YANKEES 8, ORIOLES 5
For the past four seasons Orioles fans having been booing Maryland native Mark Teixeira whenever he comes to the plate at Camden Yards in some misguided thought that Teixeira owed the city of Baltimore enough that he should have signed a free-agent contract with their team for less money.
On Monday night, Teixeira treated those fans to what they have been missing the last four years by launching a majestic two-run blast in the seventh inning to break up a 5-5 tie to lead New York to a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Baltimore.
Former Yankee reliever Luis Ayala (1-1) gave up a leadoff single to Alex Rodriguez, his third single of the game. One out later, Teixeira ripped into a 1-2 fastball on the outside corner and pulled into the right-field bleachers for his fifth home run of the season.
Reliever David Phelps (1-1) picked up his first major-league victory in relief with a scoreless inning of work. Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his second save of the season.
The game was a back-and-forth affair because neither starting pitcher was able to pitch effectively.
The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Ivan Nova in the first inning on an RBI single by J.J. Hardy and an RBI double by Adam Jones.
But the Yankees struck back against Jason Hammel in the fourth inning on a two-run double off the bat of Nick Swisher. They added another run in the fifth on a two-out solo home run by Curtis Granderson, his 12th of the season which was hit so hard it landed over the right-field stands and out onto Eutaw Street.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Nova was unable to hold the lead in the fifth. Nova walked Robert Andino, rookie Xavier Avery then tripled to right-field to score Andino. Then Hardy followed with a his ninth home run of the season to hand the Orioles a 5-3 lead.
But Hammel was unable to hold the lead either.
The Yankees loaded the bases on Hammel in the sixth on a Robinson Cano double and successive walks to Teixeira and Swisher, which ended Hammel’s night. Ayala induced a ground ball off the bat of Raul Ibanez but it was misplayed into an error by Chris Davis and two runs scored.
Hammel was charged with five runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks and he struck out three in five-plus innings. Hammel had previously not given up more than two runs in any of his previous six starts.
Nova left the game with one out in the sixth inning when he came up limping on his right foot after fielding a high bouncing ball off the bat of Wilson Betemit. With two out in the third inning, Nova was struck on the right foot on a ball hit by Nick Markakis but he was able to remain in the game.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record against the Orioles to 5-2 and the season record is now at 20-15. The Orioles dropped to 22-14.
- Once again, the bullpen showed its superiority over the Orioles. In the final 3 2/3 innings Clay Rapada, Phelps, Boone Logan, Cory Wade and Soriano combined to shut out the Orioles the rest of the way on three hits and one walk and they struck out six batters. In contrast, the Orioles’ ineffective bullpen gave up three runs on four hits, three walks, two hit batters and struck out two in four innings. Ouch!
- After his average dropped to .212 last Thursday when he was 0-for-3 against the Rays, Teixeira has a modest four-game hitting streak going with his 2-for-4 night against the Orioles. In that span, Teixeira is 6-for-16 (.375) with a six runs scored and two RBIs. He has raised his average to .231.
- Granderson’s 12th home run ties him with Adam Dunn of the White Sox for second place in the American League in home runs. Josh Hamilton of Texas leads with 18. Granderson also contributed a sensational running catch to the deepest part of the ballpark on a shot off the bat of Hardy in the seventh inning.
- Nova did not pitch effectively because he struggled with his command. He sureendered five runs on seven hits and three walks and struck out four in his 5 1/3 innings of work. Despite the fact he is 4-1, his ERA is now 5.44 and he will need to pitch much better going forward.
- Weird stat of the game: Despite the fact the Yankees scored eight runs and collected 11 hits they were a miserable 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
- Derek Jeter entered Sunday’s game with the Mariners having not hit into a double play this season. But he hit into two of them on Sunday and he hit into two more on Monday. So he now has hit into four double plays in his last eight at-bats. He also struck out with the bases loaded in the sixth inning and he is 0-for-5 this season with the bases loaded.
This game could be very costly for the Yankees. Nova left the game with a bruise and a sprain in his right ankle. X-rays of his right ankle taken after the game were negative but it is unclear if Nova will be able to make his next scheduled start. In addition, Rapada had to be helped in to the clubhouse because of a severe viral infection and Ibanez left the game in the ninth inning after being struck on the right elbow on a pitch from reliever Dana Eveland. Ibanez told reporters he thought he would able to play on Tuesday. . . . Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Monday that reliever David Robertson has been unable to pitch for the past four days due to a soreness in his left ribcage. Robertson felt the discomfort after a he threw two-thirds of an inning in a non-save situation against the Rays on Thursday. He is scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday.
The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the Orioles in this two-game road series on Tuesday.
The Yankees will have a good shot with CC Sabathia (5-0, 3.51 ERA) starting. Sabathia has won his last five starts and he is coming off his best start of the season. He threw eight innings of shutout baseball and struck out a season-high 10 in beating the Rays on Thursday. Sabathia also owns a 16-2 record and a 2.86 ERA in his career against the Orioles.
