Tagged: James Shields

Pettitte, Wells Star As Yanks Spin KC Masterpiece

GAME 35

YANKEES 3, ROYALS 2

A pitcher losing command of one of his best pitches is like a skilled surgeon trying to work without a scalpel. But that is what happened to Andy Pettitte in his two previous starts. He did not have a feel for his signature cutter.

But he certainly rediscovered it on Saturday as he pitched seven strong innings and struck out seven batters while Vernon Wells backed him up with a two-run home run in the fifth inning that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead as New York edged Kansas City in front of 30,910 fans at Kauffman Stadium.

Pettitte (4-2) settled into a groove after allowing Billy Butler to break a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth inning with a leadoff home run to center-field. After that Pettitte gave up a two-out single to Alcides Escobar and walked Lorenzo Cain in the fifth. But he ended that threat by retiring Alex Gordon on a groundout.

The 40-year-old left-hander gave up two runs on five hits and walk and retired 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced to pick up his first victory since April 19.

Meanwhile, the Yankees took advantage of a big mistake by James Shields (2-3) to take control of the game.

Shields hit Chris Stewart on the left triceps on a 1-2 pitch as Stewart led off the fifth. Two batters later, Wells ripped a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his eighth home run of the season that gave the Yankees a lead they would not surrender the rest of the way.

Shields gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks and he fanned five in eight innings of work.

David Robertson pitched in the eighth and struck out the side for the Yankees.

Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth and gave up a two-out double to Salvador Perez. But he retired Mike Moustakas on a flyout to Wells in left to earn his 14th save in as many chances this season.

The save for Rivera was also the 70th time in his career he has saved a game started by Pettitte, which is the most for any starter and closer tandem in major-league history.

The Yankees actually took advantage of an error on a throwing error by Moustakas in the third inning to take an early 1-0 lead.

Chris Nelson opened the inning by lacing a double down the left-field line. Two outs later, Robinson Cano slapped a bouncing ball to the left of Moustakas. The Royals’ third baseman dove, got up and threw high and wide of first base to allow Nelson to score from second.

The Royals manufactured a run of off Pettitte in bottom of the third to tie it.

Elliot Johnson reached on a swinging bunt down the third-base line and he later stole second. He advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a groundout off the bat of Cain.

The Yankees extended their current winning streak to four games and they are now 14-4 this season in games decided by two runs or less.

The victory also allowed the Yankees to claim full possession of first place in the American League East with a record of 22-13. The Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles are a full game out in second place. The Royals, who have now lost five of their past six games, are 18-15.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In his last two starts, Pettitte was hammered for 11 runs (10 earned) on 14 hits and five walks in 9 1/3 innings. On Saturday, he looked more like the pitcher who was 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA before those two dreadful outings. Pettitte had command of the cutter and he mixed his curve and slider to keep the Royals’ batters off balance all evening. The Yankees’ top four starters, Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia, and Phil Hughes, are a combined 14-9 this season.
  • Wells was 0-for-5 in Friday’s 11-run, 16-hit explosion against the Royals but he bounced back nicely in this game. Wells is currently second on the team with a .281 batting average and has eight home runs and 18 RBIs on the season. It is going to be difficult for manager Joe Girardi to bench him when Curtis Granderson is activated form the disabled list this month.
  • Robertson came out the bullpen firing seeds in the eighth inning. Robertson needed only 12 pitches to strike out Escobar and Cain looking and Gordon swinging. In his past four outings, Robertson has not give up a run or a hit and he has walked one while striking out eight in 4 1/3 innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

How can you complain when the team got a great effort out of Pettitte and the bullpen? Wells hit a timely home run and the Yankees took sole possession of first place. Who said this team would be awful because of all of the injuries they suffered? Not me.

BOMBER BANTER

Shortstop Eduardo Nunez missed his sixth straight game because he was unable to shake nagging discomfort in his left ribcage and the Yankees may have to place him on the 15-day disabled list if he is unable to play by Monday’s doubleheader in Cleveland against the Indians. Nunez told trainer Steve Donohue on Saturday that he still is feeling pain when he is doing fielding drills.

