YANKEES 5, RAYS 3
Harry Houdini is known as the greatest escape artist of all time and Mariano Rivera is regarded as the greatest closer in the history of baseball.
On Tuesday night, David Robertson paid homage to them both by escaping a bases-loaded, two-out jam to strike out Carlos Pena looking to record his first save since Rivera sustained a season-ending right knee injury last week in Kansas City.
Meanwhile, Ivan Nova may have had his 15-game winning streak snapped in his last outing but Rual Ibanez’s two home runs and three RBIs and Curtis Granderson’s solo shot gave him the offense he needed to start another one as New York held on to defeat Tampa Bay on a rainy and cool night at Yankee Stadium.
Nova (4-1) pitched his best game of the season, giving up two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out eight batters over seven innings.
The Yankees were able to pin the first loss of the season on Rays right-hander James Shields (5-1). Shields limited the Yankees to three runs on four hits and three walks and he struck out four in six innings of work. However, two of the hits left the yard.
Ibanez gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning with a two-out, two-run home run to right-field right after Robinson Cano was cut down at home plate trying to score on a Nick Swisher grounder to second baseman Will Rhymes. Ibanez has only three hits in 46 at-bats career against Shields and two of them have been home runs.
Granderson victimized Shields in the following frame with a two-out blast into the fourth row of the right-field bleachers. It was Granderson’s 10th home run of the season, which leads the team.
The Rays clawed back to within a run on a pair of solo home runs – one from Jose Molina in the sixth and another from Luke Scott in the seventh.
However, Ibanez led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a blast off reliever Burke Badenhop that struck high off the foul pole in right-field.
The Rays got that run back in the eighth when Ben Zobrist led off the inning with a triple and he later scored on a wild pitch from reliever Rafael Soriano.
The Yankees reclaimed their two-run edge in the bottom of the inning when Mark Teixeira stroked a one-out double into the corner in right-field to score Alex Rodriguez, which set up the dramatic ninth inning.
With one out, Robertson walked Rhymes and Sean Rodriguez followed with a single in the hole to left. Robertson was able to strike out pinch-hitter Brandon Allen swinging but he walked Zobrist tio load the bases.
With intermittent rain showers having held down the paid crowd of 37,086 to about half of that total, most of them were on their feet as Robertson dueled Pena with the game on the line.
After getting two quick strikes, Robertson missed with his next two offerings. But, the former setup man now closer was able to place a 94 mile-per-hour fastball perfectly on the outside corner that caught Pena looking and ended the game.
It was the fourth career save for Robertson and his first of the season.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 16-13 on the season and they gained a game on the first-place race in the American League East. The Rays are 19-11.
- Nova bounced back nicely after two consecutive poor outings in which he gave up 11 runs on 20 hits and seven walks in 11 2/3 innings. The key was Nova had command of his fastball, curveball and slider and it translated into eight strikeouts, which tied his previous season high against the Angels on April 15.
- Ibanez is proving to be a very good free-agent signing for the Yankees. It was Ibanez’s 15th career multi-homer game and his first with New York. After hitting .241 in April, Ibanez is hitting .353 in May. He now has five home runs and 16 RBIs on the season.
- Robertson’s high-wire act in the ninth may have looked like nerves but Yankee fans are well aware that Robertson is prone to issuing his share of walks. Robertson entered the game with a 0.00 ERA and he had struck out the last eight batters he faced and 10 of the last 11. He left the mound with a 0.00 ERA and he now has 23 strikeouts in 13 innings this season. He has not been scored upon in his last 26 1/3 innings over 12 appearances dating back to last September.
- Granderson’s home run puts him second in the American League with 10. That would have tied Josh Hamilton of the Rangers but he was busy hitting four home runs in a game on Tuesday against the Orioles.
HOLEY-MOLELY, FOLEY: By the way, the Yankees owe a big thank you to Rays third-base coach Tom Foley. In the seventh inning, Scott had just brought the Rays to within a run of the Yankees with his one-out solo home run. Nova walked Jeff Keppinger and then surrendered a double to Rhymes that rolled into the corner down the right-field line. Foley could have sent Keppinger home but he elected to play it safe and held him. Sean Rodriguez then lofted a fly ball midway into right-field and down the line. Swisher made the catch and fired the ball on the fly – but off to the left of home plate – to catcher Russell Martin. Again, Foley chose not to risk sending Keppinger. But the prudent approach backfired when Nova fanned Molina swinging on an 0-2 pitch and the Rays were thwarted.
