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Are We There Yet, Are We There Yet?

Walking wounded or not, ill-equipped to make a deep run or not, here we are with just a couple of weeks left and the Yanks are playing for the best record in the league—and in the game. Not bad, fellas, not bad at all.

Still need a few guys to get healthy—and the way things are going you wonder who else will get hurt—but hell, could be worse, could be raining.

Never mind the anticipation—Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Stretch Run

The Yanks start September banged-up as usual but also in first place as usual. Been a tremendous season so far considering all the mishaps. Let’s hope nothing gets too dramatic before the playoffs start.

Yanks have split the first two with the A’s, and look to take the series this afternoon on a beautiful autumnal day in the BX.

Never mind the wild card:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

 

August and Everything After

It begins with the innocent hope of April and awkward adolescence of May, then winds through the first days of summer in June and the All-Star Game in July before ending with the frantic race of September and historic rush of October. Missing in that list, of course, is August, a tiring slog through heat and thunderstorms and nagging injuries. August is when most teams come to terms with their diminishing postseason possibilities, but the dog days of August are difficult even for the front runners.

A series like we’ve got in Los Angeles this weekend, three games between the two best teams in baseball, organizations which each boast more history than the other twenty-eight teams combined, could not have come at a better time. The Yankees travelled to Chavez Ravine to match up against the Dodgers, reminding older fans of grainy newsreel footage, sending analysts into paroxysms of excitement as they breathlessly projected this October’s World Series, and — more importantly — giving me a chance to take my son to a game.

You’ve probably heard of Los Angeles traffic, but what you probably don’t know is that Dodger Stadium traffic can be even worse, so my son and I decided to make a day of it, avoiding both types of traffic by leaving the house at 8:30, having breakfast at a favorite Mexican place just blocks from the stadium (La Abeja), and pulling up to the park before the gates opened.

Our plan worked to perfection. The freeway was wide open, the enchiladas verdes were even better than I remembered, and ours was the first car to arrive at the parking lot gates. Aside from missing traffic, we were hoping to get there in time for batting practice, so it was a bit of a disappointment when we arrived in the left field pavilion and found the field as empty as the stands. Some long toss here, some stretching there, but no baseballs flying into the seats. I had brought my glove to the ballpark for the first time in 35 years, imagining a barrage of batting practice home runs, but now we were left with two hours to fill by guzzling soda and browsing the gift shop.

One of the best things about watching the Yankees in an opposing ballpark is the camaraderie among the fans. Each time you pass a fellow Yankee supporter, there’s a nod of acknowledgment at the very least, often a fist bump, and maybe even a conversation. One man wearing a Jeter jersey to match mine paused as he passed our seats and said, “Did you watch last night? Didi was serving breakfast out there! Grand slam for everyone!”

Such was the mood as Tony Gonsolin took the mound for the Dodgers. After the Yankees had beat up on the best pitcher in the National League the night before, pounding the previously untouchable Hyun-Jin Ryu in a 10-2 victory, surely the merry-go-round would keep turning against the rookie, right?

Sadly, no. D.J. LeMahieu led off the game with a walk, but the next nine Yankees went down meekly and briskly, reminding me that the Bombers are almost always defused by rookies they’ve never seen before.

Meanwhile CC Sabathia was toeing the rubber for the Yanks, making the 557th start of his Hall of Fame career and the last one I’ll see in person. I was eager to get one more chance to cheer for him, but I also worried that there might not be much to cheer about. It was a pleasant surprise, then, when he struck out two in the first and two more in the second. When he came out for the third, I leaned over and mentioned to my son that the third inning would be important. The Dodger lineup was about to turn over, and we’ve all seen how opposing batters go from Punch and Judy to Mantle and Maris as they get second and third looks at Sabathia. I was worried, and soon my worries would prove to be legitimate.

