What’s good, everyone? My first post of the season happens to coincide with a couple of other firsts: first major league start for rookie lefty Jordan Montgomery, who impressed just about everyone with his steady Spring Training, and for yours truly, my first visit to the new iteration of Yankee Stadium. Yep, first time; thanks to my buddy Omar Nieve Capra for the belated birthday gift! I brought another buddy Joe Hunt with me to journey to this new planet…
And what a gift it was: Jordan Montgomery, part of a cadre of young and apparently effective farmhands making their presence known to us and the rest of the baseball world was making his major league debut at Yankee Stadium 2.0; a ballpark that from what I had always heard reminded me of an indoor mall with a baseball field in the middle. More on that later. Well, I wish I could say that Tiny (all 6’6″ of him) set the place on fire the moment he stepped foot on the tiniest grain of dirt on the edge of the mound (more on that later). He is a rookie, and the rookieness showed within his first few batters. After getting the first two outs on a couple of sketchy fly-outs, he walked the venerable Yankee pain-in-the-ass Evan Longoria worked out a walk. Rickie Weeks Jr…. Rickie Freakie-Deakie, Leakie WEEKS… JUNIOR fercryin’outloud… took a pitch and sent it packing over the left field fence, with Aaron Hicks kinda looking at it like it was a fine lady in a red dress on her way to Paris by levitation or something; just looking and wondering… where she was going, what she was doing, could he get them digits, well never mind. Back to work.
Joe was disappointed, but I figured that this would be a good opportunity to test the kid’s mettle. After all, he’s gonna be the fifth stater for a little while, and this is New York, and his parents were probably here watching from somewhere special, right? Give the kid a chance. He got the third out and the Yanks went to work.
Well, not exactly. Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell shut down the side fairly easily in the first. with a fly-out by Jacoby Ellsbury, a grounder back to Snell by Hicks and an infield pop-fly by Matt Holliday to end the inning pretty easily. Joe got the feeling that this might be a long and kinda rainy afternoon for the Yanks. No doubt a thousand others felt the same way after that inning, but I wasn’t about to give up. Let’s see how the kid does.
In fact, Tiny did pretty well. He sat down his side of the inning as well, and kept getting them out through the third and fourth. In fact, in the fourth the umps decided to help out a little when catcher Derek Norris lined a single to left, and for some strange reason decided that Aaron Hicks wasn’t good enough to get him out at second. As the throw came in, I saw that Norris didn’t know what the hell he was likely thinking as the ball was in Starlin Castro’s glove, waiting with open arms. Perhaps a little too open in fact; Castro applied a high tag to Norris, who managed to get his foot around him and on the bag at the same moment. From our right field foul pole vantage in the upper deck, it sure looked like he was out by a mile, but upon video review, we could see he beat the tag, so we waited for the inevitable reverse of the out-call. But guess what: it didn’t happen. The crowd erupted in glee as the umps held the bad call. Wowzers. Okay, one for us. Stupid umps. Tiny escaped the inning with no more base-runners and no runs, and the kid was proving to be kinda badass.
The fifth is where the train came in to the station; Tampa right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (what, another one?) doubled to left (maybe Norris was onto something?), but Tiny struck out CF Kevin Kiermaier and the surprisingly ineffective Longoria; not without a long battle that ran up his pitch count. “This is his last inning,” I predicted to Joe. “He can’t get anything but a loss,” Joe mused. “The Yankees haven’t done anything all day, aside from Castro getting a hit.” “Well,” I replied insistently, “all they have to do is get into Tampa’s bullpen and they can get back in it, Trust me, that’s all they need to do. ” Montgomery did in fact leave after that, having thrown about 89 pitches in 4-2/3rd innings, giving up 2 earned runs, walking two and striking out seven. Not bad, kid. Next, another kid: Bryan Mitchell. With a runner on second, Mitchell pitched to RickieWeeks, who dashed the ball to Castro at second, who somehow let the ball bounce away from him while Souza scored behind him, but then Weeks tried to go for two and, heh, he was thrown out without question.
In the bottom of that same inning, Chase Headley, who has taken upon himself to rebuild his stock as a viable third baseman, hit a hard single over the middle into center. Big Bad Aaron Judge (aka Mark Gastineau from Joe’s vantage point and hopefully the comparisons stop right there) walked, pushing Chase to second. Kyle Higashioka, who came up to spell Gary Sanchez while he recovers from a bicep strain, grounded lightly to third, and the play went to second to force out Judge. However, Girardi decided to challenge the call; from our vantage point it looked like he was out, but the video made it look closer than it was. In fact, the video so impressed the umps that they again reversed the call and Judge was safe. Lesson: Judge, but don’t judge…? Bases loaded. Defensive specialist Pete Kozma, starting at shortstop against the lefty for whatever reason, battled a bit, but popped out to second. Ellsbury, on the very first pitch, the very first pitch he saw… popped out in foul territory to third. Boooo! My buddy Joe kept reminding me that the Yanks really needed to make something of this, or they weren’t gonna win. Oh, Joe, just be patient. The bullpens will make the difference in this game. Hicks worked out a walk and Chase brought in the Yanks’ first run. The Tampa infield decided to hold a meeting and as I looked to the scoreboard to our right, I saw immediately that they had decided to do the inevitable.
