Game 41: NYY vs. TB — Starters strong at the Trop, 28 strikeouts

With the Yankees on the road for 81 games of the season, you get a great look at different parts of this country, different cities all over. So when I do my daily recap, I try to pull in fun things from the host city so that while you may never set foot in the cities (though you should because traveling is amazing!), you can experience a taste of exotic cities like St. Louis, St. Paul, and St. Petersburg.

Anyway, one of the things I like to do is find out the city’s nickname. Sometimes they’re well-known (like the “Windy City”), sometimes they’re really repetitive (both Seattle and Cincinatti are known as the “Queen City”), sometimes they’re interesting (Kansas City is the “City of Fountains”), and sometimes they’re just weird. I came across this list for St. Petersburg (where the Rays play) and also for Tampa (because it’s the largest city in the area) — St. Petersburg: “Always in Season”, “The Burg”, “Sunshine City”, and just “St. Pete” (as all the locals call it); Tampa: “Cigar City”, the “Lightning Capital of the World”, “America’s Next Greatest City”, “City of Champions”, and (my personal favorite) “The Big Guava”.

So, as I write this blog from “The Big Guava”, I think over this weekend series that took place just across the bay in “Sunshine City”. (Sorry, but this has been a long weekend.) The Yankees fell out of 1st place and then earned it back upon today’s win (and Baltimore’s loss against Toronto) to be back in 1st by just a half-game.

CC Sabathia got the start in this afternoon’s finale against the Rays. Sabathia tends to do pretty well at Tropicana Field, so it was no surprise that he had a pretty strong outing today. He threw 95 pitches into the 6th inning, giving up just 4 hits, a walk, and 2 runs (only 1 earned), and striking out 6 Rays’ batters.

With 2 outs (both strikeouts) and 2 runners on base in the 1st inning, Gary Sanchez went for a pick-off attempt at 1st, but the throw was off and passed Carter to allow the lead runner to score from 2nd (the unearned run). And a 1-out solo home run in the 5th doubled the Rays’ score to bookend Sabathia’s outing.

The Yankees offense faced a really fantastic pitcher, the Rays’ ace and a player on my top 5 non-Yankees pitching list, who just dominated the Yankees’ lineup today. Honestly, throwing into just the 7th inning, he got the Yankees to swing into an impressive 12 strikeouts.

But the Yankees, being the team that they are this season, found their moments, and it paid off in the end. Easily the weakest inning of the Rays’ ace, the 2nd inning began with Ellsbury’s double. Didi Gregorious (who had a fantastic day, going 4-for-4 today) hit a 1-out single and scored Ellsbury. And it would be Brett Gardner to hit his 8th home run of the season, a 2-out, 2-run shot into the first row of the right field seats to give the Yankees the slim lead they wouldn’t surrender all game.

The Yankees bullpen had a strong showing today, especially with that slim lead they had to protect. Green, Clippard, and Betances finished off and split the final 4 innings of the game, keeping the Rays off the bases and away from home plate.

Final score: 3-2 Yankees, Rays win series 2-1.

The Yankees are now on their way back to the Bronx for their 7-game home stand, 4 games against the Royals and 3 against the Athletics. Plus, tomorrow kicks off HOPE Week, my favorite week of the year, where the Yankees honor local community organizations and outreaches, giving them a platform for their non-profit and a nice donation to continue their good work in the community.

Scranton Shuttle update: The Yankees called Bryan Mitchell back from AAA Scranton, sending Giovanni Gallegos back in exchange for a fresh arm in the bullpen. The bullpen continues to get a lot of work, but they are fairly strong and dominant this season. Something that clearly contributes to the fact that the Yankees are back on top of the AL East.

Go Yankees!

