Game 162: TOR vs. NYY — Hello, October baseball… Farewell, regular 2017 season…

As this game didn’t really count for much of anything, it certainly lightened the mood and intensity off this afternoon’s finale in the Bronx. Closing out the season against the Blue Jays, the Yankees rotated out their starting roster quickly to allow some of the other guys on the roster to get a chance to play in the game that doesn’t count. After a recent rather warm trend in the City, the weather finally caught up to the calendar today, as if turning the page to October meant it was suddenly hoodie and boot weather. Only fitting as the playoffs that lead to the Fall Classic begin in just 2 days.

Again, today’s game mattered for nearly nothing (much closer to a Spring Training type feel than an exhibition game) because regardless of the outcome all over the AL today, the Yankees will face the Twins on Tuesday in the Wild Card game, and the Blue Jays will be watching the postseason from their respective couches.

Jordan Montgomery got the start in today’s game, throwing 62 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up just 2 hits, a walk, and a run and struck out 3 Toronto batters. He held them off for most of the game until the 4th inning, giving up a 1-out walk and single to put runners in the corners before a sacrifice fly scored the lead runner to get the Blue Jays on the board.

Just reinstated off the DL today, Adam Warren took over for Montgomery in the 6th and breezed his way through the next 3 outs (and into the 7th inning) in just 13 pitches. Domingo German was up next, asked to get the next 5 outs. German had an issue in the 8th inning when the lead-off batter struck out on a wild pitch and made it safely to 1st (I still don’t get this weird loophole). He then moved to 2nd on a walk, then to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on a ground out. Ben Heller breezed through the 9th in just 14 pitches.

Meanwhile, the Yankees weren’t exactly sending balls out of the park today. With the Blue Jays leading in the 4th, the Yankees didn’t answer back until the 7th inning with Matt Holliday’s 1-out solo home run deep into the left field seats to tie up the game at that point. Bird then worked a walk and ended up at 3rd on Andujar’s double, but 2 ground outs later and their best shot at jumping ahead left both runners stranded on the bases.

They didn’t get another shot at tying the game or taking the lead. On the other hand, it was very strange way to lose a game for the Yankees. According to those who know such things, it was the first time they lost at home when they allowed 2 hits or fewer since August 1979.

Final score: 2-1 Blue Jays, Yankees win series 2-1

The Yankees end their 2017 season with 91 wins and 71 losses and will start their journey towards the #28 on Tuesday night in the Wild Card game against the Twins. The game will be held at Yankee Stadium as they ended the season 6 games ahead of the Twins.

Before today’s game, the Yankees presented Aaron Judge with a special award to commemorate his rookie home run record. They awarded him with a specially designed glass gavel. Judge, who did not play in today’s game, ended his rookie season with 52 home runs. He also joins Red Sox great Ted Williams (back in 1939) in the record books as only the second rookie to score at least 100 runs, hit at least 100 RBIs, and work at least 100 walks. But by now, we’re rather used to seeing Judge’s name tightly woven with baseball’s legends.

And in more positive news, the Yankees announced today that they will be expanding their netting at both Yankee Stadium and Steinbrenner Field in Tampa (where they play their home Spring Training games) for the upcoming 2018 season. Plans aren’t fully finalized, but the netting is said to be in place prior to any official home games to further protect fans from dangerous incidents like the one just a few weeks ago with the little girl.

Postseason prep: All the games are wrapping up for this season as I post this, and as everyone has a day off before October baseball really begins, I’ll do a much deeper post in preparation for the postseason. This will include my predictions on the onset, the only time during the year I will publicly make postseason predictions. I must be a glutton for punishment because I am always wrong. Because baseball really is rather unpredictable, especially in the postseason.

Go Yankees!

Game 161: TOR vs. NYY — A bittersweet #CCStrong victory

We knew it would be close this season, and this one was pretty close to the wire. With the Yankees’ win today, they were one step closer to possibly taking the division from their Boston rivals. But they too won their game, and as the magic number was 1, the division win goes to the other guys this year. (More after the recap.)

CC Sabathia got the start today for this middle game of the final weekend series of the season, replacing Garcia in the rotation so that the incredible season of Sabathia could get yet another shot. Sabathia has had a truly stellar year, and he ends his 2017 regular season on another win, his 14th actually. He threw 75 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up just 4 hits and no runs, striking out 6 Toronto batters along the way.

