Results tagged ‘ Yogi Berra ’
ORIOLES 5, YANKEES 4
With Mariano Rivera retired and his successor David Robertson on the disabled list the Yankees will admit that their bullpen is not as strong as it could be. Robertson’s replacement Shawn Kelley found out just how frustrating life can be pitching in the ninth inning.
Nick Markakis hit a bloop RBI single and Chris Davis later added a sacrifice fly off Kelley to break a 3-3 tie as Baltimore edged New York to win their three-game series in front of a paid crowd of 39,412 at Yankee Stadium.
The Orioles opened the ninth off Kelley(0-1) with a double off the bat of Ryan Flaherty and a bloop single by Jonathan Schoop. Markakis then muscled his single that scored Flaherty.
Delmon Young then dunked in another bloop single to load the bases and Davis smacked a deep fly ball to center that scored Schoop.
Brian Matusz pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning of relief to earn the victory. Tommy Hunter was credited with a save despite being tagged with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Brian Roberts that scored Alfonso Soriano, who doubled to lead off the frame.
The game actually was supposed to feature Japanese right-hander Masohiro Tanaka, who was making his debut at Yankee Stadium.
However, Schoop put a damper on that with two outs in the second inning.
With Matt Wieters on first and Flaherty at second, Schoop launched a 1-0 pitch high and deep down the left-field line for his first home run of the season and only the second of his career. That cast a huge hush over the crowd.
But the Yankees managed to recover against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez when Carlos Beltran led off the second inning with a his first home run as a Yankee and the 359th of his career, which pushed him past Yogi Berra on the all-time list.
Two batters later, Kelly Johnson hit his second home run in as many nights to make it 3-2.
Beltran also sparked the rally that tied the game in the fourth when he led off with a double, advanced to third on a flyout and scored on Soriano’s RBI groundout.
Although Tanaka gave up the three-run homer he ended up giving up seven hits and one walk but he frustrated the power-laden Orioles by striking out 10 batters, most of them on his signature split-finger fastball.
After striking out eight batters in Toronto in his first start, Tanaka became only the second pitcher in Yankee history to strike out at least eight batters in his first two games since Allen Russell did it in 1915.
With the defeat the Yankees fell under the .500 mark at 4-5. The Orioles have the same record.
- Tanaka, 25, may still be learning that No. 9 hitters in the major leagues are tougher than those in Japan but he still pitched a quality game. He threw 71 of his 101 pitches for strikes. Tanaka also struck out Young, Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz twice apiece and Markakis, Davis, Wieters and Schoop once.
- Beltran had himself a very nice breakout game in which he was 3-for-3 with a homer, a double, a single, two runs scored and and an RBI. With Brett Gardner on third and two outs in the eighth inning, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had Matusz walk Beltran intentionally in order to pitch to Brian McCann. McCann flied out to end the threat.
- Johnson was 2-for-4 with a homer, a single, a run scored and an RBI. He has now raised his early-season average to .280. The Yankees need Johnson to provide power in the absence of first baseman Mark Teixeira and Johnson is proving that he can do just that.
- McCann’s struggles at the plate continue though he did do better than the his 0-4 indicated. He had one hit taken away by the severe shift the Orioles employed with third baseman Schoop fielding his ground ball in shallow right and throwing him out. His flyout to center in the eighth just missed the warning track and was well struck. Nonetheless, McCann is hitting just .152 and his struggles are hurting the offense.
- After coming into the game as the Yankees’ hottest hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury was 0-for-4 in the game. In his defense, however, he lined out hard to left- and right-field in two of his at-bats. Ellsbury is still hitting a robust .364 and the Yankees seem to like him in the No. 3 spot with Teixeira out of the lineup.
- Kelley gave up two runs on four hits in a very ugly ninth inning but he was not hammered all over the yard. The Orioles benefitted from three consecutive singles by Schoop, Markakis and Young that sounded like they were hit with a wet newspaper. Two out them came on two-strike pitches and the 1-0 pitch Markakis hit was ankle high. The point is that you can blame the loss on Kelley but he did not pitch poorly. The Orioles were more lucky than good.
The Yankees elected to option catcher Austin Romine to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday and they recalled right-hander Shane Greene from the same club. Greene, 25, was the Yankees’ Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2013 after he was 12-10 with a 3.38 ERA. Though Greene is starting pitcher he will pitch out of the bullpen for the Yankees. The move gives the Yankees 13 pitchers and 12 position players. . . . Jones, the Orioles’ loud-mouth outfielder got touchy when reporters asked him about having to face Tanaka. “Why don’t you ask Tanaka about me?,” Jones bellowed. “I’m the one who’s been over here in the major leagues for a while. Congratulations, he did it over there. Don’t make it like he’s the dirtiest guy in the world. He was 24-0-in Japan . . . At the end of the day, we’ve got to judge it off major-league hitters, not the Japanese hitters. We’re a little bit better over here as hitters.” Tanaka struck out Jones the first two times he faced him.
The Yankees open a four-game home weekend series against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (0-1, 1.50) will make his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes. After missing two full seasons, Pineda yielded one run on five hits with no walks while he fanned five in six innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
The Red Sox will start right-hander Clay Buchholz (0-0, 12.46 ERA), who was hammered for six runs on 13 hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday. He has not fared well against the Yankees. He enters the game with an ERA of 5.32 against them.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, TIGERS 2
TAMPA – On a chilly and windy Friday evening the New York Yankees received a huge boost to their starting rotation but their eventual victory came from an ill-timed flinch by a Tigers relief pitcher.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Zelous Wheeler scored from third on a balk committed by Luis Marte as new York defeated Detroit in an exhibition game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Wheeler slapped a sharp single to left and Francisco Cervelli advanced him to third on a single to center.
Jim Miller (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory. Marte (0-1) took a very embarrassing loss.
But the star of the evening was 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda, who threw two dominant scoreless innings in relief and struck out four of the seven batters he faced after not pitching in a major-league game in two years.
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Derek Jeter stroked a two-out single off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez. Carlos Beltran followed with a titanic blast to right that nearly cleared the right-field bleachers.
The Yankees held that lead until Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton entered the game in the seventh inning.
With one out, Alex Avila singled and Austin Jackson laced a triple to the wall in right-center. Steve Lombardozzi then scored Jackson with the tying run on a looping single into right.
The Yankees boosted their Grapefruit League record to 6-4. The Tigers fell to 5-4.
