Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Yankees Hold Off Boston, Stay Mathematically Alive

You just knew it was going to come down to this. Maybe not in the first game but in one of these games, you just knew that the Red Sox DH was going to come up to bat in a crucial spot in one of his last three games in Yankee Stadium. It was inevitable.

I’m no fan of David Ortiz (this article in The Week by Anthony L. Fisher sums up my feelings nicely), and I am dreading the fact that he and Boston just may celebrate clinching the AL East at the Stadium. I have zero intention of watching the Yankees celebrate his tainted career later this week and think it’s ridiculous that they would even do so. While I understand the “play nice” approach behind it all, he’s just not the kind of player you go out of your way to celebrate.

It’s bad enough when the Yankees do it for their own flawed players (see Pettitte, Andy) but for an opponent? It’s absurd.

All of which leads me back to Tuesday night’s game, when Ortiz came up to the plate in the top of the ninth with the Yankees leading 6-4 but with Boston threatening (2 on and Ortiz representing the go ahead run). Dellin Betances, besides having a 10.80 ERA for September, was unavailable after having pitched in two straight games, so Tyler Clippard was on the mound for the Yankees:

First pitch: Called Strike

Second pitch: Ball

Third pitch: Swinging Strike

(Things were looking good.)

Fourth pitch: Ball

Fifth pitch: Ball

(Hey, better to walk him then to give up a three-run bomb.)

Sixth pitch: Swinging Strike

He struck him out! Back to the bench, Yankees win, no clinch for their nemesis tonight!

And that was that. The Yankees staved off elimination for another night and denied Ortiz his heroics for one more night. That strikeout will be a lasting memory of Ortiz. I need at least one that doesn’t make me cringe.

No matter what he does in the remaining games, I’ve got the one I’ll remember.
And that’s all I need from the Yankees over the past few days. If they can’t pull off the miracle I’m still holding out hope for then at least they can delay Boston’s excitement and, maybe, knock Baltimore out of the playoffs.

Play with some of that Pinstripe Pride the YES Network commercials routinely tout. Whatever it takes, just let your opponents know that, despite the struggles of this year, you’re still the New York Yankees.  Like Ortiz, you’ll go down swinging.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Furious Yankees Take Revenge On Blue Jays

In a way, the Yankees can thank J A Happ for their win last night. After Luis Severino nicked Josh Donaldson on the elbow protector, Happ had what amounted to a hissy fit when Chase Headley stepped into the batters box. Two brawls and several ejections later, the Yankees were furious, and although Dellin Betances tried to give it back, revenge was taken out against the Toronto Blue Jays. Now, with just one more win, the Yankees can avoid their first losing season since 1992.

Yes, that's what it's come down to at this point, avoiding a losing season. It wasn't too long ago that the Yankees were 10 games over .500. Though I didn't think they were a lock to make the playoffs, I never thought they would be in the position they're in now. But they are, thanks, in part, to a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Boston now has the opportunity clinch the AL East at Yankee Stadium, as early as tonight.

Going into last night's game, I would have said there was no chance the Yankees could prevent a Red Sox celebration in their own house. However, perhaps that emotional win in Toronto put some fight back into them, and they'll be able to tell Big Papi and Company, "Not so fast, Sux."

Tonight I want to see more of what Mark Teixeira did in his final road at-bat. I want to see some bat flipping, some styling and just some general "screw you" attitudes. Make the message clear: "This is our house. Not yours."

Stay furious, Yankees.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Yankees Fan Finds Grief For Jose Fernandez

I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news of Thurman Munson’s death. I was at the kitchen table doing something—I don’t remember what. The radio was tuned to 1010 WINS, an all-news station. Back then, in 1979, breaking news on the station was preceded by a series of shrill beeps. I heard the beeps and sat up in my seat, curious to know just what news was breaking.

The announcer’s voice was filled with disbelief. The end of the big sentence, “killed in a plane crash,” was spoken like a question. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t want to believe it.

I could believe it. I was 17 years old, and had been a Yankees fan for less than a year. My baseball knowledge was still infantile, and though I knew that Thurman Munson was the team’s catcher and captain, I understood very little of what either of those things meant.

The drama that unfolded over the next few days was like a movie to me—about a true story, of course. I watched it all and, I have to say, it was very engrossing. Until I realized it meant the end of the Yankees season.