Chad Green got the final out of the 6th inning for Sabathia and pitches through the 7th inning, keeping the Blue Jays scoreless, as Green tends to do all season long. Tommy Kahnle, however, had a less-than-stellar outing of his own, entering the game in the 8th inning. He gave up single and a walk, and with no outs, all the pitchers are on short leashes lately.

So, the Yankees turned to David Robertson, but even he had a few issues today. With 1 out, Robertson loaded up the bases with a walk. But then a sacrifice fly scored the Blue Jays’ lone run before Robertson got his 2nd strikeout to get out of the inning. Aroldis Chapman, of course, came on for the 9th inning and sailed through the Blue Jays’ lineup for his 22nd save.

The Blue Jays had a better outing today over the Yankees compared to recent games, as far as pitching goes at least. Even still, the Jays’ starter only pitched through 4 innings, still holding off most of the Yankees’ offense until his final inning. Aaron Judge led-off the 4th inning with his 52nd home run of the season, a monster homer that cleared the bleachers in left field, landing on the concourse in front of the retired numbers wall out there. Then with 1 out, Gregorius singled, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s single. Another out later, Frazier’s single put runners on the corners, but a line drive ended Yankee hopes to add to their lead.

The Blue Jays then called on their bullpen to patch together their remaining 4 innings, and they did a pretty good job of fending off the Yankee offense, despite giving up another hit and 3 walks. The Yankees just couldn’t piece anything else together for themselves. But it was enough.

Final score: 2-1 Yankees

Postseason prep: So, the Yankees finished their game and immediately turned the attention to Boston where the Red Sox are hosting the Astros for their final series. But the Red Sox got an early lead, thanks to the Astros’ starter having a pretty bad day. So upon their final out, the Red Sox officially solidified their division title and sealed the Yankees as the first Wild Card contender.

With only one game left to play (bring on the tears), here’s how the postseason picture looks. The AL Division Champions are the Red Sox, the Indians, and the Astros. The AL Wild Cards are the Yankees and the Twins. Over in the NL, the Division Champions are the Nationals, the Cubs, and the Dodgers. Their Wild Card race is coming down to the wire. The Diamondbacks are definitely the first Wild Card, but the other one is still up for grabs between the Rockies and the Brewers. Currently, the Brewers are a game behind the Rockies in the standings, and are right now winning their game. The Rockies play later tonight, and a win will seal their fate as the second Wild Card.

Okay, here’s how the postseason works: the one-off Wild Card games will be played on Tuesday, October 3 (Twins at Yankees) and Wednesday, October 4 (TBD at Diamondbacks). And the Division Series (a best of 5 games series) begins on Thursday (October 5) for the AL and Friday (October 6) for the NL. The winners of the Wild Card games will play the best teams of each league (the Indians and Dodgers, respectively), and the remaining two teams per league will play each other. It’s a best of 5 games series, so the first one to 3 games goes on to the next round — the Championship Series (best of 7 games series), which begins October 13-14. The World Series begins Tuesday, October 24, with a potential Game 7 on Wednesday, November 1.

It’s going to be an interesting October once again.

Go Yankees!

Game 160: TOR vs. NYY — #TanakaTime x15

There’s no other way to say it — Tanaka was just spectacular to watch this afternoon. In this first game of the final series of the season, the Yankees need every player to be at their absolute best. And today, Tanaka, who’s had mixed results all season, was just back to the Tanaka that Yankee Universe fell for a few years ago.

Masahiro Tanaka threw 103 pitches in his 7 scoreless innings, only giving up 3 hits while striking out a career-high 15 batters in a single game. This set him up for what would become his 13th win of the season. Tanaka’s pitches were just on point, and that was the baseline that the Yankees needed to spur them on to push for the win.

Robertson took over in the 8th to keep the Blue Jays from scoring. And then they handed the game over to Betances. But he didn’t have control today, promptly giving up a single, a passed ball, and a walk to allow 2 base runners. That put things into a save situation, so the Yankees called out their closer. Aroldis Chapman needed just 9 pitches to breeze through 3 outs (including 2 strikeouts) and earn his 21st save of the season.

