Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bronx Bomber Comeback Batters Birds

Last night, the Yankees began a 3-game home series with the Baltimore Orioles, the one team in the American League with a better record. It was time to send a message.

Both teams sent a message. The same message: "You do not belong in first place." The Yankees' message was the one that stuck.

CC Sabathia had pitched very well so far this season, but, last night, he didn't have his good stuff. Nor did Bryan Mitchell, who replaced him (I won't say "relieved") in the 6th inning. The Yankees fell behind 5-0 in the top of the 5th, and 9-1 in the bottom of the 6th.

Aaron Judge led off the bottom of the 5th with a home run, to get us on the board. Matt Holliday led off the bottom of the 6th with a double, Starlin Castro singled him over to 3rd, Didi Gregorius made his return from injury with an RBI groundout, and Judge hit another home run, giving him 9 on the season, and that made it 9-4. But the O's tallied again in the top of the 7th, to make it 11-4, and whatever hope the Yankees had seemed to be gone.

But former Yankee manager William Nathaniel Showalter III, a.k.a. Buck, the former Yankee manager now managing the Orioles, put former Yankee Vidal Nuno on the mound. Both showed why they're former Yankees, not current Yankees: Chase Headley doubled, Holliday drew a walk, and Jacoby Ellsbury hit a home run, his 3rd, to make it 11-8.

The Orioles held onto that lead into the bottom of the 9th. Showalter sent Brad Brach on to pitch. Cliche alert: A leadoff walk will kill you. Brach walked Headley. Holliday singled him over to 3rd. Ellsbury grounded out to get Headley home. Starlin Castro came up, and cranked one to left field. It was his 5th home run of the season. 11-11. Tie ballgame. And when Judge, having already homered twice tonight and done so well so far, came to bat, the entire crowd of 36,912 at Yankee Stadium II was sure there was going to be a walkoff home run.

They weren't wrong, just a little premature: He only drew a walk, and Brach struck Greg Bird out to end regulation.

Extra innings. Free baseball. Bonus cantos. Aroldis Chapman, pitching for the 1st time since he nearly gave the Wednesday night game away in Boston, pitched a scoreless top of the 10th inning. Showalter sent Jayson Aquino to pitch the bottom half. Cliche alert: A leadoff walk will kill you. Aaron Hicks drew a leadoff walk. Kyle Higashioka drew another walk. Aquino struck Headley out.

Matt Holliday came up. Some people on social media said, "Welcome to the Yankees." Others said, "Holliday became a Yankee tonight." Others said, "Holliday earned his Pinstripes tonight."

Boom. 414 feet to center field. His 3rd homer of the year. In the immortal words of John Sterling, "It is high! It is far! It is GONE! Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!"

Yankees 14, Orioles 11. The O's were beating us 5-0, 9-1 and 11-4, and they blew it, and we took advantage. WP: Chapman (1-0). No save. LP: Aquino (1-1).

The Yankees didn't even wait until Holliday touched the plate before they splattered him with 2 tubs of Gatorade. With all due respect to the best comeback the Yankees have made since that 2006 rebound from 9-0 down to the Texas Rangers to win 14-13 on a walkoff homer by Jorge Posada, there should be a rule against that: Don't do it until he's touched the plate to make it official.

The Yanks and O's are now both 14-7, in a flat-footed tie for 1st place in the Division. The Boston Red Sox are 2 1/2 back, the Tampa Bay Rays are 3 1/2 back, and the Toronto Blue Jays are 9 back.

I wonder what Buck said to his Birds after the game. Billy Martin would've told them that nobody touches the postgame spread. Of course, before he could say that, Lou Piniella would have flipped it over.

But the message has been sent: This is a new Yankee team, and we are not going to let anything or anyone stop us. Approach at your own risk.

The series continues this afternoon, with Michael Pineda starting for the Yankees, and Ubaldo Jimenez going for the Orioles.

I don't know if I want another 14-11 game, but I certainly wouldn't mind scoring 14 runs again! I know, I know: History suggests that, right after scoring a bunch of runs, the Yankees will come out shooting blanks, and lose 3-0 or 2-1 or something like that, leaving a battalion on the bases.

But, as I said, this is a new Yankee team. It's not the Joe Girardi team of 2010 to 2016, with Derek Jeter hanging on and Alex Rodriguez wondering why he can't replicate 2009. It's a new team, and they have given themselves reason to believe that Title 28 is not only possible, but plausible.

Oh, and, about Didi coming back to make his season debut: To make room for him on the roster, the Yankees designated Pete Kozma for assignment. That made some people as happy as the amazing win did.

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