YANKEES 7, RAYS 5 (12 INNINGS)
Extra innings is a just a war of attrition and in the top of the 12th on Friday it looked as if the Yankees had just run out of ammunition to battle the Rays. The bullpen had coughed up two runs and it seemed the game was well in hand with the visitors.
But Brian McCann was not ready to give up in an important divisional game.
McCann blasted a three-run home run in the bottom of the 12th off right-hander Steve Geltz to cap an improbable four-run rally that handed the Yankees their first walk-off victory of the season in front of a paid crowd of 43,141 at Yankee Stadium.
With the victory the Yankees claimed first place in the tightly bunched American League East, one game ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles and two games ahead of the Rays, who have now lost six consecutive games.
Right-hander Chasen Shreve (6-1), who had a hand – along with Adam Warren – in allowing the Rays to score two runs in the 12th, was credited with the victory in relief. Geltz (1-4) took the loss.
Brett Gardner opened the 12th by drawing a walk. Alex Rodriguez followed with a one-out single and Mark Teixeira, whose three-run home run in the eighth sent the game into extra innings, laced an RBI single to score Gardner.
McCann then laced a 1-0 fastball from Geltz deep into the right-field bleachers for his 13th home run of the season and his 10th at home.
His teammates streamed out of the dugout and Gardner doused him with bucket of water after he touched home plate. It culminated in an unlikely victory on a night the Yankees had to battle from behind from very the first inning.
The Rays took an early lead against right-hander Masahiro Tanaka when Grady Sizemore led off with a double. Joey Butler drew a walk and Evan Longoria slashed a double to left to score Sizemore.
James Loney, who was activated from the disabled list earlier in the day, then plated Butler on a sacrifice fly.
The Rays added a run in the fifth on a leadoff triple off the bat of Kevin Kiermaier and a sac fly by Rene Rivera.
The Yankees, however, were unable to solve right-hander Chris Archer, was entered the game 5-0 with a 2.02 ERA in seven starts against the Yankees in his career.
In 6 2/3 innings, Archer shutout the Yankees on three hits and three walks with eight strikeouts.
But with one out in the eighth inning the Yankees mounted a rally against right-hander Kevin Jepsen.
Chase Headley hit an opposite-field single to left and Rodriguez followed with a bloop opposite-field single to right to set the stage for Teixeira.
Teixeira laid into a 1-0 change-up and drove into the second deck of the right-field bleachers for his 20th home run of the season. His four-RBI night gives him 58 on the season, which now leads the American League.
The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 42-37. Tampa Bay fell to 42-40.
- The stuffing of the All-Star ballot box by the Kansas City Royals may rob McCann of a much-deserved trip to the All-Star Game. McCann is hitting .264 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs. Salvador Perez of the Royals is batting .263 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs. By any measure you want to use McCann is better than Perez. But the hicks in the sticks of K.C., who booed Robinson Cano for not selecting singles hitter Billy Butler for the Home Run Derby two years ago, are now keeping more deserving players off the All-Star team. Let’s hope the commissioner shoves it up that city’s rectum by taking the fan vote away for good. You abuse it, you lose it!
- Teixeira’s magical season continues and the injury to Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers certainly will improve Teixeira’s chances of making the All-Star team. Royals fans had Eric Hosmer starting at first base despite the fact he is hitting .286 with only eight home runs and 40 RBIs. But Cabrera overtook him in the voting and the league is under no obligation to take Hosmer at all. So Teixeira has a great chance to start at first. Suck it, Kansas City!
- After the first inning Tanaka actually pitched exceptionally well. After two shaky outings, Tanaka was charged with just one run on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts in the five innings after the first. Hopefully, this is a sign he has regrouped.
- One of the things that Archer does to the Yankees is to elevate his pitches. The Yankees just do him a great favor by swinging at them despite the fact they are balls. In addition to his eight strikeouts (some on the high fastball), Archer also induced nine air outs. If the Yankees lay off that pitch Archer ends up walking about six more hitters and he loses. But the Yankees never adjusted.
