Results tagged ‘ Luke Scott ’

Rookie Almonte’s Debut Helps Yanks Deflect Rays

GAME 73

YANKEES 6, RAYS 2

For years the Yankees have stockpiled minor-league talent simply so they could trade them away for well-traveled veterans. This season, out of necessity, they are having to let some of those youngsters play. One of them helped spark the Yankees to victory on Friday in his first major-league start.

Zoilo Almonte was 3-for-4 including his first major-league home run as New York got 5 2/3 innings of solid pitching from David Phelps and downed Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 41,123 at Yankee Stadium.

Almonte, 24, was part of what was an offense that emphasized “small ball” against sinkerball right-hander Roberto Hernandez (4-8).

Brett Gardner opened the first inning with a bunt single and Ichiro Suzuki followed with a hit-and-run single to right that advanced Gardner to third. Robinson Cano then gave the Yankees an early lead with a sacrifice fly to center to plate Gardner.

The Rays tied it in the top of the third on a two-out single off the bat of Ben Zobrist that Cano nearly fielded to retire the side. Instead, the ball caromed off the tip of Cano’s glove and Yunel Escobar scored from third.

The Yankees reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning when Austin Romine led off the frame with a double and he was advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Gardner. Suzuki followed with a slow roller to the Hernandez down the first-base line that allowed Romine to score.

The Rays tied it back up in the fourth on a one-out single by Luke Scott that slid under Cano’s glove in right-center and James Loney scored from second after Phelps had uncorked a wild pitch.

But the Yankees took the lead in the fourth for good by loading the bases with no outs against Hernandez. Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Almonte hit a succession of ground-ball singles that found holes in the infield.

Jayson Nix then hit into a double play that scored Hafner and advanced Overbay to third. David Adams followed with a slow roller to Evan Longoria at third and Longoria’s throw got past Loney at first base in what was scored as an infield single, which allowed Overbay to score.

Almonte then extended the Yankees’ lead to 5-2 in the sixth by launching a towering shot that landed in the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center. The fans rose to their feet and implored Almonte to take a ceremonial curtain call, which he did to the delight of the crowd.

Meanwhile, the Yankees bullpen quartet of Boone Logan, Shawn Kelly, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera held the Rays to to just one hit and struck out four over the final 3 1/3 innings to preserve the victory for Phelps.

Phelps gave up two runs on eight hits and one walk while he struck out four in 5 2/3 innings.

Hernandez yielded five runs on nine hits and no walks while he fanned four. He is career record in 13 games against the Yankees is now 1-7.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 40-33 and they remain 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in third place in the American League East. The Rays dropped to 38-36 and they are now six behind the Red Sox in fourth place.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In only three games, Almonte is quickly winning over Yankee fans. He is now 4-for-6 (.667) with a home run and an RBI. Almonte hit a low-inside fastball and used a quick uppercut stroke to launch it over the wall. Almonte is a very impressive young switch-hitting outfielder who was hitting .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs in 68 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was called up to replace Mark Teixeira on the roster and, by the looks of things, he may be staying for some time.
  • Overbay was 2-for-4 with a run scored and he closed out the Yankees’ scoring with a two-out RBI single in the eighth off reliever Cesar Ramos. Cano set up the score with a one-out single and he stole second and scored easily on Overbay’s hit. The veteran first baseman now has 33 RBIs, which is tied for second on the club with Hafner.
  • Phelps, 26, might not have had dominant stuff and he may have been in trouble in just about every inning. But he did manage to limit the damage to two ground balls that barely eluded Cano. Phelps has more than held his own as the fifth starter since he replaced Ivan Nova in May. There seems to be no reason to take him out the rotation either.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nix had a game he would just as soon forget. He was the only Yankee starter to fail to get a hit and to reach base. Nix was 0-for-3 and hit into two double plays. Nix is 0-for-6 in his past two games after he was 15-for-49 (.306) in his previous 13 games. Nix also fouled two pitches off himself in his second at-bat. It just was a bad day at the office for him.