Game 40: NYY vs. TB — And they say baseball’s a boring game…

I blame the Hawaiian shirts. Unless you are a man of a certain age or going to a theme party, there is absolutely no reason for Hawaiian shirts to exist or to be an acceptable marketing tool to fans for a Saturday afternoon game. I don’t care that it’s Florida, but this isn’t Key West in 1977. You aren’t Elvis Presley or Jimmy Buffett. And I really need something to blame.

Of course, the drama with the home plate umpire should be enough. It’s certainly enough to warrant a nearly four hour afternoon game in St. Petersburg today, the middle game against the Rays this weekend. The Yankees were looking for Masahiro Tanaka to give them a good base to get a win today. But it was not to be. Tanaka got really roughed up from the start, throwing into the only the 4th inning with 76 pitches, giving up 9 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs, striking out 4 batters. It’s hard to believe this is the same Tanaka from Spring Training.

Tanaka gave up a lead-off home run in the 1st inning to set the tone for his outing (and the game, really).  In the 2nd, with 2 outs and 2 runners on base, a double scored the lead runner before Tanaka intentionally walked the next batter. And then the runner at 2nd dangled too far off base and reminded the world why April saw the phrase “You don’t run on Gary!” become popular. He ran on Gary, and he got out. A 1-out solo home run in the 3rd added another notch to the Rays’ score.

But it would be the 4th inning that really sealed the deal for the game. The lead-off batter doubled, and the next batter struck out on a wild pitch that allowed him to reach base safely (thus negating the out). A 3-run home run (by the same guy that led-off the game for the Rays with a homer) really cemented the Rays’ lead. Two singles and runners on the corners later, Tanaka was done for the afternoon.

In came Tommy Layne. Layne walked the first batter and loaded the bases, but then the infield got some great defense in with consecutive line-outs up the middle and a force out at 2nd to get out of the jam. That’s called teamwork.

Before we get to the heart of the drama today, the Yankee weren’t exactly sitting back watching the Rays tally up these runs without adding some of their own. Aaron Judge kicked off the 2nd inning with his 15th home run of the season into the right field seats to initially tie up the game. Then in the 4th, with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, Chase Headley’s double scored both Castro and Judge to tie up the game again. And in the 5th, Gary Sanchez hit a big 2-out solo home run up the middle to tack on another run for the Yankees. Matt Holliday was hit by a pitch but then the Rays got the 3rd out of the inning to halt any attempt to rally.

And then came the now infamous bottom of the 5th inning. A lead-off single and fly out seemed rather innocuous to start this inning. But then Layne hit the next batter, throwing a bit high actually. (more later) A single score the lead runner, and that was it for Layne. Giovanni Gallegos got the opportunity to try, but promptly loaded the bases with a walk. A single then scored 2 of the runners, so pitching coach Larry Rothschild made a visit out to the mound to check on his pitcher. Sometime between saying his bit to Gallegos and before hitting the baseline, the home plate umpire decided to eject Rothschild. (again more later)

Joe Girardi was just as confused as I was on that decision and came out to question the call. And in the process, he too joined Rothschild in the clubhouse for the rest of the game. But not before Girardi took a page out of old Yankees manager Billy Martin and actually physically walked over to home plate and covered up the base with dirt. Then Gallegos walked the next batter and loaded up the bases again before getting a well-placed strikeout and a force out at 2nd to get out of his own jam.

The Yankees came up to bat at the top of the 6th inning, and the drama continued. Aaron Judge was promptly hit by a pitch on the left side, which is where you hit someone if you intend to hit them. The home plate umpire immediately ejected the Rays’ starter, and this may be the only ejection I actually agreed with tonight. A former Yankee came on to give up a double to Ellsbury to put runners in scoring position. Judge then scored on Chase Headley’s ground out, but then breezed through the next 8 outs of the Yankees. The Yankees got a baserunner in the 9th, a walk, but the Rays pitching found favor at the plate and ended the Yankees’ hopes for a comeback.