ON DECK

The Yankees can use their big broom and sweep the Royals in the three-game series finale on Sunday.

Kuroda (4-2, 3.20 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda, 38, limited the Colorado Rockies to two runs on seven hits in seven innings but took the loss on Tuesday because the Yankees were blanked. The veteran right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.66 ERA in his career against Kansas City.

The Royals will start former Angels right-hander Ervin Santana (3-1, 2.36 ERA). Santana surrendered three runs on seven hits and one walk in six innings of a no-decision against the Orioles on Tuesday. He is 5-6 with a 5.90 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

 

 

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Overbay’s 5 RBIs Make Royals Look Like Paupers

GAME 34

YANKEES 11, ROYALS 6

Mark Who?

It is getting to the point that Yankee fans may forget their injured first baseman Mark Teixeira because his replacement Lyle Overbay is doing so well in his absence.

Overbay was 4-for-5 with a home run, two doubles and five RBIs on Friday to lead 16-hit attack as New York outslugged Kansas City in front of a paid crowd of 24,521 at Kauffman Stadium.

Though starter Phil Hughes (2-2) was staked to 4-0 and 5-3 leads, he was unable to hold onto it in the fifth inning when Alex Gordon followed back-to-back bloop one-out singles by Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain with a two-run double just over the outstretched glove of left-fielder Vernon Wells on the warning track to tie the game at 5-5.

However, the Yankees had already scored five runs off former Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Wade Davis (2-3) on a pair of two-run home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Overbay in the second inning and an RBI double off the bat of Overbay in the fourth.

So the Yankees opened the sixth with a double off the right-field wall by Suzuki and a soft lined single to center by Jayson Nix that advanced Suzuki to third and chased Davis from the game.

Royals manager Ned Yost replaced Davis with left-hander Bruce Chen and Overbay greeted him with a double off the top of the wall in center-field that scored Suzuki that broke the 5-5 tie and gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the night.

Chris Nelson followed with a two-run single to right, his first RBIs as a member of the Yankees.

The Yankees went on to bat around against Chen and add two more runs in the inning to extend the lead to 10-5 and dash any hopes the Royals might have had about another rally.

Hughes was the winner despite giving up a three-run home run to Jarrod Dyson in the second inning  –  which broke Hughes’ 22-inning homerless streak entering the contest  –  and a solo shot to Mike Moustakas in the sixth.

Hughes gave up six runs on seven hits, two walks and one hit batter while he struck three in 5 2/3 innings.

But the Yankees pounded Davis for seven runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned three in five-plus innings of work.

The No. 5, 6 and 7 hitters  for the Yankees  –  Suzuki, Nix and Overbay  –  combined to go 9-for-13 (.692) with two home runs, four doubles, eight runs scored and seven RBIs.

With the Yankees’ bullpen short because Preston Claiborne, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera were unavailable to pitch, the team got a strong effort out of right-hander Shawn Kelley.

Kelley pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings and struck out six of the seven batters he faced. Boone Logan pitched a perfect ninth to close out the game.

The Yankees’ victory was their third in a row and gave Joe Girardi his 500th triumph as manager of the Yankees.