- It was clear from the beginning of spring training that if Pineda was healthy he WOULD be the team’s No. 5 starter. Judging by his first effort after recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum Pineda has the job. Pineda entered the game in the fifth inning and gave up one hit, walked none and threw an amazing 22 of his 27 pithes for strikes. Among the batters he fanned were Jackson, Rajai Davis and Miguel Cabrera. If Pineda pitches anything near what he did in 20011 when he was an American League All-Star with the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees’ American League East rivals will be cringing.
- Hiroki Kuroda started for the Yankees and pitched a very workmanlike 2 1/3 innings. He yielded a hit and a walk while he fanned five in a 51-pitch outing. The Yankees’ top four starters (Kuroda, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova) have surrendered just three earned runs in their first 16 innings of the spring for a tidy 1.13 ERA.
- Beltran, who was the designated hitter for the Yankees on Friday, has only two hits in 13 at-bats this spring. However, both of those hits have been home runs. In the first 2 2/3 innings Sanchez had held the Yankees to two hits and he had not walked a batter while he struck out four.
- The biggest loss the Yankees suffered during the winter really was not Robinson Cano. It was left-hander Boone Logan, who signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Rockies after four consistent seasons with the Yankees. Thornton, 37, is Logan’s replacement and he was disappointing in what his first extended outing this spring. After retiring Victor Martinez in the seventh, Thornton was tagged for four consecutive hits, coughing up the 2-0 lead before getting the last two outs with runners on second and third.
- Alfonso Soriano looked a bit better on Friday but is still 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in his first two games. It looks as if the flu that sidelined him for the first two weeks of the spring has set him way behind the other hitters. But he still has plenty of time tune up for the regular season.
Carmen Berra, the wife of Yankee legend Yogi Berra, died on Friday from complications from a stroke that she suffered earlier this year. She was 85. A moment of silence was observed in honor prior to the game.
The Yankees travel to face a Houston Astros split squad on Saturday at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL.
Nova will get the start for the Yankees. Mark Teixeira is scheduled to start his second game of the spring while Brett Gardner, Kelly Johnson and Cervelli will join him on the trip.
The Astros will counter with 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts with the Astros in 2013.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network.
It appears the first plank to rebuilding the New York Yankees into a playoff contender has been hammered in place.
It took an offer of five years and $85 million to lure Georgia native Brian McCann from the Atlanta Braves to the Big Apple and it will be money very well spent.
McCann, 29, hit .256 with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs in 102 games with the Braves last season. In his nine-year career, McCann has hit 176 homers and driven in 661 runs while hitting .277. That is far better that what the Yankees had on hand last season.
As power-hitting switch-hitter Jorge Posada eased into retirement the Yankees turned to Russell Martin in 2011 to provide some power and defense behind the plate. For two seasons, Martin provided both those things but he chose to accept a more lucrative contract offer with the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter.
Martin, 30, hit .226 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs in 127 games with the much-improved Bucs in 2013. He was sorely missed in the Bronx, however.
After auditioning holdover backups Francisco Cervelli, 27, and Chris Stewart, 31, in spring training the Yankees selected Cervelli as their starting catcher to begin the season. But much like almost every other player on the roster, Cervelli fell early in the season to a broken finger on his right hand.
The Yankees did not know at the time that Cervelli’s last game would be on April 26.
First there there was an extended process after surgery which delayed his rehab. Then Cervelli ended up suffering an injury to his right elbow.
Later, part of the Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis resulted in Cervelli accepting a 50-game suspension without pay for his admission into using performance enhancing drugs. So Cervelli’s season consisted of 17 games in which he hit .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
Cervelli’s injury forced the Yankees to use a career backup in Stewart as their starting catcher for the remainder of the season. Although Stewart was hitting a robust .284 as late as June 11, his season quickly nose-dived from there and ended up hitting an anemic .211 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 109 games.
Rookie Austin Romine, 25, was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 27 to back up Stewart and he did not fare much batter at the plate. Romine hit .207 with one home run and 10 RBIs in 60 games.
The Yankees had admitted that they were allowing Martin to go in order to usher in a new philosophy of “defense first” behind home plate. Though Cervelli, Stewart and Romine were not accomplished hitters each of them could be counted on to call a good game, block pitches in the dirt and control the other teams’ running game.
Stewart was exceptional. He threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers and committed only two errors.
However, on a team that started the season with some 190 home runs short on power and who lost most of the remaining power they had on their roster to injury, Stewart Cervelli and Romine stuck out like sore thumbs because of their lack of power and production.
On a franchise that fielded the likes of legends such as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Posada, it seems only fitting the Yankees would quickly switch gears from their “defense first” approach and find a catcher who can put the ball into the seats.
McCann certainly can do that.
The fact that he is a left-handed hitter makes him very attractive to the Yankees because of the short porch in right-field.
McCann is a seven-time All-Star, was the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in 2010 and was a five-time Silver Slugger award winner.
In 2006, McCann posted his best season as a pro. He hit .333 with 24 home runs and 93 RBIs. He has averaged 21 homers and 80 RBIs in his eight full major-league seasons.
Though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove, McCann is not exactly a liability on a defense either. He has thrown out 200 of 842 base-runners in his career, which works out to a respectable 23.8 percent. He only committed one error in 92 games behind the plate last season.
The Yankees see McCann as a starting catcher but he also could remain in the lineup as designated hitter against right-handed pitching. That is one of the reasons McCann was looking to move to the American League. With the Braves he had only could pinch-hit in games he did not start.
The Yankees have already indicated that they intend to offer Cervelli a contract for 2014 and Romine certainly factors into the equation as a backup. But McCann’s signing likely ended Stewart’s days in pinstripes. He probably will not be tendered a contract offer and thus will become a free agent.
The Yankees do have to be encouraged with the development of J.R. Murphy, 22.
Murphy received a late call-up and, despite the fact he hit .154 in 16 games, he made great strides in the minors, hitting .248 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Murphy provides the Yankees with some depth behind the injury-prone Cervelli and Romine, who has had a history of lower-back issues.
The big prize in the Yankees minor-league remains 20-year-old Gary Sanchez, who hit a combined .253 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs at stops at High-A Tampa and Trenton.
Sanchez, much like his predecessor Jesus Montero, has a bat that looks like it will make him a potential star at the major-league level. The big concern with the Yankees, as it was with Montero, is Sanchez’s defense.
