It is hard enough to win games with a full roster in the American League East. It is difficult when your team is riddled with crippling injuries. It becomes darn near impossible when the team loses its heart and soul.
That is pretty much what the New York Yankees lost last season without its future Hall of Fame shortstop and captain Derek Jeter.
The team has spiraled downward ever since Jeter broke his right ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers in 2012.
The Yankees were swept in that series and they stumbled to a tie for third place in the division with the Baltimore Orioles and missed the playoffs for only the second time since 1994, the season before Jeter made his major-league debut.
Jeter, 39, tried to get back on the field for the 2013 season. But each step forward led to two steps back.
During spring training, the Yankees brought Jeter along slowly, not allowing him to play in the field until the third week of exhibition games. However, it was obvious in watching Jeter run out the batter’s box that he was just not right.
He favored the left ankle and had none of the usual spring in his step.
When X-rays indicated an additional break in the ankle, Jeter was placed on the 60-day disabled list and the usual critics and naysayers came out of the woodwork claiming Jeter was too old to play shortstop and that he would never be the same.
Jeter took that as a challenge and tried to come back on July 11. However, that comeback was short-circuited when he suffered a mild strain in his left quad running out a grounder in his first game back. He went on the 15-day disabled list with quite a bit of frustration after being so sure he was ready.
Activated on July 28, Jeter showed the Yankees just a hint of what they were missing when he went 2-for-4 with a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays.
That comeback was ended just three games later when an examination on Aug. 3 indicated Jeter sustained a Grade 1 strain of his right calf. He was placed on the disabled list for a third time. This was pretty much par for the course when it came to many of the Yankees returning from injuries in 2014 only to wind up back on the disabled list.
Just ask Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter had a lot of company on the team’s sickbay.
Jeter returned to the lineup on Sept. 1 and that comeback lasted just a total of seven games. Jeter re-injured his surgically repaired left ankle and, after a few days to assess the injury, Jeter offiicially was shelved for the season on Sept. 11.
The 13-time All-Star ended up playing in just 17 games batting .190 with a home run and seven RBIs. One big wasted season filled with frustration for a player who has always prided himself on playing every day since he became the team’s starting shortstop in 1996.
He also had to abandon any hope of potentially being able to surpass baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, who amassed 4,256 hits. Jeter was ahead of Rose’s pace at the same age entering the 2013 season. If Jeter had any intention of playing long enough to break that mark it is went up in smoke last season.
Yankee fans received a bit of a jolt when the Yankees signed shortstop Brendan Ryan to a two-year, $5 million contract on Dec. 2. It raised some eyebrows because some Yankee watchers thought it signaled that the team might be making the move to replace Jeter with the 31-year-old veteran.
But the Yankees quickly squelched any talk about that because Jeter. who was scheduled to play under a player-option contract in 2014 worth $9.5 million, was handed a one-year, $12 million deal by the Yankees. You do not replace a shortstop by offering him more money than his contract specified.
Jeter revealed to reporters on Nov. 14 that his ankle has healed and that he was “100 percent sure” that he would return to his role as the every day shortstop for the Yankees in 2014. Jeter said he was only working on strengthening his body for the coming season and was not worried about his ankle at all.
Of course, he did admit that although he wants to play every day, he is sure that he will get some at-bats as a designated hitter, which is fine with him.
The naysayers still do not believe that Jeter can come back at his age and play at the same level he did before the injury. That is fine if they think that, Jeter says.
Jeter will just have to prove them wrong as he did in 2012 when he led the majors with 216 hits after he hit a career low .270 in 2010 and spent the first half of the 2011 season hitting around .250. Many baseball experts thought Jeter was done then. But after adjusting his swing rehabbing a calf injury during the All-Star break, Jeter raised his average to .297 by season’s end.
The lesson: You may not want to give up on a guy who has five championship rings and career total of 3,316 hits.
The only real question about Jeter will be his ability to field such a demanding position at an advanced age. Players such as Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel have done it, but for some reason the ankle and leg injuries Jeter sustained last season give some people pause.
However, whatever range Jeter once had, he lost a long time before the ankle injury. Though Jeter has been awarded five Gold Gloves, including one in 2012, number-crunching gurus have been criticizing him since he won his third award in 2008.
Jeter’s defensive strength has never been totally about range. It is his sure-handed playmaking on the balls he does reach. In 2012, he handled 506 chances and committed only 10 errors. He also formed what has to be the franchise’s best double-play combination in history with second baseman Robinson Cano.
Yankee fans know the difference when Jeter is not in the lineup too. Eduardo Nunez has struggled most of his career playing the position and fans even dubbed him “Eduardo Scissorhands.”
With Jeter’s injury troubles, you would think that Nunez, 26, would have been able to take advantage of the opportunity and make his own mark at the position in 2014.
Unfortunately for Nunez, he could stay healthy and he regressed with his bat. Nunez batted .260 with three homers and 28 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 90 games. In 75 starts at shortstop, he committed 12 errors, which pretty much played himself out of a job when the Yankees signed Ryan on Sept. 10.