His opponent will be left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (3-0, 2.43 ERA). Chen held the Rangers to two runs in 7 2/3 innings in his last start. He has no record and 3.18 ERA after just one start against the Yankees this season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.
2012 ROSTER ADDITIONS: Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Corey Wade, Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada, Raul Ibanez.
2012 ROSTER SUBTRACTIONS: A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, Joba Chamberlain (starting season in disabled list) , Jorge Posada (retired).
Sunday is the day pitchers and catchers are required to report to the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL. To most teams the spring is a time where young players and veteran free agents can dream about making the roster with a good spring.
But not this year and not in the Yankees’ camp.
If the A.J. Burnett trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates is approved and the Yankees do sign free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez and corner infielder Eric Chavez, the Yankees would have a roster with very few jobs “up for grabs” and the 25-man roster – barring injury – is a foregone conclusion at this point.
The starting rotation has been bolstered by the trade for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and the free-agent signing of 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers. That gives the Yankees a rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda and Kuroda. The No. 5 spot will be a competition between 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. But it is pretty clear that if Hughes can prove his shoulder issues that plagued him in 2011 are in the past he will be the favorite to win the job.
That would leave Garcia in the bullpen and the Yankees also have bought themselves a season in order to develop promising young starters Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell at the Triple-A level.
Garcia will join a strong bullpen that includes the greatest closer in the history of baseball (Mariano Rivera), the American League’s best set-up man in 2011 (David Robertson) and the American League saves leader in 2010 (Rafael Soriano).
Add to that core left-hander Boone Logan, right-hander Corey Wade and a likely a second left-hander in a battle between 23-year-old Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral and 30-year-old journeyman Clay Rapada, and you pretty much have the bullpen complete even without rehabbing right-hander Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain underwent Tommy John surgery in July and has made remarkable progress since then. However, the Yankees will not push Chamberlain to return early. They do not expect him to be able to pitch for the Yankees until June or July.
The bullpen, even without Chamberlain, was a strength of the team last season and promises to be just as strong or better in 2012.
The Yankees also did not make any changes in their starting position players for 2012. It is the same crew that led the Yankees to the best record in the American League (97-65).
The Yankees picked up the option on Russell Martin and he returns at catcher. The rest of the infield has Mark Teixeira at first, Robinson Cano at second, Derek Jeter at shortstop and Alex Rodriguez at third. The outfield maintains Nick Swisher in right, Curtis Granderson in center and Brett Gardner in left.
The only major change looks to be at designated hitter. Last season the Yankees used Jorge Posada in that role. With Posada retired the job looked to be Jesus Montero’s. However, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman opted to trade Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.
The Yankees are now looking to fill that DH spot with former Phillies outfielder Ibanez. Ibanez, 39, likely will platoon with right-handed-hitting outfielder Andruw Jones, who was retained after he had an excellent second half in 20111.
The rest of the bench could also be same as it was last season.
Francisco Cervelli figures to be the backup catcher again if he can prove that he has recovered from another concussion he suffered last September. Rookie Austin Romine, 22, is ready for the major leagues from a defensive standpoint but he needs to work on becoming a better hitter in order to vault past Cervelli.
He will get a look this spring, but he figures to be heading to Triple-A for a year of seasoning.
The Yankees also will have middle infielder Eduardo Nunez back this season. Nunez, 24, impressed the Yankees with his hitting and his base-stealing ability last season. But Nunez is a nightmare in the field. Despite playing only half the time, Nunez led the team in errors and he has to show some improvement there to stick.
The Yankees still have Ramiro Pena and they have invited veteran utility man Bill Hall to compete with Nunez but it is Nunez’s job to lose.
The Yankees also are likely to re-sign Chavez to back up at first and third base. Chavez, 34, had an impressive spring in 2011 but his season – just like the previous four – was cut short by injury. He fractured a bone in his left foot and missed 2 1/2 months. But the Yankees like having a former Gold Glove winner and lefty swinger at first and third base.
The Yankees still have veteran outfielders Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell and they have invited defensive wizard Dewayne Wise as a non-roster invitee this spring. But none of them figure to make a dent on the roster.
With the clock finally having run out on the Yankees in their effort to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima it is now becoming obvious the the team will enter the 2012 season with virtually their entire roster from 2011 back.
The Yankees seemed shocked when their $2.5 million bid for Nakajima was the winning bid and they dealt with the 29-year-old Seibu Lions star as if he were just going to be paid as a backup infielder, which is, of course, what he was going to be.
But Nakajima was not happy with that offer and the 5 p.m. deadline came and went without a contract. As a result, the Yankees keep their $2.5 million posting and Nakajima returns to play out his contract with Seibu in Japan.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are now free to make an offer to bring back backup first and third baseman Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season. Chavez, who has been hampered by injuries for the past five seasons, missed just over two months of the 2011 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot.
But the Yankees can use Chavez, 34, and his left-handed bat as a backup to Alex Rodriguez at third base, to Mark Teixeira at first base and as possible designated hitter or a power bat off the bench.
