Off Season Update: Holiday Wrap-up

Well, the Astros are the reigning World Champions, much to the city of Houston’s glee. The parade through the streets of Houston, which had been nearly devastated just a few months earlier was a big encouragement to those who are still trying to rebuild their homes and lives after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast in late August.

Winter Meetings begin on Monday, and between the Astros winning Game 7 over the Dodgers and the Winter Meetings on Monday, it’s not exactly been a quiet off-season. Especially for the Yankees.

Awards Season: Almost immediately following the World Series, MLB Universe wraps up its season by handing out all sorts of awards. Mostly, it was Aaron Judge that was up for many of the awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year, but it was a tough year for nearly every category as there was some really outstanding players and plays made this season. You can catch up on all the awards (with extensive coverage and video clips) here. But I’m just going to do a brief Yankee Universe summary.

As expected, the MVPs and Hank Aaron Awards of both the AL and NL went to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, though Judge’s name was tossed about quite a bit for the AL versions of both awards. Judge did snag Rookie of the Year, voted so unanimously, the first Yankee to do so since Jeter in 1996. (Side note: also in the mix for ROTY — breakout starter Jordan Montgomery.) Judge was also awarded the Silver Slugger for right field, something he shared this year with teammate Gary Sanchez, who won it for his catching position. And Judge was also voted on by his fellow players for the Players’ Choice Award of Outstanding AL Rookie.

Now, Esurance sponsors its own array of awards for the season and quite a few Yankees graced the finalists lists. Best Major Leaguer was awarded to Altuve over 9 other finalists including MLB legends like Stanton and Trout as well as (of course) Judge. Severino was nominated for Best Pitcher, but lost to the Indians’ Corey Kluber (who had an outstanding postseason in his own right). Of the 6 finalists for Best Rookie, who else but Aaron Judge became the natural choice. The Astros’ manager AJ Hinch edged out 9 other finalists for Best Manager, including Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman got the same treatment in the Best Executive category as the Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow snagged that one. Other awards include Best Postseason Moment, Best TV/Radio Call, Best Play, Personality of the Year, and Best Fan Catch, none of which unfortunately include any Yankees

Hello, old friend: At the end of October, before the World Series was even complete, the Yankees announced they were parting ways with their long-term manager Joe Girardi, and began the search for their new skipper. With former bench coach Rob Thomson singing on to be the Phillies’ new bench coach and 3rd base coach Joe Espada the Astros’ bench coach, the Yankees ended up narrowing the manager candidates down and included two former Yankee players — Carlos Beltran and Aaron Boone. Just a few days ago, the Yankees announced that they were going with Aaron Boone, known to most Yankee fans as the hero of the 2003 World Series and more recently as a ESPN broadcaster. Boone, who will wear #17, will be thrust back into Yankee Universe in a crucial role, one that could either expose his inexperience as a manager or one that could see him flourish thanks to his extensive baseball knowledge, legacy, and intelligence. Only time will tell.

Big splash denied, big splash made: All 30 MLB clubs were hoping to sign an international sensation, 23-year-old Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, who is known both as a stellar pitcher and as a big power-hitter. The international market has some complex rules about signings, and many assumed that Ohtani would sign with a big name NL team so that he could use both of his famed tools. Almost immediately, most East Coast teams were eliminated, including big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. With most of the chatter leaning towards the Mariners (despite being an AL team), the big surprise was when the Angels (also an AL team) announced their newest acquisition just a few days ago.

But without that possibility, the Yankees started searching for their big splash. Within about 24 hours of word leaking that the Marlins were shopping their superstar Giancarlo Stanton, it was confirmed just today. Former HR Derby champion Stanton would join current HR Derby champion Judge in the Yankees outfield and in Yankee pinstripes for the 2018 season. Details are forthcoming, but it looks like the Yankees will send prospect pitcher Jorge Guzman (the #9 Yankee prospect), prospect shortstop Jose Devers, and Starlin Castro to the Marlins in exchange for Stanton and about $30 million. Castro has 2 years and about $23.7 million left on his current contract.

Okay, what that means and leaves wide open for the Yankees to answer questions this off-season. First, removing Castro from 2nd leaves a wide open space for perhaps Ronald Torreyes to play more frequently, especially as he was clearly one of the more reliable and consistent defenders and hitters (basically the ideal bench/utility player) for the last 2 seasons. However, there are several prospects that could earn the everyday position in Spring Training including the much talked about Gleyber Torres.