Fast forward 27 years. Cory Lidle, a Yankees trade deadline acquisition crashed his private plane into a New York City high rise, killing himself and his flight instructor. I was at work when this one happened.  Lidle had only been a Yankee for two months, and wasn’t expected to sign with them, so even though I was a veteran baseball fan, I watched his story like a movie as well.

Fast forward again, to September 25, 2016. I had just finished my laundry and had logged onto Twitter. Seconds later I saw it: Jose Fernandez was dead.

This was no movie. I felt it as if I had personally witnessed his boat hitting that jetty, as if I had personally known him, as if he were a cherished loved one. Why?

I didn't know him. I didn’t know about his smile. I didn’t know about his enthusiasm and playfulness. I didn’t know about all the times he tried to defect from Cuba.  I didn’t know about his abuela. I didn’t know that he’d only just a few days ago announced his girlfriend’s pregnancy. He didn’t play on my team, so I knew only that he was a monumental pitching talent, on pace to be a Hall of Famer one day. I knew, too, that he’d had Tommy John Surgery. I also knew there were rumors that the Yankees would try to trade for him this coming off-season, which I was totally against. It would have meant giving up some of the best prospects in baseball, only a few months after the farm system had risen to top-five status.

I didn’t know him. But, still, I found myself hoping, even as late as 12 hours later, that a mistake had been made, that this young man was, in fact, still alive. Or, if not, that I could feel as if I were watching a movie, as with Munson and Lidle. The projector is silent, however. There is no popcorn or candy. It’s real life, even though I am hundreds of miles away from the coast of Florida.

Real life for me has included the deaths of many people I do know. Perhaps because I am an introvert, because I like to keep to myself, I have always found it easy to treat those deaths as movies. I search hard, deep within myself for grief, and though I have nothing but love and respect for the dead, I am rarely, if at all, able to find grief for them.

I found grief for Jose Fernandez. I wish that I knew the reason why. Is it because I am getting older? Because I know more about baseball than I ever have before? Because I love baseball more than I ever have before?

Maybe it’s something as simple as the fact that Jose Fernandez was such a young, special talent, destined for greatness, who is now gone too soon.

All of the above, one of the above, none of the above. It probably doesn’t matter.  He’s gone. I grieve.

Seven Games Remaining: Yankees Need A Miracle

It was always a long shot. The Yankees muddled around .500 for most of the year and only in August did they start to play with any kind of consistency, going 16-11 that month and then going 7-2 during the first week of September, including a sweep of the very same Toronto Blue Jays they have faced over the past three games.

The Yankees got as close as 1.0 game within a Wild Card spot and, with the rest of the month against division rivals, including two in Baltimore and Toronto who were ahead of them in the standings, the playoffs remained a possibility.

But it was still a long shot. They’d basically have to sweep the series against the Tampa Bay Rays (the weakest opponent they’d face over the last month) and then, at minimum, win the remaining series if not sweep two or three. It was a tall order and, even with Gary Sanchez on the team, it was a challenge.

Still, the final weeks seemed set up for intrigue and, as has been recounted many times before, it was more than could possibly have been expected when the Yankees went into their rebuild mode after the All-Star Break.

Instead, however, the Yankees have been unable to make any noise at all since the height of those heady early September days. After dropping their last inter-league series of the season against the Dodgers, the Yankees went to Boston and were promptly swept away. They went 2-1 against the Tampa Bay Rays and have now lost the first three games of this four game set against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees have gone 2-8 over their last 10 games and have managed to lose in every possible fashion: Absent offense, inefficient starting pitching, bullpen meltdowns. It’s that last one that probably rankles the most given the bullpen the Yankees had at the beginning of the year. Again, long term it’s probably for the best that Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman aren’t with the team given the return the Yankees got for them, but it is still tough to watch.  

Even Joe Girardi (who may be managing his last games as a Yankees skipper despite the run the Yankees went on in August - mid-September) is tired of talking about the problems of the bullpen.

Particularly troubling has been the performance of Dellin Betances. I still think this is a physical issue, not a mental one and that Betances will be fine as a closer. I maintain this belief despite Betances’s 0-2 record and 13.50 ERA over the past 7 games. This meltdown has come at a most inopportune time but Betances still has a 3.00 season ERA, with 123 Ks in just 71 IP.

