"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Staff

Just Another Game By The IRT

Luigi

A few things we knew going into this last game with Houston:

  1. Carlos Correa is a helluva hitter. His homers have mad hops.
  2. When healthy, Mark Teixeira’s homers have mad hops, too.
  3. It’s kinda cold outside.

Knowing that, we had time to speculate a little further about the near future. Starlin Canostro (hat tip to GaryfromChevyChase), our newest budding star at second, is on a pretty good roll to start the season, considering that he’s playing off the position he started his career with.  Can he keep this up for a little while longer please? Will Nathan Eovaldi continue to evolve from where he left off with intriguing stuff that produced an occasional pearl before he was shut down last September? Can the rest of the lineup keep pace with the outburst they unleashed in last night’s prime time drama?

*(See answers below)

Eovaldi was, to say the least, kinda inconsistent. He zipped through the first inning on six pitches and he probably felt so bad about it that the next inning he struggled through the next inning on 38 pitches, spotting Houston three runs on a long double, followed by back-to-back jacks by Tyler White and Preston Tucker. I’m gonna have to assume that they are part of Houston’s revitalization plan from when they stunk for several years, carefully cultivated for the day when they and Correa and perhaps a few more could be unleashed and strike fear in the AL.  Maybe not, I dunno.  But it did show that Eovaldi still has some work to do coming back from his ouchies from last season; no time like the present. Yet, I’m also hoping that the Yankees are also establishing a trend of their own by fighting back when their down, kinda like how all those teams from the 90s into the early part of the millennium did.  They managed to get a run back on a sac fly by Headley, scoring Teixeira from third, followed next inning by a double by Ellsbury which scored Didi (who is continuing to hit and get on base).  The game was close again going into the fourth, but Eo gave up a two-run single to White.  This probably would have been a problem any other time, but this is Game Three at the start of the season and the Yanks seem to have a tiger in their tank; first McCann led off with a solo shot to right, then two outs later Castro smacked one deep over the left field wall for another run.  Ah, down by one, come back and watch why don’t cha…

At this point, Eo was cruising through the fifth inning, retiring the side on 12 pitches.  However, because of that second inning, his pitch count was in the red zone and his night was over; 94 pitches over five with 5 runs, 7 Ks and no walks.  Not bad, but not necessarily that good either; fairly inconsistent and staring at a loss for his efforts.  But the lineup bailed him out tonight, with A-Rod singling in Ellsbury to tie the score, and there it remained with five apiece through the top of the seventh.

Anybody get a good look at this guy Kirby Yates? The box scores says he acquitted himself rather well in the sixth, going through a tough part of the lineup and giving up only a single sandwiched in between a fly-out and two strikeouts.  If I could have seen him, I’d wonder what his body language was showing, because I guarantee the bullpen’s gonna need more results like that going forward.  Chasen Shreve started the seventh and also acquitted himself well,  keeping the score tied into the bottom half of the Seventh.

Hero Time.  Tonight’s guest: Mark Teixeira.

After Ellsbury grounded out, Gardner singled to right and Houston brought in last night’s reliever of note Ken Giles.  After getting A-Rod to chase two, he somehow managed to single to center. Tex was next hitting from the left side, and after watching a ball go by, he lashed out and poked one near the end of his bat the opposite way. Was it enough?

Tonight, in the beginning of a new season, with so many questions about himself, about the lineup, about starting pitching and even about the bullpen… tonight, it was.

Tonight, Betances came in and held down Houston like an Eight Inning Man™ should.  Tonight, giving up a couple of singles with his left hand while ignoring the pain in his right wasn’t a bad thing, because Andrew Miller used his left hand to strike out three to close the game and seal the win.  Tonight, the third of at least eighty (and hopefully more), here in a pearly open backyard palace in a usually snarled part of the boogie down, it is what it was. Just another game.

 

*Basically, yep.

Them 2016 Yankees, Episode 2: “Blaow! How You Like Me Now?”

Agent_MackWhat was that?

Some say it was a bird, some say it was a plan, but I say it was just pure madness at bat. Not the berserker kind, but the ice cold focus on obliterating your opponent for what he did to your brother kind of mad (though both kind of have the same messy results). Oh, it was just an ugly mess for those mopes on the mound in the bottom half of the first three innings. Tsk-tsk, shake your head, here kid put this bag on ugly. A crime happened here this evening and we have to figure out which Law & Order unit to call and pitch a script to…

Isn’t it nice when you’re on the winning side of that introduction?

Well, lets take a look at the evidence. Michael Pineda, who allegedly has that stuff they call stuff, kinda forgot to be good for a minute and Carlos Correa (okay, you should know you’re going to hear his name a lot for the entire year, never mind this series) to pulled a fast one on Big Pine into the left field stands for a solo jack. Okay, not so bad, it was one run, right? So he gives up a double right after that, who cares.  He finished the inning and the Yankees come to bat.

Now here’s where the story gets kinda interesting. Here’s an excerpt from a witness who happened to be on the scene and witnessed most of the criminal activity:

“So this guy named Collin McHugh was pitching for Houston, see, and he walks this guy they call Jake (played by Jacoby Ellsbury), then he turns around and walks this guy they call Gardy (Brett Gardner), and then he does it one more time with A-Rod (Who Else), so you got all these guys on base and who do you think comes up next? It’s that guy Tex (Mark Teixeira) over from the Lower East Side (1B), he singles to right and Jake ran home, but the bases are still loaded, so that guy McCann (Brian McCann) says, ‘ahh that’s not enough, watch this’ and he launches a double to right, Gardy and  A-Rod score and he’s sitting there at second looking like the cat that ate the canary. You’d think that be enough, but then after that other guy Carlos (Carlos Beltran) grounded out and oh, by the way, Tex came in with another run on that play, this guy named Heddy… Heddy? No, Headley! (Chase Headley) he puts a single up the middle, McCann scores and they knock the poor schlub out who was pitching, that McHugh guy? Pssh, you know what? It was a wrap for him.”

So what happened after that?

‘What happened? I’ll tell you what happened. They send in a new pitcher, this guy named Michael Feliz, and Headley steals second on him.  Then if that ain’t enough, the new guy, what’s his name, uh, Castro (Not that one. Not that one either. Yeah, that one, but I don’t think he’s related), you know what he did yesterday, right? Well he keeps going with a single to center and Headley goes home. Man. And then there was another hit, uh Didi, a couple of outs, a walk and another out and that was it for now.”

So it looks like there was some sort of offensive ruckus there; we should probably alert Inspectah Deck about this. No? Okay, let’s look over some more testimony.