- Martin is really struggling at the plate. He was one of two Yankee starters who did not have a hit (Swisher was 0-for-4) and his 0-for-3 night dropped his season average to a pathetic .184. Martin’s exceptional defense is valuable in and of itself, however, it would be nice of he started hitting more consistently.
- Soriano looked a bit shaky in his new eighth-inning role. The leadoff triple to Zobrist was bad enough but he compounded the problem by unleashing a wild pitch with two outs to allow the Rays to draw to within a run. Soriano ended the frame by striking out the side but it was too late.
- Swisher came up in the fourth and eighth innings with a runner on third and only one out. In both cases he failed to get the runner in. In the fourth, he bounced a ball to Rhymes that ended up with Cano being thrown out. In the eighth, he bounced a ball to Pena at first and the runner (Teixeira) was unable to score.
It’s official! Andy Pettitte will be activated on Sunday and he will make the first start of 2012 comeback against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday. “I think everybody is in agreement that he’s not really going to benefit from any more time down below,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Tuesday. Manager Joe Girardi said the club is not willing to discuss who will be dropped from the rotation in favor of Pettitte. . . . No date has been set for the season-ending right knee surgery for Rivera. Rivera met with team physician Chris Ahmad as well as Dr. Russell Warren and Dr. David Altchek on Monday, all of whom concurred with the diagnosis of a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus. There also was a complication found during the examination but the Yankees are not commenting on it. Cashman only said it would not prevent Rivera from pitching in 2013. . . . Brett Gardner played in a game at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday as part of rehab assignment. Gardner (strained right elbow) hopes to be ready to be activated from the disabled list on Thursday.
The Yankees will continue their three-game home series against the Rays on Wednesday.
Rookie right-hander David Phelps (0-1, 3.74 ERA) will make his second start of the season for the Yankees. Phelps gave up only two runs on six hits against the Royals last Thursday. But a high pitch count limited him to only four innings and he took the loss. Phelps has no record against the Rays.
The Rays will counter with right-hander Jeff Niemann (2-3, 4.05 ERA). Niemann gave up three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five against the Mariners last Thursday to win his second game of the season. Niemann is 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
Today marks the beginning of the 2012 season for the New York Yankees. After a 33-game spring schedule, the team took shape. How will they finish in the American League East? What about the other teams in the division? How will they do this season? Let’s take a look.
Last season marked a titanic shift in the division.
After the Boston Red Sox recorded the biggest implosion in major-league history in September, they are no longer looked upon as an elite in this division. The loss of general manager Theo Epstein and the decision to blame Terry Francona for the team’s demise were bad enough.
But the real shock was to watch the Red Sox take a different approach to trying to fix the team this winter. Instead of just going out and aggressively signing the best free agents available and making bold trades to infuse new blood, the Bosox actually started a coupon-clipping method of solving their problems.
The big names that could have helped them went elsewhere and the Red Sox found that their once-vaunted minor-league system was bereft of immediate-impact talent.
They begin the 2012 season with one of the most important positions on the team left n the hands of someone inexperienced.
If ever this was a microcosm of the Red Sox problems this is it. They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to walk away via free agency. Maligned for his foibles and his occasional blown saves, Papelbon was still an important piece of the success of the franchise. The fans and the press treatment of him bit the team in the rear end.
To replace him the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s, a competent closer who at the same time has had a series of arm ailments that have slowed his development. At the end of spring training, Bailey came up with a thumb injury that will require surgery to repair. He will miss two months – at least.
The Red Sox also traded for Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon. The conventional wisdom was Melanco would replace Bailey. After all, why trade for a closer if he is not going to close? But new manager Bobby Valentine announced that jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) reliever Alfredo Aceves would close instead.
Welcome to Red Sox Nation’s worst nightmare. On Opening Day, Aceves coughed the winning run in a non-save situation.
If there is anyone out there who honestly believes this team can win the A.L. East, I want to know what you are smoking.