Though Sanchez has made great strides in his four minor-league seasons behind the plate, he has committed 43 errors, including 16 and 11 the past two seasons. His arm is exceptional, though. He has nailed 33.4 % of would-be base-stealers.
With McCann’s five-year deal with a vesting option for a sixth season that makes the deal potentially worth $100 million, Sanchez might have a tough time shoving aside the veteran down the road. But it does not look like Sanchez will get that chance until 2015 anyway.
The McCann signing does prove that the Yankees have reached a point where they realized getting by on “cheap” free agents and waiver-wire pickups were not going to cut it if the team expects to be competitive in 2014 and beyond.
While the Yankees have McCann on board they are also looking to keep second baseman Robinson Cano as a Yankee for the remainder of his career, if he and his agent Jay-Z realize that he is not going to get the 10 years and $310 million he is seeking.
The team is also interested in re-signing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and making a huge posting bid for fellow Japanese right-hander Mashiro Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and is being compared to Texas Rangers star right-hander Yu Darvish.
The Yankees are also contacting outfielders Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo as well as hoping to convince Curtis Granderson to remain with the team.
The Yankees are showing signs that they are going to be aggressive in the free-agent market as they were the winter before the 2009 season when they signed left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira to lucrative free-agent contracts.
Coincidentally, that was the last season the Yankees won a world championship.
General manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner seem to be on the same page this offseason and it is looking like that their statement that the $189 million payroll mark was more of a target that is not set in stone may mean Yankee fans might have a team they rally around in 2014 instead of the sad group they fielded in 2013.
There seems to be hope in the Bronx and it all starts with Brain McCann.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
CATCHER – POSITION OPEN
When it comes to catchers, Yankee fans have been pretty spoiled. The position has been manned by such legends as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada.
Of course, there have been years when the position has been filled by less than legends like Rick Cerone, Mike Stanley and Joe Girardi. Yes, him.
It seems that 2013 is one of those years the Yankees will be fielding a catcher who will be even lesser of a legend. The departure of Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates has left this position open with a four candidates vying for it beginning this spring.
None of the four have anywhere near the power Martin provided. But some are just as adept defensively. The Yankees signaled this was the direction they were going when they chose let Martin walk and opted not to sign free agent A.J. Pierzynski.
Pierzynski, 36, hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs with the White Sox last season and he would have loved the short rightfield porch as a left-handed hitter. But the Yankees passed on him because of his defensive shortcomings and he signed with the Texas Rangers.
The Yankees four candidates are: former Posada and Martin backup Francisco Cervelli, 2012’s backup Chris Stewart, rookie prospect Austin Romine and former Los Angeles Angels backup Bobby Wilson.
The quartet are politely described as “defensive-minded” catchers, which in baseball-speak means they can’t hit a lick. For Yankee fans used to cyclical lineups without a weak link, the 2013 version will have one huge hole in it here. Whoever wins this job will be the opposing pitcher’s “escape hatch” out of big innings.
The leading candidate for the job appears to be Cervelli, 26, who ironically spent all of last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because of the presence of Martin and Stewart.
On the last day of spring training the Yankees swung a last-minute deal with the San Francisco Giants to acquire Stewart, who was out of minor-league options. The Yankees were so in love with Stewart’s defensive work behind the plate they opted to ship Cervelli out and he was not pleased about it – mostly because of the poor timing.
Cervelli went to Scranton determined to show the Yankees he belonged on the roster, but he hit just .246 with two home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games. That is odd considering Cervelli had hit .271 with five home runs and 71 RBIs in 184 games over three previous seasons in the majors.
Cervelli admits that he was not happy about his demotion and it did affect his game.
Cervelli’s defense is considered pretty good. He sets a good target, he knows the hitters, calls a good game, has the respect of the pitchers and the coaching staff. His weakness lies in a somewhat erratic throwing arm. He has only thrown out 18.3 percent of base-stealers in his major-league career (23 out of 93 attempts).
He also has committed 20 errors in 177 games, most of those on throwing errors.
At Scranton, Cervelli threw out 30 percent of potential base-stealers but committed a whopping 15 passed balls.
So Cervelli’s defense is definite notch below what Martin and Stewart provided in 2012 and Cervelli is going to have to improve if he wants to win the starting job and keep it.
There is no doubt he is the best hitter of the bunch, albeit he lacks power. Cervelli is a spray hitter who is very adept hitting with runners in scoring position. He also is not bad a bunter and will give himself up to advance a runner. Those things should help the Yankees in 2013 since the team does lack power.
One concern with Cervelli is his penchant for injuries. He suffered a broken wrist in a home-plate collision in spring training in 2008. He also has suffered a trio of concussions the past few years and broke a bone in his foot in the spring of 2010 fouling a ball off his foot.
In winter ball in his native Venezuela, he suffered a whiplash injury, which later proved to be minor.
So durability is a definite issue with Cervelli.
Stewart, 30, has been a backup catcher throughout his career. The most games he has played is the 51 he started with Giants in 2011. He started 46 games for the Yankees last season and he batted .241 with one home run and 13 RBIs. Stewart actually improved some with the bat in 2012 because he is a career .217 hitter.
But he does not have a very high ceiling as a hitter.
Stewart enters the catching competition as probably the best defensive option the Yankees have.
This is despite that he set a personal high for himself of with eight passed balls last season. Then again, the Yankees’ pitchers are not the easiest to catch.
Stewart, however, committed only four errors and he cut down 22.8 percent of base-stealers after he threw out an amazing 39.2 percent with the Giants in 2011. Stewart not only has a strong arm, he is also accurate with it. It was obvious that not many teams wanted to challenge him last season.
Though Stewart won’t hit much, he will be an asset against teams that are aggressive on basepaths such as the Tampa Bay Rays and the Angels.
There was all kinds of talk this offseason that Romine, 24, was the organization’s choice to start behind the plate in 2013.
But general manager Brian Cashman recently addressed that issue by saying that it was extremely unlikely Romine would be able to win the job this spring coming off a season in which he was plagued with a serious back injury.
The son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine played in only 31 games in three stops last season. Romine batted .243 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in just 103 at-bats.
Despite playing in the shadow of Jesus Montero throughout his minor-league career, the Yankees have always felt that Romine was far superior to Montero on defense and they have hoped that he would develop as a hitter as he matured.