Meanwhile, the Yankees just needed a single run to win. They did slightly better than that, though not much. They had “bookend” opportunities against the Blue Jays’ starter, only scoring in his beginning and ending innings. In the 1st, Ellsbury hit a 1-out single and stole 2nd. Judge worked and walk, and Gregorius singled to load up the bases. Starlin Castro hit a single to scored Ellsbury, keeping the bases loaded, and Greg Bird’s sacrifice fly scored Judge. But a strikeout ended any further chance to add to their score then. Then, in the 5th, with 2 outs and Hicks on 2nd base, Aaron Judge singled. That scored Hicks, but Judge was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

{Media note: sorry, but there’s some missing available highlights for this game as the focus was clearly on Tanaka’s strikeout frenzy rather than the runs scored.}

With a new reliever, the Yankees found one more opportunity to add an insurance run in the 6th. Gregorius led-off with a single, stole 2nd (the 4th stolen base of the game) on Castro’s strikeout, and then scored on Greg Bird’s single. Once the Blue Jays went to a new reliever, the Yankees saw their chances to add to their lead evaporate, starting with a double play to end that inning.

But it was more than enough. Especially as the Yankee pitching staff racked up 18 total strikeouts, 15 of those from Tanaka alone this afternoon.

Final score: 4-0 Yankees

Postseason prep: because the Yankees played a day game, in part due to Yom Kippur beginning at sundown (Gmar tov or Yom tov to all who are observing the holiday tonight), there isn’t a lot of postseason updates to talk about so early in the day. Fingers crossed for the Astros to just continue to dominate the Red Sox this weekend (go Astros!).

However, it should be noted that with today’s win, the Yankees officially hit 90 wins this season. And as there were a number of “talking heads” that thought the Yankees would be lucky to hit 80-something, this number feels pretty good.

Okay, everyone, hold tight, there’s just 2 more games to win (and 3 games for the Sox to lose). It’s sad when I have to write that we’ve hit 100 games, but it’s worse when I hit 150 because we’re almost done. So at 160, and still a minute chance at the division title, it’s like holding my breath, crossing fingers and toes, and praying for every measure of favor possible. This just makes it all the more interesting.

Go Yankees!

Game 155: NYY vs. TOR — Ending the road with a whimper… and a sliver of hope

Wow, that’s not what you want. Especially when there’s still a postseason up for grabs. But it is what it is. So there you go.

Enough clichés.

The Yankees closed out their final road game sputtering a bit. Jaime Garcia still really hasn’t found his footing as a Yankee, and today’s finale in Toronto was no exception. He threw 60 pitches into the 3rd inning, gave up 4 hits, 3 walks, and 5 runs, and struck out 4 batters. Trouble began when his 2nd pitch became a lead-off solo home run (the 3rd time this particular player has done so this series, by the way).

In the 2nd, a lead-off double stole 3rd and then scored on a sacrifice fly. And then he got into some real trouble in the 3rd. With 1 out, he loaded up the bases with a double and 2 consecutive walks. That would be it for Garcia. The Yankees weren’t about to take any chances. And things looked good for Holder, immediately get a pop out. But then a solid bases-clearing double (runs charged to Garcia) solidified the Blue Jays growing lead. And then Heller got a strikeout to get out of the inning.

Bryan Mitchell certainly didn’t help in the 4th inning. He gave up a single and a walk to get things started. Then a single scored one run, a wild pitch moved runner to scoring position, and another walk loaded the bases. Another single scored another run. And then things got interesting as a single scored 2 runners, but then another runner got greedy and was thrown out at home. The Blue Jays challenged the play as a violation of the home plate collusion rule, but the call was upheld. Out at home.

Heller came in to close out the inning with a double play and then had a pretty good 5th inning. Sadly, the first good inning of the game today. But the pattern of struggles was broken. Gallegos’ 6th and 7th innings kept the Jays from adding to their big lead. Betances continued that through his scoreless 8th inning.

But it’s not like the Yankees were exactly quiet on their end. They didn’t get a big opportunity until the 4th inning. Headley and Judge worked walks to lead off the inning. Didi Gregorius’ single scored Headley to get the Yankees on the board. Castro hit into a fielder’s choice that was originally called a double play. The Yankees’ challenged, and Castro was safe a 1st. But 2 outs later, the runners were stranded on the corners.

Aaron Judge led off the 6th inning with a solo home run, his 47th of the season. Two outs later, Ellsbury hit a ground-rule double up the middle, and after walking Frazier, the Blue Jays pulled their starter. The first reliever promptly gave up a double to Greg Bird, which scored Ellsbury. That’s all he got, and the Blue Jays went back to their bullpen.

