Monday, July 7, 2014

Big Moves, Big Score Was Barely Big Enough

This is how the Yankees' 2014 season has gone: On Saturday, against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field, they scored only 1 run, and, tantalizingly, it was almost enough; yesterday, they scored 9, and, frustratingly, it almost wasn't enough.

The Saturday game was started by David Phelps, leading Yankee Fans to produce reactions ranging from "Uh-oh" to "Oy vey" to "Aw, shit!" But he pitched 7 innings, allowing just 1 run on 3 hits and 2 walks. Shawn Kelley, who's also had his difficulties this season, pitched the 8th and the 9th, no problem. The game went to extra innings. Matt Thornton pitched the 10th, no problem.

How many Twins pitchers does it take to hold the 2014 Yankees to 1 run over 11 innings? Apparently, 6. Francisco Cervelli, subbing at catcher for the banged-up Brian McCann, got 2 hits, including the RBI single that drove home the only Yankee run in the 5th. Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Ichiro Suzuki each got 1 hit. All 7 Yankee hits were singles, and only 1 drove in a run.

Thornton came out to pitch the bottom of the 11th. Chris Colabello led off with a double. Kendrys Morales hit a grounder that advanced him to 3rd with 1 out. Joe Girardi ordered Thornton to intentionally walk Josh Willingham to set up the double play -- or, at the very least, a forceout at home plate. But then Thornton hit Oswaldo Arcia with a pitch to load the bases.

The batter was Trevor Plouffe. Sounds like the name of a British General. He hit a grounder back to Thornton. He threw home for the force, and Colabello was out. But, on this day, Cervelli giveth, and Cervelli taketh away. Cervelli threw to 1st to complete the inning-ending double play, and his throw got past Mark Teixeira, and Morales scored the winning run.

Twins 2, Yankees 1. WP: Brian Duensing (2-2). No save. LP: Thornton (0-2).

True, Thornton set up the situation for the losing run. But he shouldn't be blamed. Had the Yankees scored so much as 2 runs in the first 9 innings, he wouldn't even have been in the game. And, to his credit, he did pitch a scoreless 10th.

*

Yesterday, the 2nd tour of duty in Yankeeland for Alfonso Soriano came to an end, as he was designated for assignment.

He gave the Yankees another half of a good season last year, with 17 home runs and 50 RBIs, and almost helped us get back into Playoff contention. This time around, however, he was batting just .221, only .204 against righthanded pitchers, with 6 homers and 23 RBIs. His trademark speed is gone: One of only 4 players to have a 40-homer-40-steal season, and the only one to do so without steroids, he's stolen just 1 base this season. He's 38 years old, and it shows.

He has 412 home runs. His career may be over.

That's sad. What's not sad is that the Yankees traded Vidal Nuno to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

You know the old saying: "Great trade! Who'd we get!"

Brandon McCarthy. He's a righthanded pitcher from Colorado Springs, like Goose Gossage, but that's the only reason to compare the 2 men. Today is his 31st birthday.

He made his big-league debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2005, although he was not on the postseason roster of that year's World Champions. On September 5, 2012, while with the Oakland Athletics, he took a line drive to the head off the bat of Erick Aybar of the Los Angeles Angels. While he managed to get back on his feet, he subsequently underwent surgery for two hours to relieve cranial pressure after CT scans revealed he suffered an epidural hemorrhage, a brain contusion and a skull fracture. 

He's been 8-21 since, including losing 10 of his 1st 11 decisions this season. His ERA this year is 5.01, with an ERA+ of 75. However, he's won his last 2 starts in impressive fashion. It should also be noted that the Diamondbacks are currently tied with the Houston Astros for the worst record in the major leagues, so he hasn't had a lot of help.

He wore Number 32 in Oakland and Arizona. That number has been retired for Elston Howard, so he won't be wearing it with the Yankees. At this writing, he is still on the 40-Man Roster, not the 25-man Active Roster, and has not yet been assigned a number.

Also, he has a gorgeous wife, Amanda, who's a better Twitter writer than he is. She claims to have a dog (a Westie), but neither mentions any children.

*

The Yankees scored more runs in the 1st inning yesterday than they did in 11 innings the day before. Ricky Nolasco started for the Twins, and he had nothing, and the Yankees took advantage.

Brett Gardner led off the game with a walk. Jeter singled. Ellsbury flew out, getting Gardner to 3rd. Teixeira singled home Gardner. McCann returned to action, and I do mean action: He hit a double to right field that scored Jeter. It should have scored Teix as well, but he was thrown out at the plate.