BOMBER BANTER

Nova, 26, will be recalled from Scranton in order to make a spot start on Sunday against the Rays. Nova was scratched from a scheduled start with the RailRiders on Friday and he will pitch for the Yankees because both Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda would have had only three days rest from their starts in a doubleheader with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. Nova is 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA in three starts with Scranton. He was 2-1 with a 5.12 ERA before he landed on the 15-day disabled list with a strain in his right triceps.  . . .  The Yankees on Friday recalled infielder Alberto Gonzalez from Scranton and designated Reid Brignac for assignment. The Yankees were disappointed with Brignac’s lack of production with the bat. He was 5-for-44 (.114) in 17 games with the Yankees. Gonzalez was hitting .224 with eight RBIs in 23 games for the RailRiders.  . . .  The Yankees also shored up its roster on Friday by trading for Brent Lillibridge of the Chicago Cubs in exchange either for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Lillibridge, 29, is a career .207 hitter who was 1-for-24 in eight games with the Cubs earlier this season. Lillibridge has played second base and third base this season with the Cubs but he has played every position in the major leagues except catcher. He was hitting .281 in 48 games with Triple-A Iowa.

NOTE: Because of blackout restrictions where I live I am relegated to having to watch the Yankees on the Rays on their SunSports network. Their post-game show featured former major-league first baseman Orestes Destrade bemoaning the bad luck for Hernandez because of the Yankees’ series of ground-ball hits that helped them win the game. There is nothing like partisan pity parties after a game. But if Destrade had been accurately reporting things he would have told the viewers that the Rays scored their two runs off Phelps on ground balls that just eluded Cano at second base. Two can play that game, Orestes.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game weekend series with the Rays on Saturday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (7-5, 3.93 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up just two runs in eight innings in a victory against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday. Sabathia is 10-11 with a 3.48 ERA lifetime against the Rays.

Sabathia will be opposed by rookie right-hander Alex Colume (1-0, 0.00 ERA). Colume allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings in a victory over the Miami Marlins on May 30. Colume was 4-6 with a 3.07 ERA at Triple-A Durham.

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

 

Phelps Tops Rays But Granderson Sidelined Again

GAME 47

YANKEES 9, RAYS 4

Friday was just like any other night for the Yankees. They lost two players to injuries at Tropicana Field but they still won the game.

David Phelps pitched into the eighth inning before being struck on the right forearm on a line drive off the bat of Ben Zobrist while Curtis Granderson left the game in the fifth inning with a broken fifth knuckle on his left hand after being hit by a pitch. But New York still was able to steamroll to victory over Tampa Bay.

Phelps (3-2) was throwing a perfect game through 4 1/3 innings until James Loney doubled to right to break it up.

Meanwhile, the Yankees batted around and scored three runs in the second inning off right-hander Roberto Hernandez (2-5). Lyle Overbay keyed the inning with a two-run double and Jayson Nix followed with a RBI single that scored Overbay.

The Yankees padded their lead to 5-0 in the fourth inning on a two-out single by Chris Stewart and Brett Gardner deposited his fourth home run of the season into the bleachers in right-field.

Hernandez left the game after yielding five runs on six hits and three walks while he struck out three in four innings.

But the Yankees batted around again in the fifth off left-hander Cesar Ramos.

With one out the Yankees loaded the bases and Ramos then walked Nix to force in a run. Stewart followed with an RBI single and Ramos then forced in another run by hitting Robinson Cano with a pitch with the bases loaded and two out.

Down 8-0, the Rays finally got to Phelps with consecutive singles by Jose Lobaton and Yunel Escobar to begin the sixth inning. Matt Joyce laced an RBI double to score Lobaton and Zobrist and Luke Scott drove across single runs on an infield groundout and a sacrifice fly, respectively.

The Yankees added a run off right-hander Jamey Wright in the seventh on a one-out triple by Nix and he later was able to score a wild pitch by Wright.

The Rays then added a run in the seventh on a one-out triple by Kelly Johnson and a sac fly by Sam Fuld.

With two out in the eighth, Zobrist then ripped a line-drive off the right forearm off Phelps. Manager Joe Girardi immediately replaced Phelps with left-hander Boone Logan.