The Yankees now have 6 potential outfielders — Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge, Stanton, Hicks, and C. Frazier. Frazier will likely spend time in AAA once again, which leaves either Gardner or Ellsbury (mostly due to age, unfortunately) as the prime potential for a trade. However, Ellsbury has a no-trade clause in his contract, one that he could easily waive if asked or volunteer to be traded on his own if he so desires. A lot of that usually depends on who’s asking. That prevents players from being traded into a clubhouse or organization they don’t like. If I was a player, there are definitely certain clubs I would avoid like the plague, or take a pay cut to play with a better team.

Also, the Yankees are dealing with 8 arbitration-eligible players and 10 with less than 3 years on their contracts, most notably Headley, Robertson, and Gardner, who are all on their final year of their deals. Arbitration-eligible means that the Yankees will extend an offer (a proposed salary) to keep them on their roster, and the player either accepts it or counter offers and it goes to arbitration for the mediator to pick the correct number. Basically, it’s a negotiation tool, and this off-season, the Yankees will have to negotiate with Betances, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Romine, Shreve, and Warren. Unless they trade them, of course.

Again, the Winter Meetings start on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (a.k.a. Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin Resorts, for anyone not familiar with Central Florida geography). Winter Meetings are when representatives from all the MLB clubs and their minor league teams, as well as MLB executives, meet up for about four days and do business face-to-face. So, there’s going to be trades, discussions, executive meetings to discuss baseball operations and potential alterations to rule of play. Often scouts, owners, general managers, international visitors, job-seekers, and trade show exhibitors will also be milling around the meetings. In other words, we can expect more news to come out of this next week’s meetings. And I was going to wait until after that to post, just in case the Yankees make another big splash, which they could as they still need to shore up the starting rotation. But today’s news was too big to pass up.

But barring a big splash, I hope everyone has a good holiday season as we close out this 2017 and hope for a really wonderful 2018. I mean, it really looks like 2018 could be the year we finally celebrate #28.

Go Yankees!

World Series 7: HOU vs. LAD — #HoustonStrong

Well, one drought is over. The Astros organization have finally won a World Series. The Houston team was created in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45s, being renamed for the 1965 season for the local space program that would help send men to the moon. They were in the NL for most of their history, switching to the AL in 2013 to balance out the league that now included more interleague games. The last time the Astros were in the World Series was in 2005 when they lost to the Chicago White Sox. But now, they’re the World Champions.

Neither starter in tonight’s Game 7 was really that good. And when you’re dealing with a Game 7, you’ve got everyone available. No “he needs more than 3 days rest”. No “he’s the backup player”. You play who you’ve got to play because it’s really an all-or-nothing. The Astros really got lucky tonight because they certainly allowed enough base runners without allowing any runs. Including 4 base runners thanks to their starter McCullers hitting 4 Dodgers’ batters.

And before you jump there, no, the Dodgers are a classy organization and didn’t serve up the “traditional revenge” and hit 4 of their batters. This follows the pattern they also showed when an Astros player made a racial slur and gesture towards Game 3 and tonight’s Dodgers’ starter Darvish. Darvish and the Dodgers didn’t respond in any way other than showed their class and desire to move beyond what they deemed a disappointing and ignorant move. Gurriel (the Astros player) received a 5-game suspension to be served at the beginning of the 2018 season without pay, a move that received mixed reception.

Anyway, the Dodgers did get quite a few runners on base, but they never did anything to convert those into runs for most of the game. The Astros went through 4 pitchers in the first 5 innings before they called in another starter Morton to close out the final half of the game for 4 innings. Morton held strong and still managed to give up the Dodgers only run in the 6th. A lead-off single and walk got runners on base once again before a 1-out pinch-hit single scored the lead run to get them on the board. But that was all Morton allowed for the Dodgers’ offense.

The biggest problem for the Dodgers tonight was their starter Darvish. Darvish just struggled his way through his 2 innings, and that would be the problem they could just not overcome. A lead-off double, by Astros’ player Springer, scored on a throwing error. After a stolen base, a ground out scored another run to give the Astros an early 2-0 lead. And in the 2nd, former Yankee catcher McCann led-off for the Astros with a walk, ended up at 3rd (sort of limping actually) on a double, and then somehow scored and slid home on a ground out. Then Springer smacked a big 2-out, 2-run home run to push the Astros even further ahead.