If Chavez does re-sign with the Yankees he will join outfielder Andrew Jones, infielder Eduardo Nunez and catcher Francisco Cervelli as the same members of the Yankees’ 2011 bench. However, Cervelli would have to win the backup catching job he has held for the past two seasons from rookie Austin Romine in spring training.
The only change in the Yankees’ 13 position players appears to be rookie Jesus Montero, who figures to be the primary DH and third catcher, replacing longtime veteran Jorge Posada.
The Yankees also re-signed Freddy Garcia to a contract this winter, which means the Yankees rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Garcia figures to return in 2012. Of course, the Yankees are in pursuit of one additional starting pitcher that would allow the team to perhaps unload Burnett and the two years and $33 million owed on his contract.
The Yankees have avoided getting into a bidding war for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they only made a token bid for Japanese star Yu Darvish. They also have balked at trades for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens and Matt Garza because teams have asked for top prospects such as Montero, pitchers Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances and outfielder Mason Williams in return.
The Yankees have had discussions with Scott Boras, the agent for right-hander Edwin Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 32 games (31 starts) for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. However, the Yankees are not likely to pay the $15 million to $17 million per season over four years that Boras is seeking for the 28-year-old right-hander.
The Yankees are looking to bring Jackson’s price down some or they may take a pass on him as well. General manager Brian Cashman said he would like to avoid making a long-term commitment to a pitcher like he did with Burnett, a pitcher who may end up being a mistake in the long run.
The Yankees also might have interest in free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
The bullpen, with Rafael Soriano opting to stay with the Yankees, also will return pretty much the same nucleus from last season. Soriano and David Robertson will set up the legend of all closers in Mariano Rivera in 2012. Left-hander Boone Logan and right-hander Corey Wade also are back.
Joba Chamberlain is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and he hopes to be ready when spring training begins. However, the Yankees intend to bring the 26-year-old right-hander along slowly and he may not see action until July.
So that means the Yankees will be looking for two pitchers for the bullpen. One likely will be a left-hander to replace Logan as the lefty specialist. The Yankees signed for former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to a minor-league contract. He will compete this spring with Cesar Cabral, who the Royals sent to the Yankees for cash considerations after they selected him from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft in December.
The other spot could go to Hector Noesi, who filled that role for portions of last season. But the Yankees have said they consider him a starter and they do not want to use him a long man in 2012 if they can help it.
But, here again, the stand-pat nature of the Yankees may be reaffirmed. The Yankees also have said they would not mind having 38-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon back as a long man out of the bullpen. Colon was 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA but actually pitched much better than the his record indicated.
Colon was actually 8-6 with a 3.31 on Aug. 11 before going 0-4 with four no-decisions and an ERA of 4.93 down the stretch. He was not even placed on the team’s postseason roster for the American League Division Series. The Yankees believe Colon is better suited as a long man and spot starter and they would offer him a contract to return to the team only in that role because they no longer think he can make 33 starts at his age.
Should the Yankees re-sign Colon that means the only change in the pen could be Okajima or Cabral as a second left-hander replacing right-hander Luis Ayala, who was allowed to become a free agent after going 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA last season.
I can’t recall a season in which the Yankees had less turnover on their roster. It is very odd, indeed, for a team that has prided itself in having the winning tradition, the facilities and the cash to get just about any player they could want in the George Steinbrenner era.
However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner are at the helm of the ship now and they seem to have a tighter lid on the cash flow. Cashman has been forced to do more with less since the Yankees made their huge splash in 2009 with the free-agent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira, which led to their 27th world championship that October.
Of course, the team did win 97 games in 2o11 and had the best record in the American League. They did it without significant contributions from Rodriguez, Chamberlain and Hughes and off years from players like Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.
Perhaps the addition of the powerful bat of Montero, a second lefty in the bullpen and healthy seasons from A-Rod, Joba and Hughes will be enough to carry the Yankees to another A.L. East title and the playoffs. The concern then turns to how well the starting pitchers stack up heading into the playoffs.
Do not forget that there are a few very good pitchers who will be free agents in 2013 and teams might be looking to unload them before the July 31 trade deadline. One is right-hander Matt Cain of the Giants and another is lefty Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has the patience and the dearth of young prospects to pull off a deal to bolster the staff at any point this season.
So maybe this lack of turnover is not such a bad thing. The team stays strong without adding much in the way of payroll and remains flexible enough to pull off some deals to make a push in the playoffs.
I see nothing wrong with that. Some of the best deals are the ones you don’t make.
With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.
PART 2 – Relief Pitching
PRIORITY NO. 1 – Finding a second left-hander or two
NOTE: As I predicted, the New York Yankees were able to keep CC Sabathia off the free-agent market by signing him an one-year contract extension that will pay him $122 million over the next five seasons and the Yankees will control an option to bring him back in 2017. This means the Yankees can turn their sights to Priority No. 2 (Fixing A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes) and Priority No. 3 (signing or trading for another starting pitcher). Sabathia’s signing is double bad news for the Texas Rangers. They were looking to add Sabathia to their rotation and now they face the prospect of losing C.J. Wilson to the Yankees. That would be enough to send Rangers manager Ron Washington back on drugs.
