stock in predictions and talking heads and odds-makers. Judge will do what Judge does — play baseball as best he can. His best just happens to be heads above most others (yes, this was an intentional height joke).

And as I’m sure you know, the Yankees are sending just 5 players to Miami next week. Didi Gregorius finished 3rd in Final Fan Voting yesterday, falling short of the Royals’ and Red Sox’s nominees, but only just barely. My newsfeed timeline yesterday was packed with Gregorius support from all over, but it just wasn’t enough. This time. Now, Gregorius also spent much of his off-day wandering around the City doing good deeds — giving tourist directions, helping with photos, giving people a free subway swipe, handing out umbrellas, making burritos, and more. Basically, he was being a Yankee ambassador to the City. A day well-spent in my mind.

Didi, you’ll always be an All-Star to Yankee Universe!

Go Yankees!

Game 77: CHW vs. NYY — Very late start and 2 big losses

Normally, games that take place in the Central Time zone start an hour behind normal game start times. Which is fine, even for evening games, for those of us still on Eastern Time. I always complain about evening games on the West Coast because they’re 3 hours behind. But by 10pm tonight (Eastern Time and the normal start time for evening West Coast games if you live in EST), the Yankees were still in the middle of a rain delay in Chicago due to a lingering squall line that seemed to want to soak the area and wouldn’t leave for at least another area.

I went ahead and looked at the schedule and found a potential reschedule date that would fit both teams, but the consensus seemed to be wanting to get the game over with. Well, maybe it wasn’t, but that’s what they did.

Anyway, so with a start time of 11pm (EST), that meant there was a rain delay of 2 hours and 50 minutes, which led to a 3 hour and 1 minute game. And if you’re doing math, that means the last out of the 9th inning happened at 2:01am (EST). Thank goodness it wasn’t one of those extra innings games. I’m guessing neither team will have an early call tomorrow before their games.

Anyway, the Yankees played their final game against the White Sox, with Luis Cessa getting the late start tonight. Cessa threw 89 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs (though only 2 were earned), and struck out just one Chicago batter. In the 2nd, with 2 outs and a runner on 2nd, a fielding error allowed the batter to make it safely to 1st and the runner to score the White Sox’s first run. A single then scored another run. And in the 4th, with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, a double doubled the White Sox’s score.

Shreve closed out the 5th for Cessa in just 6 pitches and began the momentum that would last the rest of the game and put the bullpen back in their dominant position we knew from most of the season. Herrera, Clippard, and Webb sailed their way through the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, adding 5 strikeouts.

The Yankees actually got on the board first. Gardner led-off the game with a single, moved to 2nd on Judge’s walk, and then scored on a force attempt and fielding error. Ellsbury led-off the 4th with a walk, moved to 2nd on Romine’s 1-out single, and then scored on Ronald Torreyes’ 2-out single. Ellsbury led-off the 6th with a beautiful triple (thanks to his speediness around those bases) and then scored on Austin Romine’s ground out.

The Yankees were also faced with a tight bullpen (including 2 former Yankees) who kept them from adding to their score and handed the White Sox their second victory of the series. (Oddly, both teams only “earned” 2 runs each, which is fitting for a series they evenly split.)

Final score: 4-3 White Sox, White Sox and Yankees split the series 2-2.

Roster moves (hang on, there’s a lot): Tyler Austin was put on the 10-day disabled list due to his right hamstring bruise, and Greg Bird was transferred from the 10 to 60-day DL due to his right angle bruise (which unfortunately effectively ends his season). To make some room on the roster, the Yankees designated Mason Williams for assignment (though I expect him to remain with the organization) and optioned Miguel Andujar back to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (more in a moment). The Yankees selected the contracts of Chris Carter (told you he’d be back) and Dustin Fowler and put them in the starting lineup tonight.

Now, when news broke of Andujar’s being sent back down after last night’s amazing debut, it pretty much broke the internet of Yankees Universe. I think people were hoping for a great rest of the season from the 22-year-old rookie. And with recent issues, I don’t imagine we’ll not see him again (and in the future on a more permanent basis). But the Yankees (specifically Girardi) wanted to see him playing 3rd base every day, and that’s not going to happen with Headley currently filling that spot.

Now, in even worse news for Yankee prospects, tonight was the MLB debut of Dustin Fowler. In the bottom of the 1st, he was playing right field, scheduled to lead-off the top of the 2nd, when he ran at full speed to run down a fly ball. He slammed into a low fence, the electrical box there, and a railing, nearly flipping over it into the crowd. He hobbled away, hopping a bit on his left leg before collapsing on the warning track. This was not a good sign.