“Oh look,” I said to Joe, “they’re bringing in Fat Bernie!” If Joe had anything in his mouth, he must have spit it out because he inexplicably collapsed in a fit of chuckles. “Don’t do that to me, Will,” he choked, “you know I wasn’t prepared for that. He even has the glasses, too!” Neither was I prepared for Fat Bernie, better known as Jumbo Diaz. As he jumbered out from the bullpen in center, I wondered if he was not in fact bigger than Aaron Judge. He certainly lived up to his name. More importantly, he could throw some gas, which is exactly what Tampa Bay brought him in to do. As a matter of fact, he spilled some behind the catcher as the ball bounced underneath his glove and Judge ran a tight end route to home with another run. Diaz continued to have issues as Holliday walked to again load the bases. But then Chris Human Out Machine Carter, with a pretty wide and rusty-looking swing, brought the rally to a halt with a ground-out. Yet I turned to Joe and said, “I told you so.”
Bryan Mitchell held the Rays in the top of the sixth, and Jumbo Diaz continued to spill gas in the bottom. Castro beat out an infield single that was close (but no replay) and Headley followed with a sharp single. It’s important to note that Chase Headley is actually making good contact and hitting the ball hard to various places, as he will have to be significant in order for the Yanks to have a shot at making it through April in good position, never mind being serious contenders by the All-Star Break. Judge followed with a single that allowed Castro to bring in the tying run. Higashioka, who I think is a better hitter than this, bunted toward third, but he did not lay it down like a bunt is supposed ++ to be, but popped it toward third, which created another fielder’s choice situation and this time Judge was forced out at second (with no replay). But by this time, the Rays had had enough and brought in Xavier Cedeño in relief of Diaz. Girardi countered with Brett Gardner for Kozma. Hmm, now we’ll get some runs in, I said. Where they stick him after that is beyond me, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Brett is one tough cookie, that’s for sure, He worked the count, getting 3-0 before letting the obligatory strike cross the plate, then fouling off another pitch. 3-2 with runners on first and third. one out. The pitch: a slow come-backer to the pitcher. Cedeño looked at around and then threw low to Weeks at first, but he couldn’t pick it cleanly and reached over the baseline to get the ball. *** WHAM!!! *** Two trains collided. Joe and I heard the impact from the upper deck. I watched the two fall away in opposite directions; two trees falling away from each other and into the river, struck by lightning as it were. Weeks remained face down while Brett, with a spark of life left, struggled to reach over and touch the base, then seemingly passed out. Both trainers bolted out of their dugouts and were the first to reach the prone bodies. The crowd, who had cheered the play as it happened, fell hush with uncertainty. Momentarily, Weeks climbed up and was ushered back to the Rays dugout, with applause from the crowd for his ability to walk away from the accident. Brett took longer. he lay face-up on the grass as several people attended to him, the look decidedly not good. After what was a good minute, but felt a lot longer than that, Brett sat up. The crowd cheered. A few more moments and he was up, walking back to the dugout, and presumably to the clubhouse.
You have to think… for a guy like Brett, who by most metrics is small for a major league outfielder at 5’10″, but is built like a tank if you get close enough to notice and gets injured often because he plays as hard as a tank, it’s hard to baseball. Harder than you think. But he keeps going. That play alone illustrates why it’s a hard notion to give him away to some other team so easily. Nothing about this cat is easy except his ability to be a good teammate. Maybe I’m getting a little soft in my getting-older age, but I was impressed, not by the knockdown, but the get up. Moreover, he got a run in. Yanks with the lead, yay. Shorty Ronald Torreyes, aka Brett’s Mini-Me, came in to run in his stead. Jacoby Ellsbury sort of redeemed his earlier fail with a sharp single that brought in Fielder’s Choice Higashioka, and Hicks, having a productive game himself, grounded in another run to bring the tally to six for the Yanks.