Phelps surrendered four runs on six hits while he struck out four and did not walk a batter over 7 2/3 innings.

With the victory, the Yankees improved to 29-18 and they maintained their one-game lead over the second-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Rays dropped to 24-23 and they are five games behind the Yankees in fourth place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Despite giving four runs, Phelps was absolutely brilliant in his fifth start of the season. In his past four starts, Phelps is 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA. Phelps, 26, has given up eight runs on 19 hits and nine walks while striking out 22 over 27 1/3 innings in those starts. It appears Phelps has earned a spot in the rotation and will keep it as long as he continues to pitch this well.
  • The lower part of the batting order gave the Rays fits. David Adams (sixth), Overbay (seventh), Nix (eighth) and Stewart (ninth) combined to go 8-for-18 (.444) with a double, a triple, six runs scored and five RBIs. Teams are finding that pitching tough against the heart of the order is fine as long as you don’t underestimate the lower half. It is obvious that a lot of pitchers are doing just that and they paying the price for it.
  • Rays manager Joe Maddon said Gardner’s two-run home run off Hernandez in the fourth inning was the back-breaking hit of the game. Gardner entered this season with 15 major-league home runs and the most he ever hit in a season was seven in 2011. He now has four in the 47 games he has played this season. His career high is real jeopardy this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees very well might have been able to break open the game even wider of they had gotten anything positive out of Vernon Wells. The 34-year-old outfielder was 0-for-5 and made the final out with the bases loaded in both the third and fifth innings. He left a total of eight men on base and, after reaching base on a fielder’s choice in the eighth inning, he got thrown out trying to steal third.

BOMBER BANTER

If you are absolutely sick to death about reading about Yankee players dropping like flies daily please feel free to skip this section of my report.

X-rays taken of Granderson’s left hand indicated a broken knuckle of his pinky finger. Though the team did not indicate a timetable for Granderson’s return, he will miss a minimum of four weeks and the team will have to place him on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday. Granderson missed the team’s first 37 games of the season due to a fractured right forearm he suffered after being hit by a pitch on his at-bat of spring training on Feb. 24. Granderson had played in only eight games and was 7-for-28 (.250) with a home run and three RBIs.  . . .  There was better news regarding Phelps. X-rays taken of his right arm were negative and the team reported he only suffered a mild bruise. The team Phelps is expected to be able to make his next start.  . . .  The Yankees activated right-hander Ivan Nova from the 15-day disabled list and assigned him to the bullpen. Nova, 26, was 1-1 with a 5.68 ERA in four starts until he was placed on the disabled list April 27 with a strained right triceps. He would have returned on May 13 but  –  in typical Yankees’ luck this season  –  he suffered a strained left oblique, which set him back two additional weeks. In order to make room on the roster for Nova, the Yankees sent right-hander Dellin Betances back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Betances, 25, had no record and no ERA, giving up one hit and two walks while striking out two in three innings covering two appearances.  . . .  Mark Teixeira expects to begin a minor-league rehab stint with the Double-A Trenton Thunder next week and his return to the major leagues could come soon after. Teixeira has been sidelined since early March with a partially torn sheath in his right wrist.  . . .  Stewart returned to the starting lineup on Friday for the first time since May 16 and he was 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Stewart had been unable to start behind the plate due to a strained left groin suffered May 15 in a game against the Seattle Mariners. Rookie Austin Romine started in his place.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend road series against the Rays on Saturday.

Rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-1, 1.13 ERA) will start for the Yankees in place of left-hander Andy Pettitte. Nuno threw five innings of three-hit shutout baseball against the Cleveland Indians on May 13. In fact, Nuno had pitched eight scoreless innings to begin his major-league career until Nate McLouth nailed him with a solo home run to lead off the 10th inning in Tuesday’s game in Baltimore that the Orioles won 3-2. Nuno has not pitched against the Rays.

The Rays will counter with left-hander Matt Moore (8-0, 2.29 ERA). Moore held the Orioles to one run over seven innings on Sunday to extend his winning streak to eight games. He is 3-2 with a 3.99 ERA in five career starts against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally 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.