The top of the 2nd began with 3 straight singles, by Roberts, Ichiro Suzuki and Kelly Johnson. Bases loaded, nobody out? Surely, there would be no Yankee RISPfail this time, right?

Well, Gardner popped up.

Someone mentioned on Twitter that bases loaded, nobody out has been the bane of the Yankees' existence.

That made me think of Bane, the Batman villain. I thought, "First, you will load the bases with nobody out. Then you will pop up. Then you will ground into a double play. Then... you have my permission to die. Or, at least, to be designated for assignment."

But Jeter remembered his Captain Clutch nickname, and hit a sacrifice fly to center field that got Roberts home. Is 1 run enough when you get bases loaded and nobody out? No. But Ellsbury realized that, and hit a screaming liner to right field, his 5th home run of the season. 6-0 Yankees.

The 4th began with singles by Ichiro and Johnson. Gardner flew out, but Jeter singled home Ichiro. Ellsbury grounded into a force play that eliminated Jeter, but also got Johnson home. Teixeira singled. McCann was up, and Anthony Swarzak, who had replaced Nolasco as the Twins' pitcher, balked Ellsbury home.

The Mets beat the Texas Rangers in an Interleague game, 8-4. Were both New York teams saving all these runs for a "Sunday dinner"?

9-0 Yankees. Surely, they couldn't blow this.

Hiroki Kuroda had been pitching well, but he faltered. With 1 out in the bottom of the 4th, he gave up a walk, a wild pitch, an error on his own throw, a double, an RBI double, and a 2-run homer. Just like that, it's 9-4.

He got into a jam in the 6th. Girardi replaced him with Adam Warren, who got out of it, but allowed another run in the 7th. 9-5.

Jim Miller replaced Warren in the 8th, and gave up a home run. 9-6.

David Robertson was given the ball to protect a 3-run lead and finish the Twins off in the 9th. He struck out Brian Dozier to start the inning. But he gave up a single to former Yankee tin glove/noodle arm Eduardo Nunez. Then he gave up a single to Chris Parmelee. And just like that, after having a 9-0 lead, now the tying run was at bat in the bottom of the 9th.

Oy...

Robertson struck out Willingham. Just 1 out to go.

Come on...

Arcia singled home NunE5. Now it's 9-7, the tying runs are on base, and the winning run is at the plate, in the form of Kurt Suzuki.

I can't look...

Suzuki grounded to short, and Jeter flipped to Roberts for the forceout.

Ballgame over. Yankees win. Theeeeeeee... whew... Yankees win.

WP: Kuroda (6-6). SV: Robertson (21). LP: Nolasco (5-7).

The Yankees took 3 out of 4 in Minnesota. They are 14-4 at Target Field since it opened in 2010.

*

So here we are, more than halfway through the season, 14 out of 26 weeks. Here's how the American League Eastern Division stands with 12 weeks to go:

The Baltimore Orioles lead the Division. The Toronto Blue Jays are 2 games back, the Yankees 3 1/2, but, due to a variance in the number of games played, both the Yanks and the Jays trail the O's by 3 in the loss column. The Tampa Bay Rays are 8 1/2 back, 10 in the loss column. And the Boston Red Sox are 9 back.

You'll notice I haven't included the Wild Card standings. This is because, beyond my usual stubbornness, the current AL East standings allow me to truthfully maintain that the Yankees are very much in the race for the Division title.

*

The Yankees' current roadtrip continues, first to Cleveland, then to Baltimore. Then comes the All-Star Break, with the Game also being in Minnesota, a week from tomorrow. After that, the Yankees have a well-deserved 10-game homestand, with Cincinnati (Interleague), Texas and Toronto.

As to the ASG: Jeter, as could be expected as a Yankee in his final season, was voted the starting shortstop for the American League. The managers select the pitchers, and John Farrell of the defending World Champion * Red Sox chose 2 Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances. No other Yankee was selected. None of the preceding should be considered a surprise. Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners was the only former Yankee selected. Every team is entitled to at least 1 selection, and the Mets' honoree is 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy.

Here are the projected pitching matchups for the Yankees-Indians series, with all 4 games slated for a 7:05 PM first pitch:

Tonight: Shane Greene, making his 2nd big-league appearance and 1st start, vs. Justin Masterson.

Tomorrow: Tanaka vs. Trevor Bauer.

Wednesday: McCarthy, in his first Yankee start, vs. Josh Tomlin.

Thursday: Phelps vs. T.J. House.

The Yankees have not yet set any starters for the following 3 games in Baltimore.

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