The Yankees’ pitching began to take a turn for the better as Gallegos got 2 outs in the 6th before Chasen Shreve breezed his way through 4 outs, 3 of them solid strikeouts. Jonathan Holder’s beautiful 9th inning continued his momentum and solidifying him for being a key aspect of the Yankees bullpen.

Final score: 9-5 Rays.

Okay, so let’s talk about the drama and all the ejections. So, unfortunately, the batter Layne hit in the 5th that seemed to kickstart this whole mess was the same batter that already hit 2 homers off Tanaka, so the Rays’ announcers jumped to the conclusion this was on purpose. Which I guess I could understand, but like I said before, when pitchers intentionally throw at batters, they don’t throw at their heads (unless they’re major jerks). But one could argue for the fact that the Rays’ starter already hit Matt Holliday in the 4th, and thus this was revenge.

I just have a huge problem with that entire line of logic because Layne isn’t the kind of guy that would do that, especially like that. Why would a pitcher risk getting a batter on base when they need to shut them down quickly to get back in the game for a comeback?

Now, the pitcher hitting Judge? That was no doubt in anyone’s mind as on-purpose.

I had a researcher do some work for me during the game, and apparently, the home plate umpire is known for two things — ejecting people without justifiable cause and for antagonizing players and coaches to justify said ejection. Rothschild came from the mound and made an off-the-cuff remark about the umpire missing a few pitches. Ejected.

So, Girardi rightly came out to ask why Rothschild was ejected because it didn’t seem directly clear. And just because Girardi deigned to ask a question, he was immediately tossed from the game too. And, like Girardi said later, if he was going to get tossed, he was going to get his money’s worth. Hence, the redecoration of the home plate.

And I’m not just saying this because of how the drama played out. I’ve supported or condemned ejections and intent balls from both sides of the game, and sometimes the Yankees deserve the ejection or I know they hit a batter on purpose. I call it like I see it. I don’t always agree with the choices, and I’m not a big fan of intentionally hitting a batter ever (even a showboating diva). But I will be honest about what I see. And tonight was just a mess on all fronts.

It’s one of those days I’m glad just to put in the books and turn the page, hoping for something better. And there has to be something better. Perhaps even less dramatic. But it struck me as amusing how everyone seems to think baseball is boring. Clearly, they’ve never witnessed a game like today. Baseball is most definitely not boring.

Go Yankees!

Game 39: NYY vs. TB — Soggy on the outside, just missed it on the inside

It’s been a scary hot week in the Tampa Bay area, setting record high temperatures and coupled with the famous Florida humidity. It may be the only reason why I’m okay with the Rays’s domed stadium in St. Petersburg. Okay, and the fact that about an hour before first pitch, there was a deluge that flooded many streets around the area because it was pretty rainy through the night, still sprinkling a bit at the final out actually. So rain and extreme heat = me okay with a domed stadium.

I still don’t like the artificial turf, but that’s a whole different issue for a whole different blog post. (Which will probably comes up later this weekend, if I’m being honest.)

Anyway, the Yankees started their weekend series against the Rays by sending Luis Severino to the mound to start the game. And Severino actually had a strong outing, throwing 89 pitches in his 5 innings, giving up 5 hits and 3 walks, but only 1 run, and striking out 7 Rays’ batters. Severino gave up lead-off single in the 1st inning, but then he was out on a fielder’s choice at 2nd (failed double play #1). Then that guy was out on another fielder’s choice out at 2nd (failed double play #2). But a double scored the baserunner to get the Rays on the board.

Severino and his defense spent the rest of his tenure keeping the Rays to that lone run. Jonathan Holder came on in the 6th and continued his strong outings, keeping Severino’s momentum going in his 13 pitches.

But Adam Warren struggled his way through the first part of the 7th inning, loading up the bases with 3 consecutive singles before a sacrifice fly scored a run and moved the rest of the runners to scoring position. After a strikeout, it was on to Chasen Shreve. But his first batter, a pinch-hitter doubled and scored the 2 runners before Shreve got the final out of the 7th inning to halt their rally.