 

‘Little-Ball Yanks’ Use 2-Run Error To Deflect Rays

GAME 136

YANKEES 6, RAYS 4

When things are going bad on the field and nothing seems to help, baseball teams sometimes revert to one tried-and-true method to get back on track: A closed-door team meeting. The New York Yankees held one two hours before the game on Wednesday and it maybe turned their fortunes around.

The Yankees benefitted from a seventh-inning throwing error by Elliot Johnson to score two runs as New York downed Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 16,711 at Tropicana Field to reclaim sole possession of first place in the American League East.

After a slide that eroded a 10-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles on July 18 to a tie going into Wednesday’s game, the players and coaches held a 20-minute meeting in the visitors’ clubhouse to stress what Alex Rodriguez suggested as “doing the little things” the rest of season instead of trying to hit home runs all the time. They then put the new credo into practice and it appeared to work.

With the game tied 4-4 in the seventh, Andruw Jones and Steve Pearce opened the inning with back-to-back singles off Rays left-hander Matt Moore. Manager Joe Girardi then put the team’s new motto into action by having Jayson Nix drop down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners.

Rays manager Joe Maddon then removed Moore in favor of former Yankee fan punching bag and reliever Kyle Farnsworth.

Derek Jeter slapped a high-hop bouncer into a drawn-in infield and second baseman Johnson fielded it and fired to home plate to nip pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki. However, Johnson’s throw was high and up the third-base line and eluded catcher Jose Lobaton. Suzuki scored and Pearce also was able to score as the ball caromed along the fence in front of the Yankees’ dugout.

The bullpen trio of Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano blanked the Rays over the final three innings to preserve the victory for starter Hiroki Kuroda (13-10). Kuroda gave up four runs – including a solo home run by Luke Scott in the sixth that re-tied the game – on eight hits and two walks and he struck out three batters.

Soriano hurled a perfect ninth to record his 36th save in 39 chances this season.

The Yankees awoke from their hitting doldrums, which saw them limited to six hits or less in their previous five games, as they trailed 1-0 in the fourth inning against Moore (10-9).

Jeter opened the frame with a bloop single that Johnson actually had in his glove but dropped in shallow center-field. One out later, Robinson Cano drew a walk. Rodriguez then followed with an RBI double down the left-field line to score Jeter and advance Cano to third.

Russell Martin then stroked an opposite-field, ground-rule double to score Cano and Rodriguez.

However, Kuroda could not hold the lead. In the fifth, Sam Fuld drew a two-out walk, Desmond Jennings singled and Ben Zobrist smacked a two-run triple.

Martin regained the lead for Kuroda and the Yankees with a two-out home run, his 15th of the season and with the hit he also raised his season batting average over the “Mendoza line” at .202.

Moore ended up surrendering six runs (four earned) on eight hits and one walk while he fanned nine.

The victory, combined with the Orioles’ 6-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, allowed the Yankees to reclaim first place in the division to themselves, a position they had held for 84 consecutive days until Tuesday. The Yankees’ season record is now 77-59. With the loss, the Rays drop 2 1/2 games back in third place.  They are 75-62.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • They finally won a game. Shall we have a ticker-tape parade for them on Thursday?
  • Martin, batting fifth behind Rodriguez despite his low batting average, came up with a clutch double and home run and drove in three runs. This season has been very disappointing for the 29-year-old catcher and his contract expires at the end of the season. It is about time he starts contributing to the offense.
  • Jeter continues his amazing resurgence at the plate. He was 3-for-5 to raise his season average to .319. He also tossed in a clutch running catch of a two-out flare to shallow left off the bat of Matt Joyce that stranded two runners and perhaps saved the game.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kuroda somehow was unable to pitch as well as he had been pitching for the Yankees. He came in having lost his last two games because he gave up three runs early and the Yankees’ offense could not get back into the game. This time, the Yankees handed him two leads and he handed them right back. The Yankees need Kuroda to pitch great down the stretch to have a chance to win the division.
  • Nick Swisher was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and it appears his recent hot streak has come to an end. He was 0-for-11 in the three-game series with the Rays and he struck out seven times. Perhaps he needs to take to heart the Rodriguez mantra and not try to do too much.
  • Curtis Granderson was also 0-for-4 and 0-for-8 in the series. Granderson, all of a sudden, has become virtually useless at the plate. He is 3-for-31 with 10 strikeouts in his last 10 games. His season average has dipped to .231 and it is sinking fast. Granderson seems to have reverted back to his early 2010 form before hitting coach Kevin Long restructured his swing.