“Word up, knawsayin’, you’d think the Yanks would be wilin’ out and (Shasta) but no, they ain’t do that, cuz them Astro Boyz is nasty. Knawmean?  You wanna know what happened? They went back and got they’ own (shucks) and jumped that (Betty Crocker) like a double dutch tournament. I’m sayin tho, single, double hit by pitch, then this dude Springer, he sprung’im all right, sprung him all the way to left center for a Grand-(mambo-combo)-Slam, yo.  Homeboy had pickles and onions on that (shoebox). Knawmean?”

So Pineda was the victim of retaliation.  Did he survive?

“Word, it was (French) up, but yo, he hung in there. It’s not like they took him out or nothin’, he just got hit up real bad.  I was like, dayum!, that was some cold (salsa), but my dude was still in there and they kept going ham* and (Snapple)…”

Hmm. Interesting. Let’s find out what happened next.

“Dude, I couldn’t believe what happened next. It was like, the next inning and Tex struck out and I was all like, dude! but then McCann walked and Beltran-dude singled and I was like ‘all right!’, but then Headley struck out and I was like ‘duuude’…, but then, but then… Castro was all like “BING!” and I was like “whoaaaaaah! Four-hundred and twenty-eight feet to left-center! Duuuuuuude!” It was a totally awesome shot, dude, you so had to be there.”

Was there more?

“Not really, but then I looked at the scoreboard and I was all like, ‘whoa, it’s only like the second inning? Duude!”

Just so.  It appears to just get uglier from there.  Not the kind of ugly that would stand side-by-side with a sick walrus and help it get a contract with Luis Vutton, but the kind of ugly that yo mama could change her name to Legoland with if ugly was made from colorful plastic small kids could potentially choke on. Well, maybe not quite so bad.  9-5 in the second would inspire impatience in some and hubris in most, which was almost the case before the bottom half of the second. But for some reason, this game was a clear assault on pitching prowess for the most part.  Tex would strike again in the very next inning with an equally impressive and equally damaging shot of his own to his favorite part of the stands (mid-upper deck in right), while the rebellious Carlos Correa would later outdistance them both in the top of the fifth with a humongous shot to center that was measured at 459 feet. Good thing there wasn’t anyone on that time, or at least good for the Yanks at least.  And not to be outdone, The Other Carlos hit a solo shot of his own the next inning, perhaps in retort (wonder what he looked like?)…

Was there anything else? You bet your sweet Aspercreme. According to reports, players identified as Aaron Hicks and Ronald Torreyes, playing the parts of Beltran and Headley respectively, hit a single and a triple also respectively, with Hicks and McCann both scoring on Torreyes’ hit, then having Castro drive him home with yet another hit. By this time, Ivan Nova, the once-and-future starting pitcher, was shutting down Houston’s game for the last four innings and then the carnage was over.  Blood everywhere.

EPILOGUE

So what does this mean? Is this what we can come to expect of this Yankee team; heartbreaking, headache-inducing hiccups in one game and then Rock’em-Sock’em Score Trucks the next? That would be interesting, and would certainly make an exciting recap  every night.  But the reality is, it’s too early to tell.  Houston is ostensibly a really good team, and if Carlos Correa has anything to say about it, they will certainly give the reigning champs a run for their money in the post-season. Bu that’s there and not here.  Today was like a noir crime mystery, or a good old fashioned butt-kicking, or something really gnarly.  You can’t explain a game like this, it just happens. That’s Chinatown for you, on to the next one.

PS: That relatively young second baseman guy Starlin Cano Castro? He did something cool: his seven RBIs in these first two games of his Yankee are the most by any player in franchise history.  Any. Including Todd Greene.  That’s how you make a good impression at your new job. Keep up the good work, kid!  Maybe Papa Sterling will think of a better home-run call for you the next time around… (or maybe not)

Oh, and Happy Nutheryearonearth to Yours Truly… >;)

Methinks The Season Doth Commence (A Nuanced Perforomance)

Yanks Recap Game 1 2016The season has begun, and many of us have returned to bond over a new season of baseball (welcome back, everyone!) So, what do we have here? After an early rainout, our heroes finally took the field to host the “all that losing is finally paying off” Houston Astros, following a similar trajectory to the now-champion Royals and looking to usurp their mid-west rivals for the throne this year.  But first off, they have to take a detour through the Deegan, which may or may not be an easy task, depending on your proclivities. If anyone has something to say about what the Yanks will do this year, Masahiro Tanaka would be the first one to the podium.

Or so you’d think.

To be honest, there had to be a lot of tightness going into this game, wondering whether the Astros’ Dallas Keukel; reigning AL Cy Young award winner, would continue his dominance from last season or show some indications of a fluke.  Actually, he was mostly as good as he was last year, but he didn’t have his usual control and he didn’t face Starlin Castro last year, who starts his Renaissance Campaign with a two-run double in the second inning, thus ending a 29-inning scoreless streak against our heroes.  Tanaka, for his part, turned it up a notch from an uneven Spring with a moving two-seamer that held the Astros to one run through four innings on a Aaron Hicks misplay on a Jose Altuve hit that turned into a double and later a run on Carlos Correa’s fielder’s choice. However, that very same Carlos Correa would reach out and slap a misplaced slider in the fifth over the the right field wall for a solo homer that tied the game and suddenly made it tense. Not so much because you weren’t sure the Yanks could score any more off Keuchel (though they didn’t), but you had to wonder if Tanaka could hold it together after that with his bomb-under-the-shoulder, so to speak. He did pitch 5-2/3 innings without giving up more than that, and he did pitch well, which is what we expect of The Ace.

But later the roof collapsed, and not in a spectacular fire-fashion, but more of a threw-a-lit-gas-can-on-the-roof fashion.  The Official Eigth-Inning Man™ Dellin Betances walked Jose Altuve to start off the inning, which seemed innocent enough to some, he managed to induce Carlos Correa into hitting a slow roller up the first base line. Correa, running on the inside grass, passed in front of Betances who picked up the ball… and shot-putted it over Mark Teixeria’s head, allowing Altuve to run around the bases and score. Boy, was Joe Girardi mad… he came out and jawed with home plate umpire Dana DeMuth in what was likely an effort to get himself kicked out of the game, and when that didn’t happen he  decided to play under protest. Naturally at this point, Betances was probably pretty spooked and gave up a two-run single before exiting the game. It was pretty much over, even though Sir Didi smacked a 96-mile hour fastball from a pretty damn good reliever in Ken Giles for the Yanks’ first homer of the season. It just wasn’t enough, Didi, not nearly enough.  Yanks drop the opening game 5-3 and gave their followers a headache in the process.

