Saturday, July 1, 2017

Yankees Mess With Texas, Clobber Astros

The Houston Astros have the best record in baseball, mainly due to their terrific pitching, The Yankees went into last night's opener of a 3-game series with them at Minute Maid Park having lost 12 out of their last 16, and reeling with injuries.

Cliche Alert, and cue John Sterling talking to Suzyn Waldman: "You know, Suzyn, you just can't predict baseball."

The Astros took a 1-0 lead in the 1st inning, but the Yankees tied it in the 3rd. The Astros took the lead back in the 4th, 3-1. But that would be it for them.

Then came the top of the 6th, and the Yankees unloaded the lumber. Didi Gregorius led off with an infield single. Chase Headley struck out, but Lance McCullers Jr. walked Austin Romine.

Astro manager Chad Hinch brought Michael Feliz in to relieve. This was a Girardi binder-style panic move, and I wouldn't have expected it from Hinch, who's a pretty smart guy. After all, he's 1 of only 5 managers ever to take the Astros to the postseason. The others are Bill Virdon (1980 and '81), Hal Lanier (1986), Larry Dierker (1997, '98, '99 and 2001) and Phil Garner (2004 and '05).

Ronald Torreyes greeted Feliz with a looping single that scored Gregorius. 3-2 Astros. Tyler wade struck out, but Chris Carter...

Yes, the Yankees' injury situation has led them to bring back Carter, who had been designated for assignment. And you thought we were free at last.

Carter brought the inning's 2nd infield single, scoring Romine and tying the game. Then Brett Gardner gave the Yankees the lead, singling home Torreyes. Then Jacoby Ellsbury singled, scoring Carter, and the runners took an extra base on an error. Then a ball four to Aaron Judge turned into a wild pitch, scoring Gardner. 6-3 Yankees.

There was more to come in the 7th. Hedy led off with a single. (That's "Headley!") Romine singled. Torreyes drew a walk to load the bases. Wade grounded into a fielder's choice, with the play going home to eliminate Headley. Carter struck out -- as he does. But the bases were still loaded, and Brett Gardner welcomed us to the deli, with a grand salami, his 15th home run of the season. 10-3 Yankees.

That's 2 big innings. Thank you, sirs, may I have another? Apparently, I may: Torreyes and Wade both walked to start the 9th. Carter, Mr. Consistently Inconsistent, went back to being good, nearly hitting one out, settling for a double that scored Torreyes. Gardner hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Wade, Gardy's 6th RBI of the game. An Ellsbury groundout brought Carter home to round out the Bronx Bomber scoring.

This was a rare game in which Joe Girardi used only 2 pitchers. He started Michael Pineda, and let him pitch 6 innings, allowing 3 runs, only 1 of them earned, on 7 hits, and (I love seeing this stat by a Yankee pitcher) no walks, with 3 strikeouts.

Having thrown only 91 pitches, Pineda could have pitched the 7th inning. And, at that point, the Yankees were only leading by 3 runs, hardly an insurmountable lead -- especially given that Minute Maid Park is nicknamed "The Juice Box," because of its corporate name and the fact that it's a bandbox. It was originally named Enron Field, and nicknamed Ten Run Field.

Girardi let Bryan Mitchell pitch the rest of the way. This was clearly a move designed to give Mitchell some confidence. He did not pitch badly: He went 3 innings, throwing 30 pitches, 24 of them for strikes. He allowed 1 run on 2 hits and no walks. Were those same proportions spread over 6 innings -- 2 runs on 4 hits and no walks, although it's hard to imagine a pitcher throwing only 60 pitches in 6 innings -- we'd call it a "quality start," and we'd be right.

Mitchell's performance, although good, demonstrates the oddity of the save rule. According to the rule, a pitcher is credited with a save if his team wins the game, he is their last pitcher, he cannot be credited as the winning pitcher, and 1 of these 3 guidelines is met:

1. He comes in with a lead of no more than 3 runs, and pitches at least 1 inning. Or...
2. He comes in with the tying run either on base, at bat, or on deck. Or...
3. "He pitches effectively for at least three innings."

That's the exactly language: He "pitches effectively," and does so for at least 3 innings, which Mitchell did by pretty much any standard.

In other words, If the Yankees led 20-0 after 6 innings, and Girardi brought Tyler Clippard in to pitch the 7th, and let him also pitch the 8th and the 9th, and the final score turned out to be Yankees 25, Astros 24 -- an incredibly unlikely occurrence, but with Girardi, and with Clippard, we can't say it's impossible -- then, despite having allowed 24 runs in 3 innings, given the facts that the Yankees won the game, Clippard was the last Yankee pitcher, wasn't the winning pitcher, and the Yankees never lost the lead, meant that he could be credited with a save.

Granted, that's not what happened here. Still, the save is a bit of a weird category.

At any rate, it's a win, and a very impressive one, given the opponent and the fact that it was on the road. Yankees 13, Astros 4. WP: Pineda (8-4). SV: Mitchell (1). LP: Feliz (4-2). I love it when somebody messes with Texas.

The Boston Red Sox also won last night, and they won this afternoon as well. Currently, the Yankees are a game and a half behind the Sox in the American League East, but, with 3 games in hand, begin July still even with them in the all-important loss column.

The series continues tonight. Jordan Montgomery starts for us, Francis Martes for them.

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