BOMBER BANTER

Left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte threw a short simulated game to hitters at Tropicana Field on Wednesday to get a step closer to rejoining the team. Pettitte threw 15 pitches off a mound in his rehab from a fractured left ankle. However, there is no firm date for his return. Pettitte is scheduled for another throwing session in Baltimore this weekend.

ON DECK

The Yankees open an important four-game series with the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday.

Rookie David Phelps (3-4, 3.13 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Phelps allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Orioles in his last start. Despite the fact that Phelps had absolutely no command of any of his pitches, he still limited the O’s to three hits and the Yankees won the game. He is 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA against the Orioles this season.

Right-hander Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54 ERA) will come off the disabled list to pitch. Hammel has not made a start since July 13 because he had surgery on his right knee. His pitch count will be limited in this game, Hammel is 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Cano’s 2-Run Firecracker Blows Up In Rays’ Faces

GAME 81

YANKEES 4, RAYS 3

The Yankees had lost their last nine games at Tropicana Field. Rays starter David Price was throwing near no-hit stuff. The Yankees had to dip into their bullpen early and they were losing 3-1 heading into the eighth inning.

The Yankees were, indeed, facing long odds.

But former Bronx fans punching bag Kyle Farnsworth and hotter than a Fourth of July firecracker Robinson Cano provided the Yankees just what they needed to put the frustration of the last two days behind them and win a game late.

Farnsworth (0-1) walked four of the five batters he faced and Cano delivered a game-winning two-run single with the bases loaded off reliever Jake McGee in the eighth as New York rallied for three runs to down Tampa Bay in front of a holiday crowd of 28,033 on Wednesday.

Boone Logan (3-0), who gave up a two-run home run from Carlos Pena in the seventh inning, was credited with the victory.

Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth to record his 19th save in 20 opportunities.

Rays fans seemed to ready to set off firecrackers and bottle rockets to celebrate their 10th straight home victory over the Yankees after Logan gave up a leadoff single to Elliot Johnson and Pena followed one out later by launching Logan’s first offering into the right-field bleachers for his 13th home run of the season.

But the Yankees opened the eighth inning with a very patient approach and Farnsworth, as he did so often when he was wearing pinstripes, obliged by handing the game over to the opponents.

Pinch-hitter Eric Chavez drew a leadoff walk. Derek Jeter then struck out. But Farnsworth dug his own grave deeper by walking, in succession, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira (on four pitches) and Alex Rodriguez. The walk to Rodriguez scored Chavez and brought the Yankees to within a run at 3-2.

Rays manager Joe Maddon then summoned the lefty McGee to face the lefty-swinging Cano. But Cano can hit a pitcher throwing with his left foot as hot as he has been the past month. He proved it to Maddon and McGee.

He laced a 2-2 fastball on a line into center-field to score Granderson and Teixeira and the Yankees took a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.

Price, an All-Star selection who entered the game 11-4 with a 2.92 ERA, did not allow a baserunner until there was one out in the fourth inning when Granderson drew a walk in a contentious 10-pitch at-bat. The Yankees did not get their first hit off Price until the next inning when Cano led off with an opposite-field single to left.

The Yankees finally broke through in the top of the seventh against Price when led off Teixeira by slapping a 2-1 fastball into the bleachers in left-center to tie the game at 1-1.

The Yankees faced even longer odds against Price by having to start rookie right-hander David Phelps in place of the injured Andy Pettitte. However, Phelps pitched exceptional baseball until conditioning and a high pitch count forced him out of the game in the fifth inning.

But Price no-hit the Rays over the first 3 2/3 innings and struck out eight batters over that span.