The Yankees, simply stated, had the best bullpen in the major leagues in 2011.
The proof is in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series with the Tigers. The only run given up after Ivan Nova left the game with an injury after the first inning was off of Sabathia. The bullpen itself kept the Tigers within striking distance for a comeback that never came.
Looking at 2012, the Yankees can again point to their bullpen as being the strongest part of this team.
At age 41, Mariano Rivera showed no real signs of aging by saving 44 of 49 games and becoming the major-league leader in all-time saves with 603. For the fourth straight season and the eighth season out of the last nine, Rivera recorded an ERA under 2.00. Rivera is under contract for another season and that is just fine with the Yankees because having the greatest reliever in major-league history in your bullpen is a huge plus.
The Yankees also have managed to shorten games by the use of their setup men.
Nobody did that better than David Robertson last season. With injuries shelving both Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain, Robertson, 26, stepped up his game to go 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA and strike out 100 batters in 66 2/3 innings. He also tied Daniel Bard of the Red Sox for the American League in holds with 34 and he earned a selection to pitch in the 2011 All-Star Game.
Robertson’s best work, though, came in pressure situations – either ones he inherited or those messes he created for himself. Robertson was able to wriggle out of bases-loaded situations with amazing regularity.
The Yankees also will have 32-year-old right-hander Rafael Soriano back for the 2012 season. Soriano has elected not to opt out of his three-year contract and remain with the Yankees for $11 million this coming season and $14 million for 2013.
Soriano, who led the major leagues with 45 saves in 2010, was 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA and two saves in a season plagued by elbow soreness. Soriano pitched exceptionally well after he returned from the disabled list in July. He was 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA and he ended up with 23 holds.
The only question is will Soriano regain his eighth inning role from Robertson in 2012? Either way the Yankees know that most teams will have to obtain the lead by the sixth inning or face the prospect of losing the game because Robertson, Soriano and Rivera are pretty tough to beat when they are all healthy and pitching well.
The Yankees also possibly may have Joba Chamberlain back healthy again.
Chamberlain, 26, missed most of the 2011 season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He was effective in the 27 games he pitched. He was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA and he recorded 12 holds.
Reports indicate Chamberlain is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and he hopes to be ready to go once spring training begins in February. But with Robertson and Soriano filling the setup roles in the bullpen, the Yankees can afford to be cautious with Chamberlain. They will gladly start the season with Chamberlain on the disabled list and bring him along slowly to make sure he is 100 percent.
The rest of the Yankees’ bullpen in 2011 was pretty good. The Yankees got good work out of right-handers Cory Wade and Luis Ayala.
Wade, 28, was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA after being acquired off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays in June. Ayala, 33, made the team out of spring training after being signed as free agent and was 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA.
Wade is likely to be retained for 2012 as insurance policy on Chamberlain but Ayala likely will not return.
That leaves the only left-hander the Yankees had in 2011, Boone Logan. Next to A.J. Burnett, the 27-year-old Logan is the pitcher Yankee fans love to the hate the most.
At times, Logan can be brilliant. Other times, Logan can be awful. Overall, Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA for the Yankees. However, he is terribly miscast as “lefty specialist.” It is sort of like asking Owen Wilson to play the part of Tony Soprano in the “The Sopranos.” It just doesn’t work.
Left-handed hitters hit .260 off of Logan while right-handers hit .262 off him.
That points up the Yankees’ biggest need in 2012: Looking for a reliable and effective lefty specialist.
The Yankees ignored my pleas to go all out to sign free-agent lefty Scott Downs last off-season. Downs ended up signing a multi-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels and he was 6-3 with a 1.34 ERA with 26 holds for the Angels. Instead, the Yankees overpaid Soriano to accept a setup role.
The Yankees did sign left-hander Pedro Feliciano from the New York Mets. But the 35-year-old free agent developed a shoulder soreness in spring training and ended up undergoing rotator cuff surgery without ever throwing a pitch for the Yankees in 2011. He likely won’t pitch in 2012 and his two-year contract with Yankees will end with him very much a question mark as a free agent in 2013.
The Mets abused Feliciano by pitching him in a major-league high of 344 appearances over the four previous seasons, including 92 in 2010. Feliciano paid the price for it and he likely will never be the same pitcher he was.
The Yankees also hoped to have veteran left-hander Damaso Marte back in 2011. But the 36-year-old hero of the 2009 postseason championship run for the Yankees has not be able to recover from left shoulder surgery he underwent in 2010. The Yankees have since declined an option on him and released him.
So the Yankees are in the market for a lefty specialist in 2012 who can either augment or replace Logan.
There are no other left-handers listed on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. There no lefties who would be of much help in the bullpen in the minor leagues. So general manager Brian Cashman must look to acquire several candidates to audition in spring training.
One pitcher the Yankees would love to have is Rafael Perez of the Indians. Perez, 29, was 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 12 holds with the Indians in 2011. Perez was replaced as the primary lefty in the bullpen by 28-year-old Tony Sipp.