But the back injury, which a recurrence of a previous back strain, certainly has arrested his development. Romine is considered to have a good enough bat to hit for a decent average in the major leagues with low double-digit power potential.
It is likely that the Yankees will take a more cautious approach with Romine this season. He likely would benefit from playing a full season at Scranton to prove his back problems are over. There is no doubt that Romine’s defense is already major-league quality.
Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, two former catchers, absolutely love Romine’s defensive ability. They each say he is ready to play defense at the major-league level now. But the Yankees are waiting for him to prove himself healthy and they would like to see more improvement with his bat.
Wilson, 29, was a backup catcher with the Angels from 2009 through 2012. But he was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays late last season and he never played a game for them before not being tendered a contract offer this offseason.
The Yankees offered him a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. So he will be in the mix for a spot.
Wilson hit .211 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 75 games with the Angels last season. He is a career .208 hitter in the majors.
But like Cervelli, Stewart and Romine, Wilson is considered an excellent defensive catcher.
In 2012, Wilson committed only four errors and was charged with just two passed balls. He also threw out 28.6 percent of potential base-stealers and he has a 27.1 percent career mark of nailing runners.
Wilson’s only hope seems to be supplanting Stewart as the backup but Stewart’s defense may be just too good. So the Yankees might ask Wilson to accept a minor-league assignment so he can be recalled if either Cervelli or Stewart are injured. That way the Yankees could keep Romine on track for promotion in 2014.
Two years ago, with Martin as the starter and Montero and Romine in the pipeline, catching looked to the strongest position on the team from a long-range standpoint. But the Yankees were not satisfied with Montero’s defense and they traded him to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-hand starter Michael Pineda.
Now with Martin and Montero gone and Romine on the mend, the position seems to rest with catching prospects in the minors.
J.R. Murphy, 21, regressed a bit last season. In 110 games between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, Murphy hit .248 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs.
Scouts still believe that Murphy will develop power as he progresses because he has a short, powerful right-hand stroke. There are doubts about his long-term progress defensively. But, fortunately for Murphy, he also can play third base and he may eventually end up there.
But the player the Yankees are really salivating over is No. 1-ranked prospect Gary Sanchez, who turned 20 in December. Sanchez hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs between Class-A Charleston and Tampa.
The Yankees look at Sanchez as a Montero with better defensive potential. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Sanchez possesses above-average raw power and the potential to be excellent all-around hitter. He did regress a bit defensively last season, but Sanchez has a plus arm and he has time to develop into a good defensive catcher.
There have been rumors the Yankees might be willing to trade Sanchez but it is hard to see what the justification would be for Cashman. Catchers with good power bats like Sanchez do not come along too often and there are slim pickings in looking for a catcher who can match Posada’s or Martin’s production.
The Yankees may have been weakened by the loss of Martin, but the Yankees seem to be committed to starting a catcher with defensive ability and they will not care what they hit. Cervelli seems to have the inside track on the starting job and Stewart looks like he will be hard to beat as the backup.
That will allow the Yankees to get Romine another season of experience at Scranton and Wilson could be a call away at Scranton.
With Romine, Murphy and Sanchez in the pipeline, the Yankees do have some excellent young catchers on the way – particularly the gifted Sanchez. So if the Yankees can just withstand the short-term problem of having pure defensive catchers, the long-term prospects at this position are good.
But Yankee fans might be missing Martin’s power a lot this season.
NOTE: The only position I have not reviewed in this series is designated hitter. There is a good reason for that. The position has not been filled and may not be until spring exhibition games are under way. So this is the last part of the series. I hope it helped set the stage for how the team will fare this spring.
“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
- Pythagoras, Greek philosopher
ALDS GAME 3: KEY MOMENT
In the pivotal game of the Yankees-Orioles division series, manager Joe Girardi made one the boldest and ballsiest calls in major-league postseason history.
With his big power-hitter Alex Rodriguez 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series, Girardi elected to sit the most dangerous home run hitter of this generation and replace him with a 40-year-old left-handed hitter to face the American League’s best closer this season in right-hander Jim Johnson.
The Yankees were down 2-1 and they were two outs away from being left down in the playoff series 2-1 to the upstart Orioles.
But Girardi was resolute in his decision. He told Rodriguez to sit and Ibanez to grab a bat.
Think of the blowback if Ibanez had failed. The New York scribes would have had a foot race to the clubhouse for reaction from A-Rod. Headlines would have blared “Joe Loses Cool By Subbing Raul” or “Joe Panics; Yanks Fall.”
That, of course, is the nature of the New York media. They are with you until you fail and then you are left out to dry. Billy Martin, Yogi Berra Dick Howser were folded spindled and mutilated by the headline hungry denizens in the Bronx Zoo.
But after Johnson had retired Ichiro Suzuki, the crowd on the one hand stunned and, on the other hand, hopeful with fingers and toes crossed routed on Ibnez as he lumbered to the plate.
“Raul had to come through,” Girardi said. “Raul had some kind of day for us today, and you have to make decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. But I just had a gut feeling.”
Ibanez had his share of travails this season, too.
In spring training, Ibanez hit in the first three weeks of spring training as if he just picked up a bat at age 40 and was giving the major leagues a try. It was if he could not hit a ball off a tee he was so bad. But Girardi told the press that Ibanez was a professional hitter his entire career and that he had faith he would turn it around soon.
Sure enough, Ibanez starting roping line drives all over the place at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, and the wolves (the writers) were forced to stop baying at the moon.
Ibanez then became an integral part of the Yankees success this season. Forced into playing more outfield than he had expected in the absence of starting left-fielder Brett Gardner, Ibanez hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and batted .240 in 340 at-bats this season for the Yankees.
Of course, Ibanez also fell into a severe slump in late August that bled into September. Once again, Girardi kept faith with his veteran outfielder/designated hitter. And again Ibanez rewarded the skipper.
Beginning with a Sept. 22 game against Oakland in which Ibanez entered the game as pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and he ended up hitting two game-tying homers, he went on a full-fledged tear in the final two weeks of the season. Ibanez went 15-for-37 (.405) with five home runs and nine RBIs down the stretch.
He also punctuated his hot streak with a game-tying two-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth and a game-winning RBI single in the 12th in a must-win 4-3 victory the Red Sox on Oct. 2.