However, the unfortunate turn fell to Tyler Clippard in the 8th, who got all 3 of his outs as strikeouts. It’s what happened in between that was problematic. Strikeout #1, a walk, strikeout #2, a walk, a single (to the guy who racked up 4 hits of Yankee pitchers tonight) scored the all-important run), and then came strikeout #3 (a batter too late).

Now, the Yankees were actually the first ones on the board. In the 1st, Ellsbury hit a 1-out single and ended up at 3rd on Holliday’s double before scoring on Starlin Castro’s ground out. With the game tied in the 3rd, Gardner led-off with a single, ending up at 2nd on a throwing error, and then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s double. Like I said before, the Yankees spent most of the game defending their slim lead after Severino’s pretty stellar start.

So when the Rays jumped ahead at the bottom of the 7th, the Yankees came right back in the top of the 8th to rally. The Rays played a bit of bullpen bingo sending in a 3 new relievers in this inning alone. Under pitcher #1 of the inning, Gardner led-off with a walk, and 1 out later, it was on to pitcher #2. Matt Holliday tied things up in one swing with a nice 2-run home run into the 2nd row of the right field seats. After Castro singled, it was time for pitcher #3 who got Judge to hit into a double play to end the rally.

But then after the Rays came back in the bottom of the 8th to break the tie, the Yankees couldn’t find another rally against the Rays’ closer, who now has 11 saves so far this season, which says a lot about him as the Rays are 22 wins-22 losses. This means he’s saved half of the winning games for the Rays. A completely inconsequential statistic for a Yankees fan. But as they play them a lot, it’s good to know your opponent for their strengths and weaknesses.

Like the Rays should know that they worked up 13 strikeouts off Yankee pitchers tonight. (Remember, 7 of those were Severino’s.) So, yeah, I’d call that a strength.

Final score: 5-4 Rays

Noticeably absent in the visitor’s dugout tonight was Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who missed tonight’s game to be back in New York to see his oldest daughter graduate high school today. (Congratulations, Serena!) In his stead, bench coach Rob Thomson took on the substitute managerial role. Thomson has filled in a few times when Girardi was sick or was briefly suspended, but his record (after tonight’s game) is 1 win-3 losses.

And in roster rehab news: 1st baseman Tyler Austin was scheduled to begin his rehab games with the Tampa Yankees tonight. But like I said at the beginning, it was a bit soggy, and as Steinbrenner Field is an open-air stadium, the game was postponed until tomorrow to be the first game of doubleheader. Austin, you may remember, took a foul ball off his foot during live batting practice the day before position players reported to camp for Spring Training. He’s been healing and working his way back into pinstripes, anxious to find his place on the team again.

Now, with Bird still struggling with his own injury (a bruised bone that is just not healing right), Carter’s been filling quite well, but he was never meant to be the everyday 1st baseman for the Yankees. So Austin could be the key player to find that consistency as Bird works his way though his own healing and rehab stints. But let’s be honest, I think we’d rather see them all healthy and whole again, competing for that roster spot, than banged up and bruised.

Go Yankees!

Game 9: TB vs. NYY — Sweep dreams for the home opening series

Not a bad way to start the season in the Bronx — a nice sweep of the visiting Rays. First homestand, first sweep. There’s a lot of nice things I can tie together, but I won’t. And I won’t use any cleaning metaphors either because it was a well-played game. The Rays’ defense was finally not as sloppy as the last two games, but it wasn’t enough.

Luis Severino got the start in tonight’s finale, throwing 104 pitches over his 7 innings, giving up 5 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and striking out a really impressive 11 Rays batters. (He set his own record tonight when he got to 10 strikeouts in the 7th, so 11 is a step above that.) In the 2nd, with 2 outs and 2 runners on base, a single scored the Rays’ first run before the infield played a little rundown to end the inning. And a hard-hit 1-out solo home run in the 5th gave the Rays 2.