Ryan started all 17 of the Yankees’ remaining games in 2014 and batted .220 with a home run and one RBI. He committed only one error in those games and he is generally accorded to be one of the better fielding shortstops in baseball though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove.
According to FanGraphs Ryan recorded 22 defensive runs saved in 2010, 18 in 2011 and 20 in 2012.
The big knock on Ryan is that he is a career .237 hitter with 19 home runs and 187 RBIs in seven major-league seasons. He is no threat to take Jeter’s job at shortstop but he gives the club some excellent insurance at the position.
However, Nunez’s days with the Yankees appear to be numbered. The team seems to have given on him completely. So Nunez enters 2014 in a position where he should not be looking to buy a home in the tri-state area around New York City.
The Yankees already trimmed the roster of versatile infielder Jayson Nix on Dec. 2 when he was not tendered a contract offer for the 2014 season along with rookie infielder David Adams and right-handed pitcher Matt Daley.
Nix, 31, spent two seasons with the Yankees as backup infielder. Like many of the Yankees, Nix suffered a broken left hand in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 21 in which he was struck by a pitch by knuckleball right-hander R.A. Dickey and missed the remainder of the season.
Nix batted .236 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in 87 games before succumbing to the injury.
The Yankees signed free-agent infielder Kelly Johnson to a one-year, $3 million contract, which means the 32-year-old veteran could figure in the mix to play second base.
Johnson has also played first and third base and the outfield. He also, unlike Ryan, Nunez and Nix, bats left-handed.
The Yankees are not exactly rich at the shortstop position in the minors at this point.
Addison Maruszak, 26, batted .254 with four home runs and 32 RBIs in 94 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He is not considered as a prospect for the big leagues.
Former first-round pick Cito Culver, 21, is not making much progress in the minors. Though Culver can flash some leather with the glove the offensive part of the game has eluded him up to this point.
Culver hit a combined a combined .248 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs in 120 games in two stops at the Class-A level in 2013.
The Yankees, it is safe to say do not have another Jeter waiting in the wings to take his place.
So it is a good thing that Jeter is saying he is healed and will be ready to go when camp opens in February. He is the one player the Yankees can’t afford to be without in 2014. They need his bat, they need his glove and they need his leadership by example.
Expecting him to be the fresh-faced kid that 20-plus homers and drove in 90 runs in his heyday would be expecting way too much, But the Yankees will take the numbers he put up in 2012 when he hit .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.
Betting against Jeter has never been a safe bet before and may not be a wise one now.
YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 2
There are defining moments within a season and in a pennant chase. But the New York Yankees delivered a very big message to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday: You are NOT going to push us around anymore.
Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, who had failed to deliver in the same situation four innings earlier, came through with the tying and winning RBIs in the ninth inning off Orioles closer Jim Johnson and Ivan Nova pitched the game of his life as New York – bullied and bruised from a sweep at Oriole Park at Camden Yards last week – broke the heart of Baltimore with a walk-off victory in front of a raucous paid crowd of 43,396 at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees entered the ninth trailing 2-1 with Johnson (2-7) on the mound facing No. 9 hitter David Adams, who was hitting .183 as he stepped into the batter’s box. Adams ripped an 1-1 fastball and delivered an opposite-field single to right.
Brett Gardner, attempting to sacrifice Adams to second with a sacrifice bunt, reached on a single when Johnson overran the ball and was unable to make a play.
Surprisingly, Ichiro Suzuki then elected to drop down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Adams to third and Gardner to second because the move effectively allowed Orioles manager Buck Showalter to intentionally walk Robinson Cano to load the bases, as he had done in the fifth inning.
Trailing 2-1 with Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez on the mound in the fifth, Showalter had Gonzalez walk Cano intentionally to load the bases with one out. Hafner then flied out to shallow center, leaving Adams at third base. Wells followed with a weak foul popup to first baseman Chris Davis that left the bases loaded.
But in the ninth inning against Johnson both Hafner and Wells were hoping the outcome would be different. Fortunately for the Yankees, they redeemed themselves.
Hafner drew a walk on four straight pitches to bring in the tying run in Adams. Wells followed by slapping a 2-2 sinker from Johnson just past the dive of third baseman Manny Machado and into left-field to score Gardner with the run that made a winner out Nova.
Nova (3-2) was only starting the game due to a sore left hip flexor injury to right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. But the 26-year-old right-hander took advantage of his first start since June 23 and only his sixth start this season.
Despite opening the second inning by hitting Davis with a pitch and allowing a two-run opposite-field home run to Matt Wieters that hit off the top of the wall and bounded into the bleachers, Nova shut down the Orioles the rest of the way on just two singles and a walk while he struck out 11 batters – one less than his career best of 12 in 2011 against the Cincinnati Reds.
Mixing his 95-mile-per-hour fastball with a devastating curveball that had the powerful Orioles, who lead the major leagues in home runs, flailing at air all night in what was Nova’s first major-league complete game in 67 career starts. Over nine innings, Nova threw 102 pitches and 70 of them were strikes, a strike percentage of 69%.