- Chris Young was the hottest hitter on this team a week ago. But being forced to start against right-handers in the absence of both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran has exposed some weaknesses. He was 0-for-5 on Friday with two strikeouts and he also hit into a double play. Ouch!
The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend home series with the Rays on Saturday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (8-5, 4.08 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pineda yielded three runs (two earned) on seven hits and struck out eight in eight innings in a loss to the Houston Astros on Sunday.
The Rays will counter with right-hander Nathan Karns (4-4, 3.21 ERA). Karns gave up two runs on nine hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in a loss to the Cleveland Indians on Monday.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports 1.
YANKEES 11, RAYS 5
For the past two seasons the Bronx Bombers have had an offense that launched a lot of duds. But on Monday they proved the long-ball is back in their arsenal and their opponents better start ducking for cover.
The Yankees blasted five home runs to back a seven-inning outing in which CC Sabathia won his first game in more than a season as New York pummeled Tampa Bay into submission at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
Alex Rodriguez opened the onslaught in the first inning off Alex Colome (2-1) with a 428-foot laser shot deep into left-field bleachers for the 662nd home run of his career.
Three innings later, Chase Headley broke a 1-1 tie with a two-out three-run home run into the right-field stands for his fourth of the season. An inning later, Carlos Beltran, who hit his first home run of the season on Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles, collected his second – a high-arcing blast to right – to make the score 5-1.
Colome, who entered the game 2-0 with 1.80 ERA, gave up yet another home run an inning later when Brett Gardner hit a three-run blast to straightaway center-field for his third home run of the season. That ended Colome’s nightmare.
He was charged with eight runs on 11 hits and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings to raise his season ERA to 5.63.
The Yankees added a solo run in the seventh off right-hander Ernesto Frieri on a double by Mark Teixeira, a single by Brian McCann and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Headley.
Teixeira added two more runs and the Yankees’ fifth homer of the evening with one out in the ninth with an opposite field shot to extend his home run total to a team-leading 11.
Meanwhile, Sabathia (1-5) started off his outing shaky by walking the first two batters he faced on nine pitches and then yielding a one-out RBI double to left by Logan Forsythe that scored Brandon Guyer to tie the game at 1-1.
However, Steven Souza Jr. was thrown at the plate on the play on a relay from Gardner in left to Didi Gregorius to home plate to McCann, who tagged Souza out. Rays manager Kevin Cash claimed McCann had blocked the plate illegally but a video review showed McCann did not block Souza’s path.
From that point Sabathia retired 15 of the next 17 batters through the sixth inning to gain his first victory since April 24, 2014.
The Rays tried to mount a rally in the seventh as Forsythe and Joey Butler opened the frame with back-to-back home runs. One out later, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a double into center that Chris Young overran to allow Cabrera to take third. Tim Beckham then scored Cabrera with a sacrifice fly.
Sabathia gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks while he struck out nine in seven innings.
The Rays added another run in the eighth off right-hander David Carpenter on an RBI single by Forsythe, who had three RBIs on the evening and he now leads the Rays with 15 on the season.
With the victory the Yankees extended their lead over the second-place Rays in the American League East to four games. They are 21-12 on the season and 18-6 since April 17. They also are 6-1 against the Rays, who fell to 17-16.
- After a horrible spring and April, Beltran has turned the corner in May. He was 2-for-5 with a single, a homer, scored two runs and two RBIs on Monday. Since May 1, Beltran is 12-for-37 (.324) with two homers and seven RBIs. Just when it looked as if the 38-year-old outfielder was about to either be platooned or lose his job entirely to Young, Beltran is starting to look like the player who hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 RBIs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.
- It is also official: We have a Chase Headley sighting. The 31-year-old third baseman was 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs on Monday. Headley entered the game batting only. 224 with three homers and 10 RBIs. His last RBI came on April 29 on a home run against the Rays at Yankee Stadium. Nice to see you are back, Chase.
- Sabathia’s line would have looked a lot better if he had not given up three runs in the seventh inning. But between the first and the seventh, Sabathia gave up only a bloop one out single to Cabrera in the fifth and an infield single to Souza with two out in the sixth. His nine strikeouts were a season high. The trick for the 34-year-old left-hander now is pitch like he did on Monday consistently.