The Yankees surrounded their teammate, and the medical staff called for a cart and stretcher. There was no way Fowler was leaving the field on his own two feet. Later, the medical team at the field diagnosed his injury as an “open rupture of the patellar tendon in the right knee”, and sent him into immediate surgery to repair it at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, performed by White Sox team doctor Charles A. Bush-Joseph.

On a side note, Fowler’s parents found out too late about his debut and couldn’t make it to Chicago (from their home in Georgia) in time and were going to meet him and the team in Houston for the weekend series. (But I bet they’re in Chicago now.)

Our prayers are with Fowler as he heals and recovers and aims to get back to baseball as soon as humanly possible.

And in a completely different thought line, while the Yankees were battling the White Sox about the 3rd inning, the fan voting for the All-Star Game closed. At the last count, Aaron Judge was in the lead among AL votes and for the outfielders, but other Yankees were still in the running as well. All the starters will be revealed on Sunday night (at 7pm on ESPN). After the coaches fill out the rest of their ASG roster, the final fan vote will begin to select among 5 nominated players per league.

Go Yankees!

Game 74: NYY vs. CHW — Not always a guaranteed win at Guaranteed Rate Field

I’ve been calling the White Sox home field, on the south side of Chicago, US Cellular Field pretty much since they changed the name in 2003, including since last August, when they apparently changed their name to “Guaranteed Rate Field“. Despite “the Cell” having naming rights until 2023, the mortgage company bought a 13-year naming deal that overrode the old one, and it went into effect late August 2016.

I should make the caveat that I haven’t been to Chicago since the name change, and I don’t live in the Chicago area where apparently it was such a big deal that they started a hashtag on social media: #BetterSoxStadiumNames. And believe me that is a hashtag, I can get behind, as I have issues with a Spring Training stadium the Yankees visit every year named after a local used car lot — the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

I do get teams selling the naming rights to make up for a sluggish ad budget, but I suppose I’m a little old school and prefer my stadiums (and fields) named after the teams or a person (like, I don’t know, Yankee Stadium and Steinbrenner Field). Though I suppose the Yankees make up for the lack of naming rights because they make more money than almost any other team in the MLB from other ad buys, being one of the largest markets and a team people actually want to watch play regularly.

Anyway, all that to say that I’m with the majority of Chicagoans, who now have to suffer Guaranteed Rate Field through the next 13 years (or however long until the next company buys out the naming rights). Except I only have to endure such a sentiment for a short series each year and then I’ll forget it until a brief thought will flit through my head during Spring Training when the Yankees will play the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

Anyway, there was a game at this newly dubbed stadium, and the rookie pitcher threw a great outing. Jordan Montgomery threw 100 pitches through his 7 innings, giving up just 5 hits, a walk, and a run (a lead-off solo home run in the 2nd), and striking out 8 White Sox batters. He set the Yankees up for a strong start to this 4-game series in Chicago they desperately need after the disappointing home stand.

The Yankees didn’t break through the White Sox starter in any real way until the 4th inning. Judge led-off with a walk and moved to 3rd when Sanchez hit into a force attempt fielding error. Tyler Austin’s sacrifice fly scored Judge to tie up the game. After Ellsbury singled, Chase Headley’s single scored Sanchez, and Romine’s walk loaded up the bases. Then Ronald Torreyes hit into a weird play — he hit a long ball out to center field for a sacrifice fly to score Ellsbury, but then the White Sox played a little defense to get Headley out in a bit of a rundown to become a sacrifice double play.

In the 6th, Tyler Austin hit his 1st home run of the season, a 1-out solo shot to the White Sox bullpen in left field. Ellsbury reached safely on a fielding error moving to 3rd on Headley’s double. That ended the White Sox’s starter night. Ellsbury then scored on Austin Romine’s sacrifice fly, and a passed ball moved Headley to 3rd before he then scored on a bad missed catch error on Torreyes’ at-bat.

This gave the Yankees a healthy lead to take them all the way through the game. And they’d need it because their bullpen made things interesting. Jonathan Holder came on in the 8th for a couple of outs, a walk, and a single. With runners in the corners, Dellin Betances came on to loaded up the bases with a walk and then get out of the jam with a great strikeout to end the White Sox rally.

But that certainly wasn’t it for the White Sox who took advantage of Chasen Shreve’s bad night in the 9th inning. In just 12 pitches, Shreve got an out, 2 singles, and a 3-run home run to put the White Sox within viable striking distance of the Yankees. At this point, this became a save opportunity, so they brought in Aroldis Chapman. Chapman continued the struggle, giving up a single that scored on an RBI double to put the Sox within a run of the Yankees lead. Fortunately, a ground out held the runner at 2nd and put the Yankees in need of a lone out, which would be a fly out to left field to preserve the Yankees’ lead and get another save.