This was much like the Nova of 2011 who burst onto the scene as a rookie to post a 16-4 record with a 3.70 ERA and win his final 12 games in a row. It was not the same Nova who was so awful in going 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012 and who was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA in his first four starts of 2013 before he landed on the 15-day disabled list for two months with a right triceps strain.
It looked as if Nova would end up taking a hard-luck loss because the Yankees’ offense could only manage one hit off Gonzalez until the fourth inning.
Wells delivered a two-out lined single to left and Gonzalez then issued a walk to Lyle Overbay, seemingly pitching around the veteran first baseman in order to face light-hitting shortstop Luis Cruz. However, Cruz spoiled the strategy when he laced a sharp single to left and Wells was able to slide home just a beat ahead of the throw from Nate McLouth and the tag of Wieters at the plate.
The game remained that way until the Yankees mounted their rally off Johnson in the ninth that handed the closer his sixth blown save of the season, two of them to the Yankees.
Gonzalez gave up four hits and five walks while striking out four in six innings of work. Left-hander Troy Patton and right-hander Darren O’Day both pitched an inning shutout baseball for the Orioles.
The victory for the Yankees, their fifth in a row, allowed them to climb within percentage points of the second-place Orioles in the American League East with a 47-39 mark. The Orioles defeat left them 48-39, five games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are playing the Los Angeles Angels in a late game in Anaheim, CA.
- How can six go into five? That the problem for manager Joe Girardi now that Nova has served notice he belongs in the rotation. You can’t possibly remove hard-throwing Dominican after what he did on Friday. When Nova is on like he was on Friday, he actually has the arguably the best stuff of any of the current Yankee starters. The most likely candidate to go could be David Phelps. But Phelps pitched a fine game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday. Stay tuned.
- Wells was given a second consecutive start against a right-handed pitcher and he made the most of it. Despite hitting that weak foul pop in the fifth, Wells finished the evening 2-for-5 with a run scored and the game-winning walk-off RBI. In his past three games, Wells is 6-for-12 with four RBIs. That streak has raised his season average from .223 to .235.
- Cruz is showing signs he may be a better hitter than his .136 mark with the Los Angeles Dodgers that led to his designation for assignment and eventual release. Cruz is 3-for-11 (.272) and has RBIs in the past two of his three starts at shortstop for the Yankees. Cruz also made a fine pair of plays on ground balls off the bat of Machado and Nick Markakis in the third inning that robbed both of potential hits.
You can’t fault the pitching because Nova was sensational. Besides Cruz’s two gems, Cano turned in a pair of dazzlers in the fourth inning. So you can’t fault the defense. You could rip Hafner and Wells for failing the fifth inning with the bases loaded and one out. However, they atoned for those sins by coming through when it counted in the ninth. No complaints here.
The Yankees announced Friday that shortstop Derek Jeter will begin a rehab assignment on Saturday with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Jeter, who has spent the better part of eight months rehabbing a broken left ankle after undergoing surgery, is expected to play at least five innings at shortstop in the RailRiders’ game against Lehigh Valley. Jeter originally broke the ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers last October. After undergoing surgery Jeter attempted to return to action during spring training but felt discomfort and had to be shelved. An MRI on April 18 indicated a second small break of the ankle and Jeter has been on the disabled list the entire season. Girardi refused to set a firm date for Jeter’s return to the Yankees. . . . Kuroda has been cleared to resume throwing again but it is not clear when he will make his next start. Kuroda first felt discomfort in his left hip warming up for last Saturday’s game against the Orioles in Baltimore. He pitched in the game and ended up losing 4-2. Kuroda is 7-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 17 starts this season.
The Yankees will put their five-game winning streak on the line on Saturday in a matinee against the O’s.
Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-6, 4.40 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Pettitte passed Whitey Ford to become the team’s the all-time team strikeout leader but he ended up with a no-decision on Monday after giving up four runs on six hits and four walks in five innings against the Twins. Pettitte is 18-5 with a 3.48 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Orioles.
Baltimore will start right-hander Chris Tillman (10-2, 3.68 ERA). Tillman yielded two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six in six innings against the Yankees on Sunday, his seventh consecutive winning decision. He is 3-3 with a 7.27 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
Enough is enough is enough
I can’t go on, I can’t go on, no more no
enough is enough is enough
– “No More Tears” (Enough Is Enough) by Donna Summer
YANKEES 6, ANGELS 5
With the injuries and the losses seemingly about to bring this proud franchise to its knees the wounded, the wavering and the willing among the New York Yankees summoned just enough strength on Sunday to claim a victory to end their long and miserable West Coast road swing.
CC Sabathia held the Angels scoreless for eight innings, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells proved they do can do more than make outs with runners in scoring position and Mariano Rivera inched to the very edge of the precipice of blowing a save before striking out Albert Pujols with the bases loaded and two outs as New York escaped with a victory over Los Angeles.
In the grand scheme of things in a 162-game schedule this game may not mean a whole lot. But in the moment, both for manager Joe Girardi and his battered and beleaguered ball club, this one at Angel Stadium was a very special victory.
