ALDS Game 1: BOS vs. HOU & NYY vs. CLE — Space City Shoots for the Moon, Mistake on the Lake K-zone theft & shutout

Neither team in the playoffs from the AL East is going to be easy tonight back in their respective hotel rooms. But both home teams are riding high on their show in front of their respective home town crowds. And we’ve really just gotten started with October baseball.

Game 1: Red Sox at Astros
Honestly, I really thought this game was going to be quite the pitching duel between the two ace starters, both recent acquisitions of both teams with the intentions of being right where they were tonight. But one thing that nobody counted on was the outstanding offense from the Astros, except maybe the electric crowd in Houston tonight.

Both starters did pitch into the 6th inning, but the Astros certainly had the edge on them in one area — 4 home runs tonight. Starting in the bottom of the 1st, with 1 out, 2 batters hit back-to-back home runs to get the home team on the board first.

The Red Sox answered back in the 2nd by working 2 walks to threaten. With 2 outs, the next batter singled and scored the Red Sox’s first run as the out was being made by tagging the runner at 3rd. Originally, the umpires ruled that the runner did not cross the plate before the out was made, so the Red Sox challenged the timing. It was overturned, the score counted and the inning was over. Boston got another chance to catch up to the Astros’ early lead in the 4th. A lead-off double moved to 3rd on a single and then scored on a sacrifice fly to tie up the game.

But that certainly didn’t last long. In the bottom of the 4th, the Astros answered back. With 1 out, a batter doubled, and then the next one singled. Well, originally, they thought it was a fly ball out on a diving catch, but Houston’s challenged proved that the outfielder caught it on a slight bounce and trapped it into his glove. Even as an outfielder, most of these plays are so close that you’re going to think you caught it on the fly. Replay proved it was trapped and not caught, so it was overturned for a single. With another out, a solid double scored both runners to give the Astros back their lead.

And they didn’t stop there, they added another run in the 5th with a 2-out solo shot (by one of the same guys from the 1st inning. And in the 6th, a double and walk ended the Boston ace’s night, and a reliever promptly loaded up the bases with a short single. Then a 1-out single scored 2 more runs. Then the same multi-home run hitter from before did it again with a lead-off solo homer in the 7th inning.

Final score: 8-2 Astros, Astros lead series 1-0

Game 2: Yankees at Indians
Before the game, one reporter commented that the home plate umpire has one of the most inconsistent strike zones in the league. Turns out he was very right. Almost all the called strikes, especially those who were called on a strike 3, were very much not strikes. This was notably harsh for the Yankees as it may not have changed the outcome of the game (yes, I do think the Indians would have won, but I’ll explain this in a moment), but it certainly changed the outcome of these at-bats. And being called out when one is clearly not was noticeably frustrating for even the calmer batters (like Headley and Judge).

Sonny Gray got the start and certainly struggled through his outing. He threw 73 pitches into the 4th inning, gave up 3 hits, 4 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out 2 Cleveland batters. In the 2nd, he loaded up the bases with a double, single, and hit-by-pitch before a double play scored the Indians’ first run. But he was able to stave them off again before the 4th inning really closed the night for him. A lead-off walk scored as part of a 2-run home run, and then with 1 out and 2 more runners on base with walks, the Yankees went to their bullpen.

Adam Warren, just coming off the DL recently, gave up single to load up the bases, but then immediately got out of trouble with a strikeout and fly out. In the 5th, Warren gave up a single and moved to 2nd on a wild pitch. One out later, the Yankee went back to their bullpen to pull out an unlikely long-term option — Jaime Garcia. A wild pitch from him moved the runner to 3rd, and that runner scored on a sacrifice fly.

But Garcia was a great option for the Yankees from the bullpen. He gave a strong 8 outs, even getting 3 strikeouts (which with a floating strike zone was a lot harder to do than you think). Dellin Betances then breezed his was through the 8th inning in just 11 pitches. Yankee Universe, this is good news. Betances was sharp again, after struggling for most these last few weeks, and even he felt like he was back to being Betances-like again.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense was serious stifled by that strike zone issue. They only got 3 hits all night. Which is why they would have lost tonight’s game even with a more clear and consistent strike zone. They just weren’t hitting. And once the Indians got into their bullpen, they called on a certain former Yankee closer and the Indians’ ace closer for the final 7 outs of the game. The Indians’ pitchers are really good, but even they have to feel cheated by a bad strike zone. They didn’t need help.