Dellin Betances’ 8th inning was a bit dramatic, giving up a walk and a single to start the inning before buckling down for 3 straight outs, 2 of them nasty strikeouts (to continue the momentum of Severino). Then it was on to Aroldis Chapman to get the save and complete a fire-throwing pitching day for the Yankees. Chapman added 2 more strikeouts to the mix for a total of 15 strikeouts for Yankees pitchers tonight. (15 of the 27 Rays’ batting outs were thus strikeouts.)

The Yankees entire scoring is due to one player — Aaron Hicks. He kicked things off with a 1-out solo shot to right field in the 1st. And then in the 7th, with 2 outs and Ellsbury on 1st, Hicks came in and hit the ball deep into the left field seats for a 2-run home run. Talk about clutch hitting tonight!

Final score: 3-2 Yankees, Yankees sweep 3-0

I heard someone describe tonight’s game as a pitching duel, and I feel like they’ve never really seen one if they call tonight’s outings a “duel”. Once again, the pitching statistics are fairly matched (except that pesky strikeout one), but it certainly didn’t feel like a duel to me. A duel is usually between really good, really tight pitchers who keep the hits and base runners to a minimum. Both teams gave up 7 hits each (and 7 total walks, 5 to Yankee batters), and while the final score was close. It didn’t really have the atmosphere as being stellar in pitching on both sides. Sorry.

Injury updates: okay, prospect pitcher James Kaprielian has made his decision, opting for Tommy John surgery, currently scheduled for Tuesday. I can understand this decision. This gives him a definite timetable for recovery, instead of hoping that during rest and rehab it won’t get worse or suddenly take a turn and force surgery in the end. He was scheduled to start the season with Single-A Tampa, maybe working up to Trenton later this year, but all that will have to wait. Recovery time is general 14-16 months, so he’s looking at a return towards the end of next summer (around the All-Star Game 2018).

And in better news, Brett Gardner showed up for work today and was ready to play if necessary, though he wasn’t scheduled to play or even expected to show up at the stadium. Yes, the guy who had a bruised and swollen jaw after yesterday’s 6th inning collision, Brett Gardner was just ready to play ball. He passed the mandatory concussion test and clearly rested and iced his jaw and neck last night. And while there might be some lingering soreness, the veteran Yankee defied all odds and was just ready to play.

In good news, the Yankees are now having a winning season. They are currently 5-4, 2nd in the AL East (tied with Boston), behind Baltimore. Not saying anything about anything, but it’s nice to celebrate minor victories as they come along.

Go Yankees!

Game 8: TB vs. NYY — Rookie strong debut start & a 3-inning rally

It was almost a rain delay in the Bronx today. The Rays were forced to cancel their on-field batting practice before the game so that the grounds crew could put a tarp on the field just in time for the heavens to open up and dump quite the shower on Yankee Stadium. Perhaps in part because of the weather (and perpetual overcast skies) and partly because it was a mid-week day game, the stands felt a little empty (and a bit wet in places) at about 70% capacity today, which is still more than the average Rays home game attendance.

Plus, the Yankees decided to start their recent call-up, young pitcher Jordan Montgomery, in his MLB debut, a new role he not only embraced but succeeded quite well. Paired with another recent call-up, catcher Kyle Higashioka, they teamed up to really show an outstanding battery against the Rays in today’s middle game of the homestand opening series. Montogomery threw 89 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up 5 hits, 3 runs (only 2 earned), and 2 walks, and striking out an impressive 7 batters.

In the 1st inning, Montgomery got 2 quick strikeouts before walking a batter and then giving up a 2-run home run into the left field seats to get the Rays on the board. Then he settled in and powered through the next three innings before allowing a lead-off double in the 5th, and after another 2 strikeouts, his day was done. A rather successful debut.