Sabathia (7-5) served notice early that he was not going to lose without a fight by dazzling the potent Angels with eight innings of pure brilliance, allowing them four miserable little singles and two walks while he struck out six. He even used two double plays to wriggle out of any potential danger the Angels wanted to throw his way.
Even when Mike Trout laced a lined single off the 6-foot-7 left-hander with two out in the sixth inning, Sabathia waved off Girardi and head trainer Steve Donohue as if to say “I am going to win this game no matter how much I hurt.”
Meanwhile, the Yankees started off against right-hander Jered Weaver (1-3) as if it was going to be another one of those days where they flood the bases with runners all day and only to have their efforts to score dashed by weak popups or strikeouts.
Brett Gardner opened the game with a double and Ichiro Suzuki drew a walk. Both then advanced a base when Weaver’s attempted pickoff of Gardner eluded Erick Aybar for an error.
But the Yankees struggling 3-4-5 hitters ended the threat when Robinson Cano struck out, Hafner walked and Wells hit into a double play.
But the Yankees somehow put it all together in the third inning.
Chris Stewart walked, Gardner singled to advance Stewart to third and then Gardner swiped second base to set up yet another threat with runners at second and third and no outs.
Forgive the cynical Yankees fans for not being surprised when Suzuki struck out and Cano popped up to shallow left, leaving both Stewart and Gardner where they were.
But on a 1-2 count, Hafner stroked what might have been the biggest home run the Yankees have delivered since Aaron Boone’s solo shot off Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in 2003.
Hafner lit into a high breaking pitch and sent into the bleachers in left-center for what was only his third hit and his first home run since he hit his 10th on June 5 against his former Cleveland Indians. Further forgive the cynical Yankee fans for not believing what they they just witnessed.
But the inning continued when Wells singled and Lyle Overbay, pressed back into the lineup at first base in the absence of an injured Mark Teixeira, drove him home with a double off the wall in center. Jayson Nix then capped the rally with a lined single to left to score Overbay.
The Yankees had a 5-0 lead. Smelling salts and ammonia must have been used in great quantities all across the tri-state area for the team’s disbelieving fans.
The Yankees added a seemingly meaningless run at the time in the eighth inning off right-hander Jerome Williams when Cano led off with a double, moved to third on a Hafner groundout and scored on a deep fly ball off the bat of Wells.
But this is the 2013 Yankees, after all. So nothing is ever going to be that easy for them, right?
So fast-forward to the ninth with a determined Sabathia on the mound trying to close out his second complete-game victory of the season and a shutout of the Angels at that.
But Peter Bourjos singled and Trout doubled within just eight pitches and Sabathia left in favor of right-handed setup man David Robertson. Surely, this game would end soon or would it?
But Pujols lined a single so hard off Robertson’s back that it caromed all the way to Suzuki in right-field to score Bourjos and end Sabathia’s shutout.
After Robertson got the hot-hitting Yankee-killer Howie Kendrick to strike out swinging, he walked pinch-hitter J.B. Shuck to load the bases.
Exit Robertson and enter Rivera looking for his 24th save in 25 chances in what would be his last appearance at the “Big A.”
Rivera seemingly restored order by retiring Aybar on a bounce-out to Overbay at first that scored Trout but left two out.
However, neither the “baseball gods’ or the Halos were quite through toying with the fragile psyche of the Yankees – not to mention their fans who just cleared their heads from the salts and ammonia from the five-run outburst in the third inning.
In quick succession, Alberto Callaspo floated a single into right to score two runs, pinch-hitter Brad Hawpe plopped a bloop single to left to put two runners on with two out and Bourjos followed with a feather-soft looper to left to score Callaspo.
Yep, the Angels managed three hits off the great Rivera but none of them could have broken a pane of glass and they came off the bat as if the ball were struck with wet newspapers.
Trout then got Girardi and the Yankees reaching for the Rolaids when he drew a walk to load the bases. The paid crowd of 41,204 did not know if they were witnessing a cruel close to Rivera’s career in Anaheim and a proud team about to commit “collective baseball suicide” by blowing a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth.
That left Rivera to face the Angels legendary Pujols.
It was as if Rivera had said to himself, “Enough fooling around.” There was no mystery in what pitch Pujols would be getting and he got three of them.
First, a 94-mile-per-hour cutter for a called strike. Then a 94-mph cutter Pujols could only foul off. Then as the crowd stood, the runners took their leads and Girardi and his team swallowed their hearts, Rivera delivered his final 94-mph missive plate-ward and Pujols swung hard for horsehide and only came up with California air for strike three.
As Stewart raced out to congratulate Rivera, the 43-year-old future Hall of Fame closer did not smile. He knew it was a victory but he would have to admit it was more of an escape.
But this Yankee team will take it.
Despite the fact they had lost five games in a row. Despite the fact they had lost 13 of their previous 20 games. Despite the fact the lineup looks like the Yankees are playing a split-squad game in Dundin, FL, in March, the Yankees are still 38-31 on the season.