Final score: 4-0 Indians, Indians lead series 1-0

Look, the Indians and Astros were easily the best teams in the AL this season, so it doesn’t surprise me that either of them will take early leads or even dominate in the postseason. It just leaves a sour taste when one can’t compete fairly. And it’s not a team’s fault, but rather the consideration once again about the necessity of a fallible home plate umpire in a technologically advanced age.

Even my mom (who, if you remember, grew up an Indians fan and is really torn this series) complained about the strike zone issues. All the more, if it fell in favor of the Yankees, I would have issues with it. Unfortunately, the Yankees weren’t really at the place tonight where that mattered.

Go Yankees!

Game 159: TB vs. NYY — Division hopes get pear-shaped

You know how you have one of those days where everything is working out in your favor, and then suddenly, everything goes pear-shaped and you just can’t do anything about it. Yeah, that was the Yankees’ Thursday night in the Bronx tonight. Much to the chagrin of basically everyone in Yankees’ universe.

Sonny Gray actually had a pretty good night for a good portion of his outing. Through his first 4 innings tonight, Gray threw just 58 pitches, gave up 2 hits, a walk, and a run. In the 1st, he gave up a 1-out solo home run to get the Rays on the board early. But he really reined it in and pushed the Yankees through a solid next few innings.

But then, Gray just kind of collapsed in the 5th inning. With 1 out, he gave up 2 singles to put runners on the corners. A wild pitch scored one run and a throwing error moved the other runner to 3rd. After a nice strikeout allowed the Yankees to hope the inning was almost over, it was not to be. Gray promptly walked the next batter and then gave up a big 2-run home run. After yet another allowed single, that would be it for Gray tonight.

Jonathan Holder came on in relief of Gray, but just couldn’t find that final out either. He hit his first batter with a pitch, gave up a single that scored one runner, and a big triple that scored the remaining 2 runners. That would be it for him too.

It would Chasen Shreve to get the final out of the 5th inning, a sigh of relief in the form of a strikeout. Shreve was breezing through the 6th until he gave up a pinch-hit solo home run, followed by a walk. Girardi wasn’t about to see a repeat of the previous inning, so he went back to the bullpen for Heller. Heller was very strong through the 7th and 8th innings as well, before handing the game to Gallegos who breezed through the 9th in just 12 pitches.

Remember, when I said things were great for the Yankees at first? They really were. Brett Gardner liked the 2nd pitch of the 1st inning and sent it into the 2nd deck of the right field seats for a lead-off home run. Aaron Judge followed that up with his own solo home run (that landed really close to where Gardner’s landed) to get the Yankees on the board early.

In the 2nd, with 1 out, Ellsbury singled, moved to 2nd on a passed ball, and then scored on Todd Frazier’s single. Greg Bird added to the score with a lead-off solo home run in the 4th inning after the Rays pulled their starter.

With another pitcher in the 5th (after the disastrous top of the inning), the Yankees were looking for a big comeback. Gardner led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd when Sanchez was hit by a pitch, ended up a 3rd on a fielder’s choice, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s single.

The Rays were able to piece together a better bullpen again, which didn’t help the Yankees in their efforts to reduce the deficit of runs. In the 9th inning, with yet another reliever on for the Rays, pinch-hitter Aaron Hicks jumped in and smacked a 1-out solo home run that bounced off the bench in the Yankees’ bullpen to get the Yankees back in the game. But 2 outs later, the game was done.

Pear-shaped hit rock-bottom.

Final score: 9-6 Rays, Yankees win series 2-1

Postseason Prep: What makes tonight’s loss even harder to swallow is that the Red Sox were so dominated tonight by the Astros (12-2), keeping the Red Sox at 3 games ahead of the Yankees in the standings. The Yankees host the Blue Jays starting tomorrow for the final series of the season. Basically, in order to win the AL East at this point, the Astros need to sweep the Red Sox (go Astros!) and the Yankees need to sweep the Blue Jays.