After the game, Girardi discussed his issue with the call/non-call on Correa’s running out of the base path which led to the go-ahead run. The rules were explained by DeMuth and it had to be accepted; had Betances simply nailed Correa in the back, in essence, he would have been out by runner interference.  But Betances, probably being  the young nice guy that he is, didn’t think to do that and tried to loop it over Correa’s head and misjudged his Olympian strength (how likely that throw would have gotten him in time if he did make it right is also up for speculation) and created a fine news story for the local and national beat. I wouldn’t get on Betances too much (like some of the broadcasters did); if Girardi was outraged at the prospect of nailing someone with a fastball to get the out at first, then it was probably never mentioned to Betances that he had that option.  Other players who were asked about the play were not too sanguine about Joe’s opinion, but did not argue against him in that regard either, instead taking the high road along with Betances in agreeing that the play just had to be made.

See, stand-up guy, now you know so you can blow a hole through his midsection if you have to make the out and likely Girardi doth not protest to much, methinks..

 

 

Dear Phife

820The Hip Hop universe has awoken to some more tragic news this morning; Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg “The Five-Foot Assassin” and “The Funky Diabetic” , a founding member and literal cornerstone of the world renowned Golden Age of Hip Hop era group A Tribe Called Quest, apparently succumbed to the very disease he had made a favored appellation of and in recent years had struggled with. As of this writing, no official announcement has been made yet, but news sources had independently confirmed his passing, first noted on Twitter by legendary DJ Chuck Chillout.

I cannot for the life of me run down the details of his life at this point; having been a huge fan from the beginning and A Tribe Called Quest being on the itinerary of my musical young adulthood, it’s just mind-numbing to have lost someone critical too soon by anyone’s measure. Not to mention, we are losing so many dearly-held artists from so many areas in music these days that I can honestly say that I was shocked to hear about this, but that shock was quickly replaced by that very numbness that such an event would often inspire days later when you’ve had time to process the entirety of a person’s life, impact and death while you compare feelings and moments with friends and fellow fans.  If there is PTSD for music, I must be in the throes of it, and it’s not something I would wish on anyone.

Nevertheless, instead of a eulogy culled from multiple news items, I present a link to an article from Vulture.com that was published last November in which Phife runs down his five favorite songs of A Tribe Called Quest; one from each album they made together.  Perhaps at a later date I will revisit the idea of discussing the band’s impact on Hip Hop and music as well, as they are certainly worthy.  Meanhwile, Rise In Power, Malik Taylor.

More Interviews with Phife Dawg:

NPR

Noisy (Vice.com)

Rolling Stone

Interview Magazine

Q102.1 (Andrew Liu) – YouTube

Lastly, the title is borrowed from this track I came across while thinking of what to write.  Listening to it again, I finally broke away from the numbness I implied earlier and had a moment with my inner self.  We all can relate to that moment because we all have someone or something that touches that button one last time before they go on their journey, leaving something for us to think about; what was, what could have been.  I just don’t know.

 

Itchers & Scratchers

In case you were wondering (and after this year’s Stupor Bowl, you probably are), pitchers and catchers will be reporting to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. on Thursday, Feb. 18.  Yanks have released their Spring Training schedule and have also invited 25 additional players along for the ride.  More details as they come, of course.

Probably Of Some Note…

Greg BirdIt’s early and all, but this will probably be of some note to some of us Banterers in the coming Spring. according to tweets by both NY Post’s Joel Sherman and LoHuds’ Chad Jennings (contained in the linked article) Greg Bird will be out for the entire 2016 season, due to shoulder surgery.  Apparently the Yanks have been hip to this since last May when the injury was first incurred, but doctors said he wouldn’t require any surgery… until now, with a recent recurrence of the injury.  *Sigh*, well, at least Cashman’s been making moves all winter to shore up the depth in the minors as that seems to be about to be put to good use, but dang this sure came out of left field for the rest of us.  Not that he was slated to start in the majors; in fact all indications were that Bird was to start off 2016 in SWB until need be, but crap.  Alex better get his 1B glove on, because he might have to put in some work there soon enough.

Meanwhile, get well soon, dude; see ya next year we hope.

Gone Fishin’

Abe_Vigoda_Fish_Barney_Miller_1977The time has come to say goodbye to a New York treasure, a man who embodied the well-traveled and experienced New Yorker of old, the one who seemingly knew every nook and cranny of the city and who occupied them and touched everyone he encountered with a bit of grump, a bit of wit and a bit of sage advice to keep them moving from one corner to the next throughout the day. And Preparation H.  That’s the impression I always got when looking at his face. How it just carried a whole lot of everything behind it, processed it and gave you back a little piece of New York.

Born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents, began a long and notable acting career as a teenager, appeared on Broadway quite a few times, including in one of my personal favorite plays (Marat/Sade, which I also acted in while in college), landed the role of a lifetime in an open call in L.A., made an even bigger impression a few years later with a role he’s become synonymous with, and lived life as sort of the unofficial ambassador of Fiorello LaGuardia’s New York, by his very presence able to link that era with the Wagners and Lindseys and Beames and Koches that followed.

By the time Michael Bloomberg ascended to the throne, we looked back at all of this and remembered fondly the ugliness that New Yorkers endured to this point like a rich man who had climbed out of Hell’s Kitchen to dominate the skylines, and in the back of our minds we always wanted to know how Abe Vigoda was doing, and when you get home you’d go and look for that Timex you still have for some strange reason. Everyone was doing it.

I suppose you never know when you might need it.  Well played, Mr. Vigoda, thanks for everything.

 

Hall of Fame Ballot Open Thread

imageApparently the baseball world waits with bated breath as we see who gets in for the Class of 2016… as well as which idiot refused to have Ken Griffey, Jr. go in as possibly the first unanimous selection in HoF voting history.

Yet, with the new streamline process that removes legacy voters who haven’t written about or even mentioned baseball within the last ten years, there is a slightly better chance that it could happen. On top of that, there’s a better chance than that in which players like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell; guys who have been suspected of PED usage over the years, can possibly make it in this time, as well as guys like Barry and Roger and Gary Sheffield getting much closer, if not in.

Time changes a lot of things, perhaps, but it did nothing for Pete Rose, who was denied re-entry into MLB, with the HoF following suit. One can argue that the Hall is not an MLB property and should not be beholden to the whims or decrees of the league, and you’re certainly welcome to do so here.

As far as this writer is concerned, the HoF is an incomplete record and repository of baseball lore and references and in the age of the Internet there is plenty of room for improvement, but that’s not my call and therefore not of much interest to me. It’s not about me though (words to live by if you are a voter), it’s Hall of Fame Vote Day, so let’s hop on our pins and needles and wait for the dust to settle, shall we?

(Note: perennial Banter favorite Tim Raines also stands a good chance of getting the vote this year. Will update when final vote is announced.)