There are only two elite teams in this division and they are the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays had an interesting spring where they played a lot like the some of the teams in 1960s like the Dodgers and White Sox, who were so deep in pitching talent they shut out any team. However, at the same time, the offense is so bad that scoring runs is going to take some real effort.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rays and manager Joe Maddon have ways of scoring. Carlos Pena may struggle to keep his average around .190 but he will likely hit 30 home runs. Evan Longoria, surrounded by lightweights, will be pitched around and his average will suffer also. But he will win his share of 2-1 games with home runs.
Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and the rest of Rays also use their feet to create havoc on the bases. That will get them their share of runs at times. But the old adage “You can’t steal first base” comes into play. The Rays have to reach base in order to steal bases. This team also lacks the athleticism past teams had when Carl Crawford was here.
How many bases will catcher Jose Molina steal? I rest my case.
No, the Rays’ sole means of winning comes with their starting rotation. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are the center of the ballclub. The Rays have attempted to build a bullpen around them but they begin the season with their closer, Kyle Farnsworth, on the disabled list with a sore elbow.
That is huge red flag to me.
Could you say that the Yankees would be favored to win a championship with Mariano Rivera on the DL and expected to miss two months like Bailey? How about if Rivera complained he had a sore elbow?
Nope. No matter how stacked your pitching staff is you have to have a closer and Farnsworth is the best the Rays had in 2011. If he is lost for a long period of time, it puts pressure on Maddon to “shorten” his bullpen. That means keeping his starters on the mound longer than most managers would allow.
That exposes them to possibly losing close games because starters do run out of steam at some point. While a manager like Charlie Manuel might take Cliff Lee out after 121 pitches because he has Papelbon and a deep bullpen, Maddon may say let’s let Price get out of this in the eighth because I do not think J.P. Howell has been effective lately.
It becomes a slippery slope and you start lengthening and lengthening your starters until they begin wearing down.
That is my concern with the Rays.
In addition, they do not have the money and means to ever go to a Plan B. What they have on the roster has to work or they fall.
One team that intrigues me is the Blue Jays.
They already have Jose Bautista. You add to that third baseman Brett Lawrie and a bunch of guys who hit the ball hard and you have the makings of a great offense. Too bad the Rays do not have this offense.
The Blue Jays will put a lot of runs on the board. They have a lot of power and line-drive hitters top to bottom in the lineup.
However, their pitching revolves around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Brett Cecil has been sent to the minors and Dustin McGowan’s comeback has been slowed by injury. Their bullpen does have a closer in Sergio Santos they stole from the White Sox and a former closer in Francisco Cordero they signed from the Reds.
If manager Jon Farrell can piece enough starters to go six, the Blue Jays just might have what it take to pass the Red Sox in third place in this division. Stranger things have happened.
The one given in the division is where the Orioles will finish. Mismanagement, bad luck and foolish spending have really derailed this franchise.
Buck Showalter is a good manager but this team is mired with problems. The young pitching the Orioles counted on has failed to take the big leap forward they expected.
They made big bets on players like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and they have underwhelmed. They lack a big bopper like a Bautista who can change a game. Instead, they can build around emerging star catcher Matt Wieters.
That just about sums up the Orioles.
Now we come to the Yankees.
They won 97 games last season despite the fact Alex Rodriguez played in 99 games, only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had good seasons with the bat and their rotation contained Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
How many will they win when they get a healthy season out of Rodriguez, more of their hitters have better seasons with the bat and a rotation that now has Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, a healthy Phil Hughes to go along with ace lefty CC Sabathia?
Their bullpen even without Joba Chamberlain is loaded with Rivera closing like he always has at age 42 and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano shortening games to six innings.
The team has closed the pitching gap with the Rays and their offense is simply the best in the division. Add to that the division’s best bullpen and a veteran bench and you have the makings of another A.L. East title for the team in the Bronx.
I have not seen evidence that would contradict the premise. The only thing that could derail the Yankees is the age of the team. Injuries also are a great equalizer. But, other than a bad spate of injuries there is nothing that will stop this team in 2012.