Unfortunately for Phelps, Ben Zobrist turned a leadoff walk into a “walking double” by stealing second base. Phelps did strike out Luke Scott and Jose Lobaton looking. However, weak-hitting Sean Rodriguez got the Rays’ first hit by singling into right to score Zobrist to stake the Rays to a 1-0 lead.

With the victory, the Yankees salvaged one game of the three-game series and improved their season record to 49-32. The Yankees remain five games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Rays are 43-39 and they are 6 1/2 games back in the third place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano was 2-for-5 in the game with the two big RBIs. Cano is not only a tear with his batting average. He also has been on an unbelievable RBI tear as well. On June 16, Cano had 27 RBIs. In his last 17 games, Cano has driven in 23 runs. His two RBIs on Wednesday also gave him the team lead in RBIs this season with 50. Granderson is second with 48.
  • Phelps was matching Price pitch-for-pitch and strikeout-by-strikeout. Entering the fifth, Phelps had thrown 78 pitches. Since he had been sent down by the Yankees he had not built his arm back up to 100 pitches to allow him pitch further in the game. But this start proved he could be very effective. He gave up only two hits, three walks and hit two batters in 4 1/3 innings. If he pitches like this, Freddy Garcia may go back to the bullpen when CC Sabathia returns after the All-Star break.
  • Teixeira’s home run off Price – his 14th of the season – was a huge factor in getting Price out of the game. Entering the seventh, Price had given up two hits and one walk and struck out eight. Teixeira is showing a little life with his bat in going 3-for-6 in last two games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Logan is perhaps showing some fatigue after pitching in 41 of the Yankees’ first 81 games. In June, Logan gave up only two earned runs the entire month. In his first two appearances in July he has been scored upon in both outings, giving up three runs on two hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings. If anybody needs rest during the All-Star break it is Logan.
  • Andruw Jones and Russell Martin failed to deliver in the seventh inning with the game tied and runners at first and third with one out. Jones flew out to right (I will have more on this later) and Martin grounded out. The Yankees also left the bases loaded in the eighth when Martin hit a routine fly ball to right. Martin is now hitting .178 this season. Ouch!
  • Granderson had another no contact day with two walks and three strikeouts. Granderson is on a pace to strike out a career-worst 192 times this season. His previous season high was 174 in 2006 when he was playing for the Detroit Tigers.

BOMBER BANTER

An obscure ground rule cost the Yankees another run in the seventh inning. With Rodriguez on second and Nick Swisher on first and one out, Rodriguez attempted a steal with Andruw Jones at the plate with a 1-2 count. Price delivered the pitch and home plate umpire Mike Estabrook called it a ball. As Lobaton drew his right hand back to throw to third base, Estabrook’s mask came in contact with the ball and the throw to third was late. However, Estabrook ruled that his interference prevented the throw and ordered Rodriguez back to second. On the next pitch, Jones lofted a fly ball to deep right that would have scored Rodriguez easily. If that is a correct rule it needs to be changed. Why if a ball strikes an umpire in the field of play isn’t the hitter made to hit again? The same logic applies, right?  . . .  The Yankees announced on Wednesday that they have claimed outfielder Darnell McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox and he will be placed on the 25-man roster before the Yankees’ game on Friday. The Yankees will be facing three left-handed starters this weekend and McDonald is a right-handed hitter who is hitting .214 this season with two home runs and nine RBIs.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off at the actual halfway point of the season before beginning a four-game weekend series at Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox starting on Friday.

The Yankees hottest pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.17 ERA), will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda tied a career high with 11 strikeouts as he blanked the Chicago White Sox over seven innings on Saturday. Kuroda is 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA against the Red Sox lifetime.

Kuroda will be opposed by Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.06 ERA). Beckett gave up two runs in six innings in his first start back from right shoulder soreness. In his career, Beckett is 14-7 with a 5.36 ERA against the Yankees.

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

 

Robertson’s Dramatic Punchout Saves Nova’s Win

GAME 29

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.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • 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.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • 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.

BOMBER BANTER

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.

ON DECK

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.