Where & When: Special Request (Night Shift)

Some more free time means fulfilling another request (sort of); this one for our fellows way out East and for the insomniacs and late comers in our group, here ya go:

Where & When Request 4 2015Continuing with our theme of no extra clues/plenty of trivia, let us try to find out Where this is and When it was built, and for a bonus, why. I’m about to have dinner myself, so you guys can keep the stakes for yourselves.  Have fun!

Photo Credit: The Brownstoner

Where & When: Special Request 3

What, another one? Hmmm…

Where & When Request 3 2015This was obviously somewhere in the middle of some big-picture thinking, but this humble view belies a rich chapter in the city’s history.  No extra clues necessary for this one, either, but there will be a certain amount of guessing here; guess right or closest and you’ll win today’s prize of a big mug of cold root beer (because the weather is wonky this Christmas season) and perhaps a small pizza roll as a bonus for each bit of trivia you bring to the conversation.  So, the idea is Where this picture was taken (approximately) and When (approximately).  I won’t say too much to spoil the fun, but I hope you’ll keep the conversation going with the trivia.  Have fun, folks!

Photo Credit: Andy Blair

Where & When: Special Request 2

I have a little time on my hands, so you know what that means: HOT CHOCOLATE WITH WHIPPED CREAM!!!

Oh, and this:

Where & When Request 2 2015This one fits my stringent criteria of being interesting and providing enough clues for you to determine Where & When it is; it also helps that it comes with some interesting history or trivia attached to it.  It should take too long to figure this one out, so I’m not offering clues, but I will encourage you to also post some bonus trivia attached to this picture based on what you find during your search.  As implied above, the winner will earn a hot mug of cocoa with whipped cream; the winner being the first person to answer both questions of Where this picture was taken (full name and address) and When (year and more if you are clever), and the bonus will earn you a big, warm brownie.  All the rest of us players will settle for a half pint of chocolate milk and half a brownie if the bonus comes to fruition.

As always, play fair, don’t peek at the credits and if you come across any interesting sites or photos, send me a message and I’ll see if we can showcase it in the next game.  Have fun everyone!

Photo Credit: Shorpy

When Godzilla Stomped on My Family Vacation

My wife argues that what I did was tantamount to deliberate sabotage of the family vacation. I disagree, but it’s a matter of degree, not substance. It’s about sorting my priorities, and I definitely put the making the finals ahead of anything else, including embarking on an important trip. For that, I deserved some heat.

The finals in question were for the 2015 Nippon Club Baseball Tournament. Mostly populated by teams representing the New York offices of Japanese corporations, we play throughout the summer, early on weekend mornings, on the nicely refurbished fields of Randall’s Island. My company’s team is decent and has made the semifinals three times in ten years, but we’ve never advanced to the final.

And what I did, or what was done to me, or whatever, was pain. It’s hard to writhe in pain on the infield dirt while also remaining still, but that was the advice raining down on me from members of both teams. Agony inspires an escape plan. Rolling around the dirt trying to crawl out of my skin was all I could come up with. That and screaming “fuck” a bunch of times. So while the not-moving advice was sound, I’m sure, all I heard was the little angel/devil voice inside my own head “Get up. Matsui is on the line. Get up.”

This was the semifinals and our chances of making the finals were in trouble. The finals of anything is usually a good place to be, so maybe that’s motivation in and of itself to get up off the ground and play. I don’t think my angel/devil’s advice would have been much different under normal circumstances, and hence my wife’s interpretation of the events gains even more traction, but this year was far from normal. Instead of facing one of the usual tournament powerhouses for the crown, we’d be facing Hideki Matsui.

“Wait, come again?” I asked.

“Hideki. Matsui.” elaborated my teammate.

HM1

He pointed to the outfield, where two centerfielders stood back-to-back, the way they do on overlapping fields without fences. This was the quarterfinals, a few weeks earlier, and our 12-run lead allowed ample time for the observation of the other games. There was no mistaking the tank standing in centerfield, wearing number 55. Two of me together might match the width between his shoulders. There stood the MVP of the 2009 World Series playing the sun field at too-damn-early o’clock on a Saturday and trying to get his team into the same semi-finals we were all but assured of reaching.

I went scrambling through the paperwork on the bench, looking for the draw and the future schedule. “Crap,” I said. “We’re on the wrong side.”

That Hideki Matsui was playing in the tournament probably should have been something I was aware of before the quarterfinals. However, I’m in a state of, if not semi-retirement, then of other-shit-to-do-ment. I coached the Little Leaguers on Saturday mornings and the Pee Wee Soccerers on Sunday mornings. Even if there were not direct conflicts, which there were, adding another sports-related commitment to the weekends would have been the last thing I did before being served with divorce papers.

The teams in the tournament occupy an athletic limbo. The overriding qualification for being on the roster is not any baseball skill, but simply a desire to play – beginning with the awareness that team even exists and culminating with the ability to drag yourself to the field for first pitches at 8:30 AM. This brings an assortment of ex-ballplayers and guys who haven’t played since the bases were 60 feet apart. I played into college, but blew my knee out in the winter of my freshman year and re-habbed on a bar stool for the other three-and-a-half years. I picked up playing in adult leagues for several years after that, but for the last decade or so, this tournament has been my only baseball. Our starting lineup features a couple of other guys who at least played in high school and a couple of guys who can most likely catch a ball thrown directly at them.

I don’t know that I can describe exactly why it was so important to play against Matsui, but as soon as I found out it was a possibility, I wanted it badly. I’ve told this story to many friends (and their friends, and their parents, and co-workers, and their dogs) and right away I can tell if they get it. Some cannot embrace the calculus that makes this awesome. The ones that do get a glimmer in their eyes.

I’m aware that you can pay to attend a fantasy camp and play against baseball legends. That is of no interest to me (well, I’d do it if you paid my freight, but I’m not writing that check). This isn’t star-fucking, well maybe, but different. This guy is coming to us. He’s coming to our tournament to compete for the same trophy we’re trying to win. He’s just having fun and trying to kick our asses. I mean, he’s a great Yankee too, and I’ve followed his career closely and all, but if it was Mike Piazza, I don’t think I’d feel much differently.

The dream scenario for how it would play out is vague in my mind. Is it hitting a long blast over his head and earning a tip-of-the-cap when he spots you standing on third? Is it robbing him of extra bases with a sliding grab? Is it watching him tattoo our pitcher with missile after missile? Is it just the thrill of competition to test yourself against the limits of your ability and shake hands when the dust settles? I guess that’s why I needed to play that game. Something’s going to happen, and whatever it is, I’m going to tell the story of that something for as long as I can summon the spit. And really any way it goes is going to be epic in the re-telling.

But, OK, I concede, give me the tip-of-the-cap.

There was some good news on the schedule, the semi-finals were on July 11th and our family vacation didn’t start until the 12th. We’d be going to visit my wife’s family until the 19th and given they don’t live next door, the kids getting to spend extended time with them is the whole point. The finals were also on the 19th so that would be a problem. And in between us and the finals was Mizuho Bank, a team we’d never beaten, and their star pitcher, ex-minor leaguer Rich Hartmann.