On this day in Yankees History: on Sept. 28, 1968, Yankees icon and legend Mickey Mantle played his final career game actually at Fenway. He started the game and hit 3rd in the order. In the 1st inning, he popped out and was promptly replaced (at his request). He just wanted one final game, one final at-bat. He was almost 37, at the height of his alcoholism, and still dealing with a lingering terrible hip injury. He was done with baseball that day nearly 50 years ago, but he spent the next 27 years of his life becoming a better man personally and cherishing the memories he made on the field. So a tip of the cap in memory of old #7.

Go Yankees!

Game 154: NYY vs. TOR — Postseason clinched on Bird’s big swing

The champagne (or beer or soda in some cases) has been sprayed, the visitor’s clubhouse in Rogers Centre is doused, social media is abuzz. The Yankees are definitely playing October baseball. (But more on that later.)

Sonny Gray got the start this afternoon in the middle game in this weekend series in Toronto. Gray threw 96 pitches in his 6 innings, gave up 4 hits, 3 walks, and a run, and struck out just 4 batters. His allowed run (and the only one the Blue Jays hit all day) was a 1-out solo shot straight up the middle in the 4th inning. Actually, Gray had a pretty good day overall. It felt slow at times, but sometimes slow means people aren’t scoring. And in that case, it was a good thing.

The Yankees closed out the final third of the game, their bullpen making it look easy — Green, Robertson, and Chapman just breezing through the Blue Jays’ roster and shutting them down.

The Yankees didn’t really do much against the starter, despite his bad ERA and win-loss ratio this season. But what they did do was enough. In the 5th, Headley led-off with a walk and then stole 2nd base. One out later, Castro worked a walk as well. And then it was Greg Bird who made all the difference with his big 3-run home run into the right field seats.

The Yankees found another opportunity in the 8th inning when Todd Frazier hit a 1-out solo home run. And in the 9th, Sanchez led-off with a double, watched Headley work another walk, moved to 3rd on a fielder’s choice, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s RBI “single” (though how it wasn’t a fielding error, I’m not sure).

As Chapman threw his 10th pitch, a dribbling grounder to Bird (suitably) to get the out at 1st, the Yankees were going to the postseason regardless of how the rest of this next week turns out.

Final score: 5-1 Yankees

Okay, so yes, the Yankees are headed to the postseason. But the big question, the battle still to fight is WHERE. They will at least be a Wild Card spot. With today’s win and Boston winning their game against the Reds, both teams clinched postseason spots. But the Yankees remain firmly 4 games behind the Red Sox for the AL East.

Let’s talk “magic numbers”. As of now, the Red Sox’s magic number to be the AL East division champions is 5. Which means the Yankees’ magic number to take the crown from them is 5 games. So, the Red Sox need to lose 5 games, and the Yankees need to win 5 games.

As far as the actual Wild Card race, here’s how that’s looking. {Full Disclaimer: as I write this, many games are still in the middle of play, which could very well affect final standings where everyone lands by the end of the night.} The Yankees currently sit atop that list, 6 games ahead of the Twins. So, as of now, that’s who’s heading to the one-off Wild Card game.

However, there are 6 teams still very much in the race just a few games back — the Rangers (3.5 games behind the Twins), the Angels (4 games), Royals (4.5 games), Seattle (5 games), Rays (5 games), and Orioles (6.5 games). Realistically, the Rangers and Angels probably have the best shot at making up the difference, especially as the division winners (and deservedly so) of some of the other divisions will be playing some of the other contenders. It’s always down to the schedule, isn’t it?

Anyway, we’re still hoping for the Red Sox’s collapse here. So it’s still “Go Reds!” for tomorrow as the Yankees hope to close that gap by taking the series tomorrow afternoon in Toronto before heading home for the final week.

Go Yankees!

Game 149: BAL vs. NYY — A rather “Gray Sonday”

It actually started off this afternoon as a bit cloudy over the stadium. I mean, it progressively got sunnier and the late afternoon shadows started creeping across the field as they always do on sunny matinee game days. The Yankees were hoping for a sweep of the Orioles in today’s finale of their 4-game series, but it was not to be. As sunny as it was today, it wasn’t so much for the Sonny on the mound today.