They are in third place in the American League East behind the first-place Boston Red Sox and the second-place Baltimore Orioles. But they are a mere two games behind the Red Sox in the loss column.
The Angels are in even worse shape. They are 30-39 and are 11 games out in fourth place in the A.L. West.
- It was nice to see Sabathia basically take the team on his back and carry them to victory despite what happened in the ninth. The team ace is supposed to stop the bleeding and that is exactly what Sabathia did on Sunday. If the Yankees could ask anything more of the 32-year-old left-hander it would be for him to string together about four or five more just like them.
- Hafner’s home run was a big hit for him just as much as it was for the Yankees. Hafner, 36, began May hitting .318 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. But he hit just .179 in May and was hitting an anemic .111 in June. His demise may not be over but the Yankees still need him to provide power and production in the middle of the lineup. He is now hitting .221 and he is lot better hitter than that.
- The unsung hero of this team has been Nix. All Nix did on Sunday was deliver three of the Yankees’ nine hits, he drove in a run with a two-out hit and he started a nifty 5-4 double play off the bat of Aybar in the fifth inning that erased a situation of two runners on with no outs. Nix is hitting .259 with a homer and 19 RBIs. But his numbers don’t tell the whole story of how he gets clutch hits, is solid in the field and he plays the game wisely.
I do not care that the Yankees’ three best pitchers (Sabathia, Robertson and Rivera) nearly blew a lead in the ninth and that Reid Brignac was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a double play to lower his season average to .182. This win was needed and it erases a lot of very bad play on this road trip.
There was some good news and some and potential bad news about Teixeira’s sore right wrist. An MRI taken in New York indicated only inflammation and no tear in the sheath that he sustained in March. Teixeira was given a cortisone injection and he will be re-evaluated by the team’s medical staff in New York on Tuesday. There is a good possibility that Teixeira will have to be placed on the 15-day disabled list but Girardi is happy to know he does not need season-ending surgery on the wrist at this time. Teixeira was removed in the fourth inning of Saturday’s game when he complained about soreness in the wrist. Overbay will play first base until Teixiera returns to the lineup.
The Yankees will lick their wounds, literally, with a day off on Monday before opening a two-game series at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (3-5, 4.89 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Hughes has been up and down all season and his start on Wednesday against the Oakland Athletics was a downer. He lasted only 4 1/3 innings and he gave up three runs on four hits and five walks. Hughes has never faced the Dodgers.
Hughes will be opposed by left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu (6-2, 2.85 ERA). Ryu was roughed up against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, yielding three runs on 11 hits in six innings. Ryu has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.
TIGERS 8, YANKEES 3
In adventure tales you can usually bank on a heroic prince coming to the rescue just when he is needed. That pretty much sums up what happened for the Tigers in their 2013 home opener at Comerica Park in Detroit on Friday.
Prince Fielder blasted a pair of home runs – a three-run shot in the fifth that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead and a mammoth two-run blast in the seventh that put the game away – as Detroit picked up right where they left off in the American League Championship Series by drubbing New York in front of a paid crowd of 45,051.
Despite the fact that Tigers right-hander Doug Fister (1-0) was touched for three runs in the top of the fifth, keyed by a two-run home run off the bat of Kevin Youkilis that gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead, he was rescued by Fielder’s bat to get credit for the victory.
Fister gave up three runs on six hits, two walks, hit two batters and struck out two in five innings. Left-hander Drew Smyly pitched four perfect innings of relief to earn a save.
Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova (0-1) gave up four runs on five hits and two walks and struck out five batters in 4 2/3 innings. But the bullpen did him no favors because Boone Logan gave up Fielder’s home run in the fifth and Shawn Kelley was tagged by his home run in the seventh.
The Yankees’ early-season record is now 1-3. The Tigers are 2-2.
- Youkilis blasted his first home run as a Yankee in the fifth inning after Fister had given up a one-out single to Robinson Cano that advanced Bret Gardner to third. While pitching to Youkilis, Fister uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Gardner to score and the Yankees halved the Tigers’ lead to 2-1. Then Youkilis connected on 3-1 fastball and he deposited the ball into the Tiger bullpen in left-center to give the Yankees a short-lived 3-2 lead.
- David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and need only needed four pitches to record three outs. He was the only Yankee hurler on the day who did not give up a hit or a run.
- Nova shocked reporters after the game by saying he did not believe he pitched that poorly. Though he did keep the team in the game, Nova was hardly effective. He was in three-ball counts to nine of the 21 batters he faced and threw 96 pitches with only 53 being strikes (55 percent). Nova will be on a short leash if he continues to struggle like this.
- Logan was brought in to the game specifically to face Fielder with two on and two out in the fifth and Fielder swatted his second pitch just over the wall in right to allow the Tigers to reclaim the lead. In a perfect world the Yankees would have a second left-hander because Logan is not a lefty specialist but the Yankees elected to release side-winding left-hander Clay Rapada.