The Yankees also improved to 21-13, which keeps them percentage points ahead of the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles in first place in the American League East. The Royals dropped to 18-14.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Considering that when he signed a huge contract with the Toronto Blue Jays and was later sarcastically nicknamed “Lyle Overpaid” when he did not deliver big numbers there and he was released this season in the last week of spring training by the Red Sox, Overbay should have the moniker “Lyle Underpaid” with the Yankees. All Overbay has done in 32 games (29 starts) is hit .264 with six home runs and 20 RBIs. Oh, he has committed only one error at first base while flashing Gold Glove-caliber defense at the position. Geesh! What a pickup for general manager Brian Cashman.
  • Suzuki entered the contest hitting .372 at Kauffman Stadium, which is the highest average for any opposing hitter in history. Well, he raised that average by going 3-for-5 with his second home run of the season, a double, a single, a stolen base, three runs scored and two RBIs. In his past nine games, Suzuki is 12-for-33 (.364) which has raised his season average from .247 to .282.
  • Kelley was absolutely sensational when he came out the bullpen in the sixth inning. Of his six strikeouts, four were swinging and he struck out the first five batters he faced. After being hammered for 10 earned runs on 13 hits and four walks in 10 1/3 innings of work over nine appearances through May 4, Kelley has not been scored upon his last three outings covering 4 1/3 innings. In that span he has fanned nine batters, mostly on his devastating slider.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Hughes pitched aggressively against the Royals, throwing first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 26 batters he faced. However, the Royals were able to catch up with his fastball and hit him hard. After pitching brilliantly in his last four starts in which his ERA was 1.93 and he won only one of those starts, Hughes was hammered for six runs and yet he won because the Yankees backed him with a lot of run support. Go figure!
  • The Royals’ pitchers must have really wanted to bear down on Wells and designated hitter Travis Hafner. The two combined to go 0-for-9 on a night the team scored 11 runs and knocked out 16 hits. Fortunately for the Yankees, the rest of the lineup was 16-for-34 (.471), which more than made up for Wells and Hafner.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees held shortstop Eduardo Nunez out of a fourth straight game but he was available to the team in an emergency. Nunez, who has been slowed by tightness in his left ribcage, could be available to start on Saturday if he suffers no setbacks throwing and taking batting practice on Saturday.  . . .  Curtis Granderson homered on Friday in his second rehab game with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Granderson, who was 1-for-5 in the game, hit his home run in the eighth inning. Granderson started the game in left-field and batted second. The 32-year-old outfielder has been on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured left forearm and he could be activated within the next 10 days.  . . .  Because Kauffman Stadium was the scene where Rivera suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on May 5 last season, some of the Yankees decided to have a little fun with the 43-year-old future Hall-of-Famer. Some teammates drew a chalk outline of Rivera on the warning track and placed a sign on the outfield wall lined with stop signs and yellow tape that read “No Mo Zone.” When Rivera strolled out to look at it he laughed and he intends to keep the sign.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend series with the Royals on Saturday.

The Yankees will start veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-2, 4.06 ERA), who yielded four runs (three earned) on four hits and four walks in five innings on Sunday against the Oakland Athletics. But he loves Kansas City because he is 9-2 with a 3.72 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Royals.

The Royals will counter with the second former Rays right-hander in a row in James Shields (2-2, 2.52 ERA). Shields threw eight shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox on Monday but he lost a victory when the bullpen allowed the Chisox to rally for a 2-1 victory in 11 innings. Shields in 7-14 with a 4.56 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Will Prevail In 2013’s ‘Game Of Thrones’

The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.

REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES

If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.

The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.

The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.

A DOMINANT KING

Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.

But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.

THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL

The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.

They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.

The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.

But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.

One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.

Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.

Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.

That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.

The offense has its own issues.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.

There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.

So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.

THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE

The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.

Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.

They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.

Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.

Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.

Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”

The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.

The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.

Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.

DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY

The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.

They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.

One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.

They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.

The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.

Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.

Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.

The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.

Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.

They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.

They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.

The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.

The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.

The gold remains in the Bronx.

THE STARKS OF BOSTON

In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.

That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.

Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.

They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.

They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.

The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.

Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!

It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.

There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.

Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.

THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING

The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.

It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,

Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.

So why should 2013 be any different?

The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.

Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.

They may even finish last.

STARK REALITY

But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.

But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.

The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.

You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.

They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.

The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.

The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.

Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.

The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.

It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.

Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.

That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.

They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. YANKEES
  2. BLUE JAYS
  3. RAYS
  4. ORIOLES
  5. RED SOX

For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven. 

 

Nova’s Star Reignited As Yankees Dim Rays’ Hopes

GAME 145

YANKEES 5, RAYS 3

So much of life seems to move in circles and Ivan Nova’s path to Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays certainly came full circle.

Nova reached the All-Star break 10-3 with a 3.92 ERA coming off a brilliant rookie season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA. But then came a surprisingly rapid decline in which he was 1-4 with a 7.28 ERA in his last eight starts and he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on Aug. 22 with inflammation of his right rotator cuff.