Final score: 6-5 Yankees

Starlin Castro was pulled from tonight’s game due to a hamstring injury he got running out a ground ball in the 3rd inning. This after he missed Sunday’s game due to a sore wrist and now this. It’s got to be frustrating. Nothing definite yet about a DL stint or possible replacement or anything else.

So many roster moves before the game: Aaron Hicks was officially sent to the disabled list with his oblique strain, and the Yankees activated Jacoby Ellsbury from the DL after his concussion finally healed. And for some relief in the outfield and in the bullpen, they sent Mason Williams and Tyler Webb back to AAA Scranton and recalled Rob Refsnyder and Ronald Herrera.

And Aaron Judge still leads the American League in All-Star Game fan votes. He has been asked to do the Home Run Derby during the festivities, but he’s not made his decision on that front yet, despite his batting practice home runs making a splash all over social media for hitting televisions, almost hitting vendors and stadium crew, and delighting young fans all over the country by shooting these balls in far off places they shouldn’t really be traveling around the stadium (very Mantle-esque, if you ask me). (Also, please say “yes!” to the HRD!)

But other Yankees are hoping for a last-minute surge in fan voting to get to the game next month in Miami. (You can vote until Thursday, June 29 at 11:59 pm EST.) At least one representative from each team will be at the game in Miami, and the Yankees almost always get a representative in the AL bullpen (selected by the AL coaching staff leading up to the game).

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!

Spring Game 30: TOR vs. NYY — #BirdPower & another walk-off win

I love close games. Those games that are tight in score, where the teams seem pretty evenly matched across the board — pitching, hitting, and defense. The games where it really could be anyone who ends up the winner, and it goes right down to the wire. Games like today.

Adam Warren got the start this warm afternoon against the visiting Blue Jays, and despite have some struggles with the strike zone, still managed to throw a pretty good afternoon, pitching into the 4th inning. A lead-off double in the 1st scored on a 2-out single to get the Blue Jays on the board. With a lead-off walk in the 2nd, a 1-out 2-run home run gave the Jays a nice lead. After giving up a 1-out solo home run in the 4th, the Yankees called Warren’s outing done, calling in Tommy Layne for a quick 2 out to close out the inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees kicked off their scoring in the bottom of the 2nd with Greg Bird’s lead-off solo home run (#BirdPower), his 7th homer of the Spring. Two outs later, Hicks reached on a messy fielding error, stole 2nd, and then scored on Austin Romine’s single. In the 3rd, with 1 out and Ellsbury on 2nd, Matt Holliday’s single scored Ellsbury to tie up the game at that point. But despite loading up the bases, the Blue Jays lucked out on a grounder hit into a double play.

Then the game went a bit into back and forth, with a stellar 2 outs by Holder. In the 7th, Niese had a slight struggle, as a 1-out double later scored on a 2-out single to give the Jays an insurance run. But the Yankees answered back in the bottom of that inning with Wade hitting a 1-out double, moving to 3rd on a fly out, and then scoring on Mason Williams’ single.

And then the game turned to reliever JP Feyereisen, who really fired his way through his 8th inning. This young reliever is really proving pretty consistent and strong, and almost had my vote for Player of the Game (more below). And Marsh‘s 9th inning, kept the Yankees strong, pulling them into that final half-inning with fingers crossed for the offense.

Outfielder Zehner led-off with a single, and Torreyes reached safely on a fielding error. So with 2 outs, Mason Williams hit a little grounder that was mishandled, scored Zehner to tie up the game, and moved 2 runners to scoring position. The whole stadium was alive with anticipation. On the first pitch he saw, Pete Kozma knocked it straight up the middle and through the gap to score the winning run.

So, for a second day in a row, the Yankees get a walk-off win at home.

Final score: 6-5 Yankees

Player of the Game: Despite Feyereisen’s outstanding outing, I’ve got to give today’s POTG to Pete Kozma. Look, Kozma is consistent on defense, a key player in many of the late-game outs. And when he hits, he’s really good and can come through in the clutch. Like today. He’s one of those guys I’ve been watching for a few seasons, and after his amazing contributions to the RailRiders and their championship season last year, he seems to be continuing that momentum into the Spring.

Before game today, the Yankees presented the awards for the outstanding pitcher and outstanding player of their minor league farm system last year. The 2016 Kevin Lawn Awards were awarded to pitcher Chance Adams (with Tampa and Trenton last year) and outfielder Aaron Judge (with Scranton until being called up in August last year). Both awards are well-deserved, though I imagine it might have been difficult to choose just one per category, as the Yankees have so many amazing young players in their organization.

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 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.}