That was it for Darvish right there in the 2nd inning. And his reliever Morrow came on and threw 3 pitches to get out of the inning with a strikeout. So it was back to the bullpen to rely on their amazing pitching staff, starting with Kershaw, who was going on just 3 days rest from his stellar start back in Game 5. Kershaw gave up 2 hits and 2 walks in his 4 innings, but like the rest of the Dodgers’ bullpen tonight, never allowed another run to score. Closer Jansen had his own scoreless inning in the 7th, passing the ball to another starter Wood who closed out the game through 2 scoreless innings.

Final score: 5-1 Astros, Astros win series 4-3

So the Astros win the 113th World Series, and George Springer was honored with the Series’ MVP award, dubbed for the first year as the Willie Mays Award. In addition to the trophy and honor, he was presented with a special edition Chevy Silverado pick-up truck. Springer was named the MVP because of the power-hitting show he displayed this last week. He ties Reggie Jackson (with the 1977 Yankees) and Chase Utley (with the 2009 Phillies, now with the Dodgers, by the way) as the only 3 players to hit 4 home runs in the World Series, though Springer is the only one to hit them in 4 consecutive games. A well-deserved honor.

In another victory moment on the field, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend Daniella. She said “yes”. Correa later said there was two options for him — win and propose, or lose and cry. (And probably propose later this off-season. I mean, Christmas and New Year’s is coming up after all…) Either way, congratulations to Carlos & Daniella!

And in former Yankee news, two former Yankees and veteran ball players were part of the Astros championship team and thus get their first World Series rings — Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.

I couldn’t agree more. Congratulations to them on their well-deserved rings! And best of luck in whatever you decide is your next chapter, Beltran!

Now, folks, we head into the off-season with lots of question marks in Yankee Universe about the manager, coaching staff, certain players’ contracts and opt-out clauses, and what kind of mix of veterans and young players will compose the 2018 team. So, don’t spend your off-season like Rogers Hornsby and just look out the window waiting for Spring. There’s another new season, another championship to be won, another great team to cheer on and pray we get our Game 7 next year. Spring seems long because winter is dark and dreary, but it will come faster than you think. And it’s earlier than you think this year, with all the Spring Training games starting in February, something they have to do because the season is starting at the end of March this year.

Maybe they got tired of November baseball? I don’t know. I think true baseball fans like baseball in all seasons… oh, and hey, some of our guys are playing in the Arizona Fall League right now and doing really well, even making the Fall All-Stars roster!

Go Yankees!

World Series 6: HOU vs. LAD — Onto Game 7 & November baseball

Move over, Derek Jeter, there’s going to be another “Mr. November” in town because the Dodgers outperformed the Astros tonight to force a Game 7. The first Game 7 ever in Dodger Stadium.

Well, the Dodgers knew this was the game to win if they wanted the title, especially as they were going up against one of the best pitchers on the Astros’ rotation Verlander. Yankee Universe certainly know how dangerous of a pitcher Verlander has been this postseason, so the Dodgers were going to have to pull out all the stops if they wanted to stop the Astros from grabbing the title tonight.

But Verlander did have a pretty good outing, throwing a strong 6 innings, giving up just 3 hits and getting 9 strikeouts. But he also gave up a couple of runs in his final inning. He gave up a lead-off single and hit the next batter. A double scored the lead runner, and a sacrifice fly scored the other runner to put the Dodgers on top.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers sent in Hill to start the game, and he too had a pretty decent outing. He threw just 58 pitches into the 5th inning, gave up 4 hits, a walk, and a run, and struck out 5 Astros’ batters. That lone allowed run was a 2-out solo shot in the 3rd to get the Astros on the board early. They, however, could not defend that lone run. Mainly because they do not have the bullpen the Dodgers clearly do. Once the Dodgers opened their bullpen to close out the 5th and the rest of the game, they were in command and dominant. The game was clearly theirs for the taking, mostly due to the 6-out save from their closer, who sailed through the final 2 innings in just 19 pitches.

But like I said, the Astros’ bullpen had a much harder time keeping control of the Dodgers’ offense. But they did their best. In the 7th, the only other allowed hit was a 1-out solo home run. But the Dodgers got a lot of opportunities they just didn’t capitalize on. Fortunately, the really didn’t need it.