Nova, coming off the DL to make his first start in three weeks, was simply brilliant in pitching six-plus innings in front of a national television audience on FOX Sports as New York reclaimed sole possession of first place in the American League East with a clutch victory over Tampa Bay.

Nova (12-7) gave up two runs on just four hits and two walks and he struck out eight batters in an 85-pitch effort that drew a standing ovation from most of the paid crowd of 46,856 at Yankee Stadium as he left in the seventh inning.

The victory for the Yankees, coupled with the 5-2 loss of the Baltimore Orioles to the Oakland Athletics later on Saturday, allowed the Yankees to reclaim a one-game lead over the Orioles in the standings while the Rays dropped to four games back in third place.

The Yankees were able to get to Rays starter James Shields in the second inning.

Raul Ibanez opened the frame by drawing a walk and, one out later, Curtis Granderson timed a change-up and drove it deep into the bleachers in right-field for his 39th home run of the season.

Three pitches later, Eduardo Nunez smacked a high cutter into the stands in left-field to make it 3-0. Nunez, playing his third consecutive game for a hobbling Derek Jeter at shortstop, also had his season come full circle after being sent down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 11 and being recalled on Sept. 1. For Nunez it was his first home run of the season.

The Yankees added a run off Shields (14-9) in the fifth inning with two out. Ichiro Suzuki, batting leadoff for the Yankees for only the second time since he was acquired for the Mariners on May 23, singled to left and stole second base. Jeter then drove in Suzuki with hot smash up the middle.

The Rays were finally able to get to Nova in the bottom of the sixth inning when Evan Longoria was able to launch a two-out solo home run into right-center.

Nova, returning with a very strict pitch count, left in the seventh after giving up a leadoff single to Jeff Keppinger.

Manager Joe Girardi elected to bring in Boone Logan. Logan retired pinch-hitter Ben Francisco on botched bunt attempt in which Logan was able to throw out Keppinger at second. However, Ryan Roberts stroked a double down the left-field line to advance Francisco to third.

Joba Chamberlain replaced Logan and promptly retired pinch-hitter Sam Fuld on a hard-hit ball that Chamberlain snagged on a high bounce and threw out Fuld to save two runs. Nonetheless, Chamberlain was tagged for a two-out, two-run single by pinch-hitter Luke Scott to cut the Yankees’ lead to a single run.

Chamberlain was able to escape further damage by striking out Desmond Jennings on an 0-2 curveball.

David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and the Yankees added an insurance run in their half of the inning on a one-out double by Robinson Cano off lefty reliever Jake McGee and Alex Rodriguez followed with RBI single up the middle.

Rafael Soriano came on in the ninth and he pitched around a Francisco single and walk to Carlos Pena to strike out pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson swinging for his 39th save in 42 opportunities this season.

With the victory the Yankees ran their season record to 82-63. The Rays are 78-67 and are finding their hopes of winning the division looking very bleak.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Nova refused to blame his weak second-half performance on his shoulder injury, it was obvious that something was definitely wrong with him. But 23 days of rest brought back Nova’s velocity and command of the strike zone. The Rays also might have had something to do with it. Nova is 5-1 with a 3.04 ERA in his eight career starts against the Rays.
  • Granderson is getting his home-run stroke back after a long slide at the plate. Gramderson has hit five home runs in his past six games. He is 7-for-22 (.318) with five home runs and 11 RBIs in that six-game span. After being benched for a few games against left-handers, it appears Granderson is starting to get hot again.
  • Rodriguez was 2-for-4 with a big RBI in the eighth inning. Since coming off the disabled list, Rodriguez is 14-for-47 (.298) with three home runs and nine RBIs. Only five of his 14 hits have been for extra bases but A-Rod appears to concentrating on making contact and hitting the ball where it is pitched rather then swinging for the fences.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The bullpen was a little leaky on Saturday. Chamberlain had been pitching much sharper of late but he was victimized by Scott’s single that allowed two inherited runners to score. Though Soriano and Roberston have had good seasons in the wake of the loss of future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, the rest of the bullpen has been a bit more inconsistent in the second half. They need to get better with the playoffs looming.
  • Eric Chavez was 0-for-3 in the game and he suddenly has fallen into a prolonged slump. Since Aug. 19, Chavez is 10-for-51 (.196) with no home runs and two RBIs. His season average has dropped from .305 t0 .283 in that span.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi said using Suzuki in the leadoff spot had to do with Suzuki’s success against Shields and was not something that will be happen frequently. Suzuki entered the game 14-for-46 (.307) against Shields. The move paid dividends because Suzuki was 1-for-3 off Shields with a stolen base and a run scored.  . . .  If his rehab continues without any setbacks, outfielder Brett Gardner could be activated from the disabled list next week. Gardner has only played in nine games this season and his return was delayed by surgery on his right elbow in July. Gardner is not able to swing a bat but he could be used as a pinch-runner and a defensive replacement in the outfield.