Bryan Mitchell came on in relief, and his first batter gave the crowd some drama. After reaching safely on a fielding error, the runner scored from 2nd, but then the batter tried to make it to 2nd and was thrown out there thanks to the sharp throw by right fielder Judge and Kozman keeping the tag on the runner who came off the bag as part of the play. However, the umpires originally ruled him safe. On a Yankees’ challenge, the call was eventually overturned and the inning was over.

Mitchell continued on and sailed through the 6th inning flawlessly. Clippard’s 7th continued that pattern, adding 2 more strikeouts to today’s total. Tommy Layne had a spot of trouble in the 8th. His lead-off single was out on a fielder’s choice at 2nd, and after a strike out, a passed ball moved the runner to scoring position. He then scored on a nice double to give the Rays just one more run today. In the next inning, Holder allowed 2 runners with just 1 out, so Chapman came on to finish the 9th, shutting down 2 batters in just 9 pitches.

Meanwhile, the Yankees actually struggled a bit against the Rays’ starter, only giving up 2 hits and 3 walks during his tenure on the mound, into the 5th inning. It would be that inning that the Yankees seemed to find their opening, Headley led-off with a single, Judge worked a walk, and Higashioka reached on a messy fielding error to load the bases with no outs. Two outs later, Aaron Hicks worked a walk to score Headley, and that was the end of the Rays’ starter’s day, with the bases loaded.

The new pitcher threw a wild pitch that moved all the runners up, scoring Judge, before walking Holliday to load up the bases again. But a pop-up ended the 5th inning rally. So the Yankees came back in the 6th to do it again. Castro and Headley led-off with consecutive singles, and Aaron Judge’s single scored Castro. After Higashioka bunted into a force out at 2nd, putting runners in the corners, the Rays went back to their bullpen.

Then, pinch-hitter Brett Gardner hit a dribbler back to the pitcher who had a bad throwing error to 1st, though it scored Headley. But in the process, Gardner collided with the 1st baseman. Both also crashed to the ground, and Gardner crawled to 1st to re-tag it. But both were injured and in pain on the ground. Both also left the game. (More on this below.) Pinch-runner Torreyes came on for Gardner.

Jacoby Ellsbury singled home Higashioka, and this put runners on the corners. After another pitching change, Torreyes then scored on Hicks’ ground out. But the Yankees weren’t done yet. Carter’s lead-off single in the 7th helped solidify the lead when Aaron Judge hit a monster 2-run home run into Monument Park. Someone commented that the scary part of that homer was that Judge didn’t even get all of it.

It’s also worth noting that the Yankee pitchers got the Rays to strike out 11 times, while Rays pitchers only had 1 strikeout today. And of the 12 runs scored, only 7 were officially earned, mostly because of the Rays’ sloppy defense in the latter half of the game, though only 3 total errors were recorded (2 for the Rays, 1 for the Yankees).

Final score: 8-4 Yankees.

Roster moves: to sign today’s starter Jordan Montgomery to the active roster, the Yankees needed to move someone on the 40-man (after moving Shreve to AAA yesterday), so they designated pitcher Johnny Barbato for assignment. Montogmery’s parents were, of course, proudly watching in the stands today for their son’s MLB debut.

Injury news: prospect pitcher James Kaprielian was sent to LA for tests due to his elbow soreness. He was given a few options. He can continue to rest and rehab or consider surgery (yes, the Tommy John kind, which would have an 18-month rehab timeline). As rehab hasn’t been successful thus far, the surgery is being strongly considered. To be fair, they aren’t as quick to rush to surgery lately. I think that’s why they are giving him the non-surgical option as well. In other words, surgery isn’t necessary, but definitely recommended. But as it’s his career and his body, he can choose how to deal with the injury and create a healing timetable based on that decision.