The rally started, ironically enough, with the pitcher. Gonsolin, who admitted afterwards to having been a Yankee fan as a kid, banged a ground ball off of Sabathia and reached base with a single when the ball caromed into no man’s land. Sabathia responded by striking out A.J. Pollock, but the next batter, Justin Turner, rocketed a homer to left center, and suddenly CC was leaking. He walked the next batter, Will Smith (West Philadelphia, born and raised), before Cody Bellinger followed with another single to push Smith to third and then stole second base to tighten the screws a bit more with men on second and third and just one out.

But Sabathia would retire the next batter on a short fly out to Aaron Judge, and he’d collect the third out by whiffing Max Muncy. (And by the way, if you had six strikeouts in the first three innings for Sabathia, you win the pool.)

I’ve only watched a handful of games from beyond the outfield, and I’d forgotten how skewed the perspective can be. A Yankee fan to my right, falling victim to this warped reality, had exploded from his seat back in the first inning, prematurely celebrating what he had thought would be an Aaron Judge home run that quickly turned into a short foul pop behind first base.

So when Judge led off the fourth inning with what looked to be a drive to the outfield, I was cautiously optimistic as I rose to my feet. My eyes shifted back and forth between the ball, which continued to arc majestically, and center fielder Pollock, who turned and broke hard towards dead center field, until the outcome became clear. The ball continued soaring, Pollock started coasting, and Yankee fans around the park began celebrating. (Side note: I’ve now seen Judge homer in three different parks.)

Sabathia wouldn’t come out for the fifth inning, and while allowing two runs in a four-inning start isn’t normally anything to rave about, this was still a nice outing from CC. He was never bothered by the Dodgers except for that rocky third inning, and his seven strikeouts across those four innings came at the expense of Dodger hitters who were often off balance. For a team desperate for consistency from the rotation, Sabathia’s abbreviated start actually provides some hope.

With the Dodger lead now cut in half at 2-1, both bullpens went to work. For the Yankees, it was newcomer Cory Gearrin getting a couple of outs to start the fifth before yielding to Chad Green, who was dominant, striking out four in two innings of work. Adam Ottavino got the last out of the seventh, and then Zach Britton worked a quick-and-painless eighth.

The Dodgers’ bullpen, the only weakness these National League bullies have, was just as good. Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez navigated the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings without incident, and then it all came down to the ninth inning and Kenley Jansen, the All-Star closer who’s been struggling recently, against the middle of the Yankees’ lineup.

I watch well over a hundred games a year on television, but I only get out to a ballpark two or three times a season, and it’s remarkable how different the experience is. Sitting in the stands, sometimes you have no idea what’s going on, but there are countless little things that are revealed, ranging from player personalities to subtle nuances of strategy. Dodger left fielder Kiké Hernández is a fan favorite in L.A., and it took just a few innings for me to see why. In the top of the fourth, a fan in front of me called down to him, “How many outs, Kiké?” Without missing a beat or turning his eyes from the action, Kiké slowly — coolly — raised his right hand and extended his index and pinky fingers to let us know their were two outs, much to the delight of our entire section, Dodger and Yankee fans alike.

We also noticed the intricacies of the Dodgers’ infield defense. There was shifting galore, but what struck me early on was how the Dodgers were hedging their bet against lefties. They wouldn’t move their third baseman until the batter picked up a strike, figuring he wouldn’t risk bunting in that situation. My son and I had talked about it when Mike Tauchman was batting earlier in the game. After strike one, Justin Turner left his spot at third and jogged all the way over to where the second baseman would normally be. The speedy Tauchman then tried to drop a bunt. It rolled foul, but we’d see the ploy again in the ninth inning.

Didi Gregorius led off the ninth. While Didi’s certainly a threat to go deep at any time off any pitcher, in this situation he was clearly looking to set the table. After strike one, Turner vacated third as he had been doing all afternoon, and Didi promptly tried to take advantage. He obviously wasn’t trying to sacrifice, he was looking for more. He attacked the bunt, firing the ball down the left field line, but just foul. Undeterred even with two strikes, he tried it again on the next pitch, but this bunt was almost identical, and he had struck out.