Sonny Gray got the start, throwing 80 pitches in just 4 innings. He gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs, striking out just 4 Orioles’ batters. In the 2nd, Gray gave up a 1-out double that moved to 3rd on a ground out and later scored on an RBI single to get the O’s on the board early. A 1-out single in the 3rd scored on a 2-out double to double their score. And in the 4th, the Orioles worked a lead-off walk and a 2-out single that moved up to scoring position on a wild pitch and then promptly scored on a big 3-run home run.

With that rather substantial lead, the Yankees turned to their bullpen in the form of Bryan Mitchell for the 5th inning. He gave up consecutive singles that put runners in the corners. A fielder’s choice ended up scoring the lead runner to cap off the Orioles’ runs today. But then Mitchell found his groove and settled into a nice pattern through the next 2 innings. Betances and Kahnle closed out the final 2 innings with flawless pitching, just 10 and 11 pitches (respectively) in each inning.

So, all the Yankees had to do was make up for it. And they were facing the one starter in the league with the highest ERA. Who, apparently, decided to have a pretty good day, unfortunately for the Yankees. In his 5 innings, he only gave up 3 hits and a walk and a 2nd inning lead-off solo home run to Didi Gregorius. (And by the way, the lady who got Gregorius’ home run ball couldn’t be happier!)

The Yankees found a few opportunities to advance once the Orioles got into their bullpen. In the 6th, Sanchez worked a 1-out walk and moved to 2nd on Castro’s 2-out single. Both then scored on Matt Holliday’s double. And Judge led-off the 8th with a double, moved to 3rd when Gregorius reached safely thanks to a throwing error, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s sacrifice fly {No media link}. But the Yankees weren’t able to do much more than that. And it wasn’t enough.

Final score: 6-4 Orioles, Yankees win series 3-1.

Injury updates: there are a few Yankees who are stuck on the disabled list, but the Yankees. Adam Warren has been out since September 3 (officially) with back issues and is threw some long toss prior to yesterday’s game with no issues. Warren has been an effective part of the bullpen, usually solid for long-term relief, so his hole on the roster has definitely been felt. They are hopeful that he will be back in the ‘pen before the end of the season, however.

Aaron Hicks is still recovering from his oblique injury, doing some minor workouts to get back into the momentum of coming back soon. He was briefly sidelined from his recovery due to strep throat last week, but the Yankees are hopeful that successful batting practice in the next few days will open the door to his return to pinstripes shortly thereafter.

Roster moves: reliever Caleb Smith is currently battling a viral infection, so the Yankees placed him on the 10-day DL yesterday, retroactive to September 13 (the last time he pitched in a game). Reliever Domingo German was recalled AAA Scranton to fill in Smith’s spot in the bullpen.

Postseason Prep: Okay, so despite the Yankees’ loss today, there is some good news. The Red Sox also lost their game today (thanks, Rays!), so the standings remain the same. Not that the steady spot in the standings is what you want, but it’s better than the Red Sox gaining in their lead over the Yankees in the AL East.

If the standings remain the same, the Yankees will face the Twins for the one-off Wild Card game following the regular season. The Twins are on their way to New York for a 3-game mid-week series, so people are watching how this series pans out. The Yankees are hoping to gain ground on the Red Sox and push the Twins further down the standings. But the Twins are hoping to gain ground on the Yankees and close the gap between the potential Wild Card teams. Now, as of posting, the Twins are dominating the Blue Jays, and their assumed win will mean they are just 4 games behind the Yankees. It’s going to be a rather tight final 2 weeks of this season.

But that’s what makes it rather fun!

Go Yankees!

Game 144: NYY vs. TB — Displaced disappointment

Apparently, this crosstown misplaced series is a huge hit in New York. After over 15,000 fans showed up for last night’s Yankee win over the “home team” Rays, the powers-that-be at Citi Field opened up a second deck to allow nearly 6000 more fans to watch tonight’s game.

Sonny Gray pitched all 8 innings for the Yankees tonight, actually throwing a pretty great game overall. He threw 94 pitches, gave up 5 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and struck out 9 Rays’ batters. Both of those runs were solo home runs — a 1st pitch solo shot in the 1st inning and a 1-out solo shot in the 8th.