Now, Brett Gardner is injured, and while it won’t cause him to be put on the DL, he is considered day-to-day. He sustained a bruised jaw and strained neck due to the collision in the 6th inning (described above). His partner in this tumble (the Rays’ infielder Weeks) also will be day-to-day with neck and shoulder soreness. No concussion, and no immediate concern, but I imagine Gardner will need a few days to ice that jaw and stretch out his neck. And I’m guessing some soft foods at the Homecoming Dinner later tonight. Skip the steak, bring on the cheesecake.

Go Yankees!

Game 7: TB vs. NYY — Home opener dominance

There’s absolutely nothing like Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. The stands are crowded with hopeful fans (another sell-out crowd this year), everything is fresh and new, vendors hawk new merchandise and delicious new food and drink options, the team introductions reverberate off the stadium, and the air is simply electric unlike any other game during the year.

In a reversal of fortunes from the Opening Day at the Trop last week, the Yankees basically decided to dominate the visiting Rays from start to finish today, thanks mostly to starter Michael Pineda. Pineda had what has to be one of the best starts of his entire career, even maintaining a no-hitter into the 7th inning. Yes, he was just getting those outs, rather efficiently, a straight 20 outs before one of the Rays’ power-hitters broke it with a nice 2-out double to left field in the 7th. All of Yankee Stadium (including many of the Rays’ players) gave Pineda a nice ovation for his efforts.

Now, the only other hit he gave up was a questionable 1-out solo home run in 8th. The ball hit off a fan’s glove just above the wall by the Yankees’ bullpen and bounced back into right field. Ellsbury and Judge believed it was either a home run or a fan-interference double, so they didn’t rush to the ball as the runner made a mad rush to 3rd as the 2nd base umpire called the ball still in play (perhaps believing it bounced off the side of the wall instead). An umpire review found that the ball would’ve hit the top of the wall and thus overturned the call to be a home run.

After another out, the Yankees decided 93 pitches and 11 strikeouts was enough for Pineda’s great outing, calling on Tyler Clippard for a 1-pitch out to end the 8th inning. Chasen Shreve breezed through the Rays in the 9th with a quick 12-pitch inning to cap off what is easily the best outing by a Yankees’ pitching staff this season so far.

To be perfectly fair, the Rays’ pitchers had a pretty decent day, but they were back by some pretty messy defense at really inopportune times (for the Rays, that is). The Yankees, however, used it to their advantage. In the 3rd, with 1 out, technically, Gardner struck out on a wild pitch but made it safely to 1st, thus negating the out. He then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s double to start the Yankees’ runs this afternoon. Aaron Judge doubled their lead in the 4th with a solid 2-out solo home run into the left field seats. And Chase Headley got in on the fun with a lead-off solo home run into the 1st row of the right field seats.

But it would be the 8th inning that would move this game from a close one to a near-blowout. Gardner led things off by reaching on a bumbled fielding error, stealing 2nd (now 4-for-4 in stolen bases this year), and then scoring on Matt Holliday’s 1-out double. That was it for the Rays’ starter (after 102 pitches, actually). But the Yankees kept pressing in as Chris Carter scored Holliday with a big triple. Then Starlin Castro decided to mimic the Rays a bit and bounced a 2-run home run ball off the same top of the wall by the Yankees’ bullpen. That induced yet another umpire review, taking much longer than it should to confirm and uphold the home run call.

Headley and Judge then singled, and Romine made it to 1st on another bad fielding error to load up the bases. Ronald Torreyes hit a short grounder to 3rd base for the force out there, but the Rays’ infield wasn’t able to turn a double play (something they really didn’t do well today at all) and Headley scored the final Yankees’ run of the day.

Final score: 8-1 Yankees.

Roster moves: okay, so despite a great outing today, the Yankees optioned Chasen Shreve to AAA Scranton to make room for the Yankees’ now-official 5th starter — Jordan Montgomery. Montgomery will start Wednesday’s game as the Yankees continue their series against the Rays. The rest of the starters will move back a scheduled day now. Don’t count Shreve out any time soon though, as he’s a reliable force in the bullpen and will undoubtedly be back in the Bronx before you know it.