But Perez can still get out left-handed batters. They batted only .237 against him last season.
The Yankees also might be interested in Eric O’Flaherty, 26, of the Braves and Sean Marshall, 29, of the Cubs. Both of them had excellent 2011 seasons. But they would cost dearly in a trade.
Guillermo Mota, 38, could be a big free-agent target. He was 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in 52 appearances with the Giants. More impressive was his 77 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings. Lefties hit just .234 off him in 2011. His age might be a concern but, given the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen, he might be worth an offer.
Look for the Yankees to bring in at least two left-handed relievers to compete for a spot in the bullpen in spring training.
Of course, the Yankees’ right-handers do have an ability to get out lefties.
Left-handers hit only .240 off Rivera, .156 off Robertson, .250 off Chamberlain, .246 off Wade and .250 off Ayala. They only feasted on Soriano, who was hit for a .302 by left-handers last season. The effectiveness of the right-handers against left-handers is one reason why the bullpen was such a strength in 2011.
Given the depth here, it looks like the bullpen – barring injury – looks to be just as strong in 2012.
NEXT: PART 3 – STARTING LINEUP
PRIORITY NO. 1 – Who will the Yankees keep at catcher?
AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 1
YANKEES 9, TIGERS 3
When managers and coaches get together with their pitchers to discuss a game plan to how to attack the hitters on the New York Yankees they all say “Do not let Robinson Cano beat you.”
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, pitching coach Jeff Jones and the Tiger pitching staff got a close-up view on why they say that about Cano on Saturday night.
Cano absolutely crushed two doubles as well as a majestic grand slam homer and drove in a franchise-tying record of six RBIs in a postseason game to back the strong “relief” pitching of Ivan Nova as the Yankees took the fight out the Tigers for a Game 1 victory in their American League Division Series.
Nova (1-0), meanwhile, picked up for CC Sabathia in third inning and only allowed two hits and three walks before faltering in the ninth inning. The rookie 24-year-old right-hander came into the game having won 12 consecutive decisions and had not lost a game since June 3.
The Yankees and Tigers played to a 1-1 tie on Friday before the game was suspended after an hour and 17 minute rain delay. So Game 1 resumed in the bottom of the second inning at Yankee Stadium with nary a drop of precipitation but a brisk was blowing in from right and the temperature dipped into the mid-50s.
However, the weather did not deter 50,940 fans from showing up to watch the completion of Game 1, the largest crowd to ever see a game at Yankee Stadium, old or new.
It was Cano and the Yankees who struck first off the Tigers’ right-hander Doug Fister, who in a sense was coming in relief of likely American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
With none on and two out in the fifth inning, Curtis Granderson singled to right field off Fister. Cano followed with a deep line-drive to left-center that either hit off the top of the wall, caromed off a fan and fell back onto the field for a home run or a double that hit the top of the wall and just spun back into play to score Granderson.
Crew chief Gerry Davis immediately took his umpires into the replay room off the third-base dugout and came out shortly signaling Cano had indeed hit a double. Although the Yankees had taken a 2-1 lead, Fister and the Tigers felt they were lucky to have just allowed a run in that situation.
However, luck turned into unmitigated disaster for Fister in the sixth inning.
Mark Teixeira greeted Fister with a first-pitch, opposite field double to left. One out later, Fister appeared content to pitch around Posada by walking him on a 3-2 pitch well out of the strike zone. Russell Martin then dribbled a slow grounder to Jhonny Peralta at short and Peralta’s only play was to first to retire Martin.
Fister then went after Brett Gardner to end the inning.
He immediately jumped ahead on the count 0-2. Fister then opted for a curve to finish Gardner off. But, instead, Fister hung the pitch and Gardner squirted a roller to the right of second baseman Ryan Raburn and on into centerfield to score Teixeira and Posada, giving the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
That proved to the key at-bat of the game because Derek Jeter followed with a single to right-center to advance Gardner to third. Jeter later stole second and Fister ended up losing Granderson by walking him to load the bases.
Leyland opted to make a move to the bullpen, where he had left-hander Phil Coke and right-hander Al Alburquerque warming. Most managers in this situation would bring in the lefty to face the left-hand hitting Cano. But Leyland must have made a wrong turn at Alburqueque because he did the opposite.
On Alburquerque’s second offering, Cano uncoiled his familiar picture-perfect swing and connected solidly and decisively. Despite a brisk breeze blowing in from right, Cano’s drive cut through the wind to land in the second deck of the right-field bleachers. Suddenly, the Yankees’ slight 4-1 lead had turned into a decisive 8-1 margin.
Alburquerque had the entered the game coming off a season in which he was 6-1 with a 1.97 ERA. he had allowed only three inherited runners to score all season and he had not allowed a home run in the major leagues. Cano took care of all of that with just one beautiful swing.
But the big loser in this Alburquerque mess was Fister (0-1).
Despite pitching well early and escaping trouble, he was charged with six runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings. He came into the game with an 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA since the Tigers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline. He also had not allowed more than a run in his last 55 innings during the regular season. The Yankees ended string that with six runs in the sixth.