Now, instead of looking forward to an action packed final week of the regular season and an outside chance of a Wild Card game, the Yankees find themselves eliminated from the A.L. East division race and just 2.0 games away from being eliminated in the Wild Card race with 7 games left to play. And, at just 79-76, there’s still a chance the Yankees finish the season under .500.

I’m still not counting out a miracle but I acknowledge that’s exactly what the Yankees 2016 season has come down to: a hope for a miracle.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Looking For A Silver Lining After A Tough Yankees Loss

Some random thoughts following a busy Thursday in Yankees Universe:

1. Yanks lose to Rays
The Yankees were looking to sweep the last place Rays at Tropicana Field last night. It did not happen. Part of the 2-0 Rays win was the relief outing of former Yankee, Chase Whitley. The Yankees are 3-8 since the season high seven game winning streak earlier this month. We all became accustomed to  this talk of a Wild Card spot that emerged in the six weeks since the sell off off. A playoff spot for these Yankees was never supposed to be and now it appears it definitely won't be this season.  

2. Yanks Trade Phil Coke to Pirates
Who haven't the Yankees traded to Pittsburgh? Coke, who was a member of the 2009 Championship Yankees and appeared in three games for the Yankees this season  was part of the playoff push for the Yank's top farm club, AAA champion Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Now Coke becomes another former Yankee trying to raise the "Jolly Roger" in Pittsburgh. In return, the Yankees were given some cash, which is about as boring a story as any Yankees fan can read. Recent Yankee trades have netted prospects. Not this time. Trades made on September 23rd of any year don't amount to much. This one certainly did not. Nice to know Brian Cashman is still engaging fellow general managers at what is usually a dead time on the calendar. That type of activity might come in handy over this coming off season.

3. Yanks Announce Masahiro Tanaka Will Skip His Next Start
They say the injury is so minor, Tanaka will not throw for five days  and then he will be  good to go for his final start of the season. What really is the point of Tanaka even trying to pitch again this year? My guess is they won't shut Tanaka down until the Yankees are officially eliminated, which could be settled in the upcoming series at Toronto. Of course, the Yankees might roll out Tanaka one more time on the final home stand and see if they can get five innings out of their ace. It's just a hunch that they don't even try. If they don't try, Tanaka finishes the season just one third of an inning shy of 200 innings. CC Sabathia was the last Yankees hurler to throw 200 plus innings back in 2013.

4. Gary Sanchez is a Beast!! (Just in case you haven't noticed)
Gary Sanchez never hit more than 18 home runs in any minor league season. He has hit 19 in the majors, since his early August call up. For a full season, Sanchez is on pace to exceed 70 home runs, which isn't going to happen. Graig Nettles went on a homer binge to start the 1974 season with 11 April home runs. Nettles finished 1974 with 22 home runs, so they can come in bunches. The read here is Sanchez comes back to earth with his homer happy ways. The other read is Sanchez has established himself as the Yankees number one catcher. The same cannot be said for other young players like Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Tyler Austin, who must continue to work out some deficiencies in their respective games. Joe Girardi has stated there will be some competition for open spots on the roster and some among the Yankees' youth might have to start 2017 at AAA.

5. Luis Severino Is Demonstrating Why He Belongs In the Majors
But the question remains, should Severino be a starter or remain in the bullpen, where he has been most effective? Since being added to the roster as part of the September call-ups. Severino has allowed one earned run in 15 innings, all out of the bullpen. Expect Severino to be part of the competition for a starting role along with Luis Cessa, Chad Green (if healthy), Bryan Mitchell and probably one veteran, CC Sabathia, to name a few contenders. A trade or two this winter  might change the landscape, but Severino appears to be part of the Yankees future.

So, Thursday was not a great day in Yankees Universe. Not great when eleven reach base and nobody scores. Luis Cessa pitched well, as did Severino.  Sanchez had no hits but walked twice. Still, the positives include Sanchez has arrived, Severino is on the comeback trail and Cessa may be a legitimate rotation candidate for 2017. Tanaka has become an ace and there may be cause for concern, but he is  reasonably healthy, if reports are accurate.

Such is a day in the life of the New York Yankees. We may not like the results of the day but there are some nice silver linings.