Injury update: so Greg Bird was out of today’s lineup with residual effects from his recent bout with food poisoning. Bird’s ankle is feeling much better, but this weekend had Bird under-the-weather with stomach issues. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him back on the field on Wednesday. And Gary Sanchez has an official diagnosis after today’s testing — a Grade 1 strain on a muscle behind his right biceps. This means Sanchez will be out roughly 4 weeks.

Before today’s game, the Yankees honored Yankee alumni who helped Team USA win the World Baseball Classic. Last WBC’s manager Joe Torre and this year’s coaches Willie Randolph and Tino Martinez threw out simultaneous ceremonial first pitches (to Headley, Romine, and Carter, respectively). And I found it fitting that Team USA member Tyler Clippard also played in today’s game (sure it was just 1 pitch, but playing in Opening Day matters!). A great way to honor team that represented America with America’s team.

Go Yankees!

Game 3: NYY vs. TB — Rubber match bounced away

In tonight’s rubber match to close out the opening series against the Rays, the Yankees were looking for the ball to swing back in their court. But after a few moments of weakness in the early part of the game, they were unable to poke holes in the Rays’ defense and capitalize on any opportunities.

Michael Pineda got the start for tonight’s game, but struggled his way into the 4th inning with 71 pitches. He gave up 8 hits and 4 runs, but got a nice 6 strikeouts in the process. Those 4 runs started with a 3rd pitch lead-off solo home run to kick off the Rays’ scoring tonight. But then Pineda buckled down and got 3 straight outs.

He came back in the 2nd to give up 2 singles before getting a strikeout. A wild pitch moved runners to scoring position. The next batter hit into a fielder’s choice as the Yankees made the play for the out at home, which was called out, but the Rays challenged it for a possible home plate collision violation. It wasn’t, so it was upheld.

After a stolen base, runners were in the position to score on a deep single to give the Rays the lead again. Another stolen base allowed that runner to score on another single. Another single had runners on the corners, and then the runner from 1st made a run for 2nd. Sanchez threw the ball to get the out, but the umpire called him safe. The Yankees challenged, and the call was overturned and the inning ended because we all know you don’t run on Gary!

Tommy Layne came in to get the last out of the 4th inning for Pineda and continued the scoreless streak of the Yankees’ bullpen this season so far. He got 2 outs in the 5th before handing the ball over to Adam Warren. Warren glided his way through the 6th and 7th innings, adding 4 more strikeouts to the Yankees’ total tonight. And Chasen Shreve closed out the Yankees’ night with 17 pitches in the 8th. The Yankees’ bullpen has yet to give up a run, showing how strong they truly are in this area of the team.

Not to be outdone, the Rays’ pitchers were able to keep the Yankees from doing much. Sure, they gave up 8 hits to the Yankees, but they were able to keep the Yankees from adding those up to anything that mattered — like runs. With a lone exception — Jacoby Ellsbury’s 1-out solo home run in the 2nd inning.

Final score: 4-1 Rays, Rays win series 2-1.

I do want to mention that Chase Headley continued his massive offensive show again tonight, going 2-for-3 with a walk. He’s currently batting .636, which is ridiculous for an everyday player, even for this early in the season. Jacoby Ellsbury had a better night tonight, adding to the offense in a big way, going 3-for-4 (including that solo homer in the 2nd), and he’s now batting .455.

Now, it’s on to Baltimore for another division rival series starting Friday, hoping the Yankees can do a better job in this series. Baltimore is coming off a high, defeating the Blue Jays in a short series. The Blue Jays are actually headed to Tampa for their series, so it’s just a matter of switching opponents for the weekend. And then the Yankees are headed to the Bronx for their Home Opener. It can only get better from here, people.

Go Yankees!