The Yankees added a run in the eighth off lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth. And as with all the runs the Yankees scored in this game, it came with two outs.
Jeter stroked a single and that same guy Cano laced a double over the head of Jackson in center for a double that scored Jeter easily. That gave Cano his sixth RBI of the night to tie him with Bobby Richardson, Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui for the franchise record for RBIs in a postseason game.
Nova, meanwhile, was able to escape some trouble of his own with a little help from his defense.
After retiring the first seven batters he faced, Nova walked Alex Avila on a 3-2 pitch. Raburn followed with an opposite-field single to right. Peralta then laced a line-drive single that fell just in front of Granderson in center. Avila got a slow read on the ball and, as he headed for home, Jeter took the relay throw from Gramderson and fired home to Martin. Martin caught the ball in the right-hand hitters’ batters box just as Avila lunged into him.
Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called Avila out and the Yankees kept a big run for the Tigers off the board.
To open the sixth, Nova walked the only Tiger hitter with speed in Austin Jackson. Leyland figured it was time to send Jackson to second to get something started for the Tigers with then down 2-1. Jackson broke for second on a 1-2 pitch to Magglio Ordonez and Ordonez hit the ball right to Cano, who was covering second waiting for a throw to nab Jackson. Cano merely scooped the grounder, stepped on second, avoided Jackson’s slide and flipped to first to double up Ordonez.
Nick Swisher then laid out to catch a liner to right off the bat of Delmon Young to end the inning.
However, Nova was unable to escape the ninth.
With one out, Young lined a ball of Nova’s backside for an infield single. Miguel Cabrera coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Victor Martinez singled sharply to right to load the bases.
Manager Joe Girardi, hoping to avoid using Mariano Rivera, selected right-hander Luis Ayala instead. Ayala was coming off a rough outing against the Rays on Thursday in which Boone Logan and he had combined to give up six runs to the Rays in the eighth inning with the Yankees holding a 7-0 lead. That led to the Rays’ eventual 8-7 victory in 12 innings to allow the Rays to make the playoffs.
For Yankee fans it was almost deja vu all over again.
Ayala induced Avila to hit into a fielder’s choice that allowed a run to score. But he compounded the problem by giving up a single to left by Raburn that scored another run and Peralta followed with a bloop single to center reloaded the bases. Girardi mercifully pulled the plug on Ayala and Rivera was forced to come in as Ayala was showered with a chorus of Bronx jeers – well-earned, too.
Rivera came in to face former Yankee infielder Wilson Betemit. But if any Tiger fans had gone to the kitchen for a bag a chips, they would have missed Rivera blowing three pitches past Betemit for the final out to give the Yankees an important 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series with Verlander unable to pitch again until Game 3.
It is funny how in a regular season in which the Yankees were plagued by 22 rain delays and nine postponements that forced so many doubleheaders and lost off days and yet the rain that fell on Friday actually worked so greatly to the Yankees’ benefit on Saturday.
Rain, rain, don’t go away.
YANKEES 4, RAYS 2
The Yankees have earned so many postseason invitations that the 2010 version did not carry any special meaning for the players. No hoopla, no high-fives and no hollering. Just handshakes.
But the team’s 16th postseason berth in the last 17 seasons was made possible by a dramatic three-run eighth inning rally off James Shields and Tampa Bay as New York clinched at least a wild-card spot with a victory over the Rays on Wednesday in front of a Yankee Stadium crowd of 42,755.
Manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees would have been forgiven if they had mailed the game in when they found out scheduled starter Phil Hughes was unable to pitch due to recurring back spasms. That forced Girardi to press into service reliever Hector Noesi and he was on a pitch count of about 60 pitches.
The Yankees, in turn, were facing Shields, the Rays ace right-hander, who entered the game with a 15-11 record and a 2.91 ERA.
But the Yankees held the score to 2-1 beginning the eighth inning. Shields had only been touched by a Derek Jeter single and an Alex Rodriguez double off the wall in straightaway center that scored Jeter easily in the first inning. In the next six innings, Shields had given up only an infield single by Jeter with two outs in the third and a one-out single to Eduardo Nunez in the fifth. He had struck out six and walked one, relying mostly on his changeup.
However, Shields paid dearly for throwing one too many when Nunez connected with one on an 0-1 count to lead off the eighth inning and he lined it into the first row of the bleachers in left to tie the game at 2-2. Shields knelt to the left of the mound and bowed his head in frustration.
One out later, Brett Gardner stroked a 3-2 pitch for a single to the opposite field in left and Jeter drew a four-pitch walk, which ended the day for Shields.
Manager Joe Maddon summoned left-hander J.P. Howell to face Robinson Cano. Cano entered play with a .315 batting average against lefties this season, but Maddon made the move anyway. He also paid a dear price for it.
Howell fell behind Cano at a count of 3-1 and Cano laced Howell’s next offering over the head of Upton in center-field to score Gardner and Jeter and allow the Yankees to regain the lead late.