But those heroics on Sept. 22 and Oct. 2 were but a dress rehearsal for what he was being asked to do on Wednesday. It is one thing to pinch-hit for Casey McGehee (as he did on Sept. 22) or Eduardo Nunez (as he did on Oct. 2). It is quite another to pinch-hit for A-Rod.
That is pressure.
But Ibanez was able to cast it aside enough to concentrate on what he wanted to do: Get a Johnson sinker up enough so that he could launch it into the seats. Johnson provided it on the very first pitch and Ibanez took care of it.
The subdued but hopeful crowd of 50,497 seemed to rise as one while the baseball traveled on a low, line-drive trajectory towards the straightaway right-field. It rose well over the head of Oriole defensive replacement Endy Chavez and some five rows into the bleachers.
On the top step of the dugout cheering loudly was A-Rod.
“Maybe 10 years ago, I’d react a much different way. But I’m at a place in my career right now where team means everything,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there was anybody in the ballpark more excited for Raul than me.”
That home run, harkening Yankee fans back to the days of Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson and Aaron Boone, allowed the Yankees to stave off what would have been a saddening blow to their playoff hopes. But Ibanez wasn’t having it.
The game remained tied until Ibanez’s next at-bat leading off the bottom of the 12th. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had opted to leave in left-hander Brian Matusz to face him.
Again, Ibanez was looking for a pitch up to drive. Matusz threw a chest high fastball but it was in the middle of the plate. Ibanez was ready and the sound so familiar to the fans rang out all over Yankee Stadium.
Ibanez, knew, Matusz knew and the fans there and those watching at home knew where it was going.
In one mere stretch of just two swings in two at-bats, Ibanez – should the Yankees advance to their 28th world championship – will be remembered in Yankee lore for what he did this evening.
While they are at it, they should also remember the guts it took for Girardi to push the correct button. Managers seem to get little of the credit and most of the blame in baseball.
This is not one of those instances. Girardi played his roster like a maestro and the music hit a real high note in the Bronx.
YANKEES 10, BLUE JAYS 3
When the New York Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners they were just expecting some great outfield defense and some singles and some steals at the bottom of the batting order. It is now beginning to look like they have a top-flight RBI man instead.
Suzuki drove in five runs to lead a late-inning seven-run assault on Toronto pitching as New York put away a badly depleted Blue Jay team on Friday at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Suzuki gave the Yankees an early 2-0 lead in the second inning by driving in a run beating out a potential double-play grounder. He added a two-run single in the eighth inning and a bases-loaded two-run double in the ninth inning. Suzuki, who had only 28 RBis when he was obtained on July 23, has driven in 11 runs in his last 11 games and nine and his last four games with the Yankees.
Meanwhile, veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (6-5) pitched six solid innings to pick up his second straight victory. Garcia gave up two runs on four hits and struck four against a Blue Jays team missing Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind.
The Yankees built an early lead on Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero in second inning after Robinson Cano led off the frame with a single and Romero walked Andruw Jones.
Jayson Nix attempted to bunt the next pitch and it rolled just out in front of home plate. But Blue Jays catcher Jeff Mathis threw the ball past third baseman Omar Vizquel and into left-field to allow Cano to score and Jones to advance to third. Suzuki followed with a grounder that forced Nix at second but Suzuki beat the relay to first and Jones scored.
The Yankees added a run in the following inning on a leadoff single by Nick Swisher and a one-out RBI single by Cano.
Romero ( 8-9) then shut down the Yankees over the next four innings on just one hit. He left having given up four hits and three walks and struck out two over seven innings.
Kelly Johnson proved to be Garcia’s big nemesis. He struck with one-out solo home run in the bottom of the second inning to halve the Yankees’ lead at 2-1. Two innings later, he followed a bunt single by Yunel Escobar and a lined single by David Cooper with a double down the right-field line that scored Escobar to make it 3-2.
But Garcia ended the threat by striking out Vizquel and inducing Mathis to tap back to the mound.
The game stayed 3-2 until Steve Delabar’s first offering in the eighth inning in relief of Romero was tagged by Mark Teixeira for his 22nd home run of the season.
With two out, Nix and Russell Martin each dunked in a pair of bloop hits and Suzuki followed with an RBI single up the middle to break the game open at 6-2.
The Yankees added four runs in the ninth off rookie reliever David Carpenter and Brad Lincoln. Suzuki culminated the scoring with base-loaded liner that Rajai Davis lost in the lights and it was scored a double.
With the victory the Yankees have now won three games in a row and are 66-46 on the season. They remain 5 1/2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The reeling Blue Jays have lost four in a row and are in last place in the division with a record of 53-59.
- Suzuki has had at least one hit in 16 of the 17 games he has played with the Yankees. The five-RBI night tied a career high and it was the third time in Suzuki’s career he achieved the feat. But it was the first time since the 2004 season. He also started his first game in center-field since the 2008 season and he has now started in all three outfield position since coming to the Yankees. He was acquired to provide speed, defense and a consistent bat at the bottom of the order and he has done all three very well.
- Teixeira’s home run was the second straight game in which he has delivered a home run in the eighth inning on the road. Teixeira and Eric Chaez combined to hit back-to-back solo home runs to turn a 3-2 Yankee deficit on Thursday into a 4-3 victory over the Tigers. It was the first time two Yankees had hit consecutive home runs in the eighth inning or later to win a game on the road since Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle did it during the 1955 season. Teixeira extended his team-leading RBI total to 76.
- Garcia is never going to be confused with Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander, but he put in another solid effort to win his second straight start. In his eight starts since replacing Andy Pettitte in the rotation, Garcia is 4-3 with a 3.83 ERA. The 35-year-old right-hander has been valuable as a placeholder for Pettitte.
I can’t think of much to complain about. Garcia pitched well and the offense has scored 31 runs and notched double-digits in hits over the team’s last four games. Perhaps they can put that stretch of nine losses over 12 games behind them now.
It is possible that left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano could be added to the Yankees’ expanded roster in September. Feliciano has not pitched since the 2010 season with the New York Mets because he underwent surgery for torn rotator cuff. On Friday, Feliciano made his second rehab appearance for the Yankees’ rookie Gulf Coast League. Feliciano was signed to a two-year $8 million deal prior to the 2011 season but he has not pitched a single game for the Yankees. He is 22-19 with a 3.31 ERA over 459 appearances over his eight-season career.
The Yankees will continue their weekend road series with Blue Jays on Saturday.