I had no problem at all with Didi’s play at the time, and I still like it in hindsight. No Dodger defender was within a hundred feet of third base, and had Didi been able to place either bunt just a foot or two to the right, he’d have coasted into second base with a double. Also, what Tauchman and Gregorius did in those two at bats won’t go unnoticed around the league. Neither bunt yielded immediate results, but Yankee hitters might see less aggressive shifting down the stretch.

But back to the game. After Didi’s out, Gleyber Torres and Brett Gardner singled to put runners on first and second. Suddenly the Yankee fans had hope and the Dodger fans were grumbling — loudly — about Jansen.

And then things got crazy.

Gio Urshela hit a weak grounder towards short stop, but Turner ranged across from third to cut it off. I didn’t think they’d be able to turn two, but then I wondered if they’d even be able to get Gardner at second. Gritner and the ball arrived at roughly the same time, but Gritner was called out as his slide toppled second baseman Max Muncy. From our point of view out in the pavilion, we had little to no idea what was going on. Five or six Dodgers were checking on Muncy, but what I noticed was that Gardner hadn’t left the bag.

A challenge, it seemed, was afoot. But who was challenging what? The stadium replay showed Gardner sliding into Muncy, and fans of each side saw what they wanted to see. I leaned across to a Dodger fan and honestly said, “I won’t be surprised if they call Gardner safe, but I also won’t be surprised if they call him for obstruction and give the Dodgers the double play to end the game.” It was that close.

The umpires ruled Gardner safe, keeping the bases loaded with only one out, and I thought the Yankees had dodged disaster. What I didn’t realize at the time — and I don’t think anyone in my section realized it — was that the Dodgers had actually dodged disaster. Not until I got home from the game and started sifting through video highlights did I see that Gleyber Torres had actually scored on the play. When he saw Muncy rolling around on the ground — with the ball in his glove — Torres had galloped for home with the tying run. The umpires, though, ruled that Jansen had called for time before Torres took off, and Torres was sent back to third. (How did we all miss this? An unintended consequence of the god-awful Players’ Weekend black and white jerseys is that the black Yankee uniforms often rendered the players invisible from a distance.)

It was no surprise that after the game both Torres and Aaron Boone said the umpires had erred in stopping the action in the middle of a play, and Muncy added to the controversy by admitting to some exaggeration. “He still got me good, it still hurt, so it wasn’t entirely fake. But there might have been a little acting class in there.” Neither Major League Baseball nor FIFA has commented on this.

We knew nothing of that backstory at the time, but that didn’t detract from the drama of the moment. After lying dormant since the fourth inning, the Yankees suddenly had the bases loaded with only one out. The August sun had sapped the energy from a crowd that had been subdued for much of the afternoon, but now the stadium was electric as we stood and cheered with every pitch.

First it was Mike Tauchman, and as he dug into the batter’s box, goosebumps sprinkled down my neck as my son lifted his hands to his mouth and called out, “Let’s-G0-Yan-kees!” I had done something right, apparently, and in that moment, with the crowd buzzing and hope surging, I realized we had gotten our money’s worth. A base hit from Tauchman — I imagined a single slashed to left field — would be gravy.

Tauchman struck out, but that brought the scariest hitter in the lineup up to the plate. As Gary Sánchez stepped into the box, there was suddenly poetry spinning around in my head.

Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Gary, mighty Gary, was advancing to the bat.

The lines are 130 years old, but Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s words describe Saturday’s scene perfectly. Thayer’s Casey watched two strikes go by, but our Gary was aggressive. He took a huge swing at the first fastball from Jansen, and he appeared to have it timed perfectly, as the foul ball rifled directly behind home plate.

He fouled off the next pitch as well, then took a ball high and outside, bringing up a 1-2 count. I wondered if the two-strike count might encourage Sánchez to stay back and shoot a single through the wide open right side of the infield, or if he’d sell out and look to launch a grand slam into our section, the ball settling into my hands. But it wasn’t to be.