Mariano Rivera, fresh off his record-setting 602nd career save on Monday, tossed another dominant 11-pitch perfect ninth inning to wrap up the victory with his 45th save of the season to put the Yankees in the playoffs once again.
The defeat really hurt Shields (15-12) and the Rays. The Rays started the day 2 games in back of the slumping Boston Red Sox in the wild-card race. The loss dropped to them 2 1/2 games back.
The win was improbable for the Yankees because Noesi, making his first major-league start, had a hard time commanding his pitches. In the third inning, Elliot Johnson led off with a ground-rule double to left. He advanced to third on a groundout and then Desmond Jennings blasted a high 2-1 fastball into the left-field bleachers to give the Rays the lead.
Girardi almost treated the game like a spring-training game, running in a total of seven relief pitchers starting in the third inning to replace Noesi. It almost seemed as if they were coming off the No. 4 train, entering and then exiting the game before you could look them up in your program.
From Noesi to Raul Valdes to George Kontos to Aaron Laffey to Cory Wade to Boone Logan to Luis Ayala and finally to Rivera in the ninth. Ayala (2-2), who struck out the only two hitters he faced in the top of the eighth got credit for the victory. The relievers pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings on five hits and one walk and they struck out eight batters.
Girardi, mindful the Yankees would be playing the Rays in an evening doubleheader nightcap, also used the occasion to rest starters Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Russell Martin.
But the Grapefruit League lineup and pitchers were still able to bring the Yankees on the verge of clinching the American League East title, which is something the Yankees will celebrate with more than handshakes.
The Yankees improved their season record to 94-60. The Rays fell to 85-69.
- Jeter is making a nice a last-week push to bring his average to .300. He was 2-for-3 with a walk and scored two of the Yankees’ four runs. In his last three games, Jeter is 7-for-12 (.583) and has raised his average from .292 to .298. Jeter has failed to hit .300 or better in only four of his 16 major-league seasons.
- Cano’s two RBIs give him 115 on the season and he trails his teammate Granderson, the major-league leader, by only four RBIs. In his last nine games, Cano is 12-for-33 (.364) with a home run and nine RBIs. It may be too late to earn him the MVP award over Granderson but he is entering into the discussion.
- Give Girardi a lot of credit for this victory. He kept bringing in lefties to face Rays lefties and then summoning righties to face Rays righties. Maddon mistakenly left his lineup lopsided with three right-handed hitters at the top of the order and then three lefties, two switch-hitters and one lefty at the bottom. Girardi took advantage of it by being able to mix and match the whole game with his bullpen.
The Yankees clinch the wild card by beating Shields and the Rays with a bunch of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitchers and a spring-training lineup? Why complain? This was a nice victory.
The BOMBER BANTER and ON DECK reports will be contained in the next posting.
YANKEES 11, ORIOLES 10
Some rookies arrive in the major leagues with so much hype they can never seem to be great enough to measure up to it. In just four games, Jesus Montero is writing a whole new chapter of his own greatness and nothing appears overhyped.
Montero, 21, hit his first and second major-league home runs and they proved to be the margin of victory as New York edged Baltimore in a Labor Day slugfest in front of 45,069 fans at Yankee Stadium on Monday.
With the game tied at 8-8 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Montero greeted Orioles reliever Jim Johnson by swatting an 0-1 fastball to the opposite field in right for his his first major-league home run. Yankee fans got on their feet and demanded a curtain call from their rookie power-hitting designated hitter. Montero complied and the Yankees had a 9-8 lead.
Before facing Montero in the fifth, Johnson had allowed only three home runs in 76 2/3 innings this season.
Two innings later, Johnson faced Montero again with one out and Russell Martin on first with a single. Johnson tried to pitch in to the rookie but on a 2-2 fastball, he missed over the plate and Montero hit an even longer blast into the right-field seats.
Yankee fans got on their feet and requested an encore curtain call from their new hero and Montero obliged. After four games, Montero is hitting .385 with two home runs and three RBIs.
Meanwhile, a fellow rookie Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays made his impact on the 2010 division title race by cracking a walk-off solo home run with two out in the bottom of the 11th inning off Red Sox reliever Dan Wheeler as Toronto blanked Boston 1-0. The Yankees, who have won eight of their last nine games, have extended their lead in the American League East to 2 1/2 games over the Red Sox, who have dropped five of their last seven games.
The Yankees received a rare poor start from 34-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia, who lasted only 2 2/3 innings and he gave up seven runs on nine hits. Garcia entered the game having thrown 15 quality starts in the 22 games he started this season. But he was victimized by four-run second inning and Mark Reynolds added a two-run home run in the third inning that drew the Orioles back to a one-run game at 8-7.
The Yankees pretty much did the same damage to the O’s’ young lefty Brian Matusz by scoring two runs in the first and adding six runs in the second inning.
Curtis Granderson chased Matusz in the second inning with a one-out, two-run double that drew the Yankees back to a one-run deficit at 5-4. However, Orioles reliever Chris Jakubauskas threw gasoline on the fire when he entered the game and walked Mark Teixeira, who hit his 36th home run of the season in his first at-bat, and hit Alex Rodriguez in the left arm on an 0-2 pitch to load the bases.