Here is the predicted order of finish:
1) New York Yankees
2) Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
3) Toronto Blue Jays
4) Boston Red Sox
5) Baltimore Orioles
If this order holds up, look for Valentine to be scanning the help wanted ads in October. He already has the team hating him. If it gets much worse he might be scanning those ads in July.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 3 – TAMPA BAY RAYS
Last season was supposed to be the time that the Tampa Bay Rays dropped from contention in the American League East. After all, they lost their star outfielder in Carl Crawford, their slugging first baseman Carlos Pena, their league-leading closer in Rafael Soriano and almost all the elements of what was a very good bullpen in 2010.
Yet, the Rays made the playoffs with a miracle finish that overtook a Boston Red Sox team that choked its way to the finish line. The Rays qualified with a 91-71 record but they lost in the first round of the A.L. Division Series against the Texas Rangers.
What is in store for the Rays in 2012? Do they have another miracle or two left in them?
It is real easy to see what the Rays strategy is for 2012. Run out the best five starters you have and keep them in the game as long as you can to cover up a weak middle of the bullpen and hope the offense can muster enough stolen bases and home runs to eke out a victory.
Right-hander James Shields was the poster boy for this team. In 2010, he was 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA. Last season, he was 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and 11 complete games. The question is will Shields pitch like he did in 2010 or 2011? As the dean of the staff at age 30, his fortunes will set the tone for the rest of the staff.
The ace of this staff was supposed to have been David Price, who was 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 2010. Price, 26, fell from his perch with a 12-13 mark and a 3.49 ERA. The problem is that Price is basically a one-pitch pitcher: his fastball. His breaking stuff was inconsistent and as a result he was a .500 pitcher. Price needs to harness control of his slider and develop even a decent change-up in order to be successful.
Many people were stunned the Rays dealt Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs. But the Rays knew they had rookie right-hander Jeremy Hellickson ready to jump into the rotation. Heliickson, 24, pitched as the Rays hoped with a 13-10 record and a 2.95 ERA. While Price is still searching for a change-up, Hellickson uses his as a weapon and the Rays hope he gets even better.
The Rays used right-handers Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots last season. But both pitchers struggled with command and injuries in 2011.
Davis, 26, was 11-10 with a 4.45 ERA in 29 starts and Niemann was 11-7 with a 4.06 ERA in 23 starts.
One of these two pitchers is likely to lose their starting spot this spring. The Rays believe 22-year-old left-hander Matt Moore may be ready for prime time in 2012. Moore made one start during the regular season, a five-inning shutout of the Yankees. Then he threw a gem to defeat the Texas Rangers in the ALDS. Moore is a consensus pick to follow Hellickson as A.L. Rookie of the Year.
Though this is the best rotation in the division, there are still concerns. If Shields and Price do not pitch well and Hellickson and Moore do not follow up on their success, the Rays are in big trouble. This is a team that does not have much of Plan B behind its five starters.
The Rays luck in 2011 even extended to their bullpen in 2011.
They replaced Soriano with former Yankee scapegoat Kyle Farnsworth as their closer and Farnsworth ended up pitching well. (Yankee fans may let out a primal scream now). Yep, Farnsworth, was 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA and he saved 25 games out of 31 chances.
Journeyman right-hander Joel Peralta also did a nice job replacing Joaquin Benoit, who left to sign with Detroit. Peralta, 35, was 3-4 with a 2.93 ERA and he added six saves. Veteran right-hander Juan Cruz also helped tighten up the bullpen in the late innings but he was allowed to leave as a free agent.
So the Rays will be building their bullpen around Farnsworth and Peralta in 2012.
The Rays did pick up former closer Fernando Rodney from the Los Angeles Angels. Rodney, 34, has good stuff but has been bothered with back problems. He was 3-4 with 4.50 ERA with the Angels in 2011.
The Rays are hoping left-hander J.P. Howell will get over his arm problems and pitch like he did in 2009 when he was 7-5 with a 2.84 ERA. In 2011, Howell struggled and was 2-3 with 6.16 ERA in 46 games.
The Rays bullpen likely will be rounded out by disappointing left-hander Jake McGee, right-hander Brandon Gomes and the loser of the battle between Davis and Niemann for the final spot in the rotation.
There is no guarantee Farnsworth and Peralta will pitch like they did in 2011. There also is some real soft spots in middle relief and the lack of an effective left-hander may really hurt in a division filled with lefty hitters like Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira.