Meanwhile, Gray was looking for some run support… that would just never arrive. I mean, they did get on the board first in the top of the 1st inning. Judge worked a 1-out walk (surprise!), moved to 2nd on Sanchez’s ground out, and then scored on Matt Holliday’s double.

Now, the Rays’ starter did pitch into the 6th inning, only giving up 2 hits and 2 walks to Yankee batters, and that lone run in the 1st inning. Tapping into the bullpen, the Yankees were hoping to use that to their advantage, as they’ve done for so many other teams this season. But the Rays’ bullpen may be the lone thing they have going for them this season. Collectively, the Rays’ bullpen gave up 1 hit. And that’s it for allowed base runners for the second half of the game.

Final score: 2-1 Rays

Injury news: after being a last-minute scratch at last night’s game due to lower back soreness, Greg Bird was sent for a precautionary MRI, which came back negative. He’s hoping to rejoin the team for tomorrow’s game.

Also, the Yankees released their 2018 preliminary schedule today. The Yankees will start their season with a 4-game series in Toronto (starting March 29) and end the season at Fenway (Sept. 28-30). All 30 teams will start on the same day this year, and with nothing to prevent them from starting that early like the World Baseball Classic or exhibition games for opening a new stadium or a historic Cuban baseball game.

It could be an interesting season, at least. Of course, so much of how tough the schedule will depend on how the season evolves in time. Like which team will hit a hot streak, which team will be plagued with random injuries, which team is ready to burst forth and make their push towards the postseason. A schedule can look deceptively good until the team is bogged down with unforeseen injuries, and suddenly, it’s a terrible schedule.

Baseball is really never predictable.

Go Yankees!

Game 139: NYY vs. BAL — Make-up matinee win for Stick

The rain that plagued the East Coast for the last two days soaked Baltimore yesterday without any let up, pushing last night’s game to today. Both teams are headed to other cities tomorrow (Yankees to Texas, Orioles to Cleveland), so they both had open travel days today. The teams agreed to a matinée make-up game today (when it was bright and sunny) to allow both teams to head out this afternoon before the night games tomorrow. (And this still allows both rosters to rest up before their weekend series.)

Anyway, so they played their finale in Baltimore this afternoon before another small crowd. (It’s like the citizens and precipitation-associated games don’t mix well.) Sonny Gray got the start and threw a pretty decent outing. He threw 102 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 1 unearned run, and struck out 5 Baltimore batters.

Gray and the Yankees’ defense held off the Orioles until the 6th inning. With 2 outs and 2 runners on base, a batter hit into a force attempt on a fairly easy grounder but a throwing error allowed the runner to reach safely, and the other 2 batters to advance 2 bases, scoring the lead runner. The error making the run scored unearned.

That would be it for Gray, handing the ball over to Chad Green, who did what Chad Green does really well — closed the 6th and then powered through the 7th inning to keep the O’s at that lone run scored. Kahnle and Heller each took an inning to close out that game, breezing through the Orioles’ roster with such ease. Basically, the three of them showing off why the Yankees’ bullpen is still quite feared by their opponents.

The Orioles’ pitching staff, however, is not quite so fearsome. Their starter certainly got hit pretty hard by the Yankee offense, and the bullpen got dinged up a bit too. In the 1st, Brett Gardner led-off with a walk, stole 2nd, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ 2-out double. Aaron Judge’s 39th home run of the season followed that, a big 2-run home run up the middle to put the Yankees firmly in an early lead.

In the 3rd, Gregorius hit a 1-out single, moved to 2nd on Judge’s walk, and then scored on Matt Holliday’s single. Then while Jacoby Ellsbury hit into a force out at 2nd, when the Orioles couldn’t turn the double play at 1st as well, Judge hustled it home to add yet another run to the score. The Orioles’ starter was done after just 3 innings, but the Yankees couldn’t be stopped.