 

Rays End Late Rally, Ruin Kuroda’s Yankee Debut

GAME 2

RAYS 8, YANKEES 6

Luke Scott slapped a two-out bases-loaded single to drive in two runs in the first inning as Tampa Bay built a 8-2 lead and held on late to edge New York on Saturday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

David Price (1-0) gave up two runs on five hits and four walks and he struck out five in 6 1/3 innings to pick up the win. Hiroki Kuroda (0-1) surrendered six runs (four earned) on eight hits and four walks and he fanned two in 5 2/3 innings to lose in his Yankee debut.

Fernando Rodney came in to face Alex Rodriguez as the tying run with two out in the ninth and he retired him on an infield grounder to pick up a save.

The Yankees rallied to put four runs on the board in the ninth, including a three-run home run by Nick Swisher off Joel Peralta, only to ultimately come up shorr.

The Yankees are 0-2 on the young season and the Rays are 2-0.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Not much was positive on this night though Swisher’s first home run of the season did bring the Yankees back from a 8-3 deficit to an within two runs in the ninth. He guessed fastball on an 1-0 count and got it from  Peralta and deposited the ball deep into the right-field bleachers. Swisher was 1-for-3 with two walks on the night.
  • Pinch-hitting for Andruw Jones in the ninth, Raul Ibanez hit a line drive to center-fielder Desmond Jennings to score Curtis Granderson, who had begun the inning with a triple off reliever Josh Lueke. Ibanez now has five RBIs in the first two games of the season.
  • Cory Wade was the only pitcher who seemed to know what he was doing on Saturday. He faced five batters and retired all of them, three by strikeout. Wade had struggled a lot during spring training and it was unclear if it would carry over to the regular season. But based on his first appearance, it looks as if Wade has straightened himself out.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kuroda was very disappointing after having an exceptional spring. His command was off (four walks) and he looked to be pitching tentatively all night. After Scott’s two-run single in the first, the Rays added a RBI single by Carlos Pena in the second, a solo home run by Matt Joyce in the third and RBI hits by Scott and Jennings in the sixth, which finally chased the 37-year-old right-hander.
  • Lefty specialist Clay Rapada, who drew raves all spring when he recorded an 0.90 ERA, was ineffective in his Yankee debut also. He walked the lefty-swinging Pena to open the seventh. Then he gave up a disputed home run to Evan Longoria that the umpires used TV replays to change into a double. However, the ruling did not matter when the lefty-swinging Joyce slapped a bloop single to left to score both Pena and Longoria. In the long run, those runs really hurt the most.
  • The Yankees are getting frustrated by the Rays’ defensive shifts, which have taken away hit after hit in the series. Rodriguez’s game-ending groundout was stopped by second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who was positioned up the middle, right where A-Rod hit it. A fitting end to a frustrating night.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi opted to shift his lineup against the left-handed Price. He slotted Swisher in the No. 2 spot and moved Granderson into Swisher’s No. 6 spot. He also played Jones in left and benched Brett Gardner. Girardi said Swisher has a high on-base percentage against lefties and he might be used as the No. 2 hitter against lefties this season. He also said Gardner will still get playing time against lefties this season.  . . .  Girardi is considering giving Rodriguez a day off on Sunday after Derek Jeter was used as the DH on Saturday and Eduardo Nunez played shortstop. Girardi said Eric Chavez would replace Rodriguez in the lineup. Russell Martin also could sit in favor of new backup catcher Chris Stewart.

ON DECK

The Yankees look to salvage a game on Sunday in their finale with the Rays.

Phil Hughes will get the start for the Yankees. Hughes, 25, is looking to rebound from an injury-plagued 2011 campaign. Hughes is 403 with a 4.01 ERA lifetime against the Rays.

The Rays will counter with second-year right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who was 13-10 in his rookie season. Hellickson is 2-1 with a 4.10 ERA against the Yankees in his career.

Game-time will be 1:40 p.m. and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Exterminate Rays Behind Maxwell, Molina

GAME 19

YANKEES 5, RAYS 2

Upstart rivals like the Rays are like cockroaches. You can’t be satisfied with just watching them flail aimlessly in their backs. You have to step on them hard to remove all hope. The Yankees did that on Wednesday.