Jakubauskas paid dearly for his lack of control by giving up a grand slam home run to Robinson Cano, which landed well into the bleachers in right-center and gave the Yankees an 8-5 lead in an inning in which the Yankees sent 11 batters to the plate.
Matusz was touched up for five runs on five hits and two walks and he fanned three in 1 1/3 innings. Jakubauskas was charged with three runs on two hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning.
However, Garcia could not keep Baltimore from scoring. Reynolds’ home run drew the Orioles back to within 8-7 and Garcia was removed after giving up a single to Ryan Adams with two outs in the third inning.
Newly signed and recently called up lefty Aaron Laffey surrendered a one-out solo home run to Robert Andino in the fifth inning that drew both teams even on the day.
But Montero’s two home runs provided the Yankees with a margin they actually really needed badly because their bullpen continued to crack.
Luis Ayala was touched for a run in the eighth on a one-out double by J.J. Hardy and a single to right by Nick Markakis that scored Hardy. Markakis took second on an error by Chris Dickerson, who was inserted into right as a defensive replacement for Andruw Jones when the inning started. However, Markakis was thrown out on a relay from Dickerson to Derek Jeter to Rodriguez, who applied the tag on Markakis at third base.
The Orioles added another run in the ninth off future Hall-of-Fame closer Mariano Rivera.
Reynolds stroked a one-out single and reached second on a stolen base. One out later, Ryan Adams delivered a single to center to score Reynolds to make it an 11-10 game.
Rivera then hit pinch-hitter Nolan Reimold on a 3-2 pitch. Reynolds and pinch-runner Matt Angle then moved up a base on a double steal. However, Rivera ended the rally right there by striking out Hardy looking on a 2-2 pitch on the outside corner. For Rivera it was a very shaky 38th save in 43 opportunities this season.
Rivera now has 597 saves in his career and he soon could pass all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, who has 601.
Laffey (2-1) got credit for the victory in relief. Johnson (5-5) took the loss.
With the victory the Yankees’ season record stands at 86-53. The Orioles fell to 55-84 and they 31 games out of first in last place in the division.
- When the Montero legend grows to epic proportions over the years you can say you were there to see the first two home runs and three RBis. When Montero was recalled on Sept. 1, manager Joe Girardi made it clear that Montero would start as the right-hand DH against left-handers. After this Labor Day exhibition, teams may revise their rotations to make sure they throw just right-handers. Montero easily blasted two long home runs to the opposite field in two at-bats. That is some major-league skills for just a 21-year-old rookie. General manager Brian Cashman better not trade this guy. It will be over my dead body. He is a keeper.
- Cano extended his hitting streak to nine games with a single in the first inning. In the second inning he launched his third grand slam of the season. Before his nine-game hitting streak started, Cano had a 17-game hitting streak snapped at Baltimore on Aug. 28. Over his last 27 games, Cano is 39-for-112 (.348) with six home runs and 30 RBIs. With Cano’s four RBIs he passed Adrian Gonzalez for second place in the A.L. with 105 RBIs. Cano trails teammate Curtis Granderson by four RBIs.
- Granderson took over the major-league lead in RBIs with his two-run double in the second inning. Granderson leads the Brewers’ Cecil Fielder by two and the Phillies’ Ryan Howard by three. A few weeks ago it seemed Granderson’s competition for MVP would come from Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox. It appears that Cano is entering the discussion now.
- Brett Gardner was the only Yankee starter without a hit. He was o-for-4 with two strikeouts looking and two routine infield grounders. To show how bad Gardner’s day at the plate was he made two of the three outs of the second inning. He started the inning out by striking out looking and ended the inning with a groundout. Gardner’s season average is down to .266
- Garcia was unable to keep his pitches down and it cost him dearly in this game. Of the 18 batters he faced, 10 of them reached base. This also refuels the discussion from so-called”experts” who say that the Yankees will regret using Garcia and Bartolo Colon in the playoffs because they will not pitch as well as they did during the regular season against inferior offenses. Garcia entered the game with the second-lowest ERA of the Yankee starters at 3.09. After this game it is now up to 3.50.
- Rivera did not look sharp in his inning of work. After giving up two hits, he hit Reimold on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. In the 27 pitches Rivera threw, 12 were balls. That is not the usual Rivera. Let’s hope it is a hiccup and not a trend going forward.
The Yankees continue their three-game series with the Orioles on Tuesday.
The Yankees will start or audition, if you prefer, Phil Hughes (4-5, 6.75 ERA). Hughes allowed six runs on eight hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings against the Red Sox in a 9-5 loss last Wednesday. However, Girardi saw enough positives in the effort to give Hughes another shot to stay in the rotation. Hughes is 4-2 with 5.51 ERA in his career against the Orioles.
The Orioles will throw right-hander Tommy Hunter (2-1, 6.21 ERA). Hunter has gone at least six innings in his last six starts for the Orioles. He is 1-1 with a 6.06 ERA in his career against the Bronx Bombers.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.