Ivan Nova (10-6, 4.81 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Nova has a lot to prove after giving up seven runs on 11 hits on Monday against the Tigers. He is 0-3 with a 8.36 ERA in his last five starts. Nova is 2-1 with a 3.75 ERA against the Blue Jays in his career.
The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander Aaron Laffey (3-2, 4.39 ERA), who pitched briefly for the Yankees last season. Laffey gave up four runs on six hits in his last start, a victory over the Oakland Athletics. He is 0-1 with an 11.74 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, WHITE SOX 0
Nothing will put the chill on some red-hot bats like a real cool pitcher on a sweltering afternoon in the Bronx, N.Y. That is exactly what 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda did to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.
Kuroda, who was having trouble all afternoon throwing his swing-and-miss split-finger fastball, calmly switched gears and used his mid-90’s fastball and slider to baffle the White Sox for seven shutout innings as he ran his record to 5-1 in his last seven starts and give the Yankees’ pitching staff a much-needed boost.
Kuroda (8-7) struck out a career-tying high of 11 batters and gave up just three singles and one walk in a dazzling display of pitching artistry over 104 pitches in 93-degree heat in front of a crowd of 46,895 at Yankee Stadium.
To back up the strong starting pitching they got from Kuroda, the Yankees used their favorite weapon – the home run – to saddle right-hander Jake Peavy (6-5) with yet another loss in June. During the month of June, Peavy was 0-4 with two no-decisions in his six starts despite compiling an ERA of 2.76.
Curtis Granderson hit the first of a trio of solo home runs Peavy surrendered in the first inning. Granderson smacked a 1-0 fastball into the second deck in straightaway right-field to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. It was Granderson’s 23rd home run of the season.
An inning later, newly discovered super-sub Dewayne Wise laced a first-pitch fastball off the wall in right-center to score Nick Swisher from first to give the Yankees another run with two outs in the second inning.
Wise then added to his most recent hot streak on this homestand in the fifth inning with a second-deck rainbow solo shot into right-field for his second home of the season and his second in his last three starts. In the five games in which he played in the field in this homestand, Wise was 7-for-11 (.636) with two home runs and five RBis. And don’t forget his perfect two-thirds of an inning of relief on Friday to take the lead on the Yankees in ERA with 0.00.
Robinson Cano ended his red-hot June with his 11th home run of the month in the sixth, a titanic blast into the second deck in right on the first offering of the inning from Peavy. It was Cano’s 19th home run of the season.
Though he pitched all eight innings, Peavy gave up four runs on eight hits and he also struck out 11.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth, striking out two and Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano combined to finish the ninth as the Yankees ended the four-game winning streak of the White Sox and halted their disastrous two-game losing streak to the Chisox in which they were outscored 18-10.
With the victory, the Yankees’ season record improved to 47-30 and they are five games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The White Sox fell to 42-36.
- Kuroda certainly stepped up in the absence of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte and pitched like an ace on Saturday. Ten of 11 strikeouts were swinging strikes and some of them came on fastballs up in the strike zone. During his 5-1 run in his seven starts, he has failed to pitch seven innings only once and his ERA over that stretch is 1.65.
- Wise has mostly been used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Raul Ibanez in left-field. But in his three starts in the past six games, Wise is 6-for-10 with two home runs and five RBIs. The 34-year-old veteran perhaps is proving to manager Joe Girardi that he is deserving of some more starts.
- Cano probably does not want June to end. During the month he hit a robust .340 with 11 home runs and 21 RBIs. In the 30 games this month, Cano failed to get at least one hit in only four games and he had multiple hits in 10 games. After a slow start in April, Cano is hitting .308 with 19 home runs and 44 RBIs.
- Alex Rodriguez was 0-for-4 on the day with two strikeouts looking, a fielder’s choice groundout and a double-play grounder. That lowered his season average to .265. Though Rodriguez had his best month by hitting six home runs and driving in 16 runs, he hit a miserable .232 and struck out 30 times in 95 at-bats.
- Mark Teixeira also was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a routine groundout. He finished June in a 3-for-28 (.107) slide that has dropped his season average back to .244. He hit .219 in June with four home runs and 14 RBIs. The Yankees had a hot June in winning 20 games but Teixeira and Rodriguez had very little to do with it.
- Derek Jeter was 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in Saturday’s game. Very quietly, Jeter’s batting average is getting close to slipping under .300. Jeter is 8-for-42 (.190) with one home run and one RBI and that has lowered his season average to an even .300. On June 1, Jeter was hitting .340.
A day after rookie right-hander Adam Warren was shelled for six runs on eight hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings in his major-league debut against the White Sox on Friday, he was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and replaced on the 25-man roster by right-hander D.J. Mitchell. Mitchell, 25, is in his second stint with the Yankees and he will used as a long man out of the bullpen. Mitchell was 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two relief appearances with the Yankees in his last call-up. . . . The Yankees announced on Saturday that 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps will start in place of the injured Sabathia on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, FL, against the Tampa Bay Rays. Phelps gave up two runs in 3 1/4 innings and took the loss in relief against the White Sox on Friday. But he is 1-3 with a 3.16 ERA for the Yankees this season. Like Mitchell, Phelps is in his second stint with the Yankees. . . . Russell Martin got his first start in the last three days and only his second since June 23 because of lower-back stiffness. Martin was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts but threw out Alejandro De Aza attempting to steal second in the first inning.
On Sunday, the Yankees will conduct their 66th Annual Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium and legends such as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill will be on hand for the ceremonial introductions and the game. The festivities begin at 11 a.m. EDT and it will be broadcast by the YES Network.
After the game, the Yankees will look for a split of their four-game weekend series with the White Sox.
Phil Hughes (8-6, 4.48 ERA) will look to continue his most recent success as he takes the mound on Sunday. Hughes has won five of his last six starts and spun eight scoreless innings on Tuesday in a victory over the Cleveland Indians in his last start. He is 2-1 with a 0.75 ERA in his career against the Chisox.
Hughes will be opposed by veteran right-hander Gavin Floyd (6-7, 4.80 ERA). Floyd tossed seven scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, his second straight start he has not allowed a run. However, he is just 2-2 with a 5.98 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 2:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, MARINERS 2
A few weeks ago it looked like Phil Hughes was headed to the bullpen after he started the season 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA. On Saturday, Hughes looked like he actually belonged in the rotation all along and there is no doubt he is going to stay there for a long time.