You know when it is your night when a ball caroms off the roof walkway of Tropicana Field and is caught for the final out. That is exactly what happened in the ninth for the Yankees. Beckham hit a high drive towards left-field off right-hander Branden Pinder. The ball, however, struck what is called the B ring of the stadium and it was caught by Gregorius in shallow left for the final out. No complaints about this laugher. Anyone doubt the Yankees now?
Right-hander Masahirio Tanaka is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday at Tropicana Field as part of his recovery from tendinitis in his right wrist and a mild strain in his right forearm. Tanaka, 26, has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 24 and he is targeting a return for early June. . . . Left-hander Chris Capuano, who has been on the disabled list with a right quad strain, is scheduled to throw 6 innings or 90 pitches for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at Norfolk on Tuesday. Meanwhile, right-hander Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) is slated to throw 3 innings or 45 pitches in an extended spring training game in Tampa, FL, on Tuesday.
The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Rays on Tuesday.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (3-0, 3.97 ERA) will go the mound for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, held the Orioles to three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings for a victory on Thursday.
The Rays will pitch right-hander Chris Archer (3-4, 2.59 ERA), who was 3-2 with a 0.84 ERA in April but is 0-2 with a 8.68 ERA in two starts in May. However, Archer is 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:
NEW YORK YANKEES
After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.
Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.
The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.
Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.
The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.
Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.
The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.
Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.
If you don’t you lose.
The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.
The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.
The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.
The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.
Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.
The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.
As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.
In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.
BOSTON RED SOX
Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.
The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.
They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.
Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.
Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.
To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.
Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.
The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.
Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.
The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.
The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.
So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Jays are all about redemption.
They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.
The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.
So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.
Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.
But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.
Now that is some reclamation project.
Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.
But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.
There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.
Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.
The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.
It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?
The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.
Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.
The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.
The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.
They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.
So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.
Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) NEW YORK YANKEES
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS
3) BOSTON RED SOX
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!
YANKEES 3, RAYS 3 (10 INNINGS)
TAMPA – When two American League East rivals meet, even if it is spring training, they battle for bragging rights and set the tone for the season. That was the case on Sunday and it was fitting that it would end up in a tie.
Tampa Bay built themselves a 3-1 lead after 7 1/2 innings but New York rallied for a run in the eighth on a throwing error and scored with two out in the ninth on a wild pitch as both teams ended up in a 3-3 tie after 10 innings at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Jose Pirela opened the eighth with a single off right-hander Adam Liberatore. He advanced to second on a groundout and reached third on an Adonis Garcia single. With Dean Anna batting, Garcia stole second and catcher Eddy Rodriguez threw the ball away to allow Pirela to score.
The Yankees’ rally to tie in the ninth came with two when pinch-hitter Jose Gil singled off reliever Braulio Lara. Pirela followed with a looping single to right to allow Antoan Richardson, who was pinch-running for Gil, to reach third.
With pinch-hitter Scott Sizemore at the plate, Lara uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Richardson to score the tying run.
The tone for the game was set early by the starting pitchers, right-hander Chris Archer of the Rays and David Phelps of the Yankees.
Archer gave up no runs on two hits and no walks and struck two in 3 1/3 innings. Phelps, not to be outdone, yielded three hits, walked none and fanned one batter in five innings of work.
The Yankees’ spring record is now 7-4-1. The Rays are 5-2-1.
- Phelps, 26, rebounded from a lackluster performance on March 4 to pitch his sharpest game of the spring. He threw 38 of his 59 pitches for strikes and recorded nine of his 15 outs on ground balls. Even if Phelps does not earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation, he will have a prominent place in the Yankees’ bullpen.
- Speaking of the bullpen, Dellin Betances is looking better with each outing. He threw a scoreless inning in relief of Phelps, giving up one hit, no walks and striking out one. In 6 1/3 innings covering four appearances, Betances has a 0.00 ERA on two hits and two walks with five strikeouts. The 25-year-old right-hander has the makings of back-end reliever with his mid-90s stuff, improving command and burgeoning confidence.