Final score: 3-1 Dodgers, series split 3-3

Game 7 of the World Series doesn’t come around that often, so having it 2 years in a row (and thus 2 years of November baseball) is something pretty special. It will be the 39th time in 113 years of World Series history that teams will play a Game 7, and only the 3rd time it will be played in November. The first Game 7 was played all the way back in 1909. Three times it has gone into extra innings (1991, 1997, 2016). And the Yankees have featured prominently in many Game 7’s over the years — the losses in 1955, 1957, 1960, 1964, and 2001; the victories in 1947, 1952, 1956, 1958, and 1962.

Of course, the most famous Game 7 in recent history has to be the 1986 where the Mets powered through an extra inning Game 6 to force a Game 7 (that was actually postponed a day due to rain). The Mets came so close to losing the Red Sox at every turn and somehow managed to power through the final game to reclaim the championship (last won in 1969 by the “Amazin’ Mets”) and help continue the “Red Sox Curse” for another year.

But like most final games of any series, literally anything can happen. It’s truly anyone’s game to win or lose. And it’s going to be a great on in LA tomorrow night.

Go Yankees!

World Series 5: LAD vs. HOU — Well, that was a rather messy was to play a game

Every day, I have to come up with a title for each blog post to kind of summarize the game that just happened. And when I was reviewing all my notes for this game and thinking back to what I witnessed on my television screen, I could not help but utter the words that became my title today. And there you go… an insight into the mind of a baseball blogger.

Anyway, it wasn’t what you’d call a “well-fought” game. Despite sending in their ace pitchers again, neither team really had an ace pitching staff show up to play this game. Instead, they both seemed to serve up run-scoring ball to the other team to put into play and just mess up the defense and scoreboard along the way. The Dodgers’ starter Kershaw only threw into the 5th inning and gave up 4 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs, striking out 2 Astros’ batter. While the Astros’ starter Keuchel only made it into the 4th inning, giving up 5 hits, 2 walks, and 4 runs (3 earned), and striking out 4 batters. And then neither bullpen was all that great overall — both teams ultimately gave up 14 total hits each, a total of 25 runs (by both teams), and 11 walks. In other words, we could just consider this a bad example of pitching in the World Series.

The Dodgers started the run-scoring fun in the 1st inning by loading up the bases with a lead-off single and 2 1-out walks before a 2-out single scored 2 runs. A double stolen base and a throwing error allowed another run to score, despite a Houston challenge on the call that was ultimately upheld. They came back in the 4th to add one more in their corner. A 1-out double scored on a 2-out single. After yet another single, that’s when they pulled Keuchel from the game.

But as Kershaw was kind of going strong for the first third of the game and then he got himself into trouble with the Dodgers safely in the lead. But as we know, in the World Series, no lead is safe. In the bottom of the 4th, the Astros came surging back. With 1 out and a walk and single on base, a double scored 1 runner (despite a Dodgers’ challenge that upheld the original call) before a nicely placed strike became a 3-run home run to tie up the game right there.

And onto the 5th inning, the Dodgers worked consecutive walks to lead-off the inning and a 1-out 3-run home run pushed the visitors back in the lead. But the Astros answered back in the bottom of the inning. With 2 outs, Kershaw walked the next 2 batters and saw the end of his own night. The reliever promptly gave up a 3-run home run to the next batter to tie up the game again.

And into the 7th inning. The Dodgers led-off with a double that ended up being tagged out on a fielder’s choice grounder. But that runner who made it to 1st on the grounder ended up scoring on a long RBI triple. And the Astros responded again with more power in their half-inning with a lead-off solo home run to tie it up again. A single then scored on an RBI double, and a 2-run home run gave the Astros a nice lead for the first time the whole game.

The Dodgers made a bit of an effort to chip away that lead in the 8th. With 1 out, the Dodgers hit a double and then another batter reached on a hit-by-pitch. With yet another new reliever on the mound, a double scored 1 of those runners. But the Astros’ got a 1-out solo shot in the 8th to earn that run back in their favor. So the Astros just needed 3 outs to seal their win.

But the Dodgers changed the game again in the 9th inning. With a lead-off walk and an out, a 2-run home run chipped away at the Astros’ lead. A double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on an RBI single to just tie up the game once again. And just suck the air out of Minute Maid Stadium.