The sneer is gone from Gary’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now as Jansen holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Gary’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Gotham — mighty Gary has struck out.


A Way Out West

Yanks out on the West Coast for 9 games starting tonight in Oakland. They’ve got 3 again the A’s then down to L.A. for 3 against the Dodgers and finally 3 up in Seattle.

If you’re hanging up late night this should be fun. Long trip like this can be a horror show. Let’s hope they avoid that and just handle their own.

Never mind the rearview mirror:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Okay, Now

A good week for Los Bombers hit a snag the past few days up in Toronto. But the Yanks can still leave down with a split should they win today. They’ve got 4 against the lowly O’s this week back in the Bronx followed by 4 against the Tribe and then a west coast trip with stops in Oakland and Los Angeles.

Yanks have to win games against the lousy teams, of course, but watching them play the O’s is boring. Bring on the good squads.

Never mind prosperity:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Oh, it’s You Again

Yanks in Boston for four games. A split would be good, anything less, a bummer, anything more, gravy.

Never mind the boos:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Savage Heat

Has there been a backlash to Boone’s “Savages” routine yet? Maybe, but I’m not there.

I still think it was beyond Boss no mater how people co-opt the phrase to make a meme or a buck. I liked it because it was a reminder to a young professional, in this case the home plate umpire Brennan Miller, that the big leagues are grown up business—the mics caught Boone dressing the ump down after Boone had been kicked out of the game.

You gotta love Boone defending his players and referring to his hitters as “fucking savages in the fucking box” and you gotta love Boone sympathizing with the kid for having a tough start to the game and you gotta love Boone trying to shake him into shape. It is humiliating for the ump I suppose because this went viral. But Boone wasn’t abusive, he didn’t tear into the Miller personally, he was just firm with him.

Also, the look on Miller’s face was priceless. He was guilty but still in a position of authority. He had to take it but he couldn’t back down. Umps sometimes have the whiff prison security guards about them and Miller looks like a state trooper right out of the academy.  He is young and going to screw up. You feel badly for him that a routine rite of passage was preserved for all eternity but the public will not remember him—if this is remembered at all it will be for Boone.

Because of the audio work of Jomboy the world caught an inside glimpse into something that is usually not for public consumption. Boone was surprised initially that his words were heard by everyone. And immediately the storyline shifts to “Boone Changes Rep is Secretly a Badass.” Well, that’s all good and fine for the Yanks and we’ll take it.

To me it isn’t anything new from Boone. Major League Baseball is his family business. Say what you want about him as a tactician—I don’t pay close attention to these things no matter how many games I watch but I understand from those that know that Boone isn’t a genius right out of the box (of course, who is?)—I absolutely love the guy as Yankee manager. I think he’s funny, tough, and seems to fit all the requirements of a modern manager.

Just so unbelievably hot here in the Bronx.

Yanks look to sweep the Rockies today. They will be scorching down on the field, fans roasting in the seats that are unprotected from the sun.

Hope everyone is safe and keeps hydrated.

Never mind prosperity:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

 

We’re Havin’ a Heat Wave

…currently interrupted by great rain. After swapping late inning comebacks with the Rays (and uh, why, Mr. Chapman do you triple up on sliders?), yesterday’s game was rained out. More thunderstorms in the Bronx this morning but they are scheduled to play two today.

Here’s hoping they split at least.

Never mind the wailing and moaning and complaining—it’s hotter ’n’ July folks.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Par Avion—Look, Up in the Sky

Well, that was weird and strange and annoying. If it were any other two teams I might have enjoyed the spectacle of it, the novelty. As it was, even with a healthy lead in the division race, I was so irritated by the London series that I didn’t watch either game live, instead choosing the coward/sane person way out by following on Gameday, DVRing the game and then half-heartedly watching later.

Yanks won both—they resembled beer league softball at its finest—and we’ll take it. Luke Voit going on the injured list is a drag for sure but not a catastrophe. Bombers come home to play a pair against Los Mets out in Queens and then they’ve got four against the Rays. Be nice to end this first half with another solid week but hiccups happen.