- With all the attention being heaped upon Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez, Anna and Yangervis Solarte, Pirela is very quietly having a very good spring in his own right. Pirela, 24, was 2-for-2 on Sunday and had a part in both late runs that allowed the Yankees to tie the Rays. Pirela is 7-for-16 (.438) with a homer and three RBIs in 10 games. His chances of making the team are nonexistent but he is making a great impression.
- Bruce Billings, 28, struggled in his fourth outing of the spring. He entered a scoreless game in the seventh by promptly giving up a ground-rule double to James Loney. Billings then misplayed Sean Rodriguez’s sacrifice bunt, throwing the ball away to allow Loney to score. One out later, Billings uncorked a wild pitch and then Ryan Hanigan scored Rodriguez with a single. Billings has an ERA of 4.76, a Walks To Innings Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 1.59 and batters are hitting .318 off him. It may be time for Billings to seek another line of work.
- Anna has been everything the Yankees could have hoped for this spring. He is hitting .357 and has been very good in the field at second, short and third. However, he allowed a pop fly off the bat of Jeremy Moore to drop for a two-base error, which allowed an unearned run to score later on an RBI single by Mikie Mahtook off right-hander Danny Burawa in the eighth.
- Projected starters Carlos Beltran, Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury are all off to slow starts in the first 12 games. Beltran is hitting .125 and Ellsbury and Roberts are both hitting .143. Ellsbury did have a double in his three at-bats on Sunday and Roberts drove in the Yankees first run on an sacrifice fly in the seventh inning.
Ryan, 31, has been shelved until the middle of next week due to recurring soreness in his lower back. Ryan does not believe it is serious and he is scheduled to be re-evaluated on Tuesday. Ryan is hitting .250 in four games this spring. He is virtual lock to be on the Opening Day roster as a backup infielder unless the back issue lingers. . . . Actor Richard Gere of “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “American Gigolo” fame threw out the first pitch at Sunday’s game. Gere is an avid Yankee fan.
The Yankees will not play an exhibition on Monday. They will resume their spring schedule on Tuesday with a game in Viera, FL, against the Washington Nationals.
CC Sabathia is scheduled to make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Brian McCann, Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira plan to make to make the trip.
The Nationals will counter with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, 27, making his third start of the spring.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on tape delay by the MLB Network at 9 p.m.
YANKEES 9, ASTROS 6
KISSIMMEE – There is an old saying that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. On Saturday, the Yankees needed a bit of both to down the Astros in a seesaw affair.
Trailing 6-4 in the sixth, Mason Williams hit a sacrifice fly to bring the Yankees to within a run and Brett Gardner stroked a single that center-fielder Dexter Fowler threw into the Astros dugout to allow two runs to score as New York rallied to down Houston at Osceola County Stadium.
The Yankees actually held a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth when Jose Altuve doubled and Jason Castro walked just ahead of Chris Carter’s three-run blast to left off Yankees’ left-hander Manny Banuelos, who was making his first major-league appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2012.
Chase Whitley (1-2) struck out the only batter he faced in relief of Banuelos in the fifth to get credit for the victory. Chris Leroux pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.
Jose Cisnero (0-1) was charged with three runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk in his one inning of work to take the loss.
Right-hander Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and he suffered through what was his worst outing of the spring, yielding three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in four innings.
The Yankees scored two runs (one earned) off Astros starter Jarred Cosart in the second inning and they added a pair of runs in the third off left-hander Darin Downs on Mark Teixeira’s first hit of the spring, a double, and Kelly Johnson’s first home run of the spring.
The Yankees added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh off right-hander Jake Buchanan on an RBI single by Scott Sizemore and an RBI fielder’s choice by Ramon Flores in which Astros first baseman Telvin Nash started to turn a double play but instead elected to throw home to get a sliding Yangervis Solarte.
But the throw was late and the Yankees extended their lead to 9-6.
The Yankees won their straight Grapefruit League game and are now 7-4. The Astros fell to 3-5.
- The most encouraging sign for the Yankees was that Teixeira doubled to deep left batting right-handed. Teixeira, 33, was playing in only his second spring game after undergoing surgery to repair his right wrist. Teixeira was 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored.