Hughes pitched 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball and he got two RBIs apiece from Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix as New York defeated Seattle at Yankee Stadium for their fifth victory in their last six games.
Hughes (3-4) carried a shutout into the seventh inning until Mike Carp belted a two-out solo home run to center-field. Hughes left with two out in the eighth having given up six hits and one walk and struck out four batters for his second straight victory.
Hughes also continued a trend the rotation started at the beginning of the six-game homestand on Tuesday. The starters since Tuesday are 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA.
Former Yankee Hector Noesi (2-4) gave up five runs on six hits and struck out four over seven innings to take the loss. But he actually pitched much better than his line indicates. He was undone by pair of two-out doubles in the second inning and a pair of home runs.
With Mark Teixiera on second with a double and two outs, Ibanez looped an opposite-field double into the left-field corner to score Teixeira. Russell Martin, who was one for his last 16 at-bats, followed with a double off the wall at the 408-foot mark in center-field to score Ibanez.
Nix then completed the four-run explosion with an opposite-field fly ball into right that landed in the first row of the bleachers for Nix’s first home run with the Yankees.
On Friday, Nix learned that when Eric Chavez was activated from the seven-day disabled list it would be Eduardo Nunez sent to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and not him. Manager Joe Girardi then decided to start Nix at shortstop on Saturday in order to give Derek Jeter a rest from the field by utilizing him as the designated hitter.
Ibanez continued his hot hitting in the fourth inning when he slammed a high and outside 3-2 fastball into the monuments in center-field for his seventh home run of the season.
Ibanez hit a three-run home run off Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on Friday that led the Yankees to a victory by the same 6-2 score. Since May 5, Ibanez is 9-for-22 (.409) with four home runs and nine RBIs.
Boone Logan pitched the final 1 1/3 innings and he picked up his second major league save – his first since he was pitching for the Chicago White Sox as a rookie in 2006. Logan, however, did give up a run in the ninth inning when Carp followed a one-out single by Kyle Seager with a hit that originally was ruled a home run to right. but the umpires used television replays to reverse the call to a double that scored Seager.
Logan struck out the next two batters to preserve the victory for Hughes and the Yankees.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 19-14. The Mariners dipped to 15-20.
- Hughes has managed to remake himself as a starter. He has basically junked his cutter and he is using his change-up more sparingly, which means he using his fastball and curve more. The results in his last two starts show it is working. Hughes has given up four runs on 12 hits and two walks and he has struck out 11 in 14 1/3 innings over his last two starts. That is an ERA of 2.51 and a WHIP of 0.98.
- Ibanez could not be any hotter if he poured gasoline over himself and lit a match. From primarily the seventh spot in the batting order Ibanez is hitting .282 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs. He also is making life miserable for good right-handers like James Shields and Hernandez, who are looking for a soft spot in the Yankees’ batting order and they are not finding it in Ibanez.
- Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 10 games with an opposite-field RBI single off reliever Tom Wilhelmsen in the eighth inning to give the Yankees a 6-1 lead. Cano is hitting .429 over that span.
- Curtis Granderson had a bad day at the office. He was 0-for-4 with two weak infield rollers to first and two strikeouts. Though Granderson is hitting .264 with 11 home runs and 20 RBIs, he also has struck out a team-leading 37 times in 129 at-bats. That is a pace just over one out of every four at-bats.
- Cano had an uncharacteristically bad moment in the field in the third inning. With one out and Justin Smoak on first, Munenori Kawasaki lofted a fly ball in shallow right. Cano tracked the ball and then stopped at the last moment, allowing the ball to drop a few feet behind him. Right-fielder Nick Swisher, however, bailed Cano out with a quick throw to second that beat Smoak to the bag for a rare 9-4 fielder’s choice putout.
- Alex Rodriguez also had a bad day at the plate. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. It snapped his five-game hitting streak and lowered his season average to .287. A-Rod came into the contest hitting .406 in his previous nine games.
On Saturday, the Yankees honored legendary catcher Yogi Berra on his 87th birthday with a ceremony before the game. Berra was presented with a cake and former Yankee left-hander Ron Guidry drove Berra in a cart around the stadium so he could be saluted by the 43,954 people in attendance. . . . Though it was not much of a secret, Girardi announced on Saturday that rookie David Phelps would return to the bullpen as a long reliever. Phelps was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his two starts. But he did not make it out of the fifth inning in either appearance. . . . The Yankees announced on Saturday they they have claimed left-handed reliever Justin Thomas off waivers from the Boston Red Sox. Thomas has posted a 7.71 ERA in 4 2/3 innings with the Red Sox. He was designated for assignment on Thursday. The Yankees will send Thomas, 28, to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Because of the significance of Sunday’s game, this regular blog feature will be expanded into a complete report which will follow shortly.
RAYS 4, YANKEES 0
TAMPA – No matter how good a team is it just seems like there is one of those days where everything goes right for the opponent and nothing goes right for you. Wednesday was one of those days for the Yankees.
Stephen Vogt slapped an opposite field triple to right-field to drive in two runs and Jose Molina drove him home on a infield groundout in the second inning and the Rays’ pitching staff held New York to only four hits as the Yankees to a long nine-inning sleepwalk through this Grapefruit League contest at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Right-hander James Shields (1-0) combined with five other Rays pitchers to stymie a Yankee team minus two starters, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Shields threw two hitless innings and struck out a pair. Meanwhile, Hiroki Kuroda (0-1) was saddled with a loss in his Yankee debut.
After winning their first two spring games, the Yankees now have dropped their third straight. The Rays won their first game of the spring and are 1-4.
- The weather was pretty much perfect: Sunny skies, 77 degrees and a light breeze made it very comfortable for the sellout crowd of 10,846.
- None of the Yankee players were injured during the production of this shutout.
- One lone bright spot would have to be the pitching of Clay Rapada. The 30-year-old non-roster invitee vying with three other pitchers to be the second left-hander in the bullpen pitched two innings and gave up only an infield hit and struck out three batters.
- Kuroda was lights out in the first inning, retiring the side on only nine pitches. However, he was rocked by three consecutive hits to open the third inning and he ended up giving up three runs. Though Kuroda took the loss he said he was happy with the way he threw the ball in his first outing of the spring.