Never mind the jet lag:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

’Member When?

…The Yanks were the team that would come unglued? Of course, the Yanks have been an airtight ship for a longtime now. Sure, there was a little thing with Clint Frazier this year and Alex Rodriguez’s entire Yankee career was a sideshow but otherwise we are a long way from the unpleasantness—the colorfulness!—of the Bronx Zoo years. That is a distant memory now.

The Mets take care of all the drama soup to nuts these days. Jeez, what a mess.

Meanwhile, our boys had a fabulous week going 6-1 against the Rays and Astros, about as good as can be expected (save the unfortunate loss of fan fav, Cameron Maybin to the IL).

Three easy-to-overlook games against the Blue Jays before the Yanks fly over to London to play a pair against the Sox this weekend in a “Let’s Play Baseball Where They Don’t Care About It” series.

Long as they keep winning series, man.

Never mind the gimmicks:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

On and On

So the past week or so hasn’t been inspired for our boys. Yanks lost a couple of series, then split a double-header with the Mets yesterday.

Funny how time passes in baseball. Doesn’t it seem as if Stanton and Judge aren’t even on the team it’s been so long since they played?

Anyhow, they got four on the south side of Chicago this weekend and then back home to face the Rays and Astros.

Meanwhile, man, what a horrible turn of events for Cookie Monster David Ortiz. Much as I loved rooting against him as a player, I hope he feels better soon. Just awful, huh?

 

Here Comes The Rain Again

Series opener with the lackluster BoSox postponed due to rain (surprise-surprise); the game will be made up as part of a day-night double header on August 3. In the meantime, why not settle in with some John Coltrane classics played by Teodross Avery to mellow the mood…  we’ll try this again tomorrow.

Rays-B-Gone

Tampa Bay comes into town for three with the Yanks, then KC and then they hit the road or something.  Oy, who wouldda thought this team was  so deep?  Cashman obviously, but even he had to likely cross his fingers…

Dem M’s

The Mariners in town for 4 games.

Keep up the gritty, gutty goodness, fellas.

Never mind the band aids:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags.

Lust in the Dust

Yanks’ stirring understudies drop in on the D’Backs for a couple games as the unprecedented number of stars continue their run on the injury list…

Taster’s Cherce

Oh-ho! Haven’t seen this for a while now, have you? However, this time it’s ol’ Chyll Will taking a ride up the kitchen isle in order to share a neat recipe that he sort-of made up while doing a little R&D in his apartment kitchen. So, while we wait for the team to start up a new series in Arizona, why don’t I give some serious consideration to an experiment gone right with some pulled pork.

 

Plan M vs A Collection Of Garbage Surrounding Mike Trout

Pretty much; the current iteration of the Yanks look to sweep against the current iteration of the Los Angeles of Southern California Somewhere In Orange County Angels of Ahhwhatever… Masahiro Tanaka goes up against Trevor Cahill or whomever, hopefully nobody gets hurt and the Yanks can go into Poopytown with their heads held high.

Couple Few

The Yanks and Sox play again tonight, the second of a weird, 2-game series.

Our old pal Nate Eovaldi is on the hill tonight as the Yankees’ M*A*S*H unit looks to hang tough.

Never mind the April chill:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Let’s Chill

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

No, that was not a pun or self-reference (it’s too obvious for one… >;)  

It’s more of a declaration or a plea.  The Yanks have been very sucky, as in inconsistent. They won the season opener the way everyone envisioned they wudduh-cudduh-shudduh with a 7-2 easy win over the lowly Orioles, then proceeded to streak like a naked drunk at old Yankee Stadium across several games, losing two of three to both the same Orioles and the wow, there’s a worse team than them Tigers. At home, no less. In front of a whole lot of impatient NYers who already don’t like that the Yanks skipped out on two young All-Stars and a potential one to complement the suddenly rickety rotation.  So naturally, they go away to home-away-from-home Camden Yards and beat the crap out of the Orioles to return the favor and then some (they swept them there, so)… but they either left their bullpen prowess at the depot or the Orioles infected them with their Orioleness because now the bullpen sucks and is infecting the some of the rotation (Paxton) and fielders (Frazier, because Gary was already like that).