ON DECK

The Yankees can win the series against the Rays with a victory in the rubber game on Sunday.

In their final regular-season meeting with Rays the Yankees will send Hiroki Kuroda (13-10, 3.17 ERA) to the mound. Kuroda gave up three runs in 6 1/3 innings in a no-decision the Yankees lost to the Red Sox on Tuesday. Kuroda is 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA against the Rays.

The Rays will counter with rookie left-hander Matt Moore (10-10, 3.68 ERA). Moore gave up two runs in four innings in his last start against the Orioles. He is 2-1 with a 3.44 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.

 

Pettitte’s Masterpiece Renders Rays To Canvas

GAME 54

YANKEES 7, RAYS 0

Michelangelo is generally considered the greatest artist of all-time and the Sistine Chapel is living testimony to that greatness. But I truly doubt that Michelangelo could have painted the corners of the strike zone any better than Andy Pettitte did on Tuesday night.

Home plate at Yankee Stadium was Pettitte’s canvas as he craftily dotted a corner here and skillfully used some heavy brushstrokes there on the Rays in 7 1/3 innings of two-hit, no-run baseball and he struck out 10 batters as New York ended up hanging a masterpiece on Tampa Bay.

The 39-year-old left-hander was truly the “Grand Master” as he took command of the game from the opening pitch all the way to his strikeout of Luke Scott to open the eighth inning that ended his night. Pettitte (3-2) gave up only two singles and two walks and no base-runner got past second base as he thoroughly dominated the Rays with his arsenal of cutters, curves, sliders and fastballs.

Meanwhile, struggling catcher Russell Martin broke out of a season-long funk to collect three hits, including a one-out, grand-slam homer off Rays starter James Shields (6-4) in the fourth inning that gave the Yankees a 6-0 lead.

Shields was undone by a combination of sloppy Rays play and Martin’s well-timed home run.

The Yankees scored two unearned runs off Shields in the first inning aided by a wild pitch, a missed double play and a critical two-out error.

With one out Curtis Granderson singled to right and Shields tossed a wild pitch that advanced him to second. He then walked Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano slapped a one-hopper that bounced off Shields’ glove for a double-play ball that became a single.

In keeping with the Yankees’ 2012 tradition of bases-loaded futility, Mark Teixeira struck out looking and Raul Ibanez dribbled a routine ground ball to shortstop Elliot Johnson. However, Johnson short-armed the throw and the ball bounced off first baseman Carlos Pena’s glove and Granderson and Rodriguez scored.

Then in the fourth, Ibanez drew a one-out walk, Nick Swisher singled sharply to right and Eric Chavez was walked on four pitches.

Martin then stepped the plate after having singled in the second inning to bring his batting average to .200 for the first time since May 5. Down 0-2 in the count, Martin actually swung at a high and outside fastball and he drilled it to the opposite field into the right-field bleachers.

The Yankees added a run in the fifth inning on a one-out double off the right-field wall by Swisher to score Cano, who had led off with a double..

Shields, who has lost three of his last four starts and has an ERA of 5.92 in that span, gave up seven runs (five earned) on seven hits and four walks and struck out two in just five innings. In his three starts against the Yankees this season, Shields is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA.

However, this chilly evening in the Bronx belonged to Pettitte. He threw 103 pitches and 70 were strikes for a percentage of 68 percent. He has won three of his four starts at Yankee Stadium this season and his effort tonight drew the Yankees to within a half-game of the Rays and Orioles, who are tied for first place in the American League East.