So without a comeback from the Astros in the 9th, the game ended up going into the 10th inning. The Dodgers failed to get on the board in their half, and needed just 3 outs to come back in the next inning and try again. 3 outs… but it wasn’t that kind of game. So, there was 2 outs and an Astros’ batter was hit by a pitch and then next batter worked a walk. The Astros decided to pinch-run for the lead runner, who is known for being a bit slow in the running department. On a single, that pinch-runner at 2nd sped around 3rd and slid in for the walk-off run to win the game.

Final score: 13-12 Astros, in 10 innings, Astros lead series 3-2

The series now heads back to Los Angeles on Tuesday for Game 6. The Astros need just one more win to claim their title. But the Dodgers have every bit of chance to win Tuesday and go on to battle back for Game 7 on Wednesday night for their own title this year.

In Yankee Universe news: with Girardi now out, the rest of the coaching staff is technically up with their contracts. In other words, if other teams are interested in making a bid for the coaching staff, they can. A few have already been interviewed by other teams, and a few are being considered for Girardi’s former job. But they have a few months to consider all their options, including the very real possibility of a completely new coaching staff from manager on down.

Yankees’ reliever David Robertson got word that his close friend, former White Sox teammate, and fellow reliever Daniel Webb was killed in an ATV accident on October 14. Webb had been out this season due to Tommy John surgery and was able to celebrate the birth of his newborn child recently. He was enjoying time with his wife Melissa and friends in middle Tennessee when his ATV hit an object in the woods and overturned, injuring Melissa and killing Daniel. Robertson is using his non-profit relief foundation High Socks for Hope to help raise funds for Melissa and their newborn baby. 100% of all donations are tax-deductible and 100% will go directly to Melissa for all the medical, funeral, and living expenses that have since arisen as a result of the tragedy.

Our hearts and prayers go out to Melissa, their daughter, and all their family and friends (including David and Eric Robertson) with their loss.

Go Yankees!

World Series 4: LAD vs. HOU — 2 hit wonder falls short of Dodger dominance after a pitchers’ duel

Now that was a game. Having a pitchers’ duel in the World Series is quite the treat, and it certainly shows both teams at their best. The Astros’ starter Morton commanded a great game in his own right, throwing 76 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up just 3 hits and a run without allowing a walk and still striking out 7 LA batters. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ starter Wood had a no-hitter running for most of his outing. Wood threw 84 pitches into the 6th inning, allowing 2 walks and striking out just 2 Houston batters. His lone allowed hit was a 2-out solo home run into the left field seats.

So the Dodgers turned to their bullpen, which closed out the 6th and had a strong outing in the 7th and 8th innings, setting themselves up for a strong and unexpected close of the game. Their closer, who was just recognized for his outstanding season (more below), kept the momentum going, until he too gave up a 2-out home run into the left field seats. That would be the 2nd hit of the night for the home team, the 2nd run allowed. But also the last hit and run.

Okay, so after the Astros got on the board in the 6th, the Dodgers were quick to answer back right in the top of the next inning. A 1-out double spelled the end for Morton’s outing, but the Dodgers kept things moving under the Astros’ weaker bullpen. A 2-out single fairly easily scored the runner to tie up the game right in the 7th inning.

The Dodgers came back in the top of the 9th with a new reliever and some easy opportunities to advance. The lead-off batter single, moved to 2nd on a walk, and then scored on and RBI double to give the Dodgers the lead for the first time all night. That left runners in scoring position. And no outs. After another new reliever came on and got a strikeout, he intentionally walked the next batter to load up the bases. A long sacrifice fly allowed a run to score and runners to end up on the corners. And a 3-run home run just solidified the Dodgers for their eventual win.

But the Astros aren’t easily bowled over. In the bottom of the 9th, facing the reliever who just received some extra hardware for his mantle, the Astros got another small ray of hope, that 2-out solo homer in the bottom of the 9th. But then it was over, and the series is split. That march to 4 wins just got one game further away for both teams.

Final score: 6-2 Dodgers, series tied 2-2

As I said before, before tonight’s game, MLB presented the Relievers of the Year awards to this year’s recipient, called the Trevor Hoffman for the NL winner, and the AL winner is awards the Mariano Rivera Award. Tonight, the Trevor Hoffman Award was given to the Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen. The Mariano Rivera Award will be sent to Craig Kimbrel for his outstanding work with the Red Sox this year, as he could not be on hand to accept the award in person. Jansen, however, was beyond thrilled to be part of the ceremony, especially as his childhood hero Rivera was going to be on-hand for the pre-game ceremony.