We had only four guys in the lineup that stood any chance against Hartmann. I was swinging the bat well in the tournament, and I’d had some success against him in the past, but that was long enough ago not to matter. I hadn’t seen a pitch at his speed in three or four years – the pitcher in the quarterfinals might not have registered on a JUGS gun.

First pitch of the semis was on a Saturday at 8:30am. This was too bad for us, as we learned Hartmann was suffering from a very painful case of gout and was unable to put any weight on his foot right up until midday Friday. His medication kicked in just in time.

There was not a cloud in damn sky. I cuss because I was leading off and the sun was right in my face. The ball came out of his hand, low-80s, just below the life-giver. I didn’t see any white, just a dark grey oval humming at the plate. I got one pitch to hit, couldn’t catch up to it. Fouled off one of his out pitches on the outer edge and geared up for another when he came back over the inside corner and caught me cheating. I don’t like striking out, and take great pains to avoid it, but this one… I had no chance.

The good thing about that sun though, it was just as much a bastard for them. Through two-and-a-half innings, the pitchers allowed two base runners, a bloop single and a walk, against double-digit strikeouts and zero well-struck balls. Before striking out yet another hitter in the third, our pitcher smiled at me and pointed to the other field where the other semi-final was taking place. Matsui was pitching. The whole infield just turned and stared. It reminded me of the scene in Eight Men Out when the plane flies over head and drops the dummy on the infield. We had to win this game.

HM2

HM3

The next time I got up with two outs in the bottom of the third, the sun was mercifully higher, still no help from the clouds though. I laid off a couple of loose breaking balls and found myself sitting fastball when he had no good reason to throw anything else. He obliged with a get-me-over-fastball, not his hardest by a long shot, belt high and inner third. I smoked a one-hopper to the right of the first baseman. He dove but couldn’t reach it. The ball skidded off the dirt and off the tip of his glove and caromed toward an empty second base. Given the pitcher was gout-ridden, even if the first baseman made a miracle stab, I was winning that foot race. I was relieved to notch the hit, but there was also a nagging feeling that I needed to do more damage with that one if we wanted to get some runs on the board.

I got ready to try to steal, but this guy had a pick-off move and the catcher could reach second. I could steal at will off the lesser teams. Before I could get on my horse, we were out of the inning. And two batters into the top of the fourth, we were losing. Double and single, both smacked and we were down a run. It looked like a massive run, even then.

But the inning wasn’t over there. Mizuho was finding the soft spots in the outfield – and there were many. Luckily, we were able to force the pitcher at second base from right field (the gout, again) to give us a shot at getting out of the jam.

With first and second and two outs, they tried for the double steal. Let’s review the situation as this daring play went into effect: I’m left-handed, I was playing well in front of the bag at third-base to compensate for the torn labrum in my throwing arm and the catcher can’t throw either. I hightailed it back to the bag, got in decent straddling position and looked up to see the catcher uncork a spectacularly awful throw, more in the general direction of shortstop than the third base bag. I instinctively lunged out towards the ball. The glove on my right hand came nowhere near the ball hurtling into space, but the action dragged my right leg directly into the baseline where a not-small, not-agile, 40 plusser was bearing down. He never really intended on sliding, I guess, but when he saw me block the bag, he went into a duck-and-cover pseudo-roll which planted his helmet just below my right knee.

One of my (many) flaws is that I don’t suffer injury quietly. I can play hurt, I can endure pain over long stretches, but at the moment of injury, I’m prone to dramatic reactions. So there was a lot of concern due to this particular reaction which was one of my most dramatic. The Nippon Club Tournament director didn’t even get mad at me for yelling “fuck” so many times. My reaction may have also caused everyone else on the field to ignore the fact that I had obstructed the runner, and as in the 2013 World Series, if he had made any attempt at home plate, he would have granted free passage there, scoring a run we could not afford to give up.

And then we had the yelling, the writhing and ultimately only these facts remained: it wasn’t broken and if you come out of the game, you can’t go back in.

There was nothing noble about staying in the game, as the guys on the bench didn’t wake up at 6:30am on their Saturday to watch me gimp around the field. This was a selfish thing and a deluded, though possibly accurate, back-of-the-napkin calculation that even with one leg, I was going to be better than any potential replacement. I’ll give you three guesses where the next ball was hit and the first two don’t count.

Low running grounder to my left, a play of moderate difficulty, but of course, everybody was holding their breath to see if my leg was going to come flying off. I leaned over, snagged it, took an impaired shuffle and slung some side-arm slop over to first and that was the inning.

Adrenaline is a hell of a thing, but apart from being fairly certain my leg was not broken, I had no idea about the extent of the injury. It was bad – the worst I’ve ever been hurt in a baseball game by far. Sitting through our at-bats getting stiff didn’t help. And we didn’t score.

They, however, tacked on another in the 5th when our left fielder turned a can-of-corn into a double. That’s not fair. There are no easy plays in this league. He was playing a little too shallow, got the wrong read on the ball, and then instead of turning and running back to where the ball was lazily drifting, opted for the back-pedal of death. He fell down over ten feet from where the ball landed.

I fielded one more grounder to end the sixth and came up to bat with one out and nobody on in the bottom of the inning. By now, the sun and clouds were far from my thinking as all I wanted to do was crush a fly ball so I could limp to first. He figured out his breaking ball, unfortunately, and dropped the first two into the zone, low and away. I swung at the second one, and it was not a swing for the archives. I tapped it straight into the ground and it hopped up over the pitcher’s head and settled on course to the charging shortstop.

I guess I could have just accepted this as an out but…no, let’s sprint-limp to first and try to beat this out. Somehow, there wasn’t even a throw. The shortstop didn’t handle it cleanly, but I’m pretty sure that was not required to throw me out. Anyway, that was the end of me. I well overdrew the account with that maneuver and couldn’t even get a first step toward second when the next pitch went to the back stop. Two outs later I took myself out of the game.

The tournament director brought me some ice. That was nice. I needed bacta. Back on the field, we continued to play well, but not well enough. Our pitcher went all nine frigging innings and held them at two runs. My replacement fielded two balls cleanly and when my spot in the order came up in the eighth, he got a hit. Damn, I would have given a lot to stay in, but he did more than I probably could have done.

We couldn’t score though. We put one more base runner on in the ninth, but yeah, this isn’t a happy ending. We lost 2-0, both pitchers throwing complete game gems.

Our game was over so quickly, that even after the ceremonial bows and team photos, we had time to catch the end of the other semifinal. I set myself up on the ground behind third base with the ice bag and watched Hideki Matsui in the on-deck circle. This was as close as I was going to get, so medical attention for my knee would just have to wait.