The Yankees boosted their season record to 30-24. The Rays fell to 31-24.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pettitte’s 10 strikeouts were the most he has recorded in a game since 2003. But that really does not tell you just how dominant he was on Tuesday. In one stretch he struck out five Rays batters in a row. The only hits he gave up were a leadoff single to B.J. Upton in the fourth inning and a one-out single by Pena in the fifth. Pettitte lowered his ERA to 2.78, which is the best of all the Yankee starters. It was the 243rd victory of his career.
  • Martin’s grand slam was his fifth home run of the season and it was his fourth career grand slam. Martin’s 3-for-4 night raised his batting average to .211 on the season. He has gotten at least one hit in six of his last seven games and he is 9-for-23 (.391) during that span. The Yankees hope his season-long slump is finally over.
  • Cano was 2-for-3 with a single and a double. He entered the game in a 4-for-26 slump (.154).

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I am not going to dwell on any negatives in a night the Yankees needed to win to move up in the division. Pettitte was spectacular and the Yankees have very quietly won nine of their last 12 games. They are only one game off their pace from last season when they won 97 games.

BRONX BANTER

Hideki Matsui returned to Yankee Stadium wearing No. 35 for the Rays on Tuesday and he received a warm reception from the 40,537 fans in attendance when he stepped to the plate in the second inning. However, Matsui was 0-for-4 in the game and he is 1-for-9 in his career against his former teammate Pettitte.  . . .  Cano was hit by a pitch from Rays reliever Cesar Ramos in the seventh inning and he was removed from the game in the bottom of ninth inning in favor of Jayson Nix. It is unclear if Cano was injured or if he will miss any time as a result.  . . .  Yankee manager Joe Girardi made it clear that when David Robertson is activated from the disabled list he will be the setup man for Rafael Soriano. Robertson is recovering from a left oblique strain and he hopes to return in about two weeks.  . . .  Early balloting indicates that shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Granderson are leading at their positions for the 2012 All-Star Game. Cano and Teixeira are in second place at their respective positions. The balloting will end at midnight on June 28.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home series with the Rays on Wednesday.

The Yankees will start right-hander Ivan Nova (6-2, 5.60 ERA). Nova has won his last two starts despite giving up eight runs in 13 2/3 innings (5.27 ERA). The Yankees scored six runs for him in each of those starts. Nova is 3-0 with a 3.26 ERA in his career against the Rays.

The Rays will counter with right-hander Alex Cobb (2-1, 3.71 ERA). Cobb gave up four runs on nine hits and a walk and he hit two batters in five innings against the White Sox in his last start. He has no record with a 1.50 ERA in his one start against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN2 and locally by the YES Network.

 

Hughes Goes Route To Declaw Motor City Kittys

GAME 53

YANKEES 5, TIGERS 1

With Justin Verlander pitching for Detroit on Sunday it was no real surprise that there could be a complete game thrown. Unfortunately for the Tigers, it was his New York opponent, Phil Hughes, who went nine innings to give the Yankees a hard-earned victory.

Hughes (5-5) gave up just one run on four hits and three walks and he struck out eight batters as the Yankees took the weekend series from the Tigers at Comerica Park and completed their nine-game road trip with a 5-4 record.

It was only the second complete game in 81 career starts for Hughes and the first nine-inning complete game of his career . His first complete game victory in 2011 was a rain-shortened six-inning contest.

Verlander (5-4), by contrast, was in trouble from the first pitch of the game. Derek Jeter swatted a first-pitch fastball into the right-field bleachers to give Hughes and the Yankees an early 1-0 lead.

The Yankees tacked on a second run in the inning after an unusually wild Verlander walked both Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez and a passed ball moved them up to second and third base, respectively. With one out, Mark Teixeira lifted a fly ball to center-field that scored Granderson.

The Yankees kept the pressure on Verlander and, in the third inning, Alex Rodriguez blasted a one-out solo home run that traveled 450 feet into the wall of retired numbers in the left-center bleachers. It was his ninth home run of the season and the 638th of his career.