On a quick side note: I am aware that there are several other things happening around the league. But unless they directly affect the outcome of the World Series or the Yankees, it doesn’t make sense to discuss it here. Though I do admit to forming quite a few private (yet aloud) thoughts.

And a quick happy birthday to my friend and the biggest Dodger fan I know. I already texted him that the Dodgers clearly won because it was his birthday.

Go Yankees!

World Series 3: LAD vs. HOU — Once again, home field advantage reigns supreme

The Astros just commanded the Dodgers in this third game of the World Series. While the Dodgers do have a pretty great pitching staff, the 1-2 punch of the Astros’ pitchers tonight was the ultimate downfall for the Dodgers’ offense that usually can take out any bullpen. The Astros’ starter McCullers threw 87 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 4 hits, 4 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out just 3 batters. While his lone replacement Peacock threw 53 pitches beginning with closing up the 6th inning and then through the next 3, only giving up a walk and striking out 4 batters in the process — a long 11-out save.

Dodgers’ pitchers had trouble from the start, their starter Darvish only threw into the 2nd inning, racking up 49 pitches, mostly in that 2nd inning. After giving up just a hit in the 1st inning, Darvish just crumbled in the 2nd — a solo home run, a double, a walk, an RBI single, another RBI single, finally an out (a line drive), a sacrifice fly to score another run, and a double. And that was it for the Dodgers’ starter with less than 2 innings.

The Dodgers’ bullpen did a better job of keeping the Astros from multiplying because the Dodgers’ bullpen is pretty good. In the 5th, with 2 outs, the Astros singled and then scored on a single and throwing error (thus an unearned run).

Meanwhile, the Dodgers fought back as much as possible in this uphill battle to break through McCullers’ pitching. In the 3rd, after that messy 2nd inning, the Dodgers worked 3 consecutive walks to load up the bases. Then the next batter ground into a double play that still scored one run for the Dodgers to get them on the board. But they weren’t given many opportunities again until the 6th inning. A lead-off walk moved to 3rd on a double, and after a strikeout, the Astros’ starter McCullers was done. And it was onto Peacock, who at first had some issues with command to finish out the 6th. A ground out scored one runner, moving the other to 3rd, who promptly scored on a wild pitch. But then Peacock found his momentum and just pushed through the rest of the game, effectively shutting down the Dodgers’ lineup.

Honestly, the Dodgers were outplayed. And the Astros worked their way into the lead in the Series.

Final score: 5-3 Astros, Astros lead series 2-1

And in Yankee Universe news: the Yankees are looking for a new manager. Thursday morning, news started leaking out and then confirmed that the Yankees opted to go a new direction with their manager. So, after 10 years at the helm, including the championship 2009 season, Joe Girardi parted ways with the Yankees. Many current and former Yankees and various people around baseball took to social media to share their memories of Girardi and wish him well in his next venture. He will certainly be missed. I mean, to borrow a popular phrase, “it’s not what you want”.

Also, Rawlings unveiled its 2017 Gold Glove nominees, and the Yankees grace the field, well the left and right ones at least. Both Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge earned nods for their defensive performance this year. I mean, who can forget the sliding, jumping, dramatic catches on both sides of the outfield? They are constantly highlight reel worthy, and absolutely deserve every accolade. Gardner won last year, and the last time 2 Yankees won was in 2012 (Teixeira and Cano for playing 1st and 2nd, respectively). As we close out the season, more awards will be announced to close out the year, and we can absolutely expect more Yankee names as part of their announcements.

Go Yankees!

World Series 2: HOU vs. LAD — Extra inning craziness

What do you get when you start with former Dodgers’ broadcaster and legend Vin Scully, major awards, an ace pitcher, 2 power-hitting teams, a nearly unstoppable bullpen, 8 home runs (5 of them in extra innings), extra innings, and 93° at first pitch? A “crazy, kooky, cuckoo dream“, as one sportswriter dubbed it.

Yes, the Vin Scully came out on the field before the game to supposedly throw out the first pitch, but as he rambled on in his familiar entertaining manner, he revealed that he would have help from former Dodgers, catcher Steve Yeager and pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, both part of 1981 championship team before together the three of them sent the game off with his famous opening: “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” A real treat for long-time Dodger fans (and long-time baseball fans in general).