Justin Maxwell, who continues to impress this spring, hit a bloop double near the right-field line to score Cole Garner with the tie-breaking run in the ninth to put Tampa Bay on their backs and Gustavo Molina followed with a two-run home run to snuff them out as New York came from behind to win at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.

The Rays took an early 2-0 lead in the second inning on infield single by Carlos Pena and a two-run home run to straightaway center by Matt Joyce off Yankee starter Phil Hughes.

The Yankee rallied to score single runs in the sixth and seventh innings off Rays left-hander Ceasr Ramos.

Rule 5 selection Cesar Cabral (1-0) pitched two innings to earn the victory. Michael O’Connor pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save. Rays right-hander Brandon Gomes (0-1) took the loss.

The Yankees have now won five of their last six games and pushed over the .500 mark on the spring at 10-9, The Rays are 5-11.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cabral earned this victory the hard way. In both innings he struck out the side with a potential lead run on third base. His work in the eighth was particularly impressive. Elliot Johnson opened the inning with a double down the left-field line. Cabral then committed a balk that advanced Johnson to third. Cabral escaped disaster by fanning Jeff Salazar, Luke Scott and Matt Mangini. Cabral, 23, is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA and has given up two runs on 10 hits and one walk in seven appearances this spring. More impressive is his 11 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. Cabral is competing to become a second left-hander in the bullpen and if he loses the battle he will have to be offered back to the Kansas City Royals. That would be a shame because Cabral looks like he is a very talented young pitcher.
  • Hughes pitched a sensational five innings despite the Joyce two-run home run. Hughes only gave up one hit after the second inning, walked one and struck out three. Hughes threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 19 batters he faced including the last 10 batters he faced. Hughes is 0-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his four spring outings and he may be on the verge of winning a spot in the rotation.
  • Maxwell’s spring heroics continued on Wednesday. Cole Garner opened the ninth with a ground-rule double off Gomes. Jorge Vazquez, who tied the game in the seventh with an RBI double, advanced him to third on a long flyball to center and Maxwell scored him with his bloop double. Maxwell, 28, is hitting a sizzling hot .435 with five doubles among his 10 hits this spring. Maxwell, as I said before, won’t make the 25-man roster but his impressive play may win a call-up this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees scored their first run in the sixth inning when Raul Ibanez grounded out to first with the bases loaded and one out. OK, why would an RBI by Ibanez be a negative? Well, Ibanez was 0-for-3 again and his average has now dipped to .059. Seriously, grounding out with the bases loaded? That is bad. Pretty soon they are going to replace the Mendoza Line with the Ibanez Line to measure hitters. Of course, hitting better than .059 could be a piece a cake for even most pitchers.

BOMBER BANTER

Nick Swisher said that his groin injury was much better on Wednesday. Swisher was removed from Tuesday’s game in the third inning after he struggled to run out an infield grounder. After resting a tight left groin, Swisher now has soreness in his right groin. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher will not return to the lineup until he is fully recovered. He is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  On the heels of Andy Pettitte’s impressive bullpen session on Tuesday the Yankees have scheduled him to throw batting practice to live hitters on Friday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Pettitte is targeting May 1 for his return to the major leagues.  . . .  Freddy Garcia, who suffered a bruised right hand on a hard-hit grounder by Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL on March 14, will start on Saturday in Lakeland, FL., against the Detroit Tigers. The presence of Pettitte means Garcia will have to pitch well to win a spot in the rotation.

ON DECK

It is time for the 2012 version of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry Part 2 on Thursday night. The Yankees, who lost a 1-0 game on two errors on one play in the ninth on March 13, will make their first visit to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.

CC Sabathia will skip the game in order to pitch in minor-league game. The Yankees will start 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps, who ironically was the losing pitcher in that March 13 game against the Red Sox. Phelps is 0-1 with a spotless 0.00 ERA this spring. Overshadowed in the organization by mega-prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, Phelps has actually outpitched them both.

The Red Sox will start veteran right-hander Aaron Cook, one of the many pitchers they invited in an open casting call for a No. 5 starter for the 2012 season. Cook is 0-0 with a 0.00 in two outings (one start) covering 5 1/3 innings.

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

 

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