That means manager Joe Maddon might be forced to leave his starters in the game longer than he might like to cover up the deficiencies and that takes its toll on those starters late in the season. The bullpen is an area of some concern.
The Rays have always been a running team who like to bunt, take extra bases and force opponents into making errors. The loss of Crawford did not change that in 2011. However, the Rays newest emphasis is on the home run.
The Rays had five players hit 16 or more home runs in 2011 and they re-signed first baseman Carlos Pena as a free agent and he hit 28 for the Cubs last season.
The team still revolves around third baseman Evan Longoria, who shook off another season of injuries to hit .244 with 31 home runs and 99 RBIs. The batting average has to be worrisome but Longoria is the team’s only real all-around threat as a hitter and power source.
The Rays also was boosted by a comeback season from Ben Zobrist, who hit .269 with 20 home runs and 91 RBIs. He will likely play a lot at second base and some in right-field as he did last season.
The Rays also rely on the power and speed of centerfielder B.J. Upton, who hit .243 with 23 home runs, 81 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.
Rookie Desmond Jennings arrived and he played well in 63 games. He hit .259 with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs as the team’s leadoff hitter. The Rays have high hopes he will surpass Crawford as an athlete and player.
The Rays also caught a bit of luck when Matt Joyce finally began to live up to the promise he showed with the Detroit Tigers. Joyce started off hot but collapsed badly after the All-Star break. He finished with a .277 batting average with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs as a platoon right-fielder and DH.
Sean Rodriguez figures to be the primary shortstop in 2012 though he hit just .223 with eight homers and 36 RBIs. That is because incumbent shortstop Reid Brignac was worse, hitting .193 with one home run and 15 RBIs.
The Rays also reshuffled their catchers for 2012 and they are looking to start former Yankee backup Jose Molina as a starter after he hit .281 with the Blue Jays. Molina, 36, was signed because the Rays were getting beat at their own game. Teams like the Yankees and Rangers were stealing on them at will.
Molina figures to end that with his defensive abilities and arm. However, an offense that relies on the stolen base will be slowed considerably with Molina on base. That is the big tradeoff.
To show how much more the Rays are valuing power, look no further than the signing of left-hander Luke Scott as the team’s primary DH. Scott averaged 28 home runs from 2008 through 2010 with the Orioles before injuries short-circuited his 2011 season. Scott and Joyce will certainly slow down any running game. But the Rays will hit their share of home runs in 2012.
Maddon uses his bench a lot and he will again in 2012.
Brignac will battle career backup Eliot Johnson for the backup middle infield job. Johnson is the better hitter but Brignac is a bit better on defense.
For a while it looked Sam Fuld was going to be the next Pete Rose. Instead, reality set in and he ended up being the next Reggie Willits. But Fuld does provide speed and effort off the bench as an occasional outfield starter and pinch-runner.
Rookie Jose Lobaton will likely back up Molina. Lobaton hit .118 in 34 at-bats last season. The Rays do have a hitting catcher in Robinson Chirinos, however, his inability to throw base-stealers make him a project behind the plate for right now.
This bench is merely adequate. Maddon will use it a lot but there is not much of substance to it.
The 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers may be most interesting world championship team in history. They beat the Yankees in four straight games to win the World Series despite having one power hitter in Frank Howard, who led the team with 28 home runs. Outfielder Tommy Davis led the team with 88 RBIs.
How did they win? Well, they had Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres combine to win 58 games and they had Maury Wills and Davis’ brother, Willie, combine to steal 65 bases.
So they relied on pitching, defense, line-drive hitters and speed and athleticism to win. This is similar to what the Rays would like to build in 2012.
They will go as far as their rotation will allow them to go. Maddon will have to rely on them a lot.
As far as offense goes, Maddon is actually counting more on the home run than the stolen base because only Jennings, Upton and Zobrist are consistent base stealers. Maddon will use his other players like Longoria and Rodriguez to steal in certain situations.
But this team did need the Red Sox to go through a monumental collapse to make it 2011. I do not think their luck extends to 2012. They will not fall precipitously as they should have last season. But I do not see them winning the division. They look to be a contender for second place with the Red Sox. Nothing more and nothing less.
ON THURSDAY – PART 4 BOSTON RED SOX
g ankle injury.
“I think now, the most important thing for everyone on our team is to remember first, we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” said Jeter.