He got out of the 6th and started the 7th. With 1 out, Headley singled. And then Aaron Judge did it again — another homer, his 48th, his 2nd of the game — a 2-run home run over the left field wall. Suddenly, the Yankees were within striking distance. But then the Jays went to their bullpen again.

And that’s all they’d write in Toronto.

Final score: 9-5 Blue Jays, Blue Jays win series 2-1.

Aaron Judge is just 1 home run shy of the rookie record. In 1987, a young power-hitting Oakland player named Mark McGwire hit 49 home runs in his rookie season. Now, the only AL team Judge hasn’t homered off this season is the Royals, which they play a make-up game tomorrow afternoon back in the Bronx. And wouldn’t that make a really cool story — homering off the Royals (and thus all the AL teams) and tying the rookie record doing so. And if we’re being honest, there’s still 6 more games beyond that for Judge to make that rookie record his.

The Yankees slipped to 5 games behind the Red Sox, reducing the magic number for the Red Sox to clinch the AL East to 3. Yeah, that means the Red Sox need to win just 3 more games or the Yankees need to lose 3 more to hand over the division to the Red Sox. In other words, they need to not play like they did today.

But I believe it can happen. Because… why not? Weirder things have happened. The Yankees were supposed to win in 2004. I mean, they were up 3 games over the Red Sox, and they just needed 1 more game to clinch. And then the Red Sox just took over. Ah, memories all of Yankee Universe would prefer to forget…

But it can happen. I mean, it’s not like they’re not already going to the postseason…

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 153: NYY vs. TOR — Northern exposure, clinch stalled, safety first

The Yankees flew north for their final away series, looking for a single win that would clinch their postseason hopes. And it took 2 hours and 32 minutes and 3 Blue Jays’ home runs to completely obliterate that hope. At least for tonight. That magical number is still out there at one.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start tonight in the weekend series opener in Toronto and certainly had a bit of struggles pretty much right off the bat. He threw 95 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 6 hits, 3 walks, and 8 runs (7 earned), and struck out 6 batters. In the 1st, a lead-off single moved to 3rd on a missed catch error, and then scored on a ground out to get the Blue Jays on the board.

A 1-out solo home run in the 3rd doubled their score. And then they really got started. A lead-off walk in the 4th scored as part of a 1-out 2-run home run. But things in the 6th got really messy. He gave up a walk and a single and then got consecutive strikeouts. He just needed one more out to get out of the inning. Instead, he walked the next batter to load up the bases. Again, that one out to go… nope, a grand slam just doubled the Blue Jays score.

Well, Rogers’ Centre liked it. The Yankees, not so much. So they got into their bullpen. Tommy Kahnle was up first, taking 6 pitches to get that elusive last out of the 6th inning, a strikeout. Jonathan Holder breezed his way through the 7th in just 10 pitches (and 2 strikeouts). And Giovanni Gallegos’ 8th inning kept the Blue Jays from further widening their lead further.

Meanwhile, the Yankees faced one of the Blue Jays’ better starters, using tonight’s game to prove it. Though, if we’re being honest, the Yankees’ batters were pretty much hitting directly into the Blue Jays’ defense all night, only getting 3 hits and working 4 walks all night, despite only getting 4 strikeouts all night. The Yankees’ lone run came on the back of the AL home run leader. In the 1st inning, Aaron Judge hit #46 — a solo home run into the left field seats.

Final score: 8-1 Blue Jays

To update you on the story on everyone’s minds: Todd Frazier is in contact personally with the family of the little girl who was struck by his foul ball on Wednesday afternoon. Her father reassured him that it was a freak accident, and that she is doing okay. Apparently, she is being held at the hospital for further tests to verify the stability of her condition, being so young and getting a 106 mph line drive to her face. But New York Presbyterian is one of the best hospitals in the City. She is under the best care really, and Frazier has promised to keep in touch every day to make sure she is continuing her road to recovery.

This, of course, has raised the debate again about how far a stadium needs to have safety netting between the field and the stands. I was at Citi Field for the displaced series, and the Mets are one of the few teams to actually have extended netting. And I was instantly impressed with the safety measures. I’ve heard all the arguments for and against the extended netting.

I’m aware that putting up netting does require architectural and structural engineering to put up and stabilize netting as it wraps around the stadium further than dugout to dugout. I recognize that a lot of stadiums weren’t originally built with the intent to have such a safety precaution, so adding the feature does take an extra measure to put up and not have it collapse on fans or players upon impact or, you know, a gentle breeze. That’s fine. I’d rather have it serve its purpose and protect the fans from 106 mph line drives to the face.