- Johnson is quietly having an excellent spring with his new team. Johnson was 1-for-2 with a home run, a walk, a run scored and an RBI. Johnson is 5-for-14 (.357) with a homer and five RBIs. He also has not committed an error at third base in five starts, even though he has only played 16 major-league regular-season games there.
- An injury last season stunted the development of Williams and some of his other fellow outfielders also stalled. That forced the Yankees into looking to sign veterans such as Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury to multi-year deals. Williams is showing signs of rebounding after lacing an RBI double in the second and adding a sac fly in the sixth. Williams is rated as the team’s No. 2 prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez.
- With Nova it always seems to be a step forward and two steps back. Coming off a dominant three innings of shutout baseball on March 3 against the Washington Nationals, Nova was lit up like a bottle rocket from the first batter he faced. Granted, after giving up three runs on six hits in the first two frames, Nova did throw two scoreless innings in the third and fourth and yielded only two hits. His spring ERA shot up from 4.15 to 5.40.
- Banuelos, 22, could not command his pitches, fell behind batters and paid the ultimate price when Carter launched a titanic three-run shot to left in the fifth. In Banuelos’ defense, he was never expected to make the roster this spring. The Yankees want him to build up his arm strength at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and work on his control. He will likely not fight for a starting job until 2015.
- Eduardo Nunez is not guaranteed a roster spot and he needs to pick things up a bit. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Saturday. He is 4-for-17 (.235) with a homer and two RBIs this spring.
The Astros and Yankees welcomed University of Central Florida head football coach George O’Leary to Saturday’s game and he drew a huge round of applause from most of the paid crowd of 5,001. O’Leary led the Knights to a 12-1 record, including a 52-42 victory over No. 5 Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. By the way, UCF is my alma mater and I am darn proud of it!
The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday as they will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Right-hander David Phelps, who is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in two spring starts, will start for the Yankees. Derek Jeter, who has four hits in his past four at-bats, will start at shortstop.
The Rays are scheduled to pitch right-hander Chris Archer (1-0, 0.00 ERA).
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on tape delay at midnight by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3
If the Yankees could play the Blue jays every day they would never have to worry about making the playoffs. After sitting out a three-hour and thirty-two minute rain delay on Thursday the Yankees showed Canada’s team that trying to beat them these days is pretty much a futile exercise.
The Yankees got six strong innings out of Andy Pettitte and they used some timely hitting in the middle innings to sweep Toronto in the four-game series and end the 2013 season with a 10-0 record against them at home in front of a paid crowd of 40,116.
The Yankees not only have won five in a row and 11 of their past 14 games, but they also moved to within 3 1/2 games of an American League wild-card spot with 35 games left to play in the season.
Pettitte (9-9) held the Jays to just one run on four hits and three walks while he fanned three to win his second straight start after not having won in his previous five starts. Pettitte also evened his record as he has never recorded a losing season in his 18 years in the majors.
The Blue Jays scored their only run off Pettitte when J.P. Arencibia led off the fifth inning with a home run into the left-field bleachers.
But the Yankees quickly evened it up at the start of the bottom of the fifth when Curtis Granderson launched a rocket of his own into the second deck in right-field off left-hander J.A. Happ (3-3) for his fourth home run of the season.
In a sense it was a bit of retribution for Granderson because it was Happ who hit him in the right forearm on the first pitch he saw in his first spring training game on Feb. 24 and it forced him to miss the first six weeks of the regular season.
The Yankees ended up taking the lead later in the inning but how it unfolded and how they scored the run was just about as bizarre as it can get.
With one out, Happ walked Eduardo Nunez and Chris Stewart followed with a single to center. The Yankees then loaded the bases when Happ issued a walk to Ichiro Suzuki.
Vernon Wells then slapped a sinking line drive into center-field that replays showed was caught on a sliding attempt by Rajai Davis.
However, first-base umpire Scott Barry ruled the ball was trapped and Davis threw the ball to second baseman Munenori Kawasaki as Nunez tagged up and headed home with the lead run.