- In five of nine innings, the Yankees were retired in order. It is a little hard to sustain an offense when you do not reach base. The fifth inning was typical of the Yankees’ frustrating day on offense. Eric Chavez opened the inning against right-hander Josh Lueke by slapping a grounder up the middle. Second baseman Ben Zobrist moved to his right past the second-base bag, threw across his body and nipped Chavez at first. Andruw Jones followed with a hard-hit liner to left that was over the head of left-fielder Jesus Feliciano. But Feliciano laid out and caught the ball just before he slammed hard into the turf. Russell Martin then laced a line drive but it was hit right to third baseman Elliot Johnson to retire the side.
- The Yankees managed to get eight balls out of the infield through nine innings. By just about any measure this is not real good.
Hall of Fame legend Yogi Berra arrived at camp on Wednesday to start his usual stint as guest instructor for the team. Berra, 86, did not suit up for the game but his No. 8 is ready for him when he decides to take the field. . . . Rafael Soriano has requested in the past that he not be used against division opponents. He has since reconsidered that stance and pitched an inning of relief against his former team on Wednesday. Soriano pitched a scoreless frame around a walk and a single. . . . The Yankees have announced that their top-tier farm team will carry a new name starting this season. The Triple-A franchise known as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees now will be known as the Empire State Yankees. The team will be playing its slate of games this season on the road while their home PNC Field in Moosic, PA, is being renovated. The team will play its home games in six cities, including Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Batavia in New York and Pawtucket, RI, and Allentown, PA. . . . Eduardo Nunez (bruised right hand) is still sporting a bandage and feels some pain but he still hopes to be able able to play Friday when the Yankees host the Atlanta Braves. . . . Closer Mariano Rivera is scheduled to throw his second bullpen session on Thursday and could pitch as early as Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Yankees head back out on the road on Thursday to play the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL.
Right-hander Ivan Nova is scheduled to make his second start of the spring. David Robertson and Dellin Betances are also expected to pitch. The Yankees will bring Rodriguez, Teixeira, Brett Gardner and Raul Ibanez on the trip.
The Blue Jays will start left-hander Brett Cecil.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will not be broadcast on radio or television. The Yankees’ game against the Rays will be shown via tape delay at 9 a.m. EST by the MLB Network. I suggest you purchase a prescription of Xanax and stay away away from sharp objects and tall buildings or bridges if you plan to watch this game.
Every spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field those of us in Section 205 would see No. 20 in Yankee pinstripes striding toward the plate. At that point we would train our eyes toward a longtime Yankee fan with full-flowing mustache rise from his seat and yell at the top of his lungs “Hip, Hip” and the surrounding crowd of regulars in the section would reply with a raucous “Jor-ge,” which he and the rest us would repeat two more times before every home at-bat.
It was not just a token cheer stolen from our brethren in the Bronx. No, it was a absolute homage to one of the very best catchers in Yankee history. It was done with love and great admiration.
But it has been a foregone conclusion this winter that the ritual of Section 205 would no longer be carried out in 2012. There was a chance the cheer might have rang out if Jorge Posada chose, at age 40, to continue his career in another uniform. But, alas, that will not happen either.
According to an anonymous source reported by WFAN in New York, Posada has elected not play another game and retire as a Yankee after 17 years and 1,574 games behind the plate. Only Bill Dickey (1,708) and Yogi Berra (1,695) played in more games catching for the Yankees.
In hearing the news, my first reaction is sadness, of course. Posada won five World Series titles and was part of the famous “Core Four” along with Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, which is now down to the “Flair Pair” of Jeter and Rivera.
From 1996 through 2001, the New York Yankees won four world championships and Posada was in the middle of just about every one of them, though he was somewhat overshadowed by Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Jeter, Rivera, manager Joe Torre.
But history speaks for itself and Posada hit .273. He is seventh on the Yankees’ all-time list with 379 doubles and 936 walks, eighth with 279 home runs and 11th with 1,065 RBIs. There is no doubt that Posada, a converted second baseman in the minors, was a major cog in Yankee teams that made the playoffs in every season he played for them except 2008.
Posada was greatly disappointed with his final season.
He came to spring training for the first time as non-factor as a catcher. Russell Martin was signed as the new starter and rookies Jesus Montero and Austin Romine were being groomed as replacements. Posada’s catching gear collected dust as he tried to adapt as the team’s switch-hitting designated hitter.
Unfortunately Posada got off to a slow start, particularly against left-handers and lost that part of his duties early in the season. Then on May 14, Posada spotted his name in the No. 9 spot in the batting order in a game against the Boston Red Sox and pride would not allow him to participate in that game.
By September, Posada was also being phased out of the lineup altogether. However, when he was given chances to play in the final few weeks, Posada began to consistently reach base on hits and walks. On Sept. 21, Posada stroked a two-run game-winning single against the Tampa Bay Rays that clinched the American League East title for the Yankees.
Playing a hunch, manager Joe Girardi used Posada in the A.L. Division Series against the Detroit Tigers and Posada responded by hitting .429 (6 for-14) in the series.
But Posda knew that with his four-year $52 million contract coming to an end in 2011 that he would never play for the Yankees again. If he wanted to continue to play it would have to be in a foreign uniform. Posada even began working out on Nov. 1 in anticipation of some offers to play with other teams.
They came. Posada considered them.
But, in the end, Posada realized perhaps it was time to end his career, a grand career at that, as a New York Yankee.
There are those who claim Posada is not worthy of the Hall of Fame. But when you look at the numbers he compiled, you can make a pretty good case for the gritty veteran from Santurce, Puerto Rico.
Posada’s 246 home runs as a catcher are only second to Berra’s 306 on the club’s all-time list. Of the 13 catchers that are currently in Cooperstown, only Berra has better career numbers in all three categories of batting average, home runs and RBIs.
Those numbers are for those who will vote in five years to chew on. But Posada can make a compelling case for joining that group.
He already joins a great lineage of former Yankee greats at catcher, which includes Berra, Dickey and Thurman Munson. His star may not burn as bright as those three but his star certainly burns bright enough to have his number retired somewhere down the road.
Posada apparently will make his decision final in about two weeks. But it won’t take Yankee fans that long to agree that he was certainly one of the classiest leaders of one of the Yankees’ most successful string of teams in their history.
Yogi will always be No. 1 in Yankee hearts but will we never forget what Jorge did in his 17 seasons with the Yankees.
OK. Section 205. One last time and let’s hear it loud and proud: “Hip, Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge!”