It was the top of the eighth, and the game was tied 1-1 and Team Matsui (that was literally their name, which is awful, but at least transparent) had two runners on base. The pitcher on the hill was struggling and fell behind, but no, this couldn’t be happening. He walked the hitter. In. Front. Of. Hideki. Matsui. So bases loaded, 1-1 tie, and the owner of 507 professional home runs stepped up to the plate.

Matsui batted right-handed. I mean, it makes sense and all, but sheeit. He felt it would not be fair and honorable to bat lefty in the tournament, but I can tell you not one player on any team wanted him to bat right-handed. So shove the honor and hit a bomb, please.

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No matter though, because their pitcher beaned him on the first pitch. The go-ahead run crossed the plate. Beaned Godzilla. Team Matsui weathered a rally in the ninth and won. I watched Matsui jump four feet in the air celebrating during the 2003 ALCS Game 7 rally, so I can tell you that, apart from a minus-three feet off the jump in intervening 12 years, he celebrated pretty damn hard for that final out.

You can read about the final here. It was a doozy.

The end of my story is that I could not really walk or do anything that required any more than the crudest, slowest limping for the next three days. So packing the bags? Packing the car full of those bags? Driving four hours? Doing anything with the children in a haze of painkillers? Nope. I received as much sympathy from my wife as if I was badly hungover from a night at the strip club. Your call on whether or not this was sabotage, but it certainly screwed up her life for reasons that aren’t readily apparent to her.

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At first I tried to argue with her. But it’s a loser. Injury is not the freak accident I pretend it to be, but rather the logical conclusion of continuing to play baseball, basketball and soccer at an advancing age. I’ve had three knee operations, the torn labrum, a broken nose and all of them put together were a picnic compared to the herniated disc and nerve impingement that screwed up our 2014. If I continue to play, I will continue to get hurt.

My father plays tennis often, and he’s in his mid-60s. He recently carried his doubles team, and his tennis club, to their league championship with a particularly awesome match. It’s probably the happiest I’ve seen him, maybe ever. A few years ago, his doubles partner died on the court next to him. And last week, another partner passed away the day after they played together.

We play the games of our youth to halt the passage of time and experience the thrills and joys only found on those fields. Yet playing, especially as we age, also contributes to the rapid deterioration of our physical selves. I guess some would look at our fragile mortality and say stay the hell away from those fields and crashing bodies. But if you do decide to play, it would be best for everybody if you’re able to get in the car and drive for four hours the next morning.

One @#$%ing Run

captain-eo-starring-michael-jackson-00Yeah, that’s about the size of it; Yanks have been playing a lot of games this season where they win or lose by (or annoyingly only scoring) one run. Not surprisingly, this was shaping up to be one of those shit-end-of-the-stick one run games; low scoring and other pitcher is lights out. Surprisingly, the team usually scores a lot of runs for The Composer (yunnow, Eovaldi, Vivaldi, ahh nervermind) , surprisingly his gem did not go to waste as Girardi and the batters themselves have a habit of pissing away these kind of efforts with “plays” or notebook strategies or just plain bad at-bats, but no.

Somehow, they managed to get on the good side of karma as the last inning saw them load the bases with none out and Beltran, known more for blown opportunities without even moving rather than good luck, managed to sky the ball enough to let Happy Nutheryearonearth boy Brett Gardner dash in with the winning @#$%ing run in the bottom of the night. Surprise, surprise, Yanks did not lose in extra innings (another annoying habit of late) and beat a surprisingly (if you are playing the Drinking Game with the word surprise, you are a lush) beating-the-league-like-they-owe-you-money Astros club by the score of @#$%ing 1-0.

It’s not that I hate low scoring games. It’s just that I hate having to go to bed in the middle of one with a summer cold and then wake up and write this before an early call. Oh well, enjoy your day and remember: @#$%!

August and Everything After

Nova

The Score Truck has been rumbling through the streets recently, and the Yankee bats were out in force again on Sunday afternoon in Chicago, piling up twelve runs against the White Sox to wrap up another series win and a successful 6-4 road trip.

Jacoby Ellsbury got things started when he jumped on the second pitch of the game from Chicago’s Jeff Samardzija and drove it into the stands just to the left of dead center field. Samardzija seemed to settle down as he retired nine of the next eleven Yankee hitters after that, but then the fourth inning happened.

It all started innocently enough. After striking out Mark Teixeira for the first out of the inning, Samardzija fooled Brian McCann enough to induce a weak pop up to the left side. McCann slammed his bat down in disgust, but the ball was headed towards the Bermuda Triangle between left field, center field, and shortstop, and it fell into the grass for a single. Carlos Beltrán followed with a four-pitch walk, and then Chase Headley singled to load the bases with one out.

Stepping up to the plate was Didi Gregorius. If they had an award for Comeback Player of the Year within the year, Gregorius would win it in a landslide. After hitting .206 in April, Gregorius hit a robust .317 in July to bring his overall average up to a more-than-respectable .260. He’d end up hitting .438 on this ten-game road trip, and it’s gotten to the point where I actually expect him to come through in important situations. So I wasn’t surprised at all when he poked a single into left center to plate McCann and Beltrán (with a nifty slide) to give the Yanks a 3-0 lead.

Next up was Stephen Drew (don’t look now, but the average is almost up to .200), who naturally singled to load the bases again for the top of the order. An Ellsbury sacrifice fly to the wall in center field pushed the score to 4-0, but with two outs and runners on second and third, Brett Garnder’s at bat felt huge. Sure, the Yanks already had a four-run lead, but a base hit in this spot would bury the ChiSox, and Gardy provided just that as he shot a single to the second baseman’s right, throwing two more shovels of dirt on the Sox and bringing the score to 6-0.

Those six runs would have been enough, but the Bombers weren’t done. They’d add three more in the next inning on a Teixeira home run (his fifth in the last four games) and a two-run double from Drew, then three more in the seventh on a two-run triple from Drew and an RBI groundout from Ellsbury for an even dozen runs.

But as impressive as that offensive performance was, the story of the game was Ivan Nova. We know that this Yankee team will score runs (the OPS numbers of the top five hitters in the lineup look like this: 729, 824, 918, 958, 789), but with Michael Pineda recently landing on the DL, Masahiro Tanaka showing signs of regression, and CC Sabathia being CC Sabathia, suddenly we’re counting on an awful lot from Nova, Nathan Eovaldi, and a kid who still hasn’t thrown a pitch in the major leagues.