- Kelley, 29, not only gave up the two-run blast by Fielder that still might be orbiting Earth, but he also gave up a long solo blast to Alex Avila in the sixth. Kelley was selected by the Yankees over veteran David Aardsma because he is capable of pitching multiple innings. I guess the Yankees’ brain trust did not realize he also is capable of surrendering multiple homers in multiple innings.
The Yankees injury list grew on Friday when Eduardo Nunez was forced to leave the game in the fourth inning after being struck by a pitch from Fister. Nunez thought that he might have a broken his right arm but X-rays showed only a bruised right bicep and he is listed as day-to-day. Jayson Nix took over for Nunez at shortstop and was 0-for-2.
The Yankees will continue their three-game series in the Motor City on Saturday.
Originally, the Yankees were scheduled to start David Phelps. But the Yankees decided they will activate right-hander Phil Hughes from the 15-day disabled list and he will make the start instead. Hughes was sidelined during all of spring training with a bulging disk in his upper back. Hughes is 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in his career against the Tigers.
The Tigers will send right-hander Max Scherzer to the mound. Scherzer was 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA in 2012. he is 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.
YANKEES 4, RED SOX 2
Most major-league teams conduct “Turn-Back-The Clock” nights to feature vintage era teams. The New York Yankees held their own version of “Turn-Back-The-Clock” night on Thursday and they did it only with a 40-year-old starter and a 43-year-old reliever.
Andy Pettitte threw eight dominant innings of one-run ball and Mariano Rivera began his final season in Major League Baseball with his first save as New York recovered from an 0-2 start to the season to beat Boston in front of a paid crowd of 40,611 on another chilly night at Yankee Stadium.
Pettitte looked to be in vintage 1996 form, when he won 21 games for the Yankees. Using his patented style of peering over the edge of his glove, Pettitte (1-0) scattered eight hits, walked one and struck three while holding the hated Bosox scoreless through six innings.
Their lone score off Pettitte came with two out in the seventh inning when Will Middlebrooks punched an opposite-field single and Jackie Bradley Jr. plated him with a double high off the wall in right-center.
Much earlier in the game, the Yankees finally took their first lead of the season in the second inning when Travis Hafner led off the frame with a single off veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster (0-1). Two outs later, Eduardo Nunez blasted a ground-rule double in right-center and Lyle Overbay scored Hafner and Nunez with an opposite-field single to left-center.
Though the Yankees are missing a lot of power with Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez injured, the Yankees broke out the long-ball on Thursday from two of their least likely “Bronx Bombers.”
Brett Gardner led off the third inning with a first-pitch golf shot off Dempster that just scraped over the wall into the first row of the right-field bleachers for his first home run of the season and only the 16th of his career.
With the Yankees leading 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Francisco Cervelli touched off a mammoth shot to left-center on a 3-1 offering from reliever Clayton Mortensen for Cervelli’s first home run of the season and only the fifth of his career. The ball actually struck high off the wall in the Red Sox bullpen and nearly landed in the bleachers.
Pettitte left after eight innings and handed the ball to a familiar teammate, Rivera.
The future Hall-of-Fame closer did give up a leadoff walk to Dustin Pedroia and a one-out double down the left-field line by Jonny Gomes. Pedroia scored on a groundout by Middlebrooks but Rivera struck out Bradley looking to record the 609th save of his 19-season career.
It also was the 69th time that Rivera had saved a victory for Pettitte, which is tops in the majors since the statistic was first recorded in 1969.
Though the Red Sox won the series, the Yankees at least got a measure of payback to improve their record to 1-2.
- For those who thought Pettitte might be through at age 40, you are dead wrong. Though Pettitte did allow nine base-runners, he kept the ball in the ballpark and used three double plays to prevent the Red Sox from manufacturing any offense. Pettitte threw 64 of his 94 pitches for strikes (68 percent) and he never was seriously in much danger of losing his 3-0 lead.
- Overbay, 35, came through with a huge two-out hit in the second inning and general manager Brian Cashman’s decision to sign him after the Bosox released him in the final week of spring training may prove to be a good move while the Yankees await Teixeira’s return from a torn tendon his right wrist.
- Gardner and Cervelli showed that the Yankees do not always have to rely on “little ball” to win games. But don’t expect this pair to be piling up a lot of dingers this season. The Yankees won this game with good pitching, good defense and some opportunistic hitting.
- If the Yankees are going to have to rely on more of a running game this season it would nice if their top base-stealers would not get thrown out on the basepaths. Gardner was thrown out at second base in the first and Nunez was nabbed the same way in the sixth. Both of them were nailed by backup Red Sox catcher David Ross.