Tyler Clippard, yeah he’s still here, he took over relief duties and shut down the Rays in the seventh by sandwiching a groundout between two strikeouts. In the bottom, with Erasmo Ramirez in for the Rays, Chris Carter finally managed to swing and make decent contact, landing the ball softly in right. For the designated all-or-nothing guy with a country swing, we were willing to take it. After Castro popped out, Judge came back up. “Please Aaron,”, I pleaded softly, “hit one up here and into my hands. Knock Joe’s hipster hat of his head…” Well, to Judge’s credit, he tried. He looked for the right pitch and swung, hard, yet easy. However, the ball sailed in the wrong direction. Instead of right field down the line and well into the upper deck, he hit it fairly straight away to center field and over away from us, somewhere between Monument Park and the restaurant that have near it. Maybe somewhere behind those two. Wherever it landed, it wasn’t in my hands and Joe still had his hat on. I was slightly annoyed, but I gave Judge credit for listening and trying to fulfill a humble birthday wish. Dude is huge; gave the Yanks a huge lead, 8-3. “See, what did I tell you?” I reminded Joe. That capped the scoring for the Yanks.
After enduring the groundskeepers’ “YMCA” routine and standing for Kate Smith during the seventh inning stretch, I asked Joe if he wanted to stay or try to beat the rush out the door. Joe looked around, seeing that the stadium was already half-empty at this point, so figured that getting out wouldn’t be an issue and decided we should stay to the end. Good choice, because after Tommy Layne came on and gave a run back to Tampa Bay in the eighth (just for fun, I imagine), then Jonathan Holder couldn’t keep a couple of base runners off in the ninth, we got to see the fire. Remember the fire? That fire alluded to earlier in the recap? Yeah, that fire, aka Aroldis Chapman, aka Best Reliever in Baseball Right Now (among other things). And yeah, he brung it. What was left of the stadium crowd burst into flames, the scoreboard burst into flames, the sound system, the field, the Rays, everything burst into flames. There was definitely a theme; the sun decided to pay attention and brought shine and heat for the occasion. Tall, dark and handsome ran like a man with a mission to the mound, warmed up (hah!) quickly and got to work. Flame on! First pitch: woosh! 99! Second pitch: Zoom! 100! The pitch after that? Floof! 101! Chapman sets places on fire. If you’re still wondering why the Yanks paid stupid money to bring him back, stop. It was for this, for the hundreds. After that first pitch, he only threw two other pitches less than 100: one at 83? that badly fooled Souza who popped out to first, and I don’t even remember the other one. He struck out poor Kevin Kiermaier with a 101! is all I know, and that was that. Yankees win, Aaron Judge was the hero and the highlight.
- Aaron Judge will be a star for a good while if he maintains his health and a good work ethic. Please don’t trade him for anything. A combi of him, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez, with Didi and maybe eventually Gleyber Torres and Clint Fraizer and the Yankees will have a monster team in a couple of years and for years to come (again, provided they all remain healthy and in good habits).
- Disappointed to not see Bird or Sanchez (or Betances for that matter) play, but ‘dems the breaks’. Perhaps we should revisit this in May or June…
- Revisit? Yankee Stadium 2.0 is certainly a remarkable edifice worthy of the team itself, but it’s different than the old stadium in quite a few ways. It’s brighter and fresher, more open air and inviting. But that’s just the thing: the old stadium was a factor. It was close and personal, dark and foreboding, yet familiar and exciting. In my youth, Yankee Stadium was some place you didn’t dare go alone to, but you were glad you went because you were part of something big, whether they were playing for something big or not. It didn’t necessarily have class, but it didn’t need it because it had spirit. New Yankee Stadium is charming and sparkly, but sort-of in a billion-dollar college sports complex kind of way. With stores and restaurants. It screams EXPENSIVE!! everywhere you walk. And if you were like my buddy Joe and spent $20 on a leftover footlong and a tall cup of light beer, you don’t want to be reminded of how EXPENSIVE!! everything is because when you get hungry again, you don’t feel like spending any more money. It adds up quicker than Chapman’s fastball. Sure, it was pretty much the same in the old stadium, but the old stadium gave you a lot more to think about. This is a paradise I can’t afford except when someone like Omar decides to give me a gift. How soon I revisit depends on how soon a friend wants to gift me with a ticket or two. Where we sit doesn’t really matter if it’s a good game.
This will be an interesting year for the Yanks. Despite their best efforts to handicap the filed by taking on a Chris Carter or batting Gary Sanchez second, they’ve got the firepower to take them far. But as I told Joe, it really depends on how they can (or IF they can) solidify the rotation with bonafide innings-eaters and an ace or two to take the stress off their surprisingly good bullpen. You can’t run your bullpen into the ground before mid-season, which is what I fear might happen if they can’t get their starters past six innings more often than not. So Jordan Montgomery still has some growing up to do, as good as his start was for the most part. They do have room to play with a handful of young considerables when needed, but hopefully nothing unfortunate occurs to force them to spend some of their considerable depth too soon if not at all. For now, I will say that they’re best bet is a wild card, but that won’t be easy.