All Nova did on Sunday was dominate the White Sox hitters with a strong fastball, a confident breaking ball, and a diving sinker. The only hint of trouble he faced in the early going came in the third inning, and it wasn’t of his doing. After Adam Eaton singled with two outs, he stole second and advanced to third when McCann’s throw squirted into center field. The score was still only 1-0 at the time, so Eaton carried an important potential run with him, but Nova quickly extinguished the threat with a strikeout, one of seven he’d pile up on the afternoon.

Nova did yield a run in the sixth on a walk, a fielder’s choice, and a ground ball base hit, but he did so with a nine-run lead. He seemed a bit irritated, but he recovered nicely to strike out Avisail Garcia on three pitches (three swings and misses) to end the inning and put a cap on his six-inning performance. Final score: Yankees 12, White Sox 3.

So things are good in the Yankee Universe. They’ll bring their six-game division lead back to Yankee Stadium for three games against the hapless Red Sox, and they won’t have to travel out of the Eastern time zone until a potential playoff game in someplace like Houston, Kansas City, or Anaheim. Better still, only 24 of their remaining 58 games will be played on the road, and three of those road games are against the Mets at Citi Field. While teams all around the league have retooled and traded prospects for a shot at the brass ring, the Yankees just might be in better position than any of the other contenders as we head into August and September… and October.

It’s good to be Yankee, and it’s good to be a Yankee fan. Some things never change.

Trouble in Texas

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Sorry Yankee fans, I should have realized no team is above superstition. Tanaka was in trouble for his entire outing and did his best to keep the game in reach, but the Yankees didn’t have the wingspan in this one and lost 5-2. Beyond the box score, the Rangers made the big news of the night acquiring Cole Hamels for some shiny prospects and Matt Harrison.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead and showing signs that the deluge of runs from the previous night was no fluke, the tap ran dry. And that lead didn’t last long. Tanaka struggled in the second in a way we rarely see - at the mercy of the hitters.

The two key batters of the inning were Choo and De Shields and they both beat our guy. Choo smacked a drifting splitter, the second dead-fish splitter of the at-bat to tie the game and DeShields snagged the lead when he reached out for a 1-2 fastball off the plate. That one was tougher to swallow because it wasn’t a bad pitch. Probably needed to be elevated a little more.

Give the 2015 Yankees credit, their recent play suggested they could win this game right up until the end, even though they never really got it going again after the second. An easy loss to shake off as they can still take the series with a win Thursday.

As we rush to meet the trade deadline, the Yankees options are dwindling. I bet they make a major push for Price, but if the Dodgers want him, they have the better players to offer. So the Tigers will work the Dodgers up to the last minute and only turn to the Yankees if they come up empty-handed. I’ve always admired Price, so I hope he ends up a Yankee, but I don’t have my hopes up.

 

Two Steps in Texas…

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…and two more to go. The Yankees send Masahiro Tanaka to the bump tonight to extend their modest, but spectacular, four-game winning streak. His fly balls turn into homers with enough frequency that this could get dicey. He faces off against Colby Lewis, who never seems like much and the Yankees have handled pretty well throughout his career. So do we even need to reverse jinx this one? The 2015 Yankees have earned the benefit of the doubt in a game like this. Make it so, fellas.

Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Alex Rodriguez DH
Brian McCann C
Carlos Beltran RF
Chase Headley 3B
Garrett Jones 1B
Didi Gregorius SS
Stephen Drew 2B

And we cannot ignore the trade deadline. The Tigers just spiced things up by announcing they will be listening on David Price. This gives the Yankees a lot to consider in a short space. Between Cole Hamels and a decent contract for three years or David Price and no commitment after 2015 or just going with internal solutions, that’s a meeting I’d like to attend. Or at least get the jist of.

 

Catfished

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What does it take to get CC Sabathia a win these days? Homers, lots of them. And a quick hook, so he doesn’t decompose after the fifth. And it doesn’t hurt at all for the other starter to leave injured after three innings. Maybe the bullpen bailing him out when he gets in trouble and some shiny defense along the way at points, but that’s the crux of what needs to happen. And if the baseball gods smile upon him and allow him to keep the ball in the yard during his abbreviated stint, well, there’s a chance.

Mark Teixeira supplied two homers and some shiny defense. Drew, using this season to prepare for his upcoming audition as an extra in The Walking Dead, chipped in another blast. Joe Girardi supplied the quick hook and the bullpen locked things down until the freshly reinstated closer Andrew Miller almost undid all that careful work.

Before his injury, Andrew Miller had only allowed two hits once in 26 appearances. And he only allowed one home run. He doubled the tally on both accounts, but held the lead at 5-4. And CC got a very rare win.

Sabathia’s demise calls to mind another very sad baseball story – that of Catfish Hunter. Both mega-stars in their twenties who came to pitch the Yanks into the World Series for big bucks, their careers dashed in their early thirties due to chronic health problems. Hunter did not have Sabathia’s opt-out clause and subsequent extension, and he retired at the end of his original five-year contract at the age of 33. If Sabathia had not re-worked his deal before his opt-out clause kicked in, he’d be retiring at the end of this year, at the age of 35.

Hunter had won so often so early and he appeared so regularly in October that when he did retire, he had done enough to get Hall of Fame votes. His career pales considerably when viewed with current metrics, but you don’t often hear too many people complain about his inclusion.

Sabathia has been the better pitcher for me, but I wonder if two more years of getting smashed by every right-handed hitter in the league will put a permanent stain on his record. Both guys are damn easy to root for though, maybe that will throw a veil over the gory ending.

It’s sad to be finsihed before you’re ready and I don’t think anybody was ready. Probably CC most of all.

 

Photo via Sports Illustrated

Walking in the Spiderwebs

ARod

A little over four years ago I wrote a piece here imagining a world in which Ivan Nova had developed into the Yankees’ ace while CC Sabathia had become the team’s fifth starter and even been sent to the bullpen for the postseason. The year I was imagining was 2015, which seems kind of hard to believe, but that future is now.

Has Nova become the ace I once imagined? Prior to his elbow surgery he had had his moments of brilliance, but he never looked like a consistent frontline starter. Now, however, he’s been cast as the savior for a rotation that’s been consistent only in its unpredictability. (In fact, the most dependable starter, Adam Warren, was shipped out to the bullpen on Tuesday, but more on that later.)

Nova sent hopes soaring with his debut outing last week, posting seven scoreless innings with stuff just as electric as we remembered, but things were different on Tuesday night in Anaheim. He found trouble early, giving up two singles in the first inning before getting a strikeout from Albert Pujols and a ground out from Erick Aybar to escape that jam, then loading the bases in the second before wriggling free from that one.

The Yankee offense got started in the top of the second when Mark Teixeira launched a towering fly to left center field for his 19th homer of the season, which seemed like a promising start. After that, however, the bats on both sides started to collect spiderwebs.