- After his 3-for-4 night on Wednesday, the Red Sox made sure Vernon Wells did not get a fastball to hit on Thursday. Wells did not adjust and was 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
- In this series the Red Sox trotted out a new shift on Robinson Cano in which they shifted third baseman Middlebrooks into short right-field. It evidently bothered Cano because he hit two balls right to Middlebrooks and was 0-for-3 with a walk and is hitting .091 after three games.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda told reporters on Thursday that he still is feeling discomfort in his bruised right middle finger but that he still hopes to be able to be ready for his next start in Cleveland on Monday. Kuroda was struck on the finger as he reached up to stop a hard line drive off the bat of Shane Victorino in the second inning and he later was forced to leave the game. Kuroda is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in Detroit on Friday and he will know then if he will be able to pitch. . . . Manager Joe Girardi changed the lineup to have Cano batting second and Kevin Youkilis batting third. Girardi said he decided to make the change to break up three left-handed hitters at the top of the lineup against Dempster. . . . The Yankees decided to give right-hander David Aardsma his unconditional release on Thursday. Aardsma, 31, had a 3.52 ERA this spring, but he was designated for assignment because the team preferred right-hander Shawn Kelley, who could offer multiple innings out the bullpen.
The Yankees travel to Detroit on Friday for the Tigers’ 2013 home opener.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-0, 4,19 ERA this spring) will start for the Yankees seeking redemption from a 2012 season in which he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA. In his short career, Nova is 0-1 with a 9.24 ERA against the Tigers.
He will be opposed by right-hander Doug Fister (2-3, 5.68 ERA this spring), who pitched 6 1/3 innings of shutout baseball in Game 1 of the 2012 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. He is 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA versus the Yankees in the regular season.
Game-time will be 1:08 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
RED SOX 8, YANKEES 2
Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday was a lot like getting dressed to the nines, renting a limo with a beautiful girl escorting you and taking in a Broadway play only to find out that the part of Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” is not being played by Philip Seymour Hoffman but by Emilio Estevez.
No Derek Jeter. No Alex Rodriguez. No Mark Teixeira. No Curtis Granderson.
Heck, this production could be called “Death of a Ballclub” and it looked like it was put on by an amateur repertory company in Paducah, KY.
CC Sabathia (0-1) struggled with his command and gave up four runs in the second inning while the depleted Yankees offense could not make up the margin as Boston became the first team since 1986 to beat New York in a home opener in front of a paid crowd of 49,514.
Jon Lester (1-0) pitched five solid innings, giving up two runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out seven batters. The Red Sox bullpen shut down the Yankees the rest of the way on just one hit and two walks.
Newly acquired Shane Victorino keyed the four-run second inning with a two-out, two-run single that gave the Red Sox a 3-0 lead. He added an RBI single in the ninth that closed out the scoring for the Bosox.
The Yankees lone scoring came in the bottom of the fourth inning when Francisco Cervelli stroked a two-out, two-run single off Lester to draw the Yankees to within two runs at 4-2.
But the Red Sox added a single run in the seventh and three more in the ninth.
- Though it seems odd to say this, the Red Sox did not exactly rip the cover off the ball against the Yankees. There was a bunt single and four infield hits among the Red Sox 13 hits. The Red Sox got timely hits and they could not have rolled them into better spots. They were more lucky than good.
- Cervelli has always seemed to have a knack for getting the big hit at the right time and it is starting to look like his 2013 season may be no different. He laced a 1-2 cutter off Lester down the left-field line to score Kevin Youkilis, who led off the inning with a double, and Vernon Wells, who drew a walk.
- Former Mariners right-hander Shawn Kelley made his Yankee debut and pitched a perfect eighth inning, striking out one batter and needing only 12 pitches to dispatch the Red Sox. Kelley was the only Yankee relief pitcher to pitch a perfect inning.
- Sabathia has always been a slow starter so it is no surprise that he is 0-2 with a 7.42 over his five Opening Day starts with the Yankees. Sabathia was tagged for four runs on eight hits and four walks and he struck out five in his five innings of work.
- Joba Chamberlain’s 2013 debut was nothing to write home about either. He gave up a single and two walks to load the bases with one out. After fanning Jose Iglesias, Jacoby Ellsbury hit an infield single that scored two runs and Victorino followed with a single to left to end Chamberlain’s day. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and he is going to have to pitch better than he did on Tuesday if he wants to reman in pinstripes.
- With the lefty Lester pitching, manager Joe Girardi elected to bat Eduardo Nunez second and shift Ichiro Suzuki to the seventh spot in the order. Nunez ended up going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and he left three men on base while not getting a ball out of the infield.
As part of the Opening Day ceremonies, the Yankees paid tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting last December in Newtown, CT. The Yankees saluted the first responders to the tragedy and conducted a solemn moment of silence for the victims and their families. . . . Rodriguez was with the team for the first time since Game 4 of last October’s American League Championship Series and he told reporters than his rehab from surgery on his left hip is going well. But he did not say when he would be able to return – only that it would be this season. Rodriguez said, “I love when people say, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you’re old.’ I find it a great challenge.” He declined to comment on questions about the Miami clinic that has been alleged to have distributed performance-enhancing drugs to a number of major-league players including Rodriguez. . . . Right-hander Phil Hughes threw seven innings in an extended spring training game for High-A Tampa at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL. Meanwhile, Jeter and Granderson also participated in workouts.