Hughes made his only real mistake in the bottom of the fourth inning by thowing Prince Fielder a first-pitch curveball to begin the inning. Fielder launched the hanger deep into the right-field bleachers for his ninth home run of the season.

But Hughes shut down the Tigers’ offense the rest of the way on just two hits and one walk over the final six innings. Despite giving up seven runs on a career-high 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings in a no-decision against the Angels in his last start, Hughes is on a stretch where he has won four of his last six starts and he has a 3.60 ERA in that span.

Verlander, however, was touched for two more runs in the fifth when Robinson Cano followed Granderson’s one-out double with a two-out triple and he scored on an error by Danny Worth, whose throw to try to get Cano sliding into third bounced into the dirt and slipped past Verlander into the Tigers’ dugout.

The Yankees chased Verlander in the seventh and he ended up surrendering five runs (three earned) on nine hits and four walks and he struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 29-24. The struggling Tigers are 25-29.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • This was, by far, Hughes’ best outing of the season and it came at a great time. Despite his last start against the Angels, Hughes is beginning to flash the form that he showed in 2010, when he was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. Besides the home run to Fielder, Hughes only gave up two singles to Jhonny Peralta, who entered the game with an average over .400 against Hughes in his career, and a two-out ninth inning single to Delmon Young. Hughes entered the game having pitched 15 straight scoreless innings at Comerica Park. He now has only given up on run in his last 24 innings there.
  • Jeter’s home run was the 27th leadoff home run of his career and it was his first homer since May 5 against the Royals in Kansas City. Jeter was 2-for-5 in the game and raised his season’s average to .336. He leads the American League with 73 hits.
  • Rodriguez’s home run was his second in the series and he has four in his last 10 games. Six of his home runs this season have been solo shots. Rodriguez is hitting a woeful .170 with runners in scoring position and an even worse .111 with the bases loaded this season. With the bases empty, Rodriguez is hitting .346.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Despite the victory, the Yankees were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Cano fanned in the first inning with runners on second and third and no out. The Yankees had two on and one out in the second inning but Jeter bounced into an inning-ending double play. Russell Martin lined into an inning-ending double play two two and one out in the fourth. Cano bounced out to first with two on and one out in the seventh. And, after a leadoff double by Martin in the ninth, Jeter, Granderson and Rodriguez were retired in order without getting a ball out of the infield.
  • Outfielder Raul Ibanez was 0-for-4 in the game and he was 0-for-9 in the series. He has not gotten a hit in his last 10 at-bats and his batting average has fallen to .252.

ON DECK

The Yankees are heading back to Yankee Stadium and will have Monday off. They will begin a six-game homestand on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (2-2, 3.49 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Pettitte gave up five runs on nine hits and struck out three in seven innings in a loss against the Angels in his last start. He is 15-5 with a 4.32 ERA against the Rays since 2002.

The Rays will counter with right-hander James Shields (6-3, 3.95 ERA), who was roughed up in his last stat. He gave up six runs (five earned) on 10 hits and a walk to the White Sox. Shields is 5-12 with a 4.39 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

For Starters, Hughes Ends Up Besting Mariners

GAME 33

YANKEES 6, MARINERS 2

A few weeks ago it looked like Phil Hughes was headed to the bullpen after he started the season 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA. On Saturday, Hughes looked like he actually belonged in the rotation all along and there is no doubt he is going to stay there for a long time.

Hughes pitched 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball and he got two RBIs apiece from Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix as New York defeated Seattle at Yankee Stadium for their fifth victory in their last six games.

Hughes (3-4) carried a shutout into the seventh inning until Mike Carp belted a two-out solo home run to center-field. Hughes left with two out in the eighth having given up six hits and one walk and struck out four batters for his second straight victory.

Hughes also continued a trend the rotation started at the beginning of the six-game homestand on Tuesday. The starters since Tuesday are 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA.

Former Yankee Hector Noesi (2-4) gave up five runs on six hits and struck out four over seven innings to take the loss. But he actually pitched much better than his line indicates. He was undone by pair of two-out doubles in the second inning and a pair of home runs.