I’m also aware that a lot of fans don’t like the idea of netting as they think it interferes with their view of the field. I really dispute this. Have these people ever sat behind the netting? I usually sit behind the netting. In fact, the only time recently that I haven’t sat behind the netting is when I’ve joined the Bleacher Creatures out in right field. I’ve literally sat up against the netting, and it’s never caused me to miss what’s going on in the game.

Here’s a simple reason why: your eyes are like a camera lens — they will focus on the primary action that your brain tells it to regardless of the minute obstruction between you and the action. If you want to focus on the obstruction, you will. If you want to focus on the game, you will. You will stop seeing the netting almost instantly because your brain will literally unfocus from it and erase it from your vision. It’s really rather cool that our brain and eyes do this, and it’s why the argument against netting for the sake of fan viewing is bunk.

Bottom line: foul pole to foul pole netting is literally the only way we’re going to make fans safe. I’m okay with even a graduated netting (like on a slope or diagonal to the foul pole). And until all 30 teams and stadiums do the upgrade, fans are literally taking the risk every game. Even if fans are “staying alert for bats and balls that may enter the stands during a game”, fans don’t have enough time to really react when a 106 mph line drive is headed their way. Especially if it’s a young child whose reaction time is still developing.

So, MLB and teams: step it up and get it done. In the words of Twins’ infielder Brian Dozier, who had a direct view of the young girl’s injury on Wednesday, “Either one: You don’t bring kids down there. Or Number Two: Every stadium needs to have nets. That’s it. I don’t care about the damn view of a fan or what. It’s all about safety. I still have a knot in my stomach. I don’t know if you guys saw it, but I hope the kid’s OK. We need nets. Or don’t put kids down there.”

Go Yankees!

Game 113: NYY vs. TOR — More lost ground in the AL East race

Four games. The Yankees are now four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, which because it’s this kind of year, still keeps them in 2nd place and firmly in the Wild Card race. Of course, this doesn’t help that the schedule now has them headed home to face.. yep, the red-hot Red Sox.

Sonny Gray got his second start as a Yankee in the finale against the Blue Jays, and this one didn’t go much better than the first one. In his 6 innings, he threw 103 pitches, gave up 4 hits, 4 walks, and 3 runs (2 earned), and struck out 6 Toronto batters. In the 2nd, Gray gave up a 1-out double who ended up at 3rd on a pick-off error and then scored on a sloppy fielder’s choice.

A 1-out walk in the 3rd stole 2nd on a strikeout and then scored on an RBI single who ended up on 2nd, despite a questionable call and challenge that was unfortunately (due to lack of evidence) upheld. And in the 4th, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on an RBI single.

Gray handed the game over to Chasen Shreve for the final two innings, and Shreve had a fairly outstanding outing save a single allowed hit — a 2-out solo home run in the 7th inning.

The Yankees unfortunately faced one of the best pitchers on the Blue Jays, and he was rather good once again. He went 7 innings on the Yankees, and still gave up 5 hits and 3 walks but completely kept the Yankees from crossing home plate. In other words, the Yankees batters were able to get on base but not able to score any runs.

Even the Blue Jays’ relievers kept that momentum, giving up base-runners but refusing to allow any runs. In other words, the Yankees were shut out from tonight’s game.

Final score: 4-0 Blue Jays, Blue Jays win series 2-1.

Injury news: Clint Frazier was placed on the 10-day DL due his left oblique strain. In his place, the Yankees activated outfielder Aaron Hicks, who had to catch a last-minute plane from Connecticut, where AA Trenton were on the road, to Toronto, to join the Yankees again.

So, during yesterday’s big run-scoring inning last night, third base coach Joe Espada was busy waving home runners when he took a bit of a tumble in the foul territory between 3rd base and home. Today, as the Yankees arrived for tonight’s game, they took a gander out at the foul territory between 3rd base and home plate to see a chalk outline in the shape of Joe Espada. Rumors abound as to who took the initiative to commemorate the moment, with Espada himself pointing to his boss Girardi.

Next up: as I said before, the Yankees head back home to face the Red Sox in a series that could alter the AL East. Fingers crossed that it’s in the Yankees’ favor.

Go Yankees!