And then, yes, there was a game. And it wasn’t really anything typical. Or for that matter, quick (compared to last night’s speedy conclusion) — clocking in at 4 hours and 19 minutes. To be fair, I did question whether the Dodgers were going to be able to break through the Astros’ starter Verlander tonight, the same pitcher that stymied the Yankees in the ALCS. And he was good again, throwing 79 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 2 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, and striking out 5 batters. Comparatively, his counterpart Hill was less dominant, but still had a pretty good outcome — 60 pitches in 4 innings, 3 hits, 3 walks, a run, and 7 strikeouts.

The Astros got on the board first in the 3rd inning by playing a little small ball. A lead-off single moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt, ended up at 3rd on a single, and then scored on another single. The Dodgers answered back in the 5th with a 2-out solo home run to tie up the game and also break up Verlander’s running no-hitter (what a way to break up a no hitter!). The Dodgers came back in the 6th and added to their score with a 2-out walk that scored as part of a 2-run home run.

So it would be down to the bullpen to make the difference. And the Dodgers’ bullpen was running on 27 straight innings (going into this game) with absolutely no runs allowed. Basically, the way we in Yankee Universe talked about the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen, they were doing the same with the Dodgers’ bullpen. And that was totally working for them. Until the 8th inning. A lead-off ground-rule double by the Astros’ forced the Dodgers to call in their closer early for a 6-out save, but instead he allowed the runner to score on a 1-out single (breaking the aforementioned scoreless streak). And then a lead-off solo home run right up the middle tied up the game in the 9th inning. With Dodgers’ fans everywhere screaming, “You just needed 3 outs!”

And without a Dodgers’ walk-off something in the bottom of the 9th inning, the game went into extra innings. And it became a home run palooza as neither bullpen could really hold it together. Consecutive home runs led off the top of the 10th inning to push the Astros ahead. With another runner on base with a double, the Astros shut down that rally quickly with a new reliever, a fly out, an intentional walk, and a double play. The Dodgers answered back in the bottom with their own lead-off home run (all 3 this inning hit into the same area of the left field bleachers). Two outs later, a batter worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then went flying (impressive for this player) around the bases to scored on a shallow single to tie up the game again.

Another new reliever got the final out to send Game 2 into the 11th inning. The Astros got a lead-off single that promptly stole 2nd base (free tacos for everyone!) and then scored when the next batter hit a 2-run home run (to the right field seats, so they didn’t feel left out of the fun). So the Dodgers focused in on their final chance to push for a 12th or walk-off, but the Astros finally found a pitcher that worked for them — and still gave up a 2-out solo home run.

Final score: 7-6 Astros, in 11 innings, series split 1-1

The Series heads to Houston for the weekend, with Game 3 starting Friday night. And really, the bottom line really did come down to pitching, a hypothetical conversation I had earlier today. Dodgers’ pitchers gave up 14 total hits and 5 walks, striking out 8 Astros’ batters. While the Astros’ pitching staff gave up just 5 hits and 3 walks, striking out 11 Dodgers’ batters. The reality is that the Astros, led by Verlander, threw a better game tonight, and they won their battle. But huge props to the Dodgers for not letting pesky things like stats deter them from making a win really hard for their opponents.

And before tonight’s game, MLB announced its winners of the Hank Aaron Award, to recognize the league’s top hitters in both leagues. This season, the award was presented to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton. Altuve has been quite the force for the Astros (both as a hitter and an infielder), and Stanton, who also won the award in 2014, made a run for Maris’ home run record this year, falling just short at 59 home runs (though it was certainly a career high and franchise record). In other words, both awards are well-deserved. Both young players were on hand to receive their awards from the award’s namesake legendary hitter Hank Aaron and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

Yankees trivia tie-in: Derek Jeter won the award in 2006 and 2009, and Alex Rodriguez currently holds the record for the most, winning it with the Yankees in 2007 after also being awarded while he was with the Rangers in 2001, 2002, and 2003.

And in Yankee news, there will be a nice representation of young Yankees in the Arizona Fall League, a few you might remember from Spring Training appearances like Billy McKinney, Kyle Holder, and Justus Sheffield. They will join other young Yankees Thairo Estrada, Estevan Florial, Albert Abreu, Cody Carroll, and Andrew Schwaab to fine-tune their skills in hopes to make it to the show one day soon.

Go Yankees!