With Mark Teixiera on second with a double and two outs, Ibanez looped an opposite-field double into the left-field corner to score Teixeira. Russell Martin, who was one for his last 16 at-bats, followed with a double off the wall at the 408-foot mark in center-field to score Ibanez.

Nix then completed the four-run explosion with an opposite-field fly ball into right that landed in the first row of the bleachers for Nix’s first home run with the Yankees.

On Friday, Nix learned that when Eric Chavez was activated from the seven-day disabled list it would be Eduardo Nunez sent to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and not him. Manager Joe Girardi then decided to start Nix at shortstop on Saturday in order to give Derek Jeter a rest from the field by utilizing him as the designated hitter.

Ibanez continued his hot hitting in the fourth inning when he slammed a high and outside 3-2 fastball into the monuments in center-field for his seventh home run of the season.

Ibanez hit a three-run home run off Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on Friday that led the Yankees to a victory by the same 6-2 score. Since May 5, Ibanez is 9-for-22 (.409) with four home runs and nine RBIs.

Boone Logan pitched the final 1 1/3 innings and he picked up his second major league save – his first since he was pitching for the Chicago White Sox as a rookie in 2006. Logan, however, did give up a run in the ninth inning when Carp followed a one-out single by Kyle Seager with a hit that originally was ruled a home run to right. but the umpires used television replays to reverse the call to a double that scored Seager.

Logan struck out the next two batters to preserve the victory for Hughes and the Yankees.

With the victory, the Yankees improved to 19-14. The Mariners dipped to 15-20.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes has managed to remake himself as a starter. He has basically junked his cutter and he is using his change-up more sparingly, which means he using his fastball and curve more. The results in his last two starts show it is working. Hughes has given up four runs on 12 hits and two walks and he has struck out 11 in 14 1/3 innings over his last two starts. That is an ERA of 2.51 and a WHIP of  0.98.
  • Ibanez could not be any hotter if he poured gasoline over himself and lit a match. From primarily the seventh spot in the batting order Ibanez is hitting .282 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs. He also is making life miserable for good right-handers like James Shields and Hernandez, who are looking for a soft spot in the Yankees’ batting order and they are not finding it in Ibanez.
  • Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 10 games with an opposite-field RBI single off reliever Tom Wilhelmsen in the eighth inning to give the Yankees a 6-1 lead. Cano is hitting .429 over that span.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Curtis Granderson had a bad day at the office. He was 0-for-4 with two weak infield rollers to first and two strikeouts. Though Granderson is hitting .264 with 11 home runs and  20 RBIs, he also has struck out a team-leading 37 times in 129 at-bats. That is a pace just over one out of every four at-bats.
  • Cano had an uncharacteristically bad moment in the field in the third inning. With one out and Justin Smoak on first, Munenori Kawasaki lofted a fly ball in shallow right. Cano tracked the ball and then stopped at the last moment, allowing the ball to drop a few feet behind him. Right-fielder Nick Swisher, however, bailed Cano out with a quick throw to second that beat Smoak to the bag for a rare 9-4 fielder’s choice putout.
  • Alex Rodriguez also had a bad day at the plate. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. It snapped his five-game hitting streak and lowered his season average to .287. A-Rod came into the contest hitting .406 in his previous nine games.

BOMBER BANTER

On Saturday, the Yankees honored legendary catcher Yogi Berra on his 87th birthday with a ceremony before the game. Berra was presented with a cake and former Yankee left-hander Ron Guidry drove Berra in a cart around the stadium so he could be saluted by the 43,954 people in attendance.  . . .  Though it was not much of a secret, Girardi announced on Saturday that rookie David Phelps would return to the bullpen as a long reliever. Phelps was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his two starts. But he did not make it out of the fifth inning in either appearance.  . . .  The Yankees announced on Saturday they they have claimed left-handed reliever Justin Thomas off waivers from the Boston Red Sox. Thomas has posted a 7.71 ERA in 4 2/3 innings with the Red Sox. He was designated for assignment on Thursday. The Yankees will send Thomas, 28, to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

ON DECK

Because of the significance of Sunday’s game, this regular blog feature will be expanded into a complete report which will follow shortly.