Kawasaki first tagged Stewart off second base and then tagged Suzuki on second base. Stewart was ruled out and Suzuki was ruled safe. However, the Yankees got credit for the run because Nunez touched home plate just before Stewart was tagged.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons argued the call and was ejected by Barry. Moments later crew chief Ted Barrett also gave Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle the heave-ho.
Despite the missed catch call Nunez would have scored the tie-breaking run in either case.
The Yankees then broke the game open and chased Happ in the sixth inning when Happ walked both Alex Rodriguez and Granderson with one out.
Right-hander Brad Lincoln was summoned from the bullpen and he promptly loaded the bases by walking Mark Reynolds. Nunez followed with a two-run single to right-center.
Blue Jays left-hander Aaron Loup then relieved Lincoln and Stewart closed out the Yankees’ scoring for the evening by plating Reynolds on a sensational grab of a grounder and a jump throw from well into foul territory by third baseman Brett Lawrie.
Happ was charged with four runs on three hits and five walks while he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings. The other run was charged to Lincoln.
The Blue Jays did make it interesting by scoring a pair of runs in the seventh inning off right-hander Shawn Kelley on an RBI single by Kawasaki and a RBI groundout off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion.
But Boone Logan shut the door on the rally by striking out Adam Lind with two on and two out.
Rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne, who was just recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before the game, pitched a scoreless eighth and David Robertson twirled a perfect ninth to earn his second save because Mariano Rivera was unavailable to pitch.
The Yankees’ season record now stands at 67-59 and they remain six games behind first-place Boston in fourth place in the American League East. The Blue Jays are now 57-71 and they remain deep in the division basement.
- After struggling much of the summer, Pettitte is showing signs of coming around. In his past two starts he has yielded only four runs (one earned) on 10 hits and four walks with eight strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. That is an ERA of 0.71. If the Yankees are to make a legitimate run a playoff spot they will need their No. 4 starter to pitch well.
- Nunez two-run single with the bases loaded in the sixth inning proved to be the back-breaker for the Blue Jays. Nunez is having much more success at the plate. Since Aug. 7, Nunez is 17-for-50 (.340) with a home run and nine RBIs. It is shame he is likely to lose his starting spot to Derek Jeter this weekend.
- Rodriguez was 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored. But he actually helped win the game with his glove in the fifth inning. After Arencibia’s homer, the Jays loaded the bases with one out when Reyes reached on an infield single. Davis then smashed a scorching ground ball that Rodriguez was able to glove before it scooted past him. He then stepped on third and threw to first to double up the speedy Davis to end the inning.
When the Yankees win five in a row there is not much to complain about. The team is finding ways to win games and a large part of it is the batting order they now have is not the one of three weeks ago that looked like the team was playing a split-squad game in Clearwater, FL, in March. The pitching is beginning to shine again also.
The human yo-yo, Claiborne, was recalled on Thursday to replace infielder Jayson Nix on the 15-man roster. Nix likely will miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured left hand he suffered when he was struck by a pitch from R.A. Dickey in second inning of Wednesday’s game. Last Friday, Claiborne was optioned to the RailRiders to make room for Reynolds on the roster. On Tuesday, he was called up as the team’s 26th roster player for a doubleheader with the Blue Jays and he was sent back to Scranton the next day. But on Thursday he was back with the team. . . . Jeter batted second and played shortstop on Friday in a minor-league rehab game for Scranton against the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. Jeter, who is recovering from a mild calf strain, likely will play another rehab game for Scranton on Friday and he could rejoin the Yankees on Saturday when the Yankees face the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
The Yankees open a critical weekend road series with the Rays on Friday.
Ace right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-8, 2.41 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda is looking to bounce back after giving up 11 hits on Saturday in a loss to the Red Sox. It was just his second loss in his past eight starts. Kuroda is 2-1 with 6.11 ERA in his career against the Rays.
Right-hander Chris Archer (6-5, 2.95 ERA) will pitch for the Rays. Archer allowed one run on four hits in seven innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday but he did not get a decision. He is 2-0 with 0.60 ERA against the Yankees in two starts this season.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.