The Yankees will have a day off to regroup from their disappointing opener before playing the Red Sox on Wednesday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-2, 1.53 ERA) is coming off a career-year in 2012 with career highs in victories, starts, innings and strikeouts. He also had an excellent spring. He is 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA against the Red Sox in his career.
Kuroda will be opposed by right-hander Clay Buccholz (3-0, 0.79 ERA), who is coming of a disastrous 2012 campaign marred by injury and ineffectiveness. He was 11-8 with a 4.46 ERA. He is 2-5 with a 7.19 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast locally by the YES Network and nationally by ESPN2.
BRAVES 2, YANKEES 1
TAMPA – To the Yankees and their fans, the tradition and history of the team is almost as important than the future direction of the franchise. On Saturday, the current legends of the team and the promise of the future were on proud display on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, fresh from a morning news conference to announce that 2013 will be his final season in pinstripes, and team captain Derek Jeter, rehabbing from offseason surgery to his left ankle, both made triumphant spring training debuts.
As a metaphor for the future, 23-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez threw four shutout innings against the Braves, yielding just one hit and striking out four batters.
However, as a reminder of the team’s present, the Yankees’ offense could not match its excellent pitching and they fell to Atlanta for their fourth consecutive spring training defeat.
Rivera, 43, spurred the crowd of 10,973 to its feet as he trotted to the mound in the fifth inning serenaded by his personal anthem “Enter Sandman.”
It did not take the master long to establish his signature cutter as Dan Uggla hit a weak infield popup and Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson were caught looking in only 15 pitches. The gathered throng shot to its feet again as one of their heroes strode off the mound and tipped his cap just before he entered the dugout.
Their other “Golden Boy,” Jeter, wasted no time after his standing ovation as he stepped into the batter’s box in the first inning. He sent the initial offering from left-hander Mike Minor between the shortstop Tyler Pastornicky and the third baseman Francisco in left-field. Though Jeter’s gait appeared to be somewhat labored. It did not make a difference to the fans who cheered the captain they love so dearly.
In a spring marked by injury after injury, disappointment and mounting losses, the fans were just happy to have No. 2 and No. 42 back on the field.
Minor matched Ramirez with four shutout innings of his own. He gave up three hits and two walks.
The Braves scored their first run in the seventh inning on a one-out triple by Pastornicky and a two-out bloop RBI single to center by Uggla. They added an insurance run in the ninth on a Jordan Schaffer double and Schaffer later scored on a sac fly off the bat of Jordan Parraz.
That run proved significant because the Yankees ended a 19-inning spring scoring drought against the Braves that dates back to the team’s spring opener on Feb. 23. Thomas Neal scored Bobby Wilson on a groundout off reliever Alex Wood.
Anthony Vavaro (1-0) pitched a perfect sixth inning to get credit for the victory. Wood pitched two innings to earn his second spring save. Left-hander Francisco Rondon took the loss for the Yankees.
The punchless Yankees are now 3-11 this spring. The Braves improved to 8-8.
- Of all the young pitchers, it’s Ramirez, 23, who’s looked the best. He’s gotten two starts and has pitched a total of shutout nine innings allowing four hits with one walk and five strikeouts. “He’s been great,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The kid has thrown the ball really well. He’s throwing strikes. He’s got an outstanding changeup. His slider is a work in progress. He spots his fastball with velocity. He’s had an outstanding spring.”
- Ichiro Suzuki was 2-for-3 and a stolen base on Saturday. He is hitting .450 for the spring. It is just too bad that nobody in the No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 spots can get enough going at the plate to score him. I bet Girardi is counting the days until mid-May when Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are expected back. Until then it is not much of an offense. It is just plain offensive is what it is.
- Ronnier Mustelier may be built like a tank but he proved on Saturday that he can run when he stroked a two-out triple to right-center in the seventh. Mustelier, 28, is hitting a robust .375 this spring and Girardi even tried him out at third base on Saturday. Mustelier was moved to the outfield because he seems to be better there. But if he could play third well enough the Yankees might keep him because of his potent bat.
- Surprise! The Yankees were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position on Saturday. It is apparent that the team’s downfall in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers has not been rectified. They are going to have to do better when the season starts.
- Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, two players who are likely going to make the team and are being counted upon in the absence of Granderson and Teixeira, were a combined 0-for-6 on Saturday. Rivera is hitting a respectable .273 but Diaz is struggling, hitting just .222.
- Left-handed designated hitter Travis Hafner was 0-for- 2 and he’s hitting .167. It may not yet be time to panic but you may want to keep the Xanax handy.
Right-handers Phil Hughes, David Robertson and David Aardsma threw bullpen sessions on Saturday and all three reported feeling fine afterward. “All good news,” Girardi said. “Maybe the worm has turned.” . . . After the game right-handers Tom Kahnle and Kelvin Perez were optioned to minor-league camp.
The Yankees hope to seek a better result on Sunday on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL.
Right-hander David Phelps will make his fourth start of the spring for the Yankees. He will be opposed by J.A. Happ.
Game-time will be at 1:05 EDT and the game will be telecast on tape delay by the MLB Network at 3 a.m. on Monday.