In the 4th, Gardner hit a 1-out double and then scored as part of Chase Headley’s 2-run home run. And with a new reliever in the 6th, and 2 outs, Starlin Castro’s solo home run kept things moving solidly in the wind column. Todd Frazier decided to match that with his own 2-out solo home run in the 7th inning to cap off the Yankees’ runs today. Baltimore pitchers finally figured out how to stop the Yankee bats, but the lead was solidly in the win column.

Final score: 9-1 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1

I saw that the last time the Yankees won a series in Baltimore, the winning pitcher was Mariano Rivera back on September 12, 2013. The Yankees always seem to struggle at Camden Yards, with someone once attributing their issues as a “Oriole Voodoo Curse”, but that seems a bit extreme. I mean, it’s not like they were caught stealing signs with Apple watches. (When that’s resolved, probably in the off-season, I promise to talk more about this.)

And in absolutely disheartening news, former Yankees GM and special advisor Gene “Stick” Michael passed away earlier today at his home in Oldsmar, Florida (part of the Tampa Bay area). He was a huge part of the Yankees organization for many years, a great presence, genuine heart, and one of the smartest analysts of the game. His long list of contributions include helping to sign and develop the “Core Four” and the team that would become the latest dynasty, winning 4 World Series Championships in 5 years.

But even more than that, Stick was a man of good character, quick humor, and sincere friendship. The Yankees and Orioles took a moment of silence before today’s game, and the Yankees donned black armbands on their uniforms in his memory. The legend and legacy of Stick Michael will not be soon forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his widow Joette and his many friends and family during this time.

Go Yankees!

Game 134: BOS vs. NYY — September off to a stunted start

And just like that fortunes reversed. September begins, and the Yankees are still in heated contention with the Red Sox (and a few other teams) for the postseason. Sonny Gray got the start tonight, and certainly had mixed results. On one hand, he struck out 9 Boston batters in just 7 innings, but on the other, he gave up 4 runs.

Gray threw 98 pitches in those 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and a walk. And those pesky 4 runs, all scored on home runs. In the 3rd, he allowed his lone walk before a home run scored both runners to put the Red Sox in the lead. A 2-out solo home run in the 5th and a lead-off solo shot in the 7th added those 2 more runs for the Red Sox.

Meanwhile, the Yankees kicked off the offense in the 1st when Brett Gardner hit a lead-off double and then scored on Aaron Judge’s double. Then they struggled with much offense, only getting 2 more hits and a walk off the Red Sox’s starter in his 7 innings.

Aroldis Chapman’s 8th inning was almost perfect, where he got all 3 outs as strikeouts. And Adam Warren kept the Red Sox from adding to their score with a 14-pitch 9th. But unfortunately, the Red Sox’s relievers for both innings followed the example and threw 2 scoreless innings as well, leaving the Yankees in the dust.

Final score: 4-1 Red Sox

Before the game today, former Yankee legend (and Grammy-nominated classically trained guitarist) Bernie Williams performed an amazing version of the national anthem as Little Leaguers from the area who narrowly missed representing the US in the recent Little League World Series joined Yankee players all over the field to be honored for their success this season.

Roster moves: just in time for the September call-ups, the Yankees activated Matt Holliday from the DL, after his recovery from a back injury. They also transferred pitcher Luis Cessa, who is still dealing with his ribcage injury, from the 10-day to the 60-day DL, effectively removing him off the 40-man roster. This made room for the Yankees to select the contract of newly acquired Erik Kratz, promoting him from AAA Scranton.

They also recalled pitchers Jordan Montgomery, Ben Heller, and Bryan Mitchell from AAA Scranton. There is still room for additions this month, but the Yankees also want the RailRiders to work on their own upcoming postseason and potential repeat of their championship in a few weeks. They finish their season on Monday as division leaders (by 7 1/2 games!).

Like the big leagues, the team with the most wins will face the winner of the Wild Card games (to be played on Wednesday and Thursday). The RailRiders are ready for that role unless they get swept by the Phillies’ AAA team. Their Division Series (best of 5) begins next weekend. Their Championship Series is shortly after that (beginning September 12) for the “Governor’s Cup”. And the ultimate championship game between the Pacific Coast League and the International League (where the RailRiders play) to be played on September 19 at PNC Park (the RailRiders’ home park). Best of luck to you guys once again in your postseason!

Go Yankees!