The Yankees were facing Andrew Heaney, who was making just his second major league start. If you’ve been following the Yankees closely over the past fifteen years — and I know you have — you know that rookie pitchers are their Kryptonite. I don’t have the stats to support this, and it may very well be that the stats don’t support this, but my memory tells me that the Yankees always seem to go down meekly when facing pitchers they’ve never seen before. And so it was with Heaney.

He retired the Yankees in order in the first, gave up Teixeira’s homer in the second, yielded a single to Brett Gardner in the third, walked Chase Headley in the fifth, and walked Teixeira in the seventh. And that was it. Thanks to a couple of double plays, Heaney faced only 24 batters in seven innings. He was the one who looked like the future ace.

After Nova’s early struggles, however, he was matching Heaney pitch for pitch. He cruised through the third, fourth, and fifth innings, giving up just a single and a walk and never really breaking a sweat. In the sixth, however, the bubble burst. Pujols turned on Nova’s first pitch of the inning and produced a majestic home run deep into the trees that grow beyond the centerfield fence; two pitches later Erick Aybar followed suit with a shot of his own to center, and suddenly the Angels had a 2-1 lead. Nova would get one out in the inning before Matt Joyce hit a ringing double down the right field line and sent our future ace to the showers.

Adam Warren came in to make his first relief appearance of the season, and guess what? He was good. He skated through the final two innings and change, allowing just a hit and a walk and perhaps a regret or two from Joe Girardi. But we’ll never know about that last part.

For their parts, the Yankee hitters didn’t do much the rest of the way. Didi Gregorius reached on an error with one out in the eighth, but he was quickly erased by a Stephen Drew double play ball, and the top three hitters went down quietly in the ninth. Final score: Angels 2, Yankees 1.

There is good news, however. While the Yankees have forgotten how to win, the rest of the American League East has been sputtering as well, and the Pinstripes have lost no ground in the standings. So that’s something. Nova didn’t get the win, but he pitched well, something most of us probably weren’t counting on this year. He might not be the ace yet, but he’s pitching.

Oh, and here’s one more thing. My son and I will be in the stands instead of on the couch tomorrow afternoon, so things are already looking up!

[Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo]

Tragic Kingdom

CC
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that I despise the California Angels, the Anaheim Angels, and the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim in equal measure, so instead of rehashing my usual litany of invectives against Gary DiScarcina and Garret Anderson and Mike Scoscia, I’ll instead focus on the game at hand, the opening frame of a three-game set in Anaheim.

CC Sabathia was on the mound for the Yankees, which means that expectations weren’t too high, but old CC pitched fairly well. Sure, he coughed up a run in the bottom of the first, but it wasn’t anything too awful. Johnny Giavotella, or Johnny G, as the Angels announcers love to call him, singled to lead off the game, then came all the way around to score on a two-out double from the resurgent Albert Pujols. Nothing to worry about yet, right?

The Yankee hitters got that run back in the top of the third, but it could’ve been more than that. DiDi Gregorius walked with one out and moved to second on a single from Brett Gardner, which brought up Chris Young. Young hit a rocket to left center, a ball that would easily have scored both runners for a 2-1 Yankee lead, but Mike Trout raced deep into the gap, reached across his body at the warning track and made the grab for the second out of the inning, sending the runners scampering back to their bases. Alex Rodríguez came up next and punched a ball to right field to tie the game and salvage something of the inning, but Trout’s play still stung.

In the bottom of the third, Trout would sting the Yankees again, this time with his bat, as he slugged a homer just ten feet or so beyond the spot where he had robbed Young in the top of the inning. I can never look at Mike Trout without imagining him in pinstripes, patrolling center field and thrilling a generation of fans who weren’t lucky enough to have followed Mattingly and Jeter before him. If only.

The game stayed at two to one until it looked like the Yankees might tie it up in the top of the fifth. Gardner, the reigning American League Player of the Week, stood at second base after a quirky double down the right field line, and Chris Young stood at the plate. Once again he launched a blast deep into the left center field gap. This ball was fifteen or twenty feet to the left of where the last one had died, but Trout was still coming and coming and coming. Once again he leapt at the last second, and once again he broke Young’s heart, this time with a catch that was even more impressive than the first. Young stared out at Trout for a second, then waved his hand in disgust before heading back to the dugout. After the game he suggested that baseball’s rules be changed to give a team half a run on plays like that, just to make the hitter feel a little better. In the space of three innings, Trout had stolen two runs with his glove and added one with his bat. That’s what greatness does.

If Sabathia had skipped over the odd innings on Monday night, he’d have thrown a shutout, but just as there are no half runs, there are no skipsies in baseball. And so came the bottom of the fifth (an RBI double from Kole Calhoun) and the bottom of the seventh (a towering homer from C.J. Cron) and suddenly the Yankees were down 4-1.

Their best opportunity to get back in the game had come back in the top of the seventh when Brian McCann led off with a walk and Gregorius pounded the Baltimorest chop you’ve ever seen off the front of the plate for an infield single to put two runners on with nobody out. I know that Brett Gardner is about ready to burst into flames, and I know that the Angels were creeping in at the corners, but I just couldn’t figure out why Joe Girardi didn’t send Gardy up there to bunt. It was only 3-1 at the time, and I sure would’ve liked to have seen Young and Rodríguez get shots to drive in the tying runs, but Girardi didn’t see it that way. Instead Gardner popped out to left, Young bounced into a fielder’s choice, and A-Rod grounded out to short. The Yankees felt dead in that moment; Cron’s home run in the bottom half just made sure. Nothing of interest happened after that, but tomorrow is another day.

[Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images]

Understudies

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Bad news all around for the Yankees today as Andrew Miller hit the DL with a forearm strain and the cascading bullpen shuffle hamstrung Girardi and contributed to a tough loss.

The Yankees struck in the bottom of the seventh again, turning an 0-2 hole into a 4-2 lead. But instead of the Betances-Miller hope-killer, we saw Eovaldi start the eighth. He allowed a hit and when Jacob Lindgren came out of the pen, something was officially NOT RIGHT.

Lindgren pitched OK for a guy who gave up a game-tying homer. He got Bryce Harper, the key at-bat, we thought, and induced a possible inning-ending double play. But Stephen Drew double-clutched when a single-clutch was all that was called for and the inning leaked forward for pinch-hitter Michael Taylor to ruin a really nice day.

Extra innings played out as Yankee fans began filing missing persons reports for their bullpen aces. When neither appeared in the 10th and 11th, the looming loss crystalized. It was Denard Span with chopper in the eleventh if you’re looking for the official cause of death. Nats pulled it out, 5-4.

The Yankees dropped three of four to Washington overall and at least two of those losses were real stingers. But losing Miller is the real test here. The bullpen hasn’t been anything special outside of those two dynamos, so we’ll see what happens when rubber meets the road.

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