So here we are on an off-day in April standing at 5-7 with almost half the starters on the injured list and the accountant I mean manager having to make pep talk for the media because God knows basically every decision he’s made lately has been betrayed him faster than ketchup at a dive bar.  It’s all his fault, of course, because he was so eager to listen to whatever Cashman told him to do, which is why he got the job in the first place, right?

Yeah, um.  Let’s stop right there, because this is panicking for panicking’s sake.  Good for headlines, but not for watching baseball.  It’s been hard for me personally to follow sports in general because of the micromanaging that analytics has wrought and will continue on until someone manages to figure out how to merge the glory days with the innovations. No more bunts or steals because they aren’t productive; now three or five blasts over a shifted infield, that’s the ticket! Yeah, fun.  But whatever, it’s here and in all sports, so I’m rolling with it better than most; particularly the kids who don’t really care for all the standing around doing nothing. And the people who are mad at players who are upset that owners only want to pay several millions as opposed to several more; of course no one says anything about the owners themselves pocketing the millions upon millions they get from TV contracts and revenue sharing, but that’s another rant for another day…

The Yanks are built to last; so to speak as they obviously can’t stay healthy long enough to dominate as envisioned.  I mean, if they had Didi, Giancarlo, C.C., Dellin. Miggy, Luis, Hicks and hell, why not Troy and Jordan Montgomery and maybe even Ben Heller and– nah, not him. But if they had at least four of these guys back and in good playing shape, it probably wouldn’t be this bad, would it? Well, that’s one thing. The players can hit when left to their own devices, and they’re talented enough to overcome some of their own missteps. Plus it’s early… 12 games does not a season make.  Yet I see people freaking out as though the team just missed the playoffs. Let me remind you all that this is not the team the Yanks intended to start with, and as I had commented during Spring Training, if they falter they pretty much have a built-in excuse: injuries, resulting in playing time for fairly unseasoned youth (just like last season!) who basically have to hold the fort until the starters come back.

Of course it’s easier said than done, but it is what it is, and we see that this team can hit. I worry more about coaching and managing missteps than about the players being able to deliver, and honestly unless they are the reason the players are getting themselves hurt, then there’s really not much to get up in arms about. One could say that Boone, for example, is not really responsible for the decisions he makes because they probably aren’t even his to begin with. The Yankees aren’t all that big on autonomy these days, after all.  But they have a helluva lot of talent and youth to spare, regardless of how much of the farm they’ve pawned off in recent seasons.  There, another good thing to bear in mind is that the Yanks are not compelled to throw their prospects at other teams right out the gate for a quick pick-me-up.  When the previously wounded return to battle, there’s likely going to be a bump in win percentage.  And if they don’t, well by that time some of their bluer chips might be primed and ready to throw some support their way. As recent highlight-reliever-making-his-Yankee-debut Joe Harvey would say, it’s gonna get real and it’s gonna be pretty dope.

I wish I had something far more compelling to console you with, but we see the same thing year in and year out.  The team stumbles out of the gate and people get all Edvard Munch paintings on you. Please chill.  There are plenty of things to be up in arms about right now, but the Yanks being sub-500 after two weeks in April is definitely not one of them.

Wait until mid-May for that…

Have Bat, Will Travel

Yanks have been a little of this, little of that so far. Gary Sanchez looks like a bum on the bases two straight games then hits three home runs. Guys are hurt, young guys are stepping in—lots of new faces.

They are down in Houston for three games starting tonight, so let’s see what they’ve got against Verlander and the Fromage Factory. The first real test of the year if you don’t count all these damn injuries.

Should be fun